By Nazifi Haruna
The #BringBackOurGirls, a group campaigning for the release of Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014, has revealed what they saw during their aeriel tour round the Sambisa Forest.
There have been exchanges of correspondence between the federal government and the group before they finally honoured the invitation.
In a lengthy statement jointly signed by the convener, Oby Ezekwesili, and another member, Aisha Yesufu, the group said the trip was beneficial, and that they learned a lot.
Read below the group’s account:
1. We saw highly motivated, highly professional, verydedicated and inspiring air troop of the Nigerian air force. Quite significantly, they were mostly in their 20s.They were delighted also to meet with us. Many walked up to us to thank us for our advocacy. Some recalled how much we advocated on the poor resourcingof the counterinsurgency war and their welfare. They were particularly inspired by our #NigeriansHonourOurHeroes.
2. Sambisa forest is a vast expanse of land covering several hundred square kilometers, whereas ‘Camp Zero’ is only about 2square kilometers. Whereas Camp Zero is destroyed and desolate, it represents only a fraction of the large expanse known as Sambisa forest. This explains why our troops are still in Sambisa forest even after declaring victory when Camp Zero fell.
3. Fear of resurgence means that our military on air and ground operations are still vigilant in order to never allow the terrorists the opportunity to regroup.
4. There is no contradiction between the recovery of Camp Zero by our troops and the possibility that our girls may have been relocated to other locations within the vast Sambisa forest.
5. We flew as low as 15,000 feet and saw the areas recovered. Our day sortie report when analysed showed that 14 women were gathered around the ‘Tree of Life’ which has been a location of suspicious enemy movement. The Nigerian air force (NAF) said they would probe this further with their army colleagues.
6. We did night sorties precisely because we were told that it is usually at night that captives mostly women, girls, children are moved around by the enemies. We were told that before now we would have seen many such movements when the insurgents were firmly in control of the theatre of war.
We saw only an animal on a night crawl but no human beings during this night sorties.
7. There had been ONLY ONE fighter jet in the entire theatre of war until recently when 4 were added, with 1 more undergoing repairs.
C. What the Northeast tour confirmed to us
1. Transparency in the execution of the counterinsurgency war by allowing independent media and citizens can be of enormous benefits. Public buy-in is essential to further boost the moral of the troops fighting and sacrificing the rest of us. A nation at war with a common enemy needs to be united to win.
2. Through this NAF operation which we were part of, we know more on the basis of which to scrutinise the federal government and the military and demand accountability.
3. Failure of governance produces the nature of escalation of the insurgency uprising. Had resources that is, leadership, knowledge, expertise, equipment , intelligence, etc had been deployed effectively earlier on, we would have vanquished the enemy a long time ago.
Ensuring timely response and decision-making is a major lesson for our government, going forward. Delays have been costly in terms of loss of lives, time, and money.
4. Technology plays a key role not only in fighting and winning the war but in telling the story. Experiencing the technical war room in the ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) process using the latest technology helped us learn about the coordination between the air and ground troops in intelligence gathering, analysis, and operations.
D. Specific to our #ChibokGirls
1. The minister of information and culture who led the guided tour along with the minister of defence revealed that negotiations were under way to release our 83 girls earlier promised.
The reality is that negotiations delivered 21 Chibok girls at once whereas military effort indirectly led to the recovery of 3 of our girls following their self-effort after air raids or ground troops’ offensives.
1. The federal government must evolve in its current attitude to citizens’ demand for accountability.
2. The government must embrace the culture of continually being answerable to citizens. The less antagonistic government acts towards those in society who scrutinise its actions and demand accountability, the faster progress society makes.
3. The government must open up to scrutiny. Transparency must be a key tool of the military as much as possible for winning the counterinsurgency war. This becomes even more important considering the military’s chequered history of distrust with the civilian population.
4. What is the state of the prosecution of those indicted in misappropriating monies for arms procurement. What assurances are there that diversions of monies meant to prosecute the ongoing war.
5. We cannot overemphasise the importance of proper equipping and military welfare.
6. On return from the guided tour we got the sad news of an unfortunate incidence of a erroneous bombing of an IDP camp leading to a reported 52 fatalities and 120 injured. These include aid workers. Military experts confirm that such accidents sometimes occur and cannot be completely ruled out.
The NAF we saw is not one to make such an error lightly if it were humanly and technically possible to avoid the accident. We however believe that better intelligence and coordination between the air and ground troops can possibly reduce the chances of such occurrence.
The weight and import of this bombing of civilians is not lost on us. It is a monumental tragedy.
This notwithstanding, apologies do not suffice. All victims should be identified and compensated or their families.
For and on behalf of#BringBackOurGirls