It’s been four years since the UN House bombing – How has Nigeria combated the insurgency?

Today, August 26, 2015 marks the four-year anniversary of the 2011 UN House bombing in Abuja Nigeria, and to commemorate the event, Nigeria welcomed the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban ki-Moon, for a two-day official visit.

The UN House bombing, which killed about 21 people and left over 60 injured was carried out by Nigeria’s unrelenting resident insurgent sect, Boko Haram. After the bombing in 2011, then President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, promised to fight insurgency to ensure that such an event would not repeat itself. However, in 2015, Boko Haram seems to be stronger than ever, and has killed at least 15,000 people over the course of the insurgency. Right on the heels of the UN chief’s visit is a fresh set of bomb attacks which has left at least eight people dead and over twenty injured.

Since the re-emergence of Boko Haram in 2009, the country has waged war against the insurgency. The Federal Government educated the populace on security measures and increased security around the country by relying on its military. However, Boko Haram continued to gain territory throughout North-eastern Nigeria highlighting that the military was ill equipped to combat the terrorist group.

Offensive starts just before the Elections

The military under Jonathan was heavily criticised for poor handling of the insurgency and its failure to free more than 200 schoolgirls abducted from the north-eastern town of Chibok in April last year. When Boko Haram moved its base to neighbouring country Chad, a joint task force was set up by Nigeria in collaboration with Cameroon and Chad, which successfully disbanded the terrorist camps.

The Nigerian Government made considerable progress with rolling back the insurgency just before the April elections that led to a change of government in the country. After requesting a six-week postponement of elections to enable the government fight terrorism, the military was suddenly able to recover all the territories, established camps for the Internally Displaced Persons, and restored peace largely. Naturally, there was a lot of speculation as to why the government watched while the country suffered for over six years when they could have responded sooner, and the opposition was voted into power.

Buhari restructures the military

Following up on his promise to destroy Boko Haram, President Buhari, who came to power on May 29, replaced the military chiefs and ordered them to end the insurgency within three months. However, the new army chief was ambushed by Boko Haram gunmen just a few days ago.

In Nigeria’s fight against insurgency, another Multi-national Joint Task Force with 8,700 members is expected to go into action soon. It draws members from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin. Military officials predict that it will be more effective than the current alliance to end terrorism. Coincidentally, the UN chief’s visit comes in the wake of a Boko Haram-led ambush on Nigeria’s army chief, but in spite of this, the UN Chief stated that it was “a time of hope” notwithstanding the rise of extremism in the country.

Increased number of deaths and displaced persons

Despite good intentions of the government, Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks in Borno and two neighbouring states in Northeastern Nigeria since Buhari came into power. They have also carried out deadly ambushes across Nigeria’s borders and used female suicide bombers to carry out some of these attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. The fresh wave of violence, which has claimed over 1,000 lives over the last three months and has left about 1.3 million people displaced, has amounted to a setback on the achievements of the joint military task force created in February.

Outlook ahead

“This is a crucial moment for Nigeria,” said Ban ki-Moon in a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss ways to counter Islamic extremism, “You face many serious challenges but you have also taken a hugely important step to move forward in a way that can respond to the aspirations of the country’s people.”

In a keynote address Titled “Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights, Development, Climate Change and Countering Violent Extremism” the UN chief advocated for the spirit of non-negotiation with terrorists and called for an unconditional release of the Chibok girls. He believes that if Nigeria can incorporate basic human rights regulations into law, the country will be able to combat insurgency.

Some experts are of the opinion that Ban ki-Moon’s visit should focus less on the insurgency and more on development.  They assert that the level of poverty in the country might be the reason why many people are joining the jihadists in large numbers.

Ban ki-Moon wrapped up his two-day visit to Nigeria with a wreath-laying ceremony in honour of the victims of the attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja.

Four years later, the fight against insurgency has turned into a tango, with the government moving one-step forward and two steps backward. Nigerians and the rest of the world are watching to see whether President Buhari and his new military chiefs will be able to live up to their promises of wiping out terrorism in all its forms.

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