After much filibustering at the Senate, President Goodluck Jonathan’s request to extend the one-year-old state of emergency in the three states of the North-East by another six months was recently approved. A year ago, this sense of urgency was motivated by the desire to give maximum military response to Boko Haram’s relentless killing of Nigerians at motor parks, markets, schools, churches and mosques through bombings and gun attacks.
To strengthen military operations in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, the Federal Government, early this year, set up a new division of the Nigerian Army (7th Division) in Maiduguri. The latest official report puts the number of soldiers on the ground in Borno State at 20,000. But despite this increased military presence, these mindless insurgents have continued their killing spree with benumbing ease. Their strike at a military base and a police station last Monday in Borno and Yobe states left about 40 officers dead. It seems that there is more to their audacity than meets the eye. Therefore, an overhaul of our military response to the crisis has become acute.
Failing to do this will mean that the country will remain a basket case. With about 15,000 killed since 2009, Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 secondary schoolgirls of Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, appears to have become the game-changer in this battle, as it has triggered global outcry and synergy towards ending the menace. But we are not under any delusion that the task would be an easy one. Sadly, this barbarism has festered because the government dithered; it still does not fully understand the evil ideology that underpins the terrorists’ murderous adventures.
Nothing attests to this leadership remiss more than Jonathan’s admission in Windhoek, Namibia, during a state visit in March. “Initially, we handled it (terrorism) with kid gloves, but now we have decided to be a little more forceful because we must thrash out these groups,” he had said. We wonder how he and his experts felt running to the United Nations Security Council two weeks ago to seek Boko Haram’s declaration as a terrorist organisation, when it had earlier spurned the United States overtures to that effect.
Indeed, it is this initial kid-gloves response that brought Nigeria to the edge of the abyss. However, rescue the schoolgirls we must, and wiping out the terrorists, is not negotiable. With the international coalition gathering momentum, the chances of freeing the girls may be on the horizon. It is heartening that the President has seen the need to sing a new song. In his May 29 Democracy Day address, he said, “I am determined to protect our democracy, our national unity, our political stability by waging a total war against terrorism.” The President of the Senate, David Mark, had so advised him much earlier.
Globally, terrorists understand only one language – force. If this is now the President’s disposition, he should move beyond rhetoric. A terrorist group cannot militarily be subdued by troops down in morale, ill-equipped or challenged in welfare. The media are awash with reports of these debilities in the battle zones, especially in Maiduguri, culminating in the mutiny of soldiers at the Maimalari Cantonment recently, against their General Officer Commanding, while addressing them.
Although the said GOC was immediately replaced, the President, as the Commander-in-Chief, should get to the root of the matter. In that anomaly in Maimalari Barracks, we locate the underbelly of ineffectiveness of military operations against the insurgents since January this year. Apart from ensuring that soldiers at the battle front are not in want in terms of ordnance, materially, there is a psychological dimension to their armament that is totally overlooked.
Personal visits to combatants by commander-in-chiefs are known confidence-boosters. President Barack Obama has twice visited the US soldiers in Afghanistan, one of which was at the risk of his life. He was advised against it. On his first visit in 2010, he told them, “There is no visit that I consider more than this visit I am making now,” just as he thanked them for their sacrifices and expressed optimism of their triumph over the enemy. There could not have been a better tonic for the weary soldiers.
As we warned, time and again, defeating Boko Haram requires a complete review of our military operational strategies for greater efficiency. The task is strictly Jonathan’s as the C-in-C. He must not allow himself to be dragged hither and thither by the whims of myopic individuals who tacitly support the terror group. Some nations have faced insurgencies and surmounted them. Israel, for instance, is surrounded by a phalanx of enemy countries linked to the global al-Qaeda. But that country has been able to put them in check; so also has the US.
There is the need for unity in fighting terrorism and in cutting off its support. Like every salafist terror group, Boko Haram’s agenda and that of Nigeria are mutually irreconcilable. When Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate, said recently that Boko Haram’s defeat was not just a military engagement but a game of the “mind,” he meant using history as a compass. The experiences of these countries provide just that for Jonathan.