On 27 July, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, declared that the military Joint Task Force (JTF) deployed to quell attacks by the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, was making good progress on its mandate. He said the security situation around the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, was “better now than it used to be”.
Speaking to newsmen in Maiduguri, after addressing officers and men of the JTF at their Base in Pompomari Ward area of the city, the CDS made several significant statements regarding the objectives, challenges and progress of the operation.
He said the JTF was not waging a “religious war” but was conducting an operation to stop terrorism. He admitted that the operation met serious difficulties at the onset, but said it was now coming to grips with its challenge. He conceded that there had been some instances of misconduct by his soldiers, but stressed that those involved would be disciplined by military authorities.
The CDS rejected calls for dialogue with the Islamist group, saying the constitutional mandate of the armed forces was to do battle not dialogue. He also reiterated the Federal Government’s resolve that the military task force will not be withdrawn from Maiduguri and its environs until security and tranquility are restored to the state.
JTF operation not a “religious war”
Apparently trying to dispel misconceptions among some local residents, regarding the objective of the JTF operation, Marshal Petinrin said the the military was not executing a “religious war”, and that its operation in the state was targeted only at uprooting Boko Haram.
He said: “Let me state clearly that the government did not send us here to deal with any religious or tribal group. We are here to stamp out those shooting people and throwing explosives in market places. We are not here to fight a religious war; we are here to ensure the restoration of order and protect innocent citizens who are being terrorised by Boko Haram”.
Military coming to grips with terrorism
The CDS revealed that the operation had been difficult at the onset and that Boko Haram had some initial advantage as terrorism was new in the country; but he said security forces and agencies had learnt fast and were now ready to tackle the insurgents squarely.
He said: “The issue of terrorism is new in Nigeria and, when things are new, it takes time for people to get to the bottom. Now, we are gradually getting to its root and soon we will get over it and pull our soldiers back to their base”.
Dealing with the excesses of some military personnel
The CDS acknowledged operational lapses by some JTF personnel. He explained that “for an operation as massive as this”, there were bound to be mistakes and lapses. But he stressed that the military authority was doing everything possible to address such lapses.
He said: “The Defence Headquarters does not take the issue of misconduct lightly when it comes to any serving officer, because we abide by rules of engagement in all our operations. In line with this, the commander of the JTF has initiated the process of trial of five officers suspected to have committed acts of misconduct…Any officer found to have gone against our rules of engagement will be brought to book”.
Military not in the business of dialogue
The Defence chief said the calls in some quarters, for dialogue with Boko Haram, would not stop the armed forces from performing its constitutionally-mandated internal security role. He said: “The military is not in the business of dialogue,” but was created “to battle those troubling Nigeria and Nigerians”.
He said: “Those who are calling for a dialogue between government and the sect could be doing so because our Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to voice out their opinion”. He said such opinions would not stop the military from responding appropriately to any threats to national security.
No withdrawal of JTF till conditions improve
The CDS also reiterated the Federal Government’s resolve to retain JTF on ground, until security is restored in the state. He said most of those calling for JTF’s withdrawal were doing so from the comfort and security of their homes in the elite Government Reserved Area (GRA), well removed from the the impact of explosives that were being thrown at common people in their homes and market places.
He said: “The people in the GRA can afford to call for the withdrawal of soldiers because no bomb explosion had been recorded in the area. But the people living in densely populated areas have been cooperating with the JTF, because they have seen lots of security improvements since our men took over. In fact, while the advocates are calling for withdrawal, I am busy strengthening the JTF to make it easy for us to attain our goal of securing peace”.