MNJTF and never ending Boko Haram attacks

Over the past two months, Boko Haram insurgents have launched attacks in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, in spite of the presence of a Multinational Joint Task Force formed by these four countries. Despite the progress made by ‘patient zero’, Nigeria, in destroying much of the Boko Haram ‘caliphate’ in its north eastern territories, the militants have seemingly skipped across its borders to neighbouring countries, wreaking havoc with bombs and guerrilla warfare attacks. Although this is hardly anything new, it appears to have gained more momentum recently. Most of the displaced members of the Boko Haram group have also slipped into the Nigerian populace, using young girls and women as mules for their suicide bombs.

Countries most affected by Boko Haram including Niger, Cameroon, Chad (countries belonging to the Lake Chad Basin Commission) and Benin Republic, indirectly, all came together last year, in June, to renew a Multinational Joint Task Force agreement between the nations. In a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, who had only been in office for a couple of months, the leaders of these countries agreed to move the headquarters of the MNJTF to Ndjamena, Chad, while Nigeria heads the force, through its Chief of Staff, Major General Tukur Buratai. Since then, Nigeria and these countries have made reasonable strides in dislodging Boko Haram militants from their strongholds. However, those victories appear to be Pyrrhic since it seems like for every militant driven out or killed by the MNJTF, Boko Haram replies by killing civilians through bombs and guerrilla attacks, while retreating deeper into the forests on the borders dividing these nations.

Nigeria pledged $100 million to the MNJTF, out of the $700 million budget announced for the coalition at an African Union Summit last year. Speaking at the African Union’s Peace and Security Council meeting at the AU summit last week, President Buhari revealed that Nigeria had donated $21 million already from the $100 million to the MNJTF in June last year. He also promised that Nigeria would pay the remaining, with Switzerland and France also pledging a sum of $150 million. However, that announcement seems surprising considering the amount of deaths that have and are still being reported due to Boko Haram attacks. While these pledges were ongoing at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Nigeria was going through yet another bout of mourning after another Boko Haram attack where the insurgency razed down a whole village in the north east of the country.

Considering the amount of money spent on the coalition, it seems as though not enough emphasis has been placed on clogging the porous borders between these countries where the terrorists reportedly camp after carrying out their attacks. Perhaps the inability of the MNJTF to control the situation better, has prevented other African countries from pledging financial support. However, Africa Matters consultant, Imad Mesdoua, told Reuters Africa that the problem requires more than money. “The answer lies in there being political will and the capability to back the force…This has been a regular problem with multi-national task forces in Africa.”

William Assanvo of the Institute of Security Studies, Dakar, Senegal stated explained that the MNJTF still has some work to do. “When it will be fully in place and operational, the Multinational Joint Task Force being deployed could also contribute to reduce suicide attacks, even though its troops will certainly be a target,” he said. “But overall, the countries and communities mostly affected will need to increase their vigilance and above all to drive Boko Haram out from its current strongholds, namely in the Sambisa forest area or in some border areas.”

It is of utmost importance that the MNJTF seek new ways to block sites known as some of the most porous in Africa and in doing so, rise to the challenge before Boko Haram becomes a force that will always be with us.

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