In the early 2010s, when Boko Haram started its hit and run attacks on military bases and personnel, it was hard to imagine that the daredevil group would one day become emboldened enough to start taking the battle to the Nigerian Army’s gate, as it is being currently witnessed.
Today, not only has Boko Haram grown in size and number, but it has also increased significantly in arms and ammunition, leading to scores of civilian deaths in many of its onslaughts. More worrisome is the seeming ease with which the terrorist group kills dozens of soldiers and captures sophisticated weapons in different attacks on military bases.
A week or so ago, members of Boko Haram and its aligned terrorist organization, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), displayed different types of operational Hilux vehicles and armoured tanks they captured from Nigerian soldiers on April 25 in an attack on a Nigerian Army location at 156 Battalion in Mainok area, Borno state. Seeing such assorted military weapons in terrorists’ hands is worrisome, to say the least, and should make governments in the Lake Chad Basin region shudder.
It is even more disturbing to know that this cache of assorted weapons was captured in a single attack. Considering its recent successes on attacks on military bases, the group seems to have acquired enough weapons to cause much more harm and elongate the decade-long war further than anyone can possibly envisage.
The Lake Chad Basin region comprises Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. While Nigeria is the most affected by Boko Haram attacks, the three other countries also have their fair shares of insurgency by the group and its allies. Boko Haram has mainly sustained its deadly acts in the region using stolen weapons, mostly hijacked from the military. Each time it overpowers a military base, it captures an array of arms and ammunition and leaves many soldiers dead. In the Mainok attack, 17 soldiers were reportedly killed, and everything in sight was burnt by the terrorists. This is the second attack on Mainok in about a year. The first was in January 2020, carried out in a similar version, whereby the terrorists camouflaged in a police vehicle, approached a military base and opened fire on unsuspecting soldiers.
In 2021 alone, hundreds of soldiers have been reportedly killed by the terrorists. They recently killed 33 soldiers when they rammed two explosive-laden vehicles into a military convoy in Wulgo, Borno State. 20 soldiers were also killed in February in Malari, also in Borno State. It remains a mystery how the terrorists gain access to military formations and carry out their dastard acts unhindered and undetected. Also, it is difficult to quantify the true scope and scale of weapons the extremists have seized, given how militaries in the region have been accused of understating the enormity of terrorists’ attacks. In 2015, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari claimed that Boko Haram had been technically defeated and could no longer carry out conventional attacks on security forces or population centres. But the current situation says completely otherwise.
It is no doubt that these attacks on military bases have netted Boko Haram millions of rounds of ammunition. Non-lethal materiel, such as communications gear, uniforms, and petrol, are also seized on a sizeable scale. Forceful acquisition of military weapons is a common pattern insurgents use globally. However, the frequency with which Boko Haram does it and the successes it enjoys, especially of late, is alarming.
In the past few years, the Nigerian government has spent billions of dollars on arms procurement and other military expenditures. Recently, 1 billion dollars was approved for the procurement of more weapons, purposely to fight Boko Haram and its affiliated groups. But with the recent spike in military’s weapons acquisition by the groups, a good number of these newly purchased weapons have probably ended in terrorists’ hands – the same people they were meant to fight. This spells great doom for both the military and civilian communities in the region.
For instance, the terrorists who carried out the Mainok attack entered the military base with no fewer than 15 gun trucks. This shows that no one, including top government officials with long convoys of motorcades and dozens of security men, can boast of being safe from the insurgents’ reach. Last year, Boko Haram attacked the Borno State governor’s convoy three times within three months, killing many of his security men and leaving the governor rattled, disturbed and confused at each occasion. Interstate travel by rail or road, especially in northern Nigeria, has also become a highly dangerous adventure for both the ruling class and the masses due to the constant attacks on highways.
It cost a lot to train a soldier to his or her first operational assignment. Seeing the Nigerian soldiers being killed in their numbers on a regular basis means a huge loss for the country. It has also greatly affected the trust of civilians in their army, considering how it appears that the military is helpless and weak.
While the current situation is worrisome enough, the long term effects could be much more alarming if the forceful acquisition of military weapons by insurgents continues. Already there are devastating humanitarian crises in the region, including tens of thousands of deaths, millions of forced migrations, life-threatening hunger and other issues caused by armed conflicts.
Recently, Nigeria became the third most affected country globally by terrorisms and armed conflicts. Boko Haram and its allies in northern Nigeria accounted for most of the attacks that earned the country the unpleasant spot on the global terrorism index. If the situation continues unchecked, Nigeria and its Lake Chad Basin region neighbours could become the worst terrorized region in the world in the near future. The region and its neighbouring countries in sub-Saharan Africa have some of the most disadvantaged children in the world. The unending terrorism is set to dishearteningly exacerbate that.