By Ola Balogun
CAN we rely on the Nigerian Armed Forces as presently constituted?
There is nothing new under the sun! From time immemorial, the challenge of confronting and defeating non-state military forces that engage in guerilla warfare has been met successfully time and time again. Thus, there is virtually no need to innovate when it comes to solving this problem. The strategies and tactics for defeating guerilla forces have been abundantly written about and commented on, both in history books available to the general public and in specialised textbooks produced for use in military academies.
Examples of successful anti-guerilla campaigns range from Alexander’s campaigns in India to the methods applied by Julius Caeser against indigenous tribes in present day France and Germany, as well as to the ferocious scorched earth tactics employed by the famous Mongolian Emperor Genghis Khan, whose military genius has long been widely acknowledged.
African and African diaspora Generals like Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti and the great Shaka Zulu (Ushaka) in southern Africa are also known to have evolved and applied superb tactics for checkmating and defeating guerrilla forces in varied combat theatres. Closer to us in time, it was not only because the British imperial military forces that invaded the African continent had vastly superior weapons that they easily defeated several indigenous fighting units in Nigeria. The British were almost always victorious because they systematically applied appropriate strategies and tactics directed at crushing indigenous forms of warfare, including guerilla attacks.
Closer to us in time, the efficient and ruthless manner in which the British army comprehenively defeated determined and well-equipped guerilla forces in Malaysia during the era of the so-called Malaya emergency following the Second World War continues to be studied in military academies all over the world.
Why then have these time-tested strategies and tactics not been utilized by the present-day Nigerian army to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents? The fundamental reasons for this strange omission are as follows: Lack of adequate political leadership at the Federal Government level. Military forces generally cannot function efficiently unless they are under the supervision of wise and patriotic civilian leaders.
The well-known dictum that warfare is too serious a matter to be entrusted to military personnel alone has been illustrated time and time again in the Nigerian setting, both during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war and in the context of the fight (or lack of fight!) against Boko Haram.
For instance, former President Goodluck Ebelechukwu Jonathan and his entourage were firmly convinced that Boko Haram was some kind of hoax, so they never really mobilised the Nigerian army against the insurgency until the dying days of the Jonathan administration. Closer to us in time, the Buhari administration has turned out to be a weak and disorganised substitute for government in which no one is really in charge.
How can a non-existent government be expected to pursue warfare efficiently? An even more glaring impediment to the meaningful deployment of the Nigerian Armed Forces against Boko Haram is to be found in the fact that several highly placed individuals and groups in the Federal Government and in the Nigerian Army itself have converted the alleged “fight against Boko Haram” into a gigantic multi-billion dollar ‘chop-chop’ industry.
The officially documented stories revealed by the EFCC in judicial filings about how shocking amounts of money running into billions of dollars were allegedly diverted into private pockets by Sambo Dasuki and a variety of accomplices under the guise of funding weapons purchases for the fight against Boko Haram merely represent the tip of the iceberg: There is much worse going on at this very moment! With so many vested interests at the top levels of the Federal Government and the Nigerian Armed forces benefitting from the existence of Boko Haram, why would there be any serious effort on their part to end the emergency?
The contrary is obviously the case! It is a well-known fact that there are many highly placed military and civilian officials in Nigeria who are working very hard to ensure the continued existence of Boko Haram. As a result, when it comes to fighting against Boko Haram, the Nigerian Armed Forces are clearly not doing as much as they are capable of.
Institutional weaknesses in the Nigerian Armed Forces. The Nigerian Army and Nigeria’s paramilitary forces as a whole cannot be said to consist in bulk of highly patriotic individuals motivated by burning love for our nation who are willing to gladly sacrifice their lives in the service of the nation.
The Vietnamese soldiers who confronted and overcame the best soldiers that France could muster during the legendary battle of Dien Bien Phi are famed for marching forward to attack day after day, night after night, vying for the honour and glory of giving up their lives in the service of a collective national interest, just as the French soldiers themselves had done in defence of their own fatherland during the terrible wars that were waged in the wake of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century.
Uneducated mercenary fighters
There are definitely large numbers of highly motivated Nigerian patriots who would gladly give up their lives to defend the lives of their parents, children and near relatives as well as for the future glory of our nation, but it is obvious that there are no adequate mechanisms in place for motivating and enrolling this cadre of men and women into the Nigerian Armed Forces which remain essentially an outgrowth of the largely uneducated mercenary fighters recruited from among remote tribes to serve as adjuncts to the British imperial officer corps who murdered and raped tens of thousands of defenceless individuals in the course of the relentless military campaigns that were waged against our people by the British imperialists under the guise of “pacifying” Nigeria during the era of colonial conquest of our land.
Thus, though the White British officers have long since been replaced by an indigenous Nigerian officer corps, the basic orientation remains the same. The present-day Nigerian Armed Forces (both officers and men!) mostly consist of individuals who have enrolled in the army to earn a salary and pursue a career. As a result, the current Nigerian Army is neither particularly well led nor deeply motivated by patriotic zeal.
In fact, the finest example of courageous and skilful military leadership in Nigeria was provided by the officers of the 3 Commando Division under the command of Benjamin Adekunle during the Nigerian civil war, when the Brigade Commanders were seen to lead their men into battle from in front in Israeli army fashion, hence the high rate of casualties among Adekunle’s officer corps, leading to the deaths of brave officers like Lt. Col. Shande, Major Hamman and Lt. Col. Isaac Adaka Boro.
The late General Maxwell Khobe (who led the Nigerian army contingent during the ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia for a while) and the late Lt. Col. Gideon Orkar (who perished needlessly in an anti-Babangida coup attemp) are also prime examples of the kind of highly motivated and courageous senior officers that are rarely to be found in the present-day Nigerian Armed Forces.