Against the backdrop of recent advances being made by the Boko Haram insurgents on key towns in Nigeria, it is about time for the federal government to be deeply worried. The worry is not just about the debilitation the insurgency is steadily causing the country and its law-abiding citizens; it is even more so about the demystification of the Nigeria Army that before now has an enviable international reputation for valiance and war-time discipline. Certainly the army has been overstretched by the militancy, to the extent that its morale, collectively, has been seriously battered. But this is no time for lamentation, as the line gets thinner between a peaceful country and a war-ravaged polity. If Boko Haram is to be stopped from inflicting a permanent damage to the entity of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan must pause a while from his present fraternity with political power; and mobilize the army to regain territories captured by the insurgents and thereby restore its (the army’s) own glory.
Reports from the frontline of campaign against insurgents in Northeast part of the country are not cheering. The insurgents are firmly holding territories, straddling three major states of Adamawa, Bornu and Yobe in the geopolitical zone. Towns such as Bama, Gwoza, Michika and Mubi are reportedly under the control of the insurgents. This awful development has spawned a sea of internally displaced persons (IDPS) to the extent of over-stretching the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
While it is important to acknowledge and salute the gallantry of the security forces engaged with the campaign, it is as well imperative to reflect on the way in which the war against insurgency has been waged so far with a view to re-tooling for effectiveness and victory for the fatherland. The palpable complacency on the part of the politicians running the country underlined by their frolic, playing legendary Nero while Rome is burning, is totally abhorrent. Political leaders cannot justifiably pretend that the insurgency is no more than a mere skirmish in a secluded part of the country. The people that are being daily killed and displaced are Nigerians fully entitled to government’s protection in line with the country’s constitution.
Historically, the country’s armed forces have a reputation for gallantry and patriotic exertions. What is happening today therefore is heart-rending and a poor reflection of the past image and character of the men and women constitutionally charged with safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity from internal and external aggression. But despite current setback, the country has the resources and wherewithal to fight the Boko Haram insurgents. What is required is the political dexterity and strategy to prosecute the war. In this regard, the leadership must stand up to its billing.
The government needs to audit its external and internal resources; both diplomatic and human. It is noteworthy, firstly that the national security team appeared not to have laid a strong foundation for the prosecution of the war against insurgents by a poor reading of the crisis. It ought to have a good hang on the external dimension to the crisis. The African Union and ECOWAS are strategic multilateral institutions that the government should have tapped right from the inception. Government stands to harness their intelligence resources and their goodwill in fending off supplies to the insurgents; after all, the arms being used did not drop from the sky, but are supplied through land and air corridors of neighbouring countries. What has Nigeria made of help beyond the continent?
Obviously, the Western countries appear to be lukewarm, citing ostensibly Nigeria’s alleged poor human rights record in the war against insurgents and the lack of integrity in the country’s security forces as disincentives to lending a helping hand. How true are these allegations? What is being done to mend fences? The country’s leadership needs to smoothen out these rough edges on the external front.
Domestically, everything appears to be wrong. Internal organisation for engaging with Boko Haram insurgents reveals a yawning gap. Why, for instance, are the armed forces not responding decisively, and foot-dragging, to the upsurge and advance of the insurgents? Who is responsible for the Boko Haram operations? So far, no one has been publicly identified with the foremost authority to command and direct the operation, leading to all manner of lame reactions trailing each security failure, or outlandish promises that have failed to materialise. The country’s leadership needs to have an officer in charge of the operations against the insurgents, a regional commander and a central command. There must be clear distinction between military intelligence and political information. The Ministry of Defence must take centre stage in this effort.
The logistics of the insurgents poses a serious question. Some reports indicate that the insurgents have helicopters delivering food and materials to them. Rather than dismiss this as mere rumour, the government should identify, and if need be, explain to the public the sources of arms including tanks and anti-aircraft batteries with which they are engaging with Nigerian forces. Are they getting their arms from the Cameroonians, Chadians and Nigeriens? The government must act to coral the support of these countries behind its war efforts in order to arrest sources of arms supply and deny them a buffer. In the frontline, a new civil-military relation is required to deny the enemy all operational space. The people in the frontline must be cultivated in ways to win their confidence and resultant support.
Above all, the home front must be consolidated. There is need to recall all seasoned retired officers to help put a stop to the nauseating insurgents’ bravado. The firepower of the army needs to be boosted with audited brand new armament, and the on-going training and re-training of security personnel must be speeded up.