Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, stirred public controversy on Monday with his analysis of the war against Boko Haram and the performance of Commanders of the Operation Lafiya Dole — the Military’s codename for its anti-insurgency operations in the Northeast.
Speaking in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, at a town hall meeting organized by the Federal Government, Shettima said the greatest results so far in the war against Boko Haram had been achieved by army commanders who are not from northern Nigeria.
He made two controversial claims.
“Some of our greatest accomplishments in the current counter-insurgency efforts were recorded under army generals who are not from Borno and northern Nigeria,” Shettima said.
Explaining himself further, he said: “When General Leo Irabor, another southerner, was leaving, he left the Boko Haram insurgents in their degraded state. But the insurgents picked up their hostility shortly after he left.
“The last Theatre Commander, who is even a northerner, had woefully failed to perform.”
“What we have recorded in the last six weeks outweighs what was accomplished in the last three years, especially under General Nicholas who is yet another hero of our time.”
The Nigerian Army launched Operation Lafiya Dole in July 2015, in compliance with President Muhammadu Buhari’s order on assumption of office on May 29 that the command and control center of the Army should be relocated to Maiduguri until Boko Haram is defeated.
The following month — that is August 2015 — Yusha’u Abubakar, a Major-General was named Theatre Commander of the operation. He lasted just four months. Between then and now, there have been four more commanders: Hassan Umoru, Lucky Irabor, Ibrahim Attahiru and Rogers Ibe, in that order. Abubakar, Umoru and Attahiru are from the North, while Irabor and Ibe are for the South. Did their performances in office justify Shettima’s claims?
Appraising the tenure of Yusha’u Abubakar requires no long writing; if an officer lasts only four months at the helm of a military force, then it is certain he had an underwhelming performance in office. Between August and December 18, 2015, when he was in office, there were a minimum of 54 Boko Haram attacks, including a bomb attack on a Mosque in October in Yola that killed 50, a bombing in Maiduguri in September that killed 117, an attack on a Borno village in August that led to the death of 68, and an attack on Yobe in August that caused the death of 160.
If Abubakar’s four-month tenure was short, Hassan Umoru’s was even shorter. He came in on December 18, 2016, and was moved elsewhere on March 17, 2016. He had barely settled in when, three days later, Boko Haram killed 20 at a mosque in Madagali, Adamawa State. The insurgents also killed 14 in Borno, on Christmas Day 2015. At least 20 were killed in three attacks in January 2016, while more than 30 were killed in a multiple attacks on a mosque in Borno in February.
Umoru’s removal in March 2016 paved the way for the emergence of his deputy, Lucky Irabor (March 17, 2016 to May 10, 2017), who would go on to become the longest-serving Theatre Commander till date. Irabor’s 14-month stay in office is a testament to his good performance in office. Of all five commanders, his tenure admittedly witnessed the lowest death tolls of attacks by Boko Haram, many of them single-digit numbers — three here, eight there, unlike the case with his predecessors when Boko Haram killed innocent civilians in their dozens. Similarly, it was during his tenure that insurgents resorted to staging attacks outside the country, in Cameroon and Libya in particular, because they found the north-east harder to penetrate.
However, under his watch still, Boko Haram killed 24 and injured 10 in Kuda, Borno, in June 2016, killed 18 in a bomb explosion in Maiduguri in October, and killed 57 and injured 177 in twin explosions in Madagali.
Also, he was Theatre Commander in August 2016 when the Army claimed (and even released a support video) to have fatally wounded Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, who is still alive today.
Ibrahim Attahiru (May 10 to December 5, 2017) saw his stint as head of Lafiya Dole brought to an abrupt end three days after Boko Haram insurgents executed one of the deadliest attacks of the year on Biu town in Borno, killing at least 18 people and seriously injuring 52 others. More than 50 soldiers, including officers, were killed in the seven months that he was in office, the toughest to take being the 19 killed with some oil explorers (others were kidnapped) in an ambush in Magumeri in July.
More than 40 people overall died in that attack; the abductees, including University of Maiduguri (UNMAID) staff, have not yet been rescued.
In November, Boko Haram executed its deadliest attack in 2017, killing more than 50 and injuring many more at a mosque in Mubi, Adamawa State. The same month, four female suicide bombers attacked Muna Gari, a suburb of the city, killing 14. Also that month, at least 45 were killed and 47 critically injured in multiple bomb blasts at a Yola mosque.
The previous months were littered with attacks as well, including the killing of 31 fishermen in Baga in August.
Rogers Ibe, the Nigerian Army's replacement for Abubakar, is only two months in office, so it is pretty early to judge his tenure yet. Therefore, he won’t count in the analysis of how northern commanders have performed compared to non-northerners.
Verdict on Claim 1
First of all, the performance of one non-northern commander weighed against that of three northern-commanders cannot be used to make a pronouncement on the suitability of southern officers or the unsuitability of northern officers for the Lafiya Dole job. In scientific terms, it is a weak sample size from which no valid representative conclusion can be made.
Secondly, even though Lucky Irabor performed creditably in office — and was unarguably the best of the five — his tenure witnessed Boko Haram attacks as well and had other shortcomings.
Still, there is no empirical evidence to support Shettima’s claim that northern Lafiya Dole commanders are inferior to the ones who are not from the north.
Verdict on Claim 2
It is too early to assess the performance of Major-General Rogers Ibe Nicholas, the Imo-born officer who replaced Attahiru on December 11, 2017. However, in his two months in office, Boko Harm has not been completely quiet. In the first three weeks of January, there were at least 10 deadly attacks in Madagali, Adamawa, alone. The Christmas Day 2017 attack on Mubi may have failed, but three people were killed, and a woman was abducted.
On Sunday — three days after the sect killed five loggers in Ajeri, near Dikwa, Borno State — Ibe claimed his men had taken over the heart and soul of Boko Haram. But the following day, the insurgents struck in Kala, Borno, killing two and razing many houses.
With these statistics, therefore, Shettima’s claim that the progress of the anti-Boko Haram war in the last six weeks outweighs what has been done in the last three years is not entirely correct
Editor’s Note: We have declined to employ the killing of Boko Haram by the Nigerian Army as a criterion for assessing the performances of the Theatre Commanders because of the Army’s penchant for inflating insurgents casualty figures while downplaying theirs.