Some success in fighting Boko Haram

Why have the rebel forces of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria been weakened but not yet defeated?

Can the five-country military campaign under the aegis of the African Union defeat the rebels?

What else can be done?

We ask those questions because of our concern that, one full year after the Boko Harem militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in the northeastern part of Nigeria the insurgency is by no means on its knees.

The multi-lateral military forces have had some positive results and Gwazo is now the only important town still controlled by the rebels. But the latter still control massive forested areas and have launched many more offensives against civilian and military targets in the last six months.

To date, their tally is conservatively estimated at hundreds of kidnap victims, hundreds of thousands of refugees and thousands of dead.

But that is just the surface of the Boko Haram rebellion. The fact the rebels are Muslims is only one aspect of the bigger picture. The other key aspect of the rebellion is socio-economic and political in nature.

Nigeria’s major political, economic and cultural successes since achieving independence in 1960 have been counter-balanced by a range of less-than-glorious experiences. According to the international media, Muslim Northern Nigeria has been the victim of bias and neglect inflicted by successive Federal Nigerian governments controlled by non-Muslim politicians drawn from the ethnic groups of Southern Nigeria.

The Globe and Mail’s in-depth report of Feb. 27, 2015, states:

“Instead of dealing with the rebellion’s root causes – poverty, corruption, repressive security forces and a government that neglects the north – Nigeria’s ruling politicians have largely preferred to ignore the conflict, allowing the police and army a free hand to use assassination and torture in failed attempts to crush the rebels. The history of the Boko Haram rebellion has been a cautionary tale of how not to respond to a domestic insurgency.”

When considered from that perspective, a long-term “resolution” of the conflict unleashed by the Boko Haram movement must go beyond the military efforts: political, social, economic and cultural plans must also be central aspects of what will have to be a peace and development strategy.

Added to that, it is also important to note that the success of the international collaborative efforts to fight Boko Haram militarily will also be limited by Nigerian sensitivities.

Nigerians, and especially the members of the Nigerian military establishment, feel uncomfortable with the presence of foreign troops in their territory.

Therefore, Nigerians are going to have to dig deep into their hearts and souls to find the large amount of political will that is required to manage the national security issues of the Boko Haram insurgency, while simultaneously addressing  the enduring anger and bitterness of those Northerners who feel marginalized, neglected and oppressed.

Incoming President Muhammadu Buhari and his government have their work cut out for them.