Published On: Wed, Aug 2nd, 2017

The deadly Boko Haram ambush

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The Nigerian military has officially apologised for misinforming the citizenry about the deadly Boko Haram ambush on July 25 in the Lake Chad area of Borno state. An oil exploration team, made up of officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and experts from nearby University of Maiduguri was being escorted by armed troops when they ran into the ambush. It happened in Bornoyesu district in Magumeri local goverment area.

The military’s initial reaction said 9 soldiers were killed in the ambush while “all” 12 NNPC officials were rescued. However, social media reports and a video clip released by the terrorists showing 3 captured members of the exploration team pleading for their lives revealed the military was wrong. On July 31, Brigadier Gen. Sani Usman, director, Army Public Relations, issued a second statement, acknowledging the mistake, with an apology.

The second statement described the July 25 ambush and the military’s initial claim as “unfortunate and highly regrettable”. It also clarified the earlier statement, saying this time that “additional bodies of five soldiers, 11 JTF (the civilian force supporting the military) and five members of the exploration team” have been recovered.

We, at Peoples Daily, commend this new openness of the military. Before now, it was not forthcoming with information about the conduct of the counter-insurgency, let alone talk of admitting the excesses of troops, wrongs that rights organisations including Amnesty International have repeatedly complained about.

However, we must point out that the “apology” given does little to assuage the fear gripping Nigerians that Boko Haram is on the rebound, after the government, last year, declared it “technically defeated” it. It will seem that announcement was premature. The result is that the military hierarchy and soldiers dropped their guard, top commanders retreating to their comfort zone in Abuja. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has reacted well to this setback by ordering chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai and his commanders to return to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, where the insurgency has been localised.

Again, Buratai’s order to his war commanders to arrest Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau “dead or alive” , an order widely reported in the local media, was not necessary. Everybody, including Shekau, knew that his capture was the ultimate goal of the Nigerian military. Making it public was saying the obvious; it gave the enemy the excuse to prove that it was not the spent force it was believed to be.

Before the July 25 ambush, Boko Haram had been sending out a strong message it still retained a fighting capability though now much reduced. It had frequently attacked the University of Maiduguri, markets and highways, using suicide bombers. In the light of that, we consider it highly irresponsible of our military authority to have allowed the oil exploration team to enter uncharted enemy territory, escorted by a small number of lightly armed infantry men. One of two persons that escaped capture said the Boko Haram fighters were in their hundreds and they displayed “superior firepower” during an exchange that lasted “over two hours”.

The military told a visiting African Union (AU) defence delegation Monday in Abuja that what happened on July 25 was a failure of intelligence. Independent security experts suspect sabotage by possibly politicians and members of the civilian joint task force (JTF). We call for a high powered inquiry to get to the root of this embarrassing military debacle; anyone found to have, in any way, compromised themselves must be made to face the music. The searchlight must reach the highest level of the military hierarchy.

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