By Obi Nwakanma
Last Saturday, in the rice fields of Garin Kwashebe, in the town of Zabarmari, in the Jere local government of Borno State, forty-two local rice farmers (UN accounts claim One hundred and ten) lay dead; slaughtered by Boko Haram killers who invaded their farms disguised as Islamic preachers according to reports. About half of those killed were reportedly beheaded.
This was a savage act by an unrelentless adversary. It is a horror story. Nigerians witnessed a procession of death. Forty-two dead, wrapped in white shrouds awaiting public burial on the same day is straight out of a horror movie.
In Nigeria, only those who lived and fought in Biafra could relate; going back in those times when Nigerian Air strikes struck civilian population centers – markets, hospitals, playgrounds, and so on. Mass burials are just evidence of a country overwhelmed by war. This is the image that unfolded last week in Zabarmari. The horror! The horror! The Islamic Jihadists are clearly intent on causing maximum havoc and maximum fear. Nothing can save you, they seem to be saying to the local residents.
We will strike where we chose; when we choose, and Nigeria cannot protect you. Only fealty to Boko Haram will. This latest killings in Nigeria’s North East region, a rapidly disintegrating part of the federation now seemingly, nearly controlled by the Boko Haram and other ISIS-backed terrorists, raises very crucial question about Nigeria’s national security under this president.
There is clear outrage in the land. Truth be told, the Nigerian Armed Forces have failed Nigeria. It is looking to Nigerians to be an army only capable of harassing and killing unarmed civilian populations in places like Obigbo but which cannot muster the operational capacity, and lacks the technical and material wherewithal to meet its constitutional role of defending the sovereign integrity of the Federation of Nigeria. It is awful indeed. A ragtag militia of conscripts have taken the fight into Nigeria, and the Territorial Army is unable to engage them, and clear them from their strongholds.
The shame of it all is that the Federal government, by some accounts, is even now contemplating hiring some foreign mercenaries to fight Boko Haram in Nigeria. How did Nigeria get to this point? What exactly is happening?
Now, there have been a lot of gaffes by public officials over this issue: Garba Shehu, the president’s Spokesman riled up Nigerians when he literally blamed the dead for getting killed. “Did they take permission from the soldiers before going to the farms”? he asked a totally shocked nation. Nigerians rightly descended on him, and forced him to dial back on his very insensitive and thoughtless comments.
They twittered him out of breath. But Garba Shehu’s retort is just an indication of how the Buhari government is long out of touch with the real issues and conditions of Nigeria. If Nigerians have been reduced to taking permissions from soldiers before going to their farms, soon enough, we will have a thorough change in loyalties from that population. They will naturally begin to fall under the sway of the authority that they see has the real power to protect them. And it would clearly, no longer be the Federal Government of Nigeria.
It would soon be that the North East Region of Nigeria will have been fully overwhelmed and occupied by ISIS in West Africa. A new conquered territory, from which they’d organize their West African operations more comfortably. It is all falling into place. It is becoming clearer by the day that the Nigerian Armed Forces cannot contain Boko Harm. I mean we have evidence in the massacres in Zabarmari.
The Nigerian authorities very clearly have been lying to Nigerians about the extent of the troubles out there in the North. Mr. Zullum, the governor of Borno State has been raising alarm and sending SOS to the Feds. On a number of occasions his entourage had been attacked. Even he is not safe. A week ago, the Sultan of Sokoto, Saadu Abubakar, raised what many observers now see as the loudest alarm from the North about the impending collapse of civil and lawful society in Northern Nigeria. North Central is under low intensity siege starting with the civil and religious wars in Southern Kaduna.
The North East and the North West seem to have been overrun by bandits and terrorists. Armed militias are now occupying towns in Northern Nigeria, imposing and collecting taxes from markets.
Zamfara is very clearly the flashpoint of a new armed movement. It is a portal into the violent future of the North. We are at the very threshold of an armed Tsunami if nothing is done pretty soon, because not long from now, if this continues, these armed bandits will fuse under the wider banner of Boko Haram and its ISIS partners, and establish their first West African state in Northern Nigeria. It is not a prospect that bodes well for West Africa in general, nor for Southern Nigeria, in particular, where many of these armed folk even now, hide in forests and in open or plain sight.
Two years ago, I was in Lagos, and I watched the occupation of Lagos by what I suspect as a vast, highly organized, and very mobile army. It was disguised as “Okada” riders. But their formation is often too precise, and too disciplined to be just “Okada” riders. I could not put a finger to it. But something about Lagos made me nervous.
The blockade of key arteries of the city with trailers – the Apapa Oshodi Way; the Badagry Expressway; the Lagos-Ibadan way, etc. In any emergency, the city of Lagos is a sitting duck. It is under lock down, and the Lagos Cantonment, the formations in Apapa, Victoria Island, Ikeja or the Ojo Barracks will be cut off, hampered logistically to coordinate. Only a highly mobile Army operating with motor cycles can operate.
And if ISIS takes Lagos, it takes the South more easily. But in all this, what does the Nigerian government say? Well, the President, ever so recumbent only released a very tepid statement, “Nigeria is hurt. I have given our armed forces everything to fight Boko Haram.” Really?
And then the Information minister said, Nigeria’s fight against the insurgency is hampered because “foreign governments” are denying Nigeria access to buying equipment to fight Boko Haram. I am certain that somewhere today, former President Jonathan is having a belly chuckle.
1n 2015, when his government embarked on war against Boko Haram, the current President, Buhari and Mr. Lai Mohammed were among the leaders of the then opposition APC, who went to these same foreign capitals campaigning against the sale military ware to President Jonathan to fight Boko Haram. Indeed, Nigeria was denied procurement access, even by South Africa. Jonathan even tried to use private dealers. He filled a plane with cash, flew to Jo’burg, but was stymied by the pressures to deny Nigeria arms.
The plane filled with cold cash became an embarrassing scandal to his administration. It was in the attempt to circumvent the formal market and use the black market that Dasuki paid out National Security “slush funds” to private procurers, for which he and those who received that fund are still standing trial. Buhari rode on to victory campaigning that he would end Boko Haram. But no. Even the Chief spokesman of the Nigerian Army has claimed that Boko Haram is being sponsored by Foreign powers to “cut Nigeria to size.” And so what? Foreign powers have been plotting to destabilize Nigeria since she began to fight for her independence from Britain.
That is the nature of the Beast. The history of nations is that ambitious nations whose self-interests are involved, plot to destabilize, weaken, or even absorb or conquer other nations. Only weak and unprepared nations fall victim. Strong and self-aware nations with historical consciousness and a clear mission defend themselves. We must not pity Nigeria because other nations are plotting to weaken and destabilize it in order to secure their own common historical interest.
The question is what is Nigeria doing to secure itself from these plots? That is why it established and funds a national army, a police system, a system of espionage and intelligence gathering, and national security system. But what is a nation that does not have the capacity to produce its own means of self-defence? Damn right! It is a failed nation. Nigeria feels like a failed nation, and we cannot wish this fact away, though it makes us sad and jittery. A nation that cannot feed itself, defend itself, or procure its own tools for forging its own arms is an idiot-nation. Yet Nigeria has all that it takes to produce its own arms and stop begging other nations to sell to it. What Nigeria currently lacks is a national will. But why? Far more than any other time, Nigeria feels vulnerable and insecure under Buhari.
The national Assembly has invited the president to answer questions about this. It is about time that the Legislature stood up and do its job. Whatever be the outcome of this summons to the National Assembly, the Nigerian legislature must very quickly pass a National Security Emergency Bill which should place the North of Nigeria under immediate military Emergency.
The president must be mandated to appoint two military administrators, after a thorough background check, to administer the two regions – the North East and the North West – clear it of banditry, terrorism, and other and security menace, internal or external.
The president must be compelled to overhaul the National Security leadership and the national Security architecture immediately. Expand, recruit, train, instrumentalize, a new National Intelligence and Secret Services comprised of a new generation of highly educated, highly trained, highly technical analysts and field operators. It is evident that Boko Haram successes have been the result of intelligence failures.
The Assembly must also mandate this president to start two new formations of the Nigerian Army: a force to be called the Sahara Legion, to be made up of four divisions which should train and deploy as a special forces unit, trained in desert warfare as well as in the defence of Nigeria’s long Northern borders from Kaura Namoda to Lake Chad.
The second should be the Marine Commando Force to be established in Calabar which should coordinate the defence of Nigeria’s Atlantic borders with the new 6th Division in Port-Harcourt. The National Assembly should also pass a National Defense Emergency budget to fund the overhaul of the Defence Industrial Corporation in Kaduna, and establish the Nigeria Defence Production Corporation in Aba, and the National Defence Research and Production Fund. This should fund work in every Nigerian University and Polytechnic’s Engineering and Science departments, alongside the Armed Forces Engineering and Technology board, a joint services task force that should be placed under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and NASENI.
The mandate should be to make Nigeria self-sufficient in its National Defence equipment needs. It is also time to rethink and reposition the National Youth Service Corp, and make military service compulsory for two years of National Youth Service, with an option of joining the military reserve for 5-10 years. This is imperative.
It is time to get this sick nation out of its doldrums. If the President cannot do the job he must be forced to resign, or if he wouldn’t, be impeached in the interest of Nigeria. The other options left for Nigeria are dreary. Loud voices are beginning to call for this, cross the national spectrum, because frankly, the truth might just be told, that Muhammadu Buhari is already far too burnt out and has nothing left to offer. This horror in Zabarmari is, if nothing, a testament to this sad, serial failure to lead.