By Femi Aribisala
We need to admit the truth; Nigeria no longer has an army worth its salt. The Nigerian army of today is a pathetic shadow of its glorious past. This explains why it is proving grossly inadequate at checkmating a Boko Haram army of some 10,000 men. As a matter of fact, ranged against the insurgency in the North-East, the army is now staring abject defeat in the face.
Gone are the glory days when the Nigerian army was at the forefront of international peace-keeping efforts, only surpassed by Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The C.V. of Nigeria single-handedly initiating the ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group) and orchestrating peacekeeping and peace-enforcement operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone is now in a dismal state of disrepair.
Coup-proofing the military
The Nigerian contingent sent to Mali in 2012 was disgraceful. It lacked equipment and training. Assessing their capability, a source told London Guardian: “The Nigerian army is in a shocking state. In reality there is no way they are capable of forward operations in Mali- their role is more likely to be limited to manning checkpoints and loading trucks. The Nigerian forces lack training and kit, so they simply don’t have the capability to carry out even basic military manoeuvres.”
Now the chicken has come home to roost with the Nigerian army deployed against Boko Haram. When you have a military that specialises in overthrowing civilian governments, you don’t empower it after civilians finally manage to come back to power after donkey years. Therefore, it is not surprising that, since the advent of civilian rule in 1999, the Nigerian military has been intentionally starved of funds and diminished by every successive administration.
Today, it is a shell of its much-vaunted past. From the height of a 350,000 man army during the 1967-70 Civil War, the Nigerian military now has only 76,000 malnourished men lacking motivation, training and weaponry. While the military budget has been beefed up in the last few years of the Jonathan administration, much of this has been pocketed by the military top brass, as usual.
The earlier plaudits of the Nigerian army were in fighting conventional wars. But counter-insurgency is something new requiring new sets of skills, tactics and equipment. Lacking this, the Jonathan administration declared a classical state of emergency in the North-East, and then embarked on a scorched-earth military strategy.
Attacks on the innocent; illegal searches and torture; extra-judicial killings; wrongful and indefinite detention of suspects without trial; random burning of homes and farms; and revenge attacks on the innocent was the order of the day. This became a veritable blueprint for losing the war. As a result, the military successfully alienated the local population it is sworn to protect; making it all the more difficult to fight the insurgency.
Western governments would not sell counter-insurgency weapons to Nigeria given the dismal human rights record of our army. Indeed, the sale of lethal weapons to Nigeria is specifically prohibited by law in the United Kingdom because of such concerns. A 1997 law also prohibits American forces from working with foreign military units that have been accused of chronic human rights violations.
There is also a problem with sharing highly-sensitive intelligence information with Nigeria because it is widely understood that the Nigerian military includes a fifth column of local Boko Haram sympathisers. The means the Nigerian army cannot even be trusted to safeguard sensitive information from falling into the hands of the insurgents.
Politics of insurgency
President Jonathan has been caught on the horns of a dilemma. He is a minority South-South president facing re-election in 2015. No Republican has even been elected president of the United States without winning Ohio. No Nigerian can be elected president of Nigeria without getting a substantial number of Northern votes. But now a major segment of Northern leadership is insisting six years of Jonathan presidency is enough.
This makes the handling of the security situation in the North-East a very delicate matter if Jonathan is not to lose vital Northern votes and support. Indeed, it has put the president in a Catch 22 situation. When he declared emergency rule and clamped down on the insurgents in the North, his Northern political opponents accused him of genocide. They maintained his Chief of Army Staff was mischievously from the South-East. Some even threatened to take the matter to the International Court of Justice. But when Jonathan soft-pedals on the insurgency, he is accused of incompetence.
It has not helped that Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, the three states in the fore-front of the insurgency, are all controlled by the opposition APC party. In declaring emergency rule, Jonathan was careful to leave their APC governors intact, as chief security officers of their states. However, they have not been inclined to cooperate with the federal government and, until more recently, have tended to see the insurgency as a means to undermine it.
Resurgent Boko Haram
In the middle of all this, the Boko Haram has gone from strength to strength. From a rag tag group of ill-equipped local thugs who engaged in hit-and-run bombings, it now operates with armoured personnel carriers, rocket launchers and advanced weaponry that match, if not best, those the Nigerian military has to offer. Indeed, it is Nigerian military that has now become rag tag, as the Boko Haram has continued to build up its arsenal of weapons. It even attacks Nigerian police-stations and military-barracks whenever it needs a new cache of arms.
One of the initial sponsors of the Boko Haram was Muammar Gaddafi, who wanted Nigeria to be balkanised into a Christian South and a Muslim North in his bid to promote Libya regional supremacy in Africa. The decision of the United States and its allies to overthrow him further succeeded in unleashing radical Islamic terrorist groups in North Africa, including the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, now armed with Gaddafi’s cache of sophisticated weapons.
These groups moved down the Sahel from Libya; through Algeria into Mali and Nigeria, where they have linked up with their “brothers” in the Boko Haram. Today, the Boko Haram has come of age. In the last few weeks, it has become so emboldened that it has embarked on a new daredevil strategy different from its guerrilla warfare of the past. Its fighters have come out of their hideouts in the Sambisa forest and Mandara Mountains to establish a foothold for their Islamic Caliphate right on Nigerian soil; according to the horrific blueprints of the ISIS in Iraq.
New Islamic Caliphate
Last week Monday, Boko Haram militants seized control of Bama, the second largest city in Borno State. They put up their flag over it, forcing an estimated 26,000 of the residents to flee, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The remaining residents were then force-fed with a strict diet of the Boko Haram version of Islamic law, on pain of death.
They did not stop there, but are also now reported to have taken over other major towns including Damboa, Gamboru Ngala, Banki and Gwoza. As a matter of fact, they are now reported to pose imminent threat to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, which is barely 65 kilometres (40 miles) away from their new acquisition of Bama.
Australian hostage-negotiator, Stephen Davis, who is currently making waves as a result of some controversial pronouncements, says: “When (the Boko Haram) attack a town, they empty the treasury of the banks. That is another source of funding for them. They are gradually depopulating many villages in the state, taking them over and foisting their flag.
They are very well organised and becoming very good strategists. By the time they are done with the villages, they will have a very good base from where they will launch attacks on Maiduguri, with the aim of taking it over and proclaiming the caliphate that they desire.”
Army in disarray
Instead of putting up a fight, Nigerian soldiers are reported to have fled into Cameroon, with the army making a face-saving declaration that it was a tactical manoeuvre. A recent report by Chatham House, a London-based think-tank, points out that soldiers in the North-East are bedeviled by equipment failure, low morale, desertions and mutinies.
The military budget has been increased and increased, but the money has clearly not made its way to the military rank-and-file in terms of equipment and supplies. The government is talking of taking a one billion dollar loan to fight the insurgency. Why would we need as much as that to fight the Boko Haram? What has happened to all the monies spent till date? In spite of the huge outlays, the report from the foot-soldiers remains the same: inadequate weaponry and poor logistics.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s sovereignty is now at stake. An eye-witness reports that: “In Bama now there is no single police, soldier, civil defence, or state security service personnel. They have all run away for fear of being killed, even the civil-servants are not spared from attack, if you are a government worker they kill you.” Apparently, no less than seven emirs have fled their palaces in Borno and Yobe States.
New map of Nigeria?
Andrew Noakes of the London Guardian, who co-ordinates a so-called Nigeria Security Network of Analysts, warns that: “Unless swift action is taken, Nigeria could be facing a rapid takeover of a large area of its territory reminiscent of ISIS’s lightning advances in Iraq. If Borno falls to Boko Haram, parts of Yobe and Adamawa can be expected to follow. Parts of Cameroon along the border area would also probably be overrun.”
This means it is wake-up time. The PDP and the APC must stop playing politics with the Boko Haram. Neither can the insurgency be filed away until after the election. If we are not careful, the damage would have been done long before then. Nigeria is in danger of becoming a banana republic. As Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs warns: “The reputation of Nigeria’s military is at stake. But, more importantly, Nigeria’s and its children’s future is in jeopardy.”