Temie Giwa: Baga – The war of hearts (Y! FrontPage)


The dead are dead, the people of Baga have buried their women and children, but as the burnt livelihoods are being cleared away, the lesson of Baga remains for those of us who live still…

The fact that the death of about 180 citizens on Saturday was at the hands of two groups supposedly fighting to protect them (one of which is an agent of state saddled with that very responsibility) is a tragedy. That the elected representative of those who died in Borno last weekend claim it killed no innocents and only killed 25 terrorists is a notorious fact whose veracity is in serious doubt. That the government of the victims refuses to acknowledge their sacrifice in the face of Boko Haram’s violence and the Joint Task Force’s monstrous act is the greatest tragedy. The dead are dead, the people of Baga have buried their women and children, but as the burnt livelihoods are being cleared away, the lesson of Baga remains for those of us who live still: that our government will choose to burn us out of our homes if we are caught between the military and a group of violent anarchists, that a 2000-year-old conflict will be used to weave complicity on our neck, and that our fellow citizens, who should know better considering our national history of persecuting the other, will decide that because we have been wary of strangers in the past, we brought destruction on our doorstep. The victims of Baga are dead but lessons must be learnt if we hope to find peace for the North.

The Joint Task Force (JTF) was given a difficult mandate, it must police a region while the soldiers were only trained to kill, fight an insurgency that is increasingly well armed and seemingly intractable, and it must protect the lives of citizens. Many arrests have been made, and many more alleged Boko Haram members have been shot to death. If these were all the JTF was sent to do, then it has succeeded. But when one fights an insurgency in a region crippled with poverty and hopelessness, one must not fight only with bullets. You cannot kill them all, and you can’t kill an idea with a gun. There are thousands of foot soldiers whose lives are expendable. The more you kill them, the greater the number of young men and sometimes women who will volunteer for death. An army fighting an insurgency must also protect the community that hosts these small wars. It is imperative to keep the community focused on mutual goals of peace and prosperity that their cooperation will ensure. This is not only common sense but also a fact scientifically argued numerous times by those who study modern warfare. American soldiers must patrol villages and speak to elders as a significant part of their strategy to win the war in Afghanistan. The greatest military on earth spends its money and time building schools and attending meetings with chiefs and imams because it knows that winning hearts stops terrorism faster than bullets. America could well have chosen to shoot all insurgents it finds and burn community members who are seemingly sympathetic, but it has learnt through painful experiences such as Vietnam and Iraq that a war of hearts is imperative. Right now, the actions of the JTF in Baga have allowed Boko Haram to win this part.

In the end, traditional rule of warfare calls for the perpetual protection of civilians. Any action taken by a military, fighting a modern war with opponents who fight for an idea must be cautious in not turning citizens into collateral damage. If it does, it damages its goals, and it will not win. Last Friday, if JTF had chosen to withdraw to fight another day, and had wisely figured out how to convince the people of Borno that it fights for them, this story might have ended differently. Perhaps the dead 180 would have become partners ferreting out the truly evil ones. Instead it chose to fight, to burn and to lose a war of the hearts to the terrorists. For all our sakes, justice must be served in Baga and JTF must strategize for a different type of war.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (2)

  1. absolutely true. acts like this makes the fight against terrorism weak.

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