Let's NOT give up on Chibok girls, other captives


I was supposed to be part of a BBC Hausa program, Ra'ayi Riga, last three weeks or so ago in commemoration of the 3rd year of the abduction of Chinook girls but for certain circumstances. I have always wanted to write some of the contributions I had wanted to make in the program.

There's a general belief that the high point of the Boko Haram crisis was the abduction of Chibok school girls even more than the massacres carried out in Baga, Bama and Gwoza, including the overrunning of 19 local governments of Borno state. As a result of this, it is believed that rescuing them is the mark of the end of the crisis.

This is not. Let us remember that people across 15 local governments have had to flee from their homes, and living in idp camps for over a year now. As a result, hundreds of school age children, approximately 0.8m, could not attend classes save for few who are cramped into a combined school system. Businesses amounting to billions have crashed and farmlands with the capicity to feed thousands of families are destroyed. Major markets that serve as feeders to many other transregional markets across the sub-Saharan region have completely vanished, contributing to economic recession all over the region of West Africa. By way of underemphasizing the scale of damages caused, Gov. Kashim Shettima of Borno last week said he is going to rebuild the state in six months--even though nobody has made any thorough survey that tells the exact level of destruction. How that can be done anyway is beyond me.

My brother and my colleague at work, Bello Waziri is still mourning the death of his beloved mum in Gwoza and the loss of many of his friends to Boko Haram. Alai Haruna Kadai's fiancee celebrated her would-be wedding day in Sambisa. She was abducted in September 1, 2014 in Bama at the eve of her wedding. Sadiya my friend's help's ears have been kept to the ground anticipating the news of the whereabouts of her parents and two sisters. I have heard in a lot of conversations where people express wonderment when a certain person's name is mentioned, even reminiscing good times spent together, wondering whether they are alive. But the truth is, I have always thought that everything about the lives of vulnerable people does not have high or low points. Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters, just as their wives, cooks, helps, etcetera were abducted at one time or the other-- canceling basis for preference to any particular case. To say the experience is entirely bitter is an understatement.

Fact of the matter is that, Chibok school girls are fine wherever they are and with the trends in the fight the insurgents recently, I am confident will soon be rescued. One fact is that, they will hardly be ever rescued at once because they don't seem to be in the same place. They are scattered across different locations in different camps. This is easy to understand. The single most important thing to Boko Haram so far is those particular girls. They will not take chances, which is the more reason why they will not keep them all at one location.

It is glaring that Boko Haram has been weakening, not just because of the onslaught of the army against them, but also as a result of exhaustion of resources such that managing their members, intelligence network, logistics and etcetera is becoming difficult for them. Boko Haram is losing it all and particularly the capacity to continue to shield the girls because it requires a lot of logistics, intelligence and etcetera. If the girls had specific identification marks, many would have likely been rescued by now and this is, I opine, the prime time for any negotiation or dialogue.

The scarcity of resources and continuous military onslaught is pushing the insurgents to 'close' many camps and move on to bigger and relatively safer camps. If the tempo is maintained, it will result in pushing them into one or few camps that can be at once taken over. The reason why the fall of Sambisa did not culminate in their defeat or rescue of the girls was because they had several other obscure camps and had since moved over.

The only fear now is the partial resettlement of some communities. With raining season soon to arrive, I am not of the opinion of partially resettling people. Where full security is not guaranteed and civil authority not restored, Boko Haram will most definitely exploit the opportunity to recruit some of them and force them to farm. With farm produce, they can feed themselves and smuggle some to different markets, especially with mastery of the routes, to exchange with other goods.

In 16th century, one of the most celebrated mais of Borno, Idris Alooma, had to tactically starve his adversaries, the notorious Amsaka people by destroying their farm produce at maturity level, according two Ahmad Ibn Furtuwa told us in his Kitab Fi Gazwati Borno (1570 to 1572). When he understood it was difficult to defeat them with the use of force, he suspended the battle until it was the season of harvest. He made sure all their crops are cut down at maturity level and when it was already late to plant again! That way he defeated them easily.

It is therefore very fundamental that we don't give them the opportunity to restock again. At this point, more attention has to be paid to either blocking or monitoring of movement of persons and goods across roads not completely rendered safe. We must block their chains of supply or logistics and particularly we must not because of political considerations make the mistake of resetting people when we are not entirely ready. Chibok girls and other lucky people, I am confident, will return by God's grace, it is a matter of time but let's understand that it is not the evidence that the war is over. It can be declared over anytime me and you feel safe to travel to any part of the North East, when schools open and business activities commence.