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 have been killed recently in coordinated suicide bombings by the sect in Maiduguri.
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. News reports have it that over 50 people were killed in a Boko Haram ambush on the oil exploration team. 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. The three were shown in a recent video by the terrorist group begging the government to negotiate for their release.
But even with the heavy casualties sustained the Army kept up its propaganda, claiming falsely, that it has rescued all staff of the NNPC abducted in the ambush had been rescued whereas all of them have been killed and the corpses recovered.
Propaganda, in the real sense, 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. How could a defeated insurgency stage such ambush attack against such large number of military and civilian JTF members?
We urge the government to roll up its sleeves, cut out the propaganda and get back to work.