While Nigeria is less than three months away to another general election, the Boko Haram insurgency looks set to be a major distraction as the nation grapples with its both internal and external security
By Olu Ojewale
IT has been a very busy week for the Nigerian government and the military hierarchy. Since Sunday, November 18, when members of Boko Haram sect stormed the 157 Task Force in Metele, and allegedly killed more than 100 soldiers, both the Presidency and the Nigerian military leadership have been under intense pressure over how to deal with the renewed terrorist attacks on the country.
On Thursday, November 29, President Muhammadu Buhari left the country for N’Djamena, capital of Chad, where he convened a consultation meeting of heads of state and government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, LCBC.
Buhari, who doubles as the chairman of the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the LCBC, in a statement on Wednesday, November 28, by Femi Adesina, his special adviser on Media and Publicity, explained that the one-day meeting would review the security situation in the areas affected by Boko Haram insurgency and adopt measures to enhance the capacity of the Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF, for the battle ahead.
Before his departure for the summit, Buhari had challenged the Nigerian Army to come up with a new strategy in dealing with the contemporary security challenges facing the country. In a keynote address he delivered at the opening of the yearly Chief of Army Staff Conference in Maiduguri, Borno State, on Wednesday, November 28, the president pledged to retool the military for effective containment of the Boko Haram threat.
Buhari, while commiserating with the families of the soldiers recently killed in the state by the insurgents, noted that they paid the supreme price for the peace and security of the country.
Nevertheless, he urged the army to remain committed to the task of eliminating the deadly terror group from the face of the earth.
Tukur Buratai, a lieutenant general and the chief of Army Staff, who spoke on the theme, Optimising Efficiency of the Army in Nigeria’s Democracy, reiterated the resolve of the troops in containing the security challenges in the North East, promising improved welfare for the troops. He bemoaned the threat posed by the smuggling of light arms and other offensive weapons across borders in the sub-region, insisting that the development will not deter the military from discharging its constitutional obligations.
In any case, Buratai, in a statement signed by Sani Usman, a brigadier general, said that contrary to the media reports, the Nigerian Army lost 23 of its personnel to the attack by the Islamic State of West African Province terrorists, who attacked the 157 Battalion in Metele in northern Borno on November 18.
Shedding more light on the attack, the statement said: “As you are all aware, Nigeria is contributing troops to the Multi-National Joint Task Force which has its headquarters in N’djamena, in the Republic of Chad. One of the Nigerian battalions, 157 Task Force Battalion, deployed under the auspices of the MNJTF was attacked at their Base on the outskirts of a town called Metele on November 18.
“During the attack, the troops were forced to withdraw and several casualties were recorded. As of this date, 23 personnel were killed in action and 31 personnel were wounded in action and have been evacuated to several medical hospitals within Borno State.”
While commiserating with the MNJTF for the loss, the Nigerian military command said that all necessary support will be rendered to the joint forces to reverse the Boko Haram resurgence. It was the first time the military was reacting to the attack.
Nevertheless, Buratai similarly said that 12 soldiers were also killed at Kukawa, Ngoshe, Kareto and Gajiram when the troops came under attacks of the Boko Haram terrorists. “Troops deployed in the North-East of Nigeria under Operation Lafiya Dole have come under series of attacks by large numbers of Boko Haram terrorists. Specifically, the Nigerian Army troops deployed at Kukawa, Ngoshe, Kareto and Gajiram came under attack at different times within a two-week period from November 2 to 17.
“Each of these incidents was successfully repelled and several members of the terrorists were killed. However, a total of 16 personnel were killed in the course of these attacks while 12 soldiers were wounded in action and are receiving treatment at our military medical facilities,” the statement said.
That notwithstanding, the Nigerian military said that in the past two to three months, it had noticed some daring moves by the terrorists, who increased the use of drones against the military defensive positions and infusion of foreign fighters in their ranks. “These potent threats require us to continually review our operations,” it said.
The development, perhaps, informed why Mansur Dan-Ali, a retired brigadier general and the minister of Defence, visited Chad during the week to hold a bilateral meeting with Daoud Yaya, a general and his Chadian counterpart. According to a statement by Tukur Gusau, a colonel and the minister’s public relations officer, on Sunday, November 25, the visit centred on the security lapses emanating from the MJTF troops drawn from Cameroun, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin Republic. He was also billed to discuss on how best to respond to the worsening security crisis along the Nigeria – Chad border.
Dan-Ali was in Niger Republic last month over similar issue. He held bilateral discussions with Brigi Rafini, his Nigerien counterpart. Gusau said the visit was in continuation of consultations with ministers of Defence of Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF, troops contributing countries, namely Cameroun, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin Republic.
While the outcome of the president and minister’s diplomatic shuttles are still being expected, Nigerians must be wandering why the Boko Haram sect, which the federal government had in 2015 declared technically defeated and only last month pronounced decimated could have successfully carried out the recent attacks against the military.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, October 30, Lai Mohammed, the minister of Information, had declared to the world: “When the government says it has decapitated Boko Haram, what government means is that a time was when even this capital city – Abuja – was not immune from attacks by Boko Haram.
“You are all living witnesses to the attack on the United Nations Headquarters, the Nigeria Police headquarters, the ThisDay Newspapers, Nyanya Park twice; but since 2015, all that has become history.”
But the recent military debacle against the Boko Haram terrorists, couple with successful intermittent attacks have gotten a lot of Nigerians thinking and wondering about what had gone wrong.
The failure of intelligence or lack of it, has been on the lips of many experts. But the Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection International, STTEP, a South African firm, added a new dimension when it claimed that the Nigerian government had ignored its warning about the imminent attack.
Eeben Barlow, the chairman of STTEP, on his Facebook page, had claimed that Nigerian soldiers were begging him for help since his company’s services were terminated by the Buhari administration.
This comes even as some troops accused top commanders of leading them to death with obsolete weapons in contrast to the sophisticated weaponry of their enemy. They claimed that funds were diverted and old-fashioned equipment were being used. The allegation is contained in a video that went viral on Friday, November 23.
But responding to the incident, John Agim, a brigadier general and the director, Defence Information, told a national newspaper that “we should avoid joking with our security problems. If we do not change the narrative and encourage our troops to face our security challenges with boldness, then we should be ready for the worst.”
He added that “the Metele incident also killed the commander, so what corruption are we talking about? The commanders’ lives are in danger like any other soldier deployed in the Operation Theatre.”
On the South African mercenary firm’s allegations, the spokesman said: “I do not know what Intel they gave the FG. I cannot commit on what I don’t have full information.”
That notwithstanding, on Tuesday, November 27, the House of Representatives, resolved to constitute an ad-hoc committee to investigate the utilisation of all funds appropriated for the Nigerian armed forces. The resolution followed a motion brought under matters of urgent national importance by Chukwuka Onyema, the deputy minority leader, at plenary on Tuesday.
Moving the motion, Onyema said that according to reports, the insurgents carted away a large cache of weapons from the Melete Army base which security experts say would embolden them and pose a great danger to Nigeria.
The lawmaker observed that while the news of the attack and death toll continued to increase, the president and commander-in-chief, the minister of defence or the army authorities did not say anything about the report for more than five days. “The President and C-in-C finally broke his silence six days after the attack in a statement issued on his behalf,” Onyema said.
Besides, he said: “In the last one year, not fewer than 600 Nigerian soldiers have been killed by insurgents mostly in Borno State around the fringes of the Lake Chad.” He said the incessant attacks had become worrisome and questioned the competence of the armed forces.
“On June 18, 2018, Boko Haram attack in Gajiram, Borno State, led to the death of civilians and soldiers. On July 13, 2018, Boko Haram ambushed and killed soldiers at Alagaye village near Bama, Borno State, and carted away nine gun trucks. On July 14, 2018, Boko Haram attacked at the 81 division Forward Brigade at Jilli village in Geidam Local Government Area of Yobe state and killed scores of soldiers,” the lawmaker recalled among others.
In his contribution to the debate, Zakari Mohammed (Kwara, PDP), said the way the attacks were being coordinated indicated a lack of synergy between the armed forces, adding that there seemed to be a competition amongst them. “For the first time, the police and DDS are on their own,” he said.
“The monies they have been appropriating, what has been happening to them? We should bring them to the NASS to tell us where the problem is.”
Besides, he accused the military of using low quality weapons in prosecuting the conflict against the terror group.
On his part, Abdussamad Dasuki (Sokoto, PDP), who is the chairman of the House Committee on Navy, attributed the attacks to lack of adequate personnel in the armed forces. “In the last three years, the number of recruitments in the armed forces are nothing to write home about. The combined armed forces are not up to 200,000. The issue of manpower is paramount for these young men to secure us,” Dasuki said.
According to him, in the past three years, not a single person has been sacked for not doing his job, adding that service chiefs have not lived up to expectations.
Similarly, Dasuki said Buhari has failed Nigerians by his inability to defeat the Boko Haram terrorists as he had promised during the 2015 election campaign. “It will not be wrong to say that the commander – in – chief has failed us. The man that says he will bring the killers to book (but) has not done so. If he doesn’t bring them to book then it is high time we Nigerians bring (sic) them to book.”
Interestingly, it is not only the National Assembly that is interested in scrutinising the military accounts. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, an anti-corruption group; civil society groups and the opposition parties under the aegis of the Coalition of United Political Parties have similarly called on Buhari to order a probe into the spending of military budgets from 1999 to 2018.
They also asked the president to take before the International Criminal Court all cases of alleged diversion of military funds, including $2bn arms funds allegedly diverted during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In an open letter on Sunday, November 25, by Bamisope Adeyanju, its senior legal adviser, the SERAP said it believed the inability of the Nigerian troops to respond adequately to attacks by insurgents was tied to inadequate arms.
It said: “SERAP is concerned that several billions of naira allocated to the military to defend the country have neither contributed to improving the ability of Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram and other armed groups nor provided the much-needed security, especially for Nigerians in the North-East of the country.”
It added: “The military’s inability to respond adequately to the Boko Haram insurgency suggests among other things mismanagement in the spending of the country’s defence budgets.”
The group urged the president to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate how defence and military budgets have been spent since 29 May, 1999. This would help Nigerians to know if the funds meant to defend the country and for the purchase of arms to empower Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram have been transparently and accountably spent.
Making a similar call, the Transparency International asked the federal government to investigate the huge funds voted for military arms and ammunition, particularly for the anti-insurgency war in the North-East. They said the huge amount budgeted for the military to prosecute the war had yet to yield any positive result.
Musa Rafsanjani, the TI head in Nigeria, said in an interview with a national newspaper alleged that despite the huge budgetary allocations and other funds voted to fight insurgency in the North-East, all were not yielding the desired results because of “defence corruption.”
He said: “This shows there is institutionalisation of defence corruption. Nigeria has been facing serious defence corruption. This is the only reason why money meant to procure military equipment is not accounted for or visible in the war. It appears that nothing has changed from what has happened in the past in terms of military corruption.”
On its part, the Coalition of United Political Parties said in a statement by Ikenga Ugochinyere, its spokesman, that it regretted that the incident happened on the same day some service chiefs attended a political function organised by the ruling All Progressives Congress at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Ugochinyere said it was obvious the service chiefs were out of communication and beyond the reach of their subordinates and certainly could not give instructions and coordinate backup and air support for the troops who were left to die.
He described the increase in attacks by the Boko Haram and ISWAP on military facilities in the North-East as a national embarrassment. He, therefore, called for the immediate sacking of the service chiefs.
“For President Buhari to only summon service chiefs for a briefing five days after such a calamity clearly shows the slow response time of this administration to national emergencies and the lack of capacity to meet up with the fast pace of developments which affect the lives of citizens.
“We hereby call on President Buhari to salvage the last vestiges of honour left for his regime by immediately sacking the service chiefs, the Inspector-General of Police, chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Comptroller General of Customs who have at one time or the other been found playing politics with their offices instead of doing their jobs with every sense of neutrality,” Ugochinyere said.
He described as appalling and sacrilegious that months after Buhari received $1bn to fight Boko Haram, videos supposedly released by soldiers on the front suggest that the soldiers were armed with obsolete weapons. “We don’t want to believe yet the allegations that security chiefs with the knowledge of their political masters have now turned this war into a source for raising campaign funds. The political ambition of the president and indeed any other person is not worth the lives of Nigerians. This ugly trend must stop and it must stop now,” the CUPP statement added.
Urging the government to get its priority right on troops’ deployment, Martin-Luther Agwai, a retired general and former chief of Defence Staff noted: “In Nigeria, we want the military to do everything. It is not possible. We must decide whether we want them to fight Boko Haram, guard IDP camps, be at roads blocks and guard hotels. I think we all have to sit down and decide what we want our military to do.”
Agwai spoke in an interview with journalists on the sidelines of the 50th anniversary of the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students, NIFES, on Sunday, November 25, in Abuja.
On her part, Oby Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, in a statement on Sunday, November 25, challenged military authorities and the president to prove that they had not failed the nation’s soldiers.
Ezekwesili asked the government to be “more honest on the challenges it appears to be facing” in prosecuting the campaign against Boko Haram.
She said the federal government “must take measures to assess the failure of leadership of the service chiefs,” because “performance, accountability and consequence have been missing for far too long and must now change.”
She noted further: “It is no longer acceptable for our heroes to die and not be accorded the honour of gallantry. The federal government and the military must accord full military burial rites to the fallen soldiers and also publish the list of others who have died and have been buried discretely in recent times without giving the Nigerian people the opportunity to celebrate their gallantry.”
Similarly, Sulaiman Adeleke, a political activist and businessman, enjoined Nigerians to stop politicising the operation of the gallant soldiers. Giving his own opinion, Adeleke said the military need more support to overcome the Boko Haram insurgence to defeat the sect. On his part, Gilbert Diche, a public commentator, said in an interview: “The federal government must realise that the upper echelon of the Nigerian army has been become too “civilianised” and politicised. Last week, I observed a GOC passing by in a city with a large convoy and a deafening siren as though he was a state governor.
“My point: money meant for the military is not being used for real military purposes. Much of it disappears into non-military uses. That’s partly why it has been very difficult to defeat Boko Haram. Crass materialism has eaten deep into the Nigerian army. Corruption is still the bane of our country.”
Be that as it may be, Buratai said that although no army can have enough equipment for its operations, the Nigerian army had started to strategise for the end of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East.
He said: “The fight against Boko Haram in the North-East will continue unabatedly. The army is collaborating with Chad and Cameroon, and we are currently conducting joint operations in adjoining areas.”
He added: No army can have enough equipment to conduct its operations. So it is incumbent on all commanders to know that we are involved in an asymmetric warfare which calls for dynamism and flexibility.”
Thence, it is hoped that with the resolve of the Nigerian military leadership and their foreign partners, the war against Boko Haram can actually be won.
– Nov 30, 2017 @ 15:30 GMT |