Boko Haram and a Nation at War By Olusegun Adeniyi
The Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima on Monday stirred the hornet’s nest when, after visiting President Goodluck Jonathan at the State House, he said: “what we are being confronted with is that we are in a state of war. It is what I came to update Mr. President (about). The sooner we stop playing the ostrich and rise up to the challenges of the day and marshall all resources towards stopping the antics of Boko Haram, the better for all of us.”
Shettima was not done: “The bottom line is that we need more resources. In all fairness to the officers and men of the Nigerian Army and police, they are doing their best given the circumstances they have found themselves in. But honestly, Boko Haram are better armed and are better motivated than our own troops. And believe me, I am an eternal optimist as I have always said but I am also a realist. Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram. Anybody who is following events in this country can attest to the fact that they have a very smooth sail in running over communities, killing people. Have we ever succeeded in thwarting any of their plans? They went to Konduga and did what they wanted to do; they held sway for over four hours before they left. They were in Kauri, Izge and I don’t blame the Nigerian military, honestly. We the leaders should be held responsible for our failure in leadership.”
However, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, was quick to dispute Shettima’s claim on the grounds that what obtains in Borno is not conventional warfare but guerrilla warfare with all its unpredictability. For that reason, Okupe said it is “wrong for anyone, Nigerian or foreigner, to assert that our armed forces cannot defeat the Boko Haram insurgents or to insinuate that the insurgents are better armed. We believe strongly that the statement made by the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, that the insurgents are better armed than our military is based purely on a civilian perception of the situation at hand.”
I honestly don’t see any reason why the presidency would join issues with Governor Shettima over his apt summation of what is happening in that part of the country where body bags, not only of civilians but indeed of our soldiers, are mounting on a daily basis. The fact on the ground, as Shetima pointed out, is that the Boko Haram insurgents are already winning some strategic battles. The challenge of the moment should be a resolve by the authorities to win the war.
Fortunately, at a most critical time like this for our nation, we have a new Army Chief who comes to office with impeccable credentials. Major General Kenneth Tobiah Jacob Minimah who, as commandant of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, overhauled the school’s curriculum and introduced the Armoured Personnel Carrier course for the military trainees is acknowledged as the first Nigerian officer of the rank of Brigadier-General to have ever participated in a parachute jump.
Whether as Commanding Officer 149 Battalion or as Commanding Officer, Nigerian Battalion 2 in the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, Minimah’s service record bears him out as a courageous, charismatic, disciplined and rugged officer who is reputed with an “outstanding commitment to the welfare of his troops”. While those attributes will serve him in the coming weeks as the army confronts the Boko Haram challenge with renewed vigour, the fact also remains that Minimah, who doubles as the elected President of the Nigerian Boxing Federation, already has his job cut out for him.
Whatever may be the beef of the presidency about Governor Shettima’s statement, nobody can deny that he has a better understanding of the capacity of our armed forces based on what transpires in his state in the confrontation with Boko Haram. But it is important for us to put the situation in perspective. Shetttima said that our armed forces are doing their best in the circumstance in which they find themselves but that the Boko Haram insurgents have superior weapons and are better motivated. Now, let us deal with the issue.
While the total number of personnel in our army today is about 100,000, that of the Navy is about 15,000 and the Airforce 12,000 so Nigeria has one of the lowest ratio in terms of number of military men to population in the world. Yet that same institution is tasked not only with protecting the territorial integrity of the nation but also saddled with internal security. From combating armed robbery to dealing with the menace of kidnapping and now terrorism, military troops are deployed in no fewer than 29 states across the country today. To compound the problem, our policemen for whom those responsibilities are meant are now guarding politicians, bank executives, Lebanese businessmen etc., leaving the task of protecting even their own barracks to soldiers!
However, it must be said that the size of troops has stopped being a parameter for measuring the operational capability of armies all over the world. It is the deployment of technology to reduce boots on the ground that now counts. That is the only reason why the Israeli army is able to hold the entire armies of the Arab world to ransom at any time. This is the reason why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have in the last five years spent so much money on training a hitech military and equipping it with state-of-the-art materials.
The tragedy is that Nigeria is not investing in the relevant technologies neither are we trying to be the best conventional army in black Africa on the basis of our population. More disastrously, the intelligence input into our military operations is rather low hence our formations are frequently overwhelmed. The classic example was the attack last year on Maiduguri airport and the air force base even with a state of emergency in place. The attack involved over 500 Boko Haram insurgents driving in a convoy of open trucks across distances overnight. Most of them returned to base after destroying the military reconnaissance aircraft with which they had previously been monitored.
As Governor Shettima said, the enemies that our soldiers confront are not only motivated, given that they fight for an ideology for which they are prepared to die, they are also heavily funded otherwise how did they acquire anti aircraft guns? The possibility of local collaborators among the political elite is also not ruled out given some security reports about the nature of funding of the Boko Haram activities, all of which put the lives of our military men at risk. To compound the situation, the Boko Haram insurgents who operate mostly on motorbikes are experts at guerrilla engagements and they have become so professional that they almost always carry away their wounded and the dead. In contrast, the fighting spirit of our men seems to wane given reports that the bullet wounds on some of the recent victims reveal that they were shot in the back, which could only mean the soldiers were killed while running away!
But do we blame them? There have been reports of unpaid allowances, secret burials of fallen soldiers (which once drew the anger of Senate President David Mark) and all manners of ill-treatment that do not show those who are prepared to lay down their lives on behalf of our nation are appreciated for the sacrifices they are making. Such is the tragedy of the situation that today there is pressure on the army headquarters with regards to posting. Nobody wants his/her relation to be posted to either Borno or Yobe that is now considered a one-way ticket to death.
The situation is not helped by the fact that we seem to have concluded that the police lacks the capacity to tackle the challenge of internal security and have thus consigned them to handling domestic chores even when they have four times the number of our army. Since Boko Haram insurgents invade in number without minding how many casualties they would suffer in the process, it is difficult to defeat such enemies who are already prepared to die without a coherent strategy.
I think the presidency misses the point by attacking Governor Shettima who was only expressing his opinion while it is sad that nobody has said anything about the 25 innocent female students of a secondary school who were abducted by Boko Haram insurgents and who could by now have been turned into sex slaves. No doubt, the Boko Haram challenge is a difficult one for our armed forces to deal with. For the fact that the insurgents are misguided Nigerians, the standard operational requirement that the military protect ‘friends’ and destroy ‘enemies’ does not quite apply. But it is a challenge we must face squarely and we need to equip our army with such weapons as anti aircraft guns, assault helicopters, BMG and GPMG.
As an insurgency, the objectives of Boko Haram run directly counter to the heart and soul of the Nigerian federation as a secular democracy but one which has to be robust enough to be inclusive with diversity and multiplicity as its sources of strength. To that extent, Boko Haram is an evil that we must all collectively fight and defeat as a people. But to do that would require the collaboration and support of the people in their axis of operation and we are failing on that count. Therefore, what has been missing in the approach of the Federal Government so far is a heart and mind angle.
Going forward, our troops deployed to contain the insurgency in the North East must be armed in equal measure with weapons that are superior to those of the insurgents and, very crucially, ingredients of humanitarian nationalism like food, medicines, building materials and a reservoir of kindness that should reassure the populace that Nigeria cares and can protect them. Admittedly, this is an odd and difficult combination to summon in a dangerous military situation. But the ability to do just that is what distinguishes civilized democracies from barbaric banana enclaves. We are engaged in a contest, not of firepower alone but of inclusive nationalism.
The Subsidy Probe Report
In my column last week (Yar’Adua, Kerosene & the Subsidy Scam), I mentioned the fact that I had completed a report that tells a compelling story of the abuse to which fuel subsidy payments are being subjected in our country based on the proceedings at the public hearing organized by the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc committee on monitoring subsidy regime which sat from January to April 2012. I, however, added that even after spending exactly one year (between June 2012 and May 2013) shifting through the testimonies from 130 witnesses and 3,000 volumes of documents, I decided it may not be politically auspicious to publish the report now despite completing the manuscript. That has elicited many reactions from readers who wrote in that my position is wrong.
The first thing I need to clarify is that I have not written a book in the strict sense of the word but rather I have compiled and edited a report based on the submissions of all the critical stakeholders and their exchanges with the House Committee members. Therefore, it is not that I have done anything spectacular (since all the airing sessions were conducted live on television) beyond seeking access to the records and putting them together. However, my decision not to publish until next year is predicated on the fact that given the season we are in, any such book now will serve more political purpose than open the necessary debate on the fraud-ridden subsidy regime that is necessary if we are ever going to reform the oil and gas sector. So it is for that reason that I have decided to publish the report, God sparing my life, in the second quarter of 2015 when we can begin a meaningful national conversation on the issue of fuel subsidy.
Adieu Isaiah Balat
Following the May 1992 violence between the Hausa and Kataf communities in Zangon-Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State during which several people were massacred, General Ibrahim Babangida constituted a military tribunal to try alleged culprits. But not before he inverted the basic law of natural justice by saying that all the people arrested in connection with the mayhem would be deemed guilty until they could prove their innocence.
In what was to be my first major assignment as a reporter, I was sent to Kaduna by the defunct African Concord magazine to cover what turned out to be a rather controversial trial of Major General Zamani Lekwot and 16 others. It was in the process that I met the late Senator Isaiah Balat who assisted me in gaining access to several prominent people in the state, including the wife of Lekwot (who was eventually sentenced to death by hanging) and his son, Peter who was then an undergraduate at Ife. Since that time, I developed a relationship with Balat who spoke perfect Yoruba and it is from my interactions with him over the years that I came to appreciate more the complexities of Nigeria and the politics of identity—religious, ethnic and cultural.
However, despite coming from Southern Kaduna, Balat had several friends from across the ethnic and religious divides and was always of the view that Kaduna is much more than the sum of its parts if only all the critical stakeholders would deal fairly with one another. But while his death has been shocking for me because we were together just last week, the lesson ultimately remains that nobody knows the time or the hour that the bell would toll. I wish his family the fortitude a time like this demand.
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