QUESTION 1. The Multinational Joint Taskforce has just concluded an inception workshop to articulate strategy to prevent extremism in the Lake Chad Basin; we are more than a decade into the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. What is the significance of such initiative and why now?
ANSWER 1. Thank you very much. Talking about the significance of this workshop to articulate a communication strategy for dealing with Boko Haram narratives,the significance lies with the fact that, we have been fighting BHT now for more than ten years, essentially kinetic operation in nature. But looking at the nature of warfare that we are fighting insurgency, there is need for us to also pursue with vigour the non-kinetic aspect of the operation, in order to be able to have the support of the population with us. t in order to enable us to counter the narratives, the indoctrination been perpetrated by the terrorists. So that is why, this workshop becomes very necessary.
QUESTION 2. Why now?
ANSWER 2. Why now? It has always been there in applying the no kinetic measures. But now we want to do it in most structured and intensify manner. Recently, we have been encouraged by the BHT, that have surrendered, 122 of them. And the feedback, we got from them is that the perception of the MNJTF is not really clear to them. And that the leadership of the insurgent organisation have made them to believe that, if they come out to surrender to us, we are going to kill them. So many other negative narratives lie at the leadership of the BHT as perpetrated and indoctrinated in the minds of the surrendered BHT. So we thought it is necessary to come up with a strategy that will counter such negative narratives.
QUESTION 3. What background and level of the participants in the gathering?
ANSWER 3. This is very encouraging. We had participants coming from the communities that are affected by this conflict, from across Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. From Niger, for example, we have community leaders, traditional leaders, the youths and other stakeholders from Toumour, Bosso, N’guigmi and Diffa. In Chad, we have from Baga Sola, Ngouboua and Koulfoua. From Cameroon, we have from Mora, Kerawa and kouloufata. From Nigeria, we have participants from Monguno, Baga, communities coming from some part of Borno state like Bama and Gwoza as well. In addition to that, we also had technical experts coming from academia, Professors with varying background, as well as media practitioners. It is a very good and unique combination of stakeholders that participated in this workshop. There are also so many other national and international stakeholders like UNDP, EU and many others.
QUESTION 4 Are you satisfied with the outcome of the five day proceedings?
ANSWER 4. Absolutely. In fact, the outcome of this workshop far exceeded my expectations. Because the feedback we got from the communities will not only help us in articulating a strategy that will meet the needs of the people, but it also afforded us the opportunity to get some feedback from the communities that will surely enhance the relationship between the people and the military.
QUESTION 5. What are the main issues discussed by the participants?
ANSWER 5. The main issues discussed by the participants are wide ranging. First, the participants discussed the aspect of recruitment. That, why is it that BHT is able to recruit from the population? We also looked at aspect of surrender, which we are getting recently from the BHT. We looked at many aspects of this surrender. And we also looked at other aspects that will foster the civil – military relations across all our communities.
QUESTION 6. What are the main recommendations of the workshop to the MNJTF command and leadership of the TCC.General?
ANSWER 6. For some reasons, I would not discuss all the recommendations. Because, we cannot be sure as who is listening to us. But essentially, the major recommendation, of course is we are going to put up a more robust strategy to counter the BHT narratives, and in fact to protect our own narratives. I think that is the major recommendation that I would want to share at this time.
QUESTION 7. Needless to say no matter the quality of a recommendation, if it is not implemented, it will be of no effect. What is the mechanism put in place to implement these recommendations so that their impacts are felt by the end beneficiaries, the MNJTF communities, etc?
ANSWER 7. Thank you very much for this very important question. Because, it is also very important to us, we would not want it to be any other type of workshop, just come talk, produce paper and it ends there. The major mechanism put in place, is first from the participation. We made sure that, we invited all key stakeholders. You recall that the Governor of Borno state sent a delegation and he personally delivered a goodwill message via video. In the goodwill message, he assured the participants that, whatever strategy that is articulated at the end, his government will be more than willing to implement. You can also recall that, at the workshop, we had the Ambassadors of Niger, Nigeria and the Charge d’Affairs of Cameroon, as well as the representative of government of Chad. All these national stakeholders from the Troops Contributing Countries (TCC) of MNJTF did give their pledges to work with MNJTF, Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other stakeholders to ensure that whatever strategy that comes out of this, they will implement it. We are able to carry all stakeholders along and that is the first part. The second part is that, we will come up with a timeline and key indicators that we will use to measure the success of what we are doing. And with this, we will be able to determine periodic reviews, assuming there are issues regarding the implementation, if something is not going as we expect. With these parameters, we will be able to consult the stakeholders to review what we are doing, in order to ensure that we are implementing it in accordance with the strategy and dynamics on the ground.
QUESTION 8. General. You are heading a body of armies of four brotherly but different countries whose membership include Nigeria which is the 4th most powerful army in Africa according to firepower magazine’s classification and Chad known for its operational prowess among others. Why a group of armed civilians could resist for so long?
ANSWER 8. This question has always comes up, and most people will not understand why. The answer is not far fetch, this is a new type of warfare, the warfare among people, and the enemy is inside the people. We are dealing with asymmetric threats, and if you look at the trends in other parts of the world, Sri Lanka for example, government fighting the Liberation Tamil Tigers (LTT), it took them over 30 years. Also look at the situations in Syria and Afghanistan. It is not to say that we are using those countries to judge our progress. I am only citing these examples to explain to you the complexity involved. The same people we are protecting, we have few bad elements among them, very few and negligible. These are the people who give information about our movement and activities, so this makes it very complicated. Because, even when you conduct operation and the enemy is embedded in the people, we do not want to attack the entire population. I want to be able to target specific insurgents to strike them without harming the population. So on many occasions, we aborted some missions, just because we need to protect the people. That’s the nature of counter insurgency operation.
QUESTION 9. You are commanding soldiers from different countries with different operational doctrine. Are you not facing coordination challenges?
ANSWER 9. Challenges, even when you are commanding troops from the same country, there have been challenges, including coordination challenge. This becomes even more when you are commanding troops from four different countries. Their tactics, technics and procedures are not exactly the same. So we definitely have such challenges. The good news is that, we have been able to surmount most of these challenges, much more than we possibly expect. At the beginning, it was difficult, but gradually we got better. So today, you could find Nigerian soldiers fighting alongside Nigerien soldiers. We have a common language which is Hausa,so there is no issue. Where there are issues of coordination, we have someone who can speak English or French, with this we are getting better. The same thing on the Cameroon side, and even with Chad. I am sure, you are aware, on some occasions, Nigerian soldiers fought alongside Chadian soldiers successfully. And we have been able to do this even from the air. You could have Air Force from Chad operating with Air Force from Niger and Cameroon. We have been getting better by the day.
QUESTION 10. The Boko Haram operatives are home grown terrorists, citizens of the zone. There are no known foreign fighters in their ranks, as the case in other conflict epicentres such as Syria. What message do you have for these boys to the effect that they are in the wrong path; their adventure will lead to nowhere.
ANSWER 10. Thank you very much. What i want to state clearly to them, which i believe is clear, is that, they already know that they have gone astray. They know that they have been misled into going astray. Some of them that did not know and join willingly, it did not take them time to realise the liars and deceits perpetrated by those who recruited them into the group. It did not take them time to realise that there is nothing like ideology, nothing like religion that is driving the BHT. They have come to realise that BHT/ISWAP is principally a criminal organisation. Now i want to assure them that opportunity exists across the Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and chad for surrender. These countries have put mechanism, once you come out and say you are no longer fighting, just surrender yourself to the military and security agencies, or even to the communities. There are procedures in place to take care of them. Just like what happened recently, over 122 BHT that surrendered in sector 1 in Cameroon. They were received, well treated. We have many Journalists that went to interview them and you can hear their testimonies. Their testimonies clearly indicated that they are being misled. It is these testimonies that, others in the field took advantage and began to surrender. I want to tell them that, BHT leadership is deceiving them into believing that if they come out to surrender to military and security agencies they will be killed. It is not true, nobody will kill them. After all they are part of the society; it is just that they have gone astray. We also recognise the fact that some of them were actually forced into joining them, some were conscripted. So the society and military recognised this fact. We therefore, encouraged them to surrender. Those that are not willing and chose the path of violence, of course, we give them violence and we will take care of them militarily.
QUESTION 11 What message do you have for the population of the conflict affected areas in the Lake Chad region vis a vis, the soldiers in their areas who are sacrificing their lives to save them and their properties?
ANSWER 11. Thank you very much. First, i want to acknowledge that this war has lasted now for more than 10 years. We have lost our loved ones and many properties, and many societies were dislocated from their villages and so on. That’s clear and we sympathised with the affected communities. But what i want to say is that if we look back at the situations in 2015, 2016 and we look at situation today, we can see that, there is significant improvement. Have we attained the desired stability we want? No, but we are getting there. For those communities and populations that have been dislocated, now that relative stability prevails, effort is on-going to relocate them back. So what i want to tell or urge the communities and appeal to them, is to continue to be patience with the military. Because we cannot win the war alone, without the support of the population. The Government, population and the military will continue to work together towards achieving this objective. The population should intensify their support to the military and other security agencies in the Lake Chad region.
QUESTION 12. What is your final message to listeners, the communities, in short to whom it may concern?
ANSWER 12. First I want to say that, as MNJTF, we fully appreciate the support that we have been enjoying from the population. Without this support, we could never have achieved all the victories that have been recorded. So we thank and appreciate them for the support. I want to assure them of our commitment and resolve towards the achievement of our mandates. But again, i reemphasised the point. We cannot succeed without the support of the people. So i say to the people, let’s continue to work together and In Shaa Allah this crisis will be a thing of the past.