The Enemy Next Door, By Dele Agekameh
It appears there is no truce in place between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Boko Haram terrorists who have been waging a fierce war against the state especially in the Northeast part of the country.
Now it is increasingly getting clear that what we have been treated to in the last couple of weeks are half-truths, denials (that are not even subtle) and mere propaganda – all designed to achieve pre-conceived political agenda. At any rate, the release of the abducted Chibok girls from the hands of Boko Haram has since assumed some level of desperation in the form of a hurriedly-concocted ceasefire agreement. The agreement, if there was ever anything like that, collapsed even before the ink had dried on the paper on which it was signed.
The concern of this column is not whether there was actually a truce or if the truce ever worked. It is about the characters that engineered the truce. The public is not availed the opportunity to identify those involved in the negotiations. Therefore, it is difficult to decipher the real intention and motive behind the (supposed) ceasefire. Nobody knows whether it is for the sake of the country, for political aggrandizement or any other reason in the interest of certain groups or individuals for that matter.
However, we are aware of the involvement of neighbouring Chad and its President, Idriss Deby, a former military leader and now a politician, who has been presiding over the affairs of his country since he seized power in a military coup in 1990. He has been actively involved in the ceasefire talks. Deby was born into a family of the Zaghawa ethnic group in the Ennedi region of northeastern Chad, one of the many ethnic groups holding on to power in that country. He joined the army in the early 1970s and went to France in 1976 to train as a pilot at a time the country was in the grip of a long-running civil war.
He returned to Chad in 1978, in the heat of the conflict and threw his support behind Hissène Habré, the leader of one of the rebel groups, who was then serving as prime minister. He rose rapidly in the army. He later emerged as a leader of Habré’s forces and helped Habré to seize power and become President in 1982. Habre made Deby, who had then become widely recognised as a brilliant military strategist, Commander-in-Chief of the Chadian Armed Forces. Deby moved against Habre, his Principal, in 1990 and became President.
From his background, Deby is a veteran of several conflicts between the various rebel groups vying for control of power in Chad. His long years of experience in the intrigues and internecine conflicts that have plagued his country in the past, must have come in handy for him in trying to resolve the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state. But the peace talk between the Nigerian government and the terrorists, which is being mediated by the Chadian government, has been called into question since it was announced by the military following the refusal of both parties to respect the ceasefire deal. Though, Boko Haram is yet to make an official comment on the ceasefire, its fighters have continued to attack villages in the North-East prompting many people to wonder whether, indeed, a peace talk had taken place at all.
The terrorist group has been responsible for the killings, abductions and the displacement of many Nigerians in the North-East. In spite of these horrors, the Chadian government maintained that Nigeria’s deal with the terrorists to free the Chibok schoolgirls would still go ahead. The emergence of Chad as a peace negotiator between Boko Haram and Nigeria did not come as a surprise. As far back as the late 1960s and the early 80s, alien bandits suspected to have their base in neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroun, had been pillaging the Northeast part of the country where Boko Haram now holds sway. Thousands of villagers in Nigeria’s North-east zone had been sent packing by these criminals mostly populated by itinerant rebels seeking for means of livelihood after being displaced from their own countries especially Chad.
Banditry by Chadian hoodlums along Nigeria’s North-east region is an age-long problem. If it is not harassment of Nigerians, or forceful occupation of Nigerian territory, it is armed carnage in which innocent Nigerians are maimed, killed or their properties seized. The irony is that most of the time, the Nigerian government seems helpless over the situation because the government regards Nigeria as a ‘big brother’ to other African nations. But all along, the fear of those living in Nigeria’s northeast had always been that the rebels may one day declare that Nigeria’s Northeast belongs to them. A number of people had expressed dismay over the nonchalant attitude of the Federal Government over the Chadian miscreants’ atrocities which continued to grow beyond control in many cases. The activities of the miscreants had resulted in a lot of victims been scattered across different parts of such towns as Baga and other neighbouring towns in Borno while others were forced to migrate outside Borno State.
In spite of this, the government had consistently treated with levity, information given to it by the people directly affected by the banditry of Chadian criminals, putting faith, instead, on wrong data that do not paint the true picture of the situation on ground. This body language from the Nigerian government obviously encouraged the Chadian charlatans who had ceaselessly, continued to unleash terror on Nigerians. The Chadians’ atrocities could be traced as far back as the 1960s. But with the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967, either owing to fear or other considerations, coupled with the tension within the country then, the Chadian atrocities reduced with many Chadians vacating the shores of Lake Chad.
The end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970 coincided with the outbreak of hostilities in Chad which resulted in the bloody coup that terminated the life of President François N’Garta Tombalbaye. As a result, many of them fled into neighbouring border towns and islands within the Northeast region of the present-day Borno State and environs. Since then, they have not looked back. At a point, their atrocities became so worrisome that series of reports were forwarded to the Shehu Shagari civilian government between 1979 and 1983. Consequently, in 1982, General Muhammadu Buhari, who was then the General Officer Commanding, GOC, 3 Armoured Division, Nigerian Army with headquarters in Jos, stormed the affected zones and chased the miscreants out.
But if Nigerians thought that was the end of the matter, they were dead wrong. No sooner had Buhari withdrawn his troops from the area, than the rebels started to make a comeback, this time, in full force. Today, many of the villages have fallen under the control of the Boko Haram terrorists who are mere offshoots of the Chadian rebels. Due to the incessant violent eruption in Chad, most Chadian nationals, including their displaced troops; have found Nigeria a haven where everything is available, including uninterrupted harassment of the citizenry. While their women take to prostitution in several parts of Borno State, a greater number of their men find in banditry, a lucrative business which has now become properly structured and entrenched by Boko Haram .
Successive governors of Borno State including the late Mala Kachalla, who was governor of the state from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2003, raised sufficient alarm through several security reports warning that unless concerted efforts were made, several towns and villages along Nigeria’s border with Chad may be occupied by Chadians. One of the reports advised that in tackling the Chadian-Nigerian situation, “dialogue through diplomacy would be the best option but without prejudice to our ability to resort to military action to flush them out”. Since then, nothing has changed. The situation has only gone from bad to worse, resulting in the current situation where Chad, a country that appears to have inadvertently let loose bandits to prey on Nigerians, is now trying to rescue Nigeria from the holocaust. What an irony! What a pity!!