As part of measures to tackle terror and the current insurgency in the north eastern part of the country, the Federal Government’s plan of setting up an elite Special Brigade Force (SFB) is laudable. The elite force, according to the president, will be charged with stemming “challenges of new threats in the environment and thereby aligning our armed forces greater citizen protection and national defence.” This is especially commendable as a scheme against future threats internally and externally to Nigeria’s sovereignty by any militant group.
The spate of killings and maiming across the north in the past three years and to some degree, the inadequacy highlighted in the armed forces’ response to the fundamentalists’ brazen assault on the security system may have forced the government’s hand to dream up this elite unit. So desirable is any such Force that its inauguration should be done without delay.
The president as the commander-in-chief has to reassert his supreme authority within the ambit of the law to roundly deal with any insurgency or crime and restore the confidence of the citizens in the state’s ability to protect them.
President Goodluck Jonathan disclosed the SFB plan during the passing out parade of Officer Cadets of the 61 Regular Course and Short Service Course 42 (Army) at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. And perhaps to raise the confidence level of the service personnel, they also got assurance that any officer who dies defending the country would be honoured, in reaffirmation of wide opinion that they are the country’s pride.
The president also reiterated the obvious when he said: “Our officers are some of the finest in Africa and among the best in the world.” However, being among the best requires a well-equipped fighting force with its fighting spirit taken a notch higher by an inspirational leadership. The Nigerian armed forces, of course, are still far from this ideal especially in material terms as evinced by their near-capitulation to the insurgents as a result of poor equipment and welfare.
Part of President Jonathan’s message to the graduating officers was his government’s pledge to “execute a policy of zero tolerance to indiscipline and corruption.” But the administration is hardly renowned for zero tolerance for indiscipline. Indeed, indiscipline, particularly corruption, has gone worse than ever, with privileged public officials having a field day at the treasury. Posers have been justifiably raised by the public in recent times over how monies appropriated for defence purposes have been spent. Some soldiers even allegedly shunned the battlefront as a result of the absence of military equipment to prosecute the war. Twelve are currently on the death row for their involvement in mutiny over a commanding officer’s allegedly poor disposition to their welfare.
An SFB will truly build capacity if well structured and better equipped. The elite force is likely to help with intelligence which has been suspected to be the sore point in operations by the armed forces. With SFB assisting in collecting and communicating intelligence, a different operational procedure is envisaged.
No doubt, a lot of institutions are born during crises. So the idea is not a bad one just as it is not novel. The coordinators can, therefore, learn from similar units across the world. There is the South African SFB, the only special force unit of the country’s National Defence Force (SANDF). It played a significant role in South Africa’s 30-year-long border war with Namibia and Angola. In fact, the current structure is a result of a series of reorganizations, rationalization and integration (now organized as a brigade with its own headquarters, a school, two regiments and a logistics unit).
In the Republic of Georgia, an SFB is made a component of the Georgian Armed Forces to conduct special and covert operations, special reconnaissance, counter intelligence, counter terrorism, counter insurgency, asymmetric warfare in and outside the country. Brazil has its own Special Operations Brigade, just as Australian Army’s Special Operations Command to add bite to their countries’ security. The department of Homeland Security in the United States was a reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
However, there is a need for caution on the Nigerian SFB. Experience has shown that it could be turned into a tool of political oppression in the hands of any government in power. The SFB can also become a victim to political intrigues if not well structured or managed.
More importantly, in addition to setting up an SFB, President Jonathan must ensure that deficiencies in the existing structures of the armed forces are fully addressed. The Forces have to be reorganised and their strengths reinforced. Tools, training and welfare of the troops are essential.
The overall success of his administration will, however, depend on taming the corruption monster in all spheres, including in the management of the nation’s armed forces.