The present administration came into office on the strength of its campaign promises to fight corruption and insecurity in the country. Since then, it has launched a sustained media campaign to demonstrate its successes in these two areas. Late in December 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari triumphantly declared that the Nigerian army has “technically won the war” against Islamic Boko Haram militants in the Northeast of the country. He said the militant group could no longer mount “conventional attacks” against security forces or population centres and had been reduced to fighting with improvised explosives devices (IED). Later in January, the President maintained that “By the end of December 2015, all but pockets and remnants had been routed by our gallant armed forces. Our immediate focus is for a gradual and safe return of internally displaced persons in safety and dignity and for the resumption of normalcy in the lives of people living in these areas,”
Critics and those closer to the theatre of operations argued that the government often exaggerates the scales of its successes against the sect, but minders of the administration like minister of information, Lia Mohammed, has often hushed up such critics repeating the declaration of the president that the Boko Haram militancy has been quelled for good.
A year later, precisely in November 2016, the Chief of Army Staff, in a news conference with journalists in Maiduguri, restated the government’s stance that the Boko Haram insurgents have been defeated. Hear him: “It is very clear that the terrorists have been defeated; there are no doubts about it,” he said. “What we are doing now is a mop up operations aimed at ensuring that we clear the rest of them. It is one thing to defeat, and it is another issue for the terrorists to surrender…“We are working on their final surrender in the remaining enclaves where they are now. And very soon we will achieve that objective.”
It didn’t matter to the administration that each time it or the army claims to have wiped out Boko Haram, the militants have quietly rebuilt and resumed sustained attacks. While the government celebrated its war victory, the insurgents have in recent times resumed their attacks in earnest with the military caught flat footed. Hundreds – if not thousands have been killed recently in coordinated suicide bombings in Maiduguri and direct attacks at army formations and barracks all over Borno state. Surely those are not the acts of a defeated group.
Perhaps, it was the assurances and propaganda by the government that prompted the NNPC to resume its oil exploration activities in the Lake Chad basin that led to the ambush and killing of 50 people in the oil exploration team by the dreaded sect. The dead included over 18 soldiers, 15 members of the Civilian JTF, lecturers of the University of Maiduguri and NNPC staff. Countless others were injured. At least four staff of the University are still missing with three of them in the custody of the terror group.
Similarly, many refugees who have believed the government’s tales of victory and returned to their homes discovered the militants were still as strong and held sways in many local governments in Borno state. Many of such people never made it back to the IDP camps alive again. This is sad.
We marvel at how the government will mortgage the lives of its people on the altar of cheap propaganda just to let the world believe it has defeated an enemy it hasn’t defeated. Propaganda is an unethical manipulative tool. It is incompatible with liberal democratic governance where the government is supposed to be accountable to the people. Of course, since people will eventually discover the truth, propaganda may ultimately lead to lack of trust in government.
Instead of working assiduously to bring about the end of the insurgency, the Nigerian government is impatient to claim a victory that has clearly not been won. We urge the government to roll up its sleeves, cut out the propaganda and get back to work.