“What is Boko Haram!?” was Muhammadu Buhari’s angry response to the postponement of the 2015 presidential elections. The elections, initially scheduled for 14th of February 2015, had been moved forward by six weeks as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Buhari’s cross response at the time stood out as a sign of his eagerness and capacity to stamp out the North-East insurgency if voted into office, any area many felt President Jonathan had underperformed.
Three years later, with Buhari sitting in Aso Rock, that initial verve has not quite been translated into military success.
Before Buhari, Nigeria had Good Luck.
Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency began just when Nigeria was getting introduced to the threat of Boko Haram. The group had morphed from a non-violent group to an armed organisation. Resurfacing towards the end of 2010, Boko Haram, led by Abubakar Shekau, carried out attacks on military barracks, civilians and secular students.
By 2014, they had caused more than 7000 deaths and taken over 14 local governments in the North-East, leaving over 2 million Nigerians in need of humanitarian assistance. President Goodluck Jonathan belatedly sprang into action, ordering military troops to be deployed to Borno, Yobe and Adamawa to fight the notorious sect.
Jonathan undermined the crisis by failing to ensure that funds were released to cater to the needs of the soldiers deployed. An outcry by the Nigerian army followed his order, with troops accusing the Federal Government of tossing them into war without the required ammunition to repel attacks.
Perhaps the lowest point of Jonathan’s administration was his initial response to the Chibok kidnap. In April 2014, 276 girls were taken by insurgents from their school in Chibok, Borno State while writing examinations. Despite national outrage, the Presidency initially failed to comment or respond to the incident for many days.
As the crisis escalated, Goodluck Jonathan tried to broker peace by offering an amnesty deal to Boko Haram members, which the sect rejected. In response, the President sought legislative and cabinet approval for funds to fight the militants – first from the Excess Crude Account and then external borrowing.
These funds were intended to train security officers and upgrade their equipment but were misappropriated by the former National security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and his ex-lieutenants.
Court papers containing charges against Dasuki provided details of how millions of naira meant for arms were distributed to politicians, his family members and elected delegates to secure a second presidential term for Goodluck Jonathan. While Dasuki’s case is still ongoing, it is clear that there was some form of mismanagement around the funds meant to fight Boko Haram.
President Jonathan’s policies and reaction to the Boko Haram insurgency country were almost always forced as they only came in when public opinion seemed to be against his administration. Admitting towards the end of his tenure that he grossly undermined Boko Haram and could have done better, he scored low points in holding the army chiefs accountable and managing the crisis in general.
Many people believed that President Jonathan was slow to respond because he saw the war in the North as a political plot to kick him out of power. At times, his body language suggested this as well. From his initial laxity to the evolving crisis to the way funds for the military campaign were mismanaged, there was an apparent disconnect between Jonathan and the reality of the threat posed by Boko Haram.
The “defeat” of Boko Haram
One of President Buhari's first acts as President was to relocate the command centre of the military operation against Boko Haram to Maiduguri, a decision that achieved notable military gains. For example, many local governments in the North-East previously taken over by the insurgents were regained by the Nigerian army. The President also changed a number of the service chiefs, called for monitoring reports, and overhauled the counter-insurgency strategy - all in a bid to restore normalcy to the war-torn region.
On the 24th of December, 2015, six months after defeating Goodluck Jonathan at the polls, President Buhari announced another victory with the claim that Nigeria had technically defeated Boko Haram.
Despite the strides recorded by his administration, the declaration of peace was hasty – Boko Haram attacks lingered way after the announcement. And so did the corruption within the army. A 2017 Amnesty International report estimated the Boko Haram death toll during Buhari's tenure at 1600, a worrying figure given the work put in to curb the menace.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration seems to be towing the path of his predecessor. The welfare of security officials is still ignored; frustrated members of the Nigerian army sent letters to the Presidency complaining that the military is severely underfunded and ill-equipped. Frontline soldiers have also appeared in videos pleading with the President to intervene and release a backlog of allowances owed to them as many soldiers are surviving on the goodwill of do-gooders.
Then, four years after Chibok, lightning struck again in Dapchi, Yobe state, where Boko Haram took over a 100 girls from their school premises. Thankfully, the rescue was swift and decisive. However, unlike the previous regime, this administration could not claim to have been caught off guard and had still not done enough to secure their initial safety. For instance, Despite the high profile fallout of the Chibok kidnapping and the Boko Haram focus on young girls, the Government failed to secure secondary schools within the region and strengthen intelligence gathering to forestall similar attacks.
Finally, mirroring President Jonathan's appeal for funding, President Buhari asked the National Economic Council to approve a $1 billion withdrawal from the Excess Crude Account. Part of the money would be used to fight the insurgents and put an end to the menace that has haunted the North-East for years.
While it is clear that Muhammadu Buhari is making visible progress in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents, more needs to be done to control the spate of attacks. Moreover, the President’s campaign promise of restoring the North-East to its lost glory remains unfulfilled.
Meanwhile, Nigerians continue to pressure the government to address corruption in the military and provide more humanitarian support to Internally Displaced Persons. Unlike the previous administration, which was arguably unprepared for a military or humanitarian ordeal, the Muhammadu Buhari led Government knew what it was getting into, and had history to learn from.
In terms of security, particularly with regards to Boko Haram, it is fair to say that the Goodluck Jonathan administration performed below expectation. At the moment, though it has recorded more progress, the Muhammadu Buhari administration may not score materially higher if more is not done.
We need to move from containing Boko Haram to totally defeat them. We have had enough of political mud-slinging and strongman rhetoric. Nigerian lives are at stake. Now is the time to work.