By Emma Agu
UNEASY, so goes a popular saying, lies the head that wears the crown. Never has this saying been more apt than in the case of the current service chiefs of the various Services of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
More than ever before, there have been calls for the removal of the service chiefs on account of the perceived failure of the Armed Forces to decisively put down the Boko Haram insurgency and other emerging threats in the country. The other often stated reason is that they have exceeded their constitutional tenures. If previous calls for their removal were ignored, the latest call, from the Senate, is seen by some as the height of legislative activism.
Frustration over the activities of the insurgents in the North East as well as the emerging threats posed by armed bandits and other criminal elements in the North West, North Central and other parts of the country is understandable, for several reasons; the most prominent being the loss of innocent lives caused by these criminal elements.
The displacement of thousands of people, the dislocation of economic and social life as well as the spill-over effect on other sections and segments of the society, further fuel the agitation for a change of strategy and, as has been the case, in the leadership of the Armed Forces.
However, in order to put the situation of the country in proper perspective, we must first critically appraise where we are coming from and juxtapose it with the situation today. Prior to the coming on board of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration in 2015, the security situation in the country was quite dire.
Attacks by the Boko Haram Sect spread beyond the North East even up to Abuja, where the United Nations Building was attacked by suicide bombers. There was also a bomb attack at a Catholic Church in Madalla on the fringes of the Federal Capital Territory. In addition, the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters in the Central Area and Banex Plaza in Wuse 2 Abuja were also bombed, while the Nyanya Motor Park was attacked with improvised explosive devices on 2 separate occasions.
Outside Abuja, the former Emir of Kano was attacked in Kano while Kaduna equally experienced its fair share of bomb attacks. Indeed, the President (then presidential candidate) Muhammadu Buhari himself narrowly escaped death as his vehicle was targeted by Boko Haram suicide bombers while on a trip to Zaria. Similarly, the Bauchi Prison was attacked, with several prisoners freed and others killed by the insurgents.
Caliphate with headquarters in Gwoza
At a time, the three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa were under a state of emergency. Furthermore, as at early 2015, the Boko Haram Sect was in control of over 14 local government areas in the North East of the country. They had established a caliphate with headquarters in Gwoza, where they had killed the Emir and abducted his wife.
Furthermore, Bama and other prominent towns were under their total control. This was after they carried out devastating attacks in Baga, where 185 people were killed and over 2,000 homes destroyed; Banki; Benisheik as well as in Maiduguri where Giwa Barracks and the Nigerian Air Force Base/Maiduguri Airport were attacked with many killed and equipment, including aircraft, destroyed.
Yobe and Adamawa States also suffered similarly; recall the horrible attacks on the Government Secondary School in Mamudo and the Federal Government College Buni Yadi, Yobe State that resulted in the death of 25 and 29 children and staff, respectively, subsequently leading to the closure of all schools in the affected states.
Maiduguri was like a ghost town at that time; hardly were prayers held in mosques, while routine celebrations, like weddings and naming ceremonies, that could have occasioned large gatherings, were suspended for fear of suicide bomb attacks.
Since the current set of service chiefs took over the helms of affairs, the Armed Forces, supported by other security agencies, quickly took action to dismantle the Caliphate and ensure the liberation of virtually all territories hitherto occupied by the sect.
Bombings have now become a thing of the past and activities of the sect mainly curtailed to the fringes of Lake Chad and parts of Sambisa Forest. As a result, many formerly displaced persons have been able to return to their ancestral homes, as peace returned to the hitherto war-torn areas.
Consequently, one can safely say that while we are not yet where we want to be, we certainly are not where used to be and the credit must go the current crop of service chiefs.
They have been able to do this in spite of the fact that the insurgents have been buoyed in manpower and technology by new entrants into the fray following the crisis in Libya and the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, which led to an influx of experienced, battle-hardened terrorists who injected new tactic and vigour into the ranks of the Boko Haram insurgents.
One must of course understand the feeling of exasperation, especially given the emerging internal security threats in other parts of the country such as the activities of the new set of gun-wielding herdsmen whose modus operandi is seen by many, as the greatest, post-civil war, threat to the unity and stability of the country.
However, it would be necessary to look at these threats holistically within the context of how the threats have emerged and consider, in a comprehensive manner, what must be done to deal with them. Hence, it is necessary to dispense with the belief that once the service chiefs are dropped, the insurgency and other criminal activities will suddenly end. Sadly, such a position is not supported by either our history or by logic.
Granted, nobody is indispensable. However, nothing will be gained by falling victim of the fallacy of monocausal explanation. We need not look too far into history. The changes in service chiefs in the past did not bring about the much-anticipated decisive defeat of Boko Haram; nor did it check the mushrooming of militants in the northern axis of the country.
What this means is that, to find the answers to the problem, we must look beyond the service chiefs and indeed, the several variables that play up, in the web that has buoyed the insurgents, undermined our military and placed our society in peril.
First, there is the challenge of consensus building in our society. The Bible tells us that a house that is divided against itself cannot stand. Any keen watcher of Nigerian events will agree that never since the end of the Civil War, has the country found itself so divided. Sadly, the political elite, the group looked upon by the society to rally consensus, is guilty of aggravating the divisions that plague the country.
How do we expect our military to perform wonders when those they are fighting to protect, divulge their every move and plan to the adversary, resulting in the carnage that often happens after every ambush of our soldiers? Are the informants who betray every move of our military not from the constituencies of our legislators? What have the legislators done to rein in on the saboteurs in their constituencies? Who is fooling who?
Second, the military is a microcosm of society. It depends on the quantum of budgetary allocation and the speed of delivery, to effectively drive its processes.
Agu, Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, was Chief Press Secretary to Head of the Interim National Government, ING, in 1993.