Between Sambisa in Nigeria’s north-east and Abbottabad in Pakistan’s north-east, there is a spatial gulf spanning thousands of kilometers brought together nonetheless by a common link: they are safe havens for criminals fleeing from the law. Sambisa is where Nigeria’s public Enemy Number One Abubakar Shekau is hiding with Boko Haram, the terrorist group responsible for crimes against the people of Nigeria while Abbottabad was where Osama bin Laden was holed for several years after his al-Qaeda, a ragtag band of misguided jihadists, attacked the United States in 2001.
The chase for Osama bin Laden was over on May 20, 2011, when a stealth operation undertaken by the crack U.S. military SEALS team struck the terrorist leader’s compound in Abbottabad and killed him along with other associates. It happened nearly ten years after bin Laden’s ultimate crime that horrified the world: the attack on New York City, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania through four hijacked airplanes. These acts killed more than 3,000 people in a single day. It was the beginning of the end for al-Qaeda, because after that misadventure, the civilized world rose in unison against savage Osama bin laden.
If it is correct that everything man studies or does is intrinsically history from which to learn, then we must agree that the hunt for Osama bin Laden also offers historically signal lessons for Nigerians in the war on Boko Haram and Abubakar Shekau.
Shekau had been committing grave felonies that shook the Nigerian state over the years. He had bombed churches and mosques. He had raised suicide bombers who attacked such key points as the Police Headquarters and the United Nations building, all in Abuja the nation’s capital. His foot soldiers have attacked markets, fun spots, motor parks, police stations, military barracks and houses killing innocent citizens. Boko Haram has also looted commercial banks and burnt down schools and entire villages. All these have left thousands dead and left many more wounded, homeless and traumatised.
Shekau’s crowning crime against humanity was the abduction of over 200 students of the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, on April14, 2014. It has marked the beginning of the end for him, with the whole world up in arms and fury against him, as it was with bin Laden and al-Qaeda when they killed innocent souls in America. The whole globe is also queuing behind the Nigerian government to fight Shekau and Boko Haram.
In the United States itself, the war the people waged against these enemies of the state was a non-partisan one. It recorded a huge success because there was no political hue on it.
The airborne terrorist attacks on America took place under Republican President George W. Bush. He got the massive support of all American citizens when he pledged that he would find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. In 2004, Bush sought re-election and won 51% because the electorate wanted him to continue with the strategies he had mapped for dealing with the terrorists while correspondingly tackling the domestic economic challenges.
Such was the bi-partisan nature of the focus on winning the war for America that when Democratic President Obama succeeded the Republican Bush in 2008, he continued with what Bush was doing and declared: “… shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al-Qaeda …” And Joe Klein, Editor-at-Large of Time Magazine, writing at the time, says Obama’s success “…. would not have been possible without (Bush’s) decision to amp-up human-intelligence assets and special operations forces” which Obama made use of.
The point then is: we must not politicize the Chibok abduction if we are truly serious about thrashing Shekau and winning the war for Nigeria. It is not the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or a President Goodluck Jonathan affair as some of our compatriots are turning it into with their protests urging Jonathan to BRINGBACKOURGIRLS.
Let us rather come together to tackle Shekau and Boko Haram to RELEASE OUR GIRLS. Mis-directed criticism of the President is not what our nation needs at this time.
He is facing the most difficult period of the post-crisis war era in Nigeria. We compound the volatile atmosphere when we use ill-suited political language and remarks to address the challenges of the day. The complexity of what our President is facing is underscored by the fact that several weeks after the intervention of the global superpowers such America, Britain, France, China and Israel, we are yet to secure the freedom of the girls.
Are we to conclude they are impotent? Certainly not! Winning the war against terrorist brigandage requires thoroughness, subtlety and strategies in focus. And, of course, the multi-partisan support from the nation. That is what did it for the American people when the bin Laden challenge faced them. It took nine years and eight months to get Osama!
Now Abbottabad may be half a globe away from Sambisa and Chibok. But the lesson they teach is the same: you can’t win a war if you contemn your leader and you politicize a patriotic and pan-Nigerian campaign.
Alabrah is Head of Media and Communications, Presidential Amnesty Office, Abuja.