Olusegun Akinfenwa: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 May 2021:
The Lake Chad basin region, comprising Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, has been grappling with terrorist attacks since the emergence of the Boko Haram sect, with Northern Nigerian being the worst hit. The group started its onslaughts on security personnel in mid-2010 with hit-and-run tactics at police checkpoints, killing officers and make away with their weapons.
But today, the Africa’s most deadly terrorist sect has grown in size, boldness and arms. It now has the effrontery to attack military bases with alarming frequencies and recording unimaginable successes against soldiers in the four countries. In 2021 alone, hundreds of soldiers have reportedly been killed by the insurgents.
Sadly, the bloodshed of this nature has become commonplace and hardly gets much media attention. While this is devastating enough, more worrisome is the growing size of the jihadists’ arms stockpile.
In April, members of Boko Haram and its aligned terrorist organization, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), showed off different kinds of operational Hilux vehicles and armoured tanks seized from Nigerian soldiers on April 25 in an attack on a Nigerian Army location at 156 Battalion in Mainok area, Borno state. Forcefully acquired weapons like these have kept the group in business and wreaked untold havoc on the region, especially in Nigeria.
With an 8.314 score, Nigeria currently ranks third on the Global Terrorism Index, which indicates that Boko Haram is gaining too much ground in the country and the Lake Chad Basin region. Cameroon, Niger, and Chad are 13th, 24th, and 34th on the list.
From January to April 2019, Safety Organization (INSO), an international NGO, recorded 896 attacks, including killings, kidnappings, and bombings in the region. Boko Haram is responsible for most of these. In April 2021, the sect attacked a military base in Borno, killing 18 soldiers and injuring 43 others. According to the report, the military base was “virtually completely destroyed”.
The jihadists also killed at least 10 soldiers when they attacked a military base near Diffa town in Niger. In Cameroon, more than 100 Boko Haram fighters attacked an army base in Dananga. Sometimes, the group overruns an entire battalion, just like in a 2018 attack in Yobe, Nigeria, where hundreds of Nigerian soldiers reportedly went missing.
Chad also recorded its deadliest Boko Haram attack in early 2020, losing 92 persons in an attack on the Boma peninsula that lasted for at least over seven hours. Whenever the extremists overpower a military base, various types of weapons and other military materials abandoned by the soldiers become theirs. Occasionally, Boko Haram releases videos to the public, either displaying their captives, victories or making threats to the government.
In 2015, the Nigerian military, with help from Cameroon and Chad troops, successfully launched a counterinsurgency operation against the group. This saw the recovery of many military weapons, including sophisticated ones including army tanks.
The devastating effects of this lingering menace include tens of thousands of deaths, millions of forced migration, and life-threatening hunger in the region.
The terrorists have killed and maimed many soldiers using the same weapons stolen from the military. This has also greatly affected the morale in military camps, just as civil-military relations and confidence shrink by the day.
Boko Haram fighters have killed more than 36,000 persons since its emergence, including the recent gruesome killings of scores of farmers in Borno State. People run to seek refuge in other states and regions that are somewhat safer. These people are having to rely on humanitarian assistance to survive.
Boko Haram violence has displaced about 1.4 million children in Nigeria. In southwestern Niger, Diffa is home to over 280,000 refugees, most of whom fled from terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, even the refugee camps are not all safe. In 2020, there was a terrorist attack on a refugee camp in western Niger. In Nigeria, the militants have also attacked many IDP camps, killing and abducting many.
There is also a financial angle to these effects. Nigeria, for instance, has substantially increased its military expenditures in the past decade. The country spent more than $2.5 billion on military expenditure in 2020. In 2019, it was $1.86 billion. Despite that, insecurity continues to thrive, as many of the weapons procured with the funds ended up in insurgents’ camps.
It is worth noting, however, that militaries in the region have had some notable victories against the terrorists. About 1,000 terrorists were killed by an operation against Boko Haram by Chadian troops in 2020. The Cameroonian military also succeeded in driving the sect out of their borders and back into Nigeria in April 2021.
Early this year, the Nigerian military killed about 21 Boko Haram terrorists in Geidam, Yobe State. Several weapons were recovered, including an anti-aircraft gun. The military seized a large arsenal of assault rifles and machine guns and destroyed six war jeeps.
While these victories are noteworthy, the sect’s growing arms stockpile remains a great threat to the military and civilian populations in the region. This requires a concerted effort by political and military leaders in the region. The militants seem to be having easy access to military locations and weapons. This remains a mystery that authorities must investigate and unravel.
For the Lake Chad Basin region to experience lasting peace, Boko Haram must be stopped, and this will require blocking its sources of arms.
About the author
Olusegun Akinfenwa is a correspondent for Immigration News, a news organization affiliated with Immigration Advice Service (IAS). IAS is a leading U.K. immigration law firm that helps people migrate, settle, and acquire British citizenship.