AFRICANGLOBE – This Nigerian town, which sits on the shores of Lake Chad, has for years served as the headquarters of the Multinational Task Force (MNJTF), consisting of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, and was supposed to provide the bulwark against Boko Haram savages.
In a battle that lasted all day, according to various accounts, terrorists last week overran Baga, a flourishing fishing community known to be a major economic hub in Borno State, dislodging troops of the MNJTF. For some inexplicable reason, troop contingents of Niger, Cameroon and Chad evacuated the base and returned to their countries hours before the terrorists struck. Defence spokesman, Chris Olukolade said in a statement that the description of the assault as “the deadliest” in the six-year conflict that is said to have claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2009 was “quite valid”.
The terrorists reportedly hoisted their flag at the headquarters of the MNJTF and then proceeded to sack many neighbouring communities, making nonsense of the many pledges by President Goodluck Jonathan and his service chiefs that the terrorists would be rolled back from territories they have captured in previous encounters.
Baga residents fled to Chad by crossing the Lake Chad while others ran southward to other parts of Borno State in search of safety. Reports of casualties range from as high as 2,000 civilian deaths to a couple of hundreds; a number of troops were also killed in the attack. Many houses, shops, vehicles, farm produce and public buildings were destroyed by the terrorists. It would be the second time Baga would experience such terrible fate, the first being on April 23, 2014, during which about 200 residents, including women and children, were killed.
An official of the Kukawa Local Government, Musa Usman, who claimed to witness the fighting, said that the terrorists attacked Baga in a convoy of pickup trucks, carrying improvised explosive devises (IEDs) and armoured personnel carriers. According to Usman, it was clear that some of the terrorism did not speak many of the community’s local tongues such as Kanuri, Shuwa-Arabic or Hausa. He said that the soldiers engaged the attackers for many hours, and apparently had to withdraw, perhaps for some strategic reasons.
There have been sustained complaints by soldiers on the battlefield regarding lack of equipment to face a determined enemy that has manoeuvred itself from engaging in guerrilla tactics into a conventional warfare. The army has always denied the charge that soldiers lacked weapons. But what would compel a conventional army to abandon the battlefront if not superior firepower and motivation? The military must do everything to imbue soldiers with the spirit, courage, determination and patriotism in order to win the war against these bloody and reckless barbarians.
It is worrisome that Baga, among other towns that were taken back from the control of Boko Haram, has again fallen into their hands. More disturbing is that the unfortunate spikes in hostilities, which appear to be coordinated, are happening few weeks to Nigeria’s general elections. The military must devise new counterinsurgency strategies to reclaim in the initiatives and defeat the savages.
Whenever a territory is taken back from terrorists, government through its relevant organs introduce measures to reassure residents of such communities, not just in words but in deeds, of the safety of lives and property. Concrete efforts must be made to rebuild destroyed communities, including public buildings such as schools and hospitals, so that residents can return to resume their normal life.
The Nigerian military must prevent a recurrence of the Baga experience and deny the barbarians any attempt to hold and consolidate their grip over any territory.
The withdrawal of troops by some neighbouring countries that contributed troops to the MNJTF is a development that needs to be inquired into answers sought by the federal government. This is more so when the peril of insurgency is considered to be a common threat to the territorial integrity of countries in the sub-region. The loss of Baga should therefore be a turning point for the army to resolve to reclaim every centimetre of territory that is now in the hands of the Muslim terrorists.