(By Olusegun Adeniyi)
“The authorities should be worried because an army in which the rank and file can openly accuse their superiors of corruption and flagrantly refuse to carry out orders on grounds of sorry equipment and where spouses can readily thwart the drafting of their husbands to fight is nothing but a threat to national security“.
He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day! That popular street lingo, abridged from a poem by the 18thcentury British novelist and playwright, Oliver Goldsmith, was recently taken to a new low in our country: a large contingent of Nigerian troops “tactically manoeuvred” its way into Cameroon, following a fierce battle with Boko Haram insurgents in Gamborou-Ngala, Borno State. By the time the soldiers were escorted back home to a bewildered nation a few days later, many of them were in tatters.
A report of the incident by the Cameroon State Radio credited President Paul Biya as ordering that our troops be escorted back to Nigeria by Cameroonian soldiers to guarantee their safety.
“The head of state has instructed that the columns of Nigerian soldiers who entered Cameroonian territory should be camped in specific locations and supervised by the Cameroonian army. The Nigerian soldiers have been provided feeding, medical treatment and fuel on instructions of the head of state,” the radio station reported.
While the Nigerian military authorities have neither debunked the report nor rendered a full account of what actually transpired, a terse statement from the Defence Headquarters said “the troops who returned from Cameroon were today (last Tuesday) addressed by the General Officer Commanding 3 Division, Major General Zaruwa, as they embark on another mission in the counter-terrorism campaign. All the soldiers are in high spirit with all their weapons and equipment intact”.
Regardless of whatever spin the Nigerian military authorities might want to put on the unfortunate situation, the “straying” of 480 soldiers into Cameroon could only be an indication that all is not well with our armed forces. But that conclusion has already been reached by many Nigerians long before now, especially against the backdrop of recent bizarre incidents. Three weeks ago, a group of 40 soldiers reportedly refused to follow orders to go and fight the insurgents, saying the militants were better armed. A few days later, dozens of women at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri prevented their husbands from being drafted to Gwoza to confront Boko Haram by locking the exit gates of the barracks and placing themselves as wedges before the military trucks conveying them. That sordid episode got the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Kenneth Minimah so angry that he would say most memorably: “any repeat of such act, I will tell soldiers to use koboko (horse whip) on the wives and bundle them out of the barracks.”
While these incidents have been widely reported both at home and abroad, it is important to recognize some challenges with regards to the ongoing military operations in the Northeastern part of the country. One, given the undefined nature of our borders, the uninitiated could easily stray in or out of our country, especially when most of the soldiers being hurriedly drafted to fight Boko Haram may not be very familiar with the difficult terrain. Two, we seem unprepared for the war as the military authorities have been talking about the arms and ammunitions being expected to arrive the country. So to the extent that they may not have the requisite weapons with which to fight the insurgents, we must sympathise with them as fighting in defence of their country should not approximate to willful suicide. Three, the authorities have still not come to terms with the fact that the welfare of soldiers (and that of their immediate families) is very important and the experiences of those who have died (and what happened to their families afterward) have not inspired confidence in most of our troops that fighting for the nation is worthy of their lives. Four, some politicians seem to delight in discrediting the efforts of our soldiers while lionizing the Boko Haram insurgents.That perhaps explains why Senate President David Mark recently had to decry a situation in which many “wonder whether the insurgents are now the heroes while those fighting them are the villains…The impression must not be given that anybody who gives his life fighting insurgency has died in vain.”
Notwithstanding the foregoing, when we put all the issues together and given the number of soldiers involved in the “tactical manoeuvre”, we can only come to the inescapable realization that what happened vividly underscores the security challenge the nation faces today. And it is better for the military authorities to admit that they have a serious challenge, identify what the problems are and begin to deal with them. Indeed, it is easy to locate why the insurgents are becoming more brazen in their bestial operations: they know they are more on top of the situation and are more energized to fight than our soldiers. Now, they are busy churning out home video, claiming to have established an “Islamic Caliphate” in large swathes of territories in Borno State and some towns in neighbouring Yobe State.
Clearly, Nigeria is at war but we are still living in denial as we do on most critical issues. However, if we need any convincing about the state of affairs, it is the fact that the Boko Haram insurgents are now leaving Sambisa forest for the palaces of Emirs even as our citizens are running away from Nigeria to become refugees in Cameroon. On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) spokesman, Edrian Edwards issued a statement in Geneva that underscored the gravity of the situation confronting our nation. According to Edwards, “…attacks from insurgent groups in the north east of Nigeria has prompted thousands of Nigerians to find refuge in Cameroon in the past 10 days, with some newly arrived refugees sleeping on the ground in schools and churches and children suffering poor health. UNHCR is very concerned that even once they have crossed into Cameroon, they are still being pursued by insurgents and we have already started to relocate some of the refugees to a refugee camp where they can enjoy safer conditions.”
Yet within the armed forces that we rely on to fight the insurgency, tales of internal wrangling, mutinies, desertions and disaffections abound. Unfortunately, I am not sure that the president and his handlers see all those as challenges to his authority as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I say that because beyond mouthing some well-worn rhetoric about not surrendering any part of our country to insurgents, the federal government has not shown sufficient evidence that it is taking the threat to our territorial integrity very seriously; or that it has the capacity to deal with it. Whether it is in the number of troops or the nature of arms and ammunition being deployed or the welfare of the fighting soldiers or the quality of leadership within the military, there are serious problems that we cannot continue to gloss over.
While it must be acknowledged that the same Nigerian army acquitted itself creditably during the Nigerian civil war and subsequent operations, especially within the West African sub-region up to the 1990s, there would appear to have been a progressive erosion of leadership, combat readiness, training, discipline, equipment and doctrinal orientation in recent years. The situation is not helped by the fact that our military is being increasingly dragged into roles that are primarily meant for the police: guarding key installations (including sometimes even police stations!), quelling civil disturbances, manning roadblocks, combating armed robbery and kidnappings as well as providing security for the conduct of elections. In playing such roles, the army has had to expose its flanks and its credibility has been badly eroded in the public space.
The authorities should be worried because an army in which the rank and file can openly accuse their superiors of corruption and flagrantly refuse to carry out orders on grounds of sorry equipment and where spouses can readily thwart the drafting of their husbands to fight is nothing but a threat to national security. Indeed, some recent happenings within the military raise our current crisis of national security to the level of critical fundamentals. For instance, the “tactical manoeuvre” incident in question has clearly shown our neighbours and the international community that the Nigerian military may not be as strong as they had imagined previously. And it has probably encouraged the Boko Haram hoodlums to believe they can overrun our country in pursuit of their nefarious agenda.
In an age where insurgents now take on and sack national armies, this ought to cause the political leadership some concern, especially considering that the Boko Haram men are daily carving out territories for themselves in a section of our country. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Central African Republic, Mali etc. are clear and present paradigms from which we can draw of the danger inherent in such state of affairs if not quickly curtailed.
What is particularly troubling is that it would seem as if the authorities in Abuja have accepted an emerging reality that a sovereign can rule while parts of the national territorial space is being actively contested by well-armed insurgents and sundry militias. It is part of the narrative of the moment with everything viewed within the prism of partisan politics and regime protection vis-à-vis the coming 2015 general elections. However, such a myopic conception of power and sovereign control is as dangerous to our national development and stability as the bestial activities of the entrepreneurs of violence who are bent on destroying our country.
All factors considered, it is imperative for both the federal government and the military high command to change their current approach to the Boko Haram threat. Something definitely is not working even though the political environment under which we operate also does not help. Whatever the case may be, we need to treat the insurgency as a full-scale war, not as some minor skirmish, and fight it the way a proper war should be fought. If we don’t, the consequences for our country and all of us may just be too much to imagine.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”