The new attacks by Boko Haram on communities of Yobe and Borno States are worrisome and major setback to the counter terrorism effort. There was a misunderstanding between Abubakar Shekau camp and that of the son of the late Muhammad Yusuf in March 2015 which gave birth to ISWAP, a Jihadist terrorist organization active in the Lake Chad Basin Areas.
I came across the name in 2015 when a renowned terrorism reporter and a journalist Ahmed Salkida tweeted on his twitter handle that Boko Haram splinted into major groups. The group at that time seemed to be nonviolent; their modus operandi is like humanitarian workers helping the extreme or poor communities with water, shelter and other basic amenities. The group was doing so to create trust with the host communities and also create avenue of recruiting more young people into their group.
The group is reported to have a strong allegiance with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The group appears to be working hard to gain more favour and support from ISIS, though they do provide training and technical assistance to them.
Recently, the group executed four aid workers who were abducted on 18 July 2019 in Damasak in Borno State. They are in custody of the one woman among the aid workers and some other people including the lecturers from Adamawa. The group is kidnapping people and demanding for ransom which is one of its sources of finance.
In November, Nigerian Air Force successfully targeted the senior members of the group and killed several of them in Jubilaram in the Lake Chad Basin. The operation, according to Air force spokesperson was part of the renewed offensive to end the protracted insurgency in the region.
The renew attacks are very disturbing and came at a time the government is claiming that the group has been defeated technically. This month, the group has made several attacks at different locations in Borno and Yobe States. The group reported that they ambushed travellers along Maiduguri-Monguno road where six people were killed, an eye witness said four of them were humanitarian workers. Another one was in Damaturu where the Nigerian army successfully pushed them back and killed many of them. After they left Damaturu, they were also sighted along Miringa axis of Biu firing gun at communities. At last, to the credit of our gallant troops, they were pushed back.
The major concern is that, ISWAP is growing in power and influence especially in its territorial base on the banks and Island of Lake Chad areas. The group has cultivated a level of support among local civilians. International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) reported that there is strong bond between ISWAP and these neglected communities and the terrorist group does provide economic support to them and treating them better than parent organization (Boko Haram) and by filling gaps in governance and service delivery. Filling this gap in governance and service delivery is very essential in winning this war and of course getting information from the communities that will help in tackling the conflict.
ISWAP approach appears to have paid dividends in term of recruitment and support from the communities, displacing them will not be easy because they close to the population especially those communities of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The group reportedly extends micro-loans to local communities especially to women, youths and farmers. The government should not use force alone in fighting them; non-kinetic approach should also be considered to weaken their ties with those communities.
For Nigeria to win this war, one step to start is to address the issue of human right abuses committed by security personnel and conduct themselves more professionally in discharging their duties in the affected communities. This will win the heart of rural communities to provide the necessary information needed to counter ISWAP terrorists in the region.
Idris Mohammed, Abuja