The Islamic insurgency perpetrated by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Nigeria’s North-East over the years has been costly in terms of loss of lives and livelihood, displacement of citizens, cost of military operations, loss of faith in government and governance, to mention but a few.
Boko Haram and ISWAP are waging a war against the Federal Republic of Nigeria to create a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law, according to them.
Nearly 350,000 people had died in the conflict with Islamist insurgency as of the end of 2020, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The toll, given by the UN agency in a study on the war and its impact on livelihoods, is 10 times higher than previous estimates of about 35,000 based only on those killed in fighting in Nigeria since the start of the conflict about 14 years ago.
“The full human cost of the war is much greater,” the UNDP said in a report released with Nigeria’s Ministry of Finance.
“Already, many more have died from the indirect effects of the conflict,” said the UNDP, citing damage to agriculture, water, trade, food and healthcare.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM, 2015), the Boko Haram insurgency has displaced over 2.1 million people in Nigeria.
The UN in February appealed for $1.3 billion to provide assistance to six million Nigerians who are suffering the impact of the long-running Islamist insurgency in the northeast of the country.
The UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria, Matthias Schmale, said the “large-scale humanitarian and protection crisis shows no sign of abating”.
The number of children suffering from acute malnutrition was projected to increase to 2 million this year (2023), up from 1.74 million last year, the UN said.
“Women and girls are the hardest hit,” Schmale said while launching the financial appeal in the North-East state of Adamawa.
He said more than 80 per cent of people in need of aid across three states – Borno, Adamawa and Yobe – were women and children.
“They face increased risks of violence, abduction, rape and abuse,” he said.
Nigerian government says it is winning the fight against insurgents and that some areas have now been cleared of militants and are safe for villagers to return.
Before leaving office, immediate past President Muhammadu Buhari said his administration spent over $1 billion on equipment needed to recover territories in the North-East taken by Boko Haram.
But just last week, suspected Boko Haram insurgents attacked the convoy of Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, along Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, killing a policeman in the process.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government and the military have been speaking of effecting a change of strategy in the war against insurgency, following on the slowness of head-on military engagements alone to bring it to an end or an appreciable lull. However, little is being heard of the follow-through of the said change of strategy known as the “whole of society approach”, to which the Federal Government and the military have made repeated commitments.
Former Chief of Defence Staff, Major-General Lucky Irabor (rtd), under whose watch the new strategy was drawn up, had said that national security in Nigeria is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach from all sectors of the society.
“The country has been grappling with various forms of insecurity in the past decade which include terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, communal clashes, oil theft, piracy, drug, and human trafficking, illegal unregulated and unreported fishing, and cyber crimes, amongst others,” Irabor had said while advocating an “All Of Society Approach” comprising multi-sectoral and specialised efforts and involving all of society.
The President Bola Tinubu administration confirmed it would follow on with this new strategy to the war against insurgency.
The approach, it is said, involves the participation of the government, security agencies, civil organisations, religious leaders, traditional leaders, the press and the general public. The military says it involves a non-kinetic approach by developing a policy framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (NAPPCVE). The non-kinetic military operations involve the use of psychological, diplomatic negotiations and economic sanctions to achieve military objectives.
Key to the strategy is winning over the local communities under siege of the insurgents by emphathising and cooperating with them and providing for their needs, including food, medication, potable water, as well as rendering training in enhanced farming methods and artisanal skills and carrying them along in the visioning for a stable society – the essence being that poverty is one of the main drivers of insurgency and that people who are gainfully engaged and self-sustaining would have less motivation to participate in anti-social conduct or cooperate with vagrants.
While all of this sounds good on paper, stronger commitment and a cohesive plan need to be rolled out for the effective execution of this change of strategy as the unending flow and ebb in the tide of the insurgency onslaught and the war against it are getting too protracted, costly and disturbing.