“Gunmen from Islamist sect Boko Haram killed 51 people in an attack on a town in northeast Nigeria…in a region where President Goodluck Jonathan’s troops are struggling to contain its insurgency. Dozens of Boko Haram fighters speeding along in trucks painted in military colours and armed with automatic weapons and explosives stormed Konduga local government area in Borno state at around 4 p.m. on…burning houses and shooting fleeing villagers…The insurgents also took 20 young girls from a local college hostage…The military confirmed the attack took place but said it was still assessing the number of casualties.”
The above was the lead paragraph in a Reuters’s story a couple of days ago. The story’s screaming headline was: “Nigeria’s Boko Haram kill 51 in northeast attack.” Before this headline, there had been many such screaming headlines: “Gunmen kill 22 in Nigeria church attack: Witnesses”; “Attacks by extremists kill about 75 Nigerians”; “Nigerian gunmen attack toll reaches 85”; “Nigerian Muslim Cleric Opposed to Boko Haram Shot Dead.” And we can go on and on quoting screaming headlines that have assailed our ears since gunmen first laid siege to northern Nigeria. Does anybody even pay any attention to these headlines anymore? Anybody…the Federal government, the military, and the rest of us not directly affected by the carnage…do we pay any attention to these headlines anymore? Could it be that we don’t pay attention to these headlines because they have apparently screamed themselves hoarse? Or have we all just become inured to (and inoculated against) their potency?
But probably the one headline that should have bothered Nigerians the most was this from ThisDay newspaper: “Five Aircraft Razed as Boko Haram Attacks Maiduguri.” The paper reported on 03 December 2013 that the president was so perturbed by the brazen and gory nature of the attack that he called an emergency meeting of the Security Council. Erstwhile military Service Chiefs, Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Azubike Ihejirika and Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Alex Badeh, (now CDS) along with National Security Adviser (NSA) Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) were in attendance. Soon after that meeting, the Air Force launched a few air sorties, dropping a few bombs on what it thought were the enemies. Many of the bombs were so erratic they missed their targets by kilometers. Some hit “friendly forces” while others landed in open fields. The attacking insurgents disappeared into thin air almost effortlessly and our military retreated back to their barracks claiming what later amounted to nothing but Pyrrhic victory the fact that it successfully drove the attackers away.
Drove the attackers away? That was part of the bragging statements of the Army as it went on a shameless victory lap around the mangled corpses of Nigerian Soldiers and the bloods of civilians, including those of innocent women and children, now mostly Muslims. It used to be that these attackers targeted Christians and their churches; and because of that, we attributed their attacks to part of Boko Haram’s quest to Islamize the whole of Nigeria. For a considerable length of time now, these attacks have been launched against Nigerians irrespective of religion, sect, age, ethnicity and gender. Commonsense should, therefore, by now inform the collective wisdom our highest military echelon to consider the possibility that these are probably no longer the original Boko Haram adherents we were fighting.
Our military “drove the attackers away”, turned around and came back home? And we are satisfied with that? What is wrong in following the attackers to whatever hole from where they came – Cameroon, Chad, or Niger – and finishing them off there? What is wrong in following the attackers, capturing those we can capture and bringing them back to our bases for interrogation? Believe me, if we subject these Prisoners of Wars (POWs) to internationally sanctioned interrogation techniques – those authorized by relevant Geneva Conventions articles and guaranteed to preserve the rights and dignity of the POWs – we will obtain actionable intelligence from them that would aid in our execution of this war. Instead, we allowed the attackers to retreated and re-group so they can fight us another day. We tucked our tails between our legs, scampered back to our bases and declared victory? And a few weeks later, the commander whose Air Force Base was so ravaged – Alex Badeh, the one whose subordinate personnel’s wives were carted away by the enemies in that bold attack, was rewarded with promotion to Chief of Defense Staff. None of the senators who screened him for the appointment had the good conscience to ask him where he was when the attack on the base occurred; what policies he had in place to forestall such an attack, and what policies he had since put in place to prevent another such attack.
If the senators (led by David Mark, himself a former senior military officer) had had the gumption to ask the tough questions, they would have learned, for instance, that the Nigerian military is languishing in archaic war fighting equipment and doctrine. They would have learned that our Air Force did not have up-to-date maps of our own country – maps which would have come in handy when trying to locate the enemy’s possible fortresses; maps showing all of our man-made and natural terrains that the enemies and our forces could use for cover, concealment and mobility. The senators would have found out that our Air Force had very limited serviceable and air-worthy fighter aircraft. They would have learned that because of the paucity of aircraft, only very few of our fighter pilots are well-trained in their jobs. And those who have the training may not even retain much of these perishable flying-and-fighting skills due to lack of timely sustainment training. Our senators would have learned that our Army still carries around moribund and often malfunctioning personal and crew-served weapons and dilapidated Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs); that our Soldiers run out of ammunition, petrol, food and other essential equipment in the middle of firefights. Our senators would have found out to their utter chagrins the nauseating fact that we are sometimes late in paying our Soldiers’ combat and deployment allowances; and that when they die in combat, we take forever in paying their gratuities to their families, thereby keeping morale at the lowest ebb.
Our senators might also have learned that our senior military officers do not understand the difference between conventional war (country vs. country) and Counter-Insurgencies (COIN) (country vs. insurgency) war. And what they do not know, they could not teach to their subordinates or supervise. The senators would have learned that we have probably been fighting an armed insurrection or an armed unconventional invasion (assuming these attackers are from neighboring Cameroon, Chad, or Niger) with the tools needed to fight a conventional war. Had our senators done their due diligence, they would have learned that our military and our intelligence agencies, especially the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), lack the technical knowhow to emplace and employ ground/aerial, static/mobile, human/electronic intelligence collection capabilities that would greatly complement the efforts of our gallant Soldiers. (For example, we acquired for surveillance a couple of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), otherwise known as Drones, but with what and whom are we coordinating the images we receive?) Gallantry without effective fighting weaponry is nothing but suicide. Only when our Soldiers encounter unarmed civilians do their egos swell to match their menacing muscles. When faced with well-motivated hooded insurgents wielding Rocket-Propelle
d Grenade (RPG) launchers and vehicle-mounted 60mm machine guns, our soldiers scamper for cover. Had the senators asked the right questions, our senators would have known that without motivating and empowering our Soldiers with modern, up-to-date equipment, quality training, and rewarding pay, it is as if we have consistently tied their fighting hands behind their backs and sent them to battle to die.
This low-level war with insurgents has exposed the systemic rot in our military and we should wake up to our responsibilities. Unless we are deluding ourselves, Nigeria may not survive a full-blown invasion from one of our neighboring countries. At the minimum, we would suffer great losses in the hands of a determined foe. Ordinary bands of rag-tag fighters probe and infiltrate our borders at will (daytime, nighttime and evenings); they conduct successful attacks and then successfully retreat with minimal casualties. A few days later, they repeat the attacks with slight changes to their modus operandi, throwing our soldiers into confusion. Haba! These are textbook basic offensive tactics that have continued to make mincemeat of our so-called dreaded military. And any Nigerian Soldier worth his or her salt should be embarrassed to no end by this.
If we eschew politics, Goodluck Jonathan has no blame in this whatsoever. Because he was dissatisfied with their performances (and rightfully so) he sacked Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim and Lt. Gen. Azubike Ihejirika. To make it a clean sweep, he also sacked the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba. While Badeh replaced Ibrahim, Ihejirika, and Ezeoba were replaced by Maj. Gen. Kenneth Minimah and Rear Adm. Jibrin Usman respectively. Air Vice Marshall Adesola Amosu slid into Badeh’s old seat as the Air Force’s Chief of Staff.
This is all one could expect of a civilian Commander-in-Chief – shaking up of the military at the top with the expectation that the new appointees will inject the Force with a new sense of purpose, direction and motivation. Jonathan should not be expected to understand the minutiae of military Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs). In fact, he is probably as angry and as surprised as the rest of us that we have not beaten this insurgency scourge. Poor Jonathan, he can only understand and approve what the military brasses put before him. And anyone with a scintilla of how the military works, much more than just rudimentary knowledge of how the military conducts successful operations, should know that the succession of military brasses have not served him well. They appear to me to have become either too obtuse and/or too impervious to designing radical changes to their TTPs in order to defeat the insurgents.
As a matter of urgency, Chief of Defense Staff, Alex Badeh should begin to earn his rank and salary by setting up for himself a Command Post (CP) in Maiduguri and temporarily move his office there. If anything, this would signal to all his subordinate commanders that he means business and it is no longer business as usual. This is war and it should be treated as such. It would also boost the junior Soldiers’ morale to know their overall boss is on the battlefield with them, not ensconced in Abuja drinking pepper soup. Badeh will now be able to see up-close what his Soldiers are facing and effectively assess what they need in order to win the war. When he orders them to face death, he would be doing so with moral authority, not just rank authority. Badeh will see firsthand how a typical fellow Nigerian in Konduga lives his or her daily life and can then report same to Jonathan. Badeh will be able to go to the National Assembly (NASS) and to Jonathan to make a good argument why Nigeria needs to recruit more Soldiers. He would be able to convince the NASS to increase the defense budget, allowing for training in modern warfare, equipment, remunerations and emoluments for its personnel.
Finally, Jonathan will then be able to inform (not seek permission from) the presidents of Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic; the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), that henceforth, Nigeria would deal decisively with anybody or group of persons that violates its territorial integrity. Jonathan will mandate Badeh and his entire military leadership to employ the Powell Doctrine of maximum force each time any part of Nigeria is attacked. And, of course, with credible and actionable intelligence, superior equipment and a motivated military, Nigeria will meet its threat of lethal force with precision and deadly overwhelming delivery. This will serve as an effective deterrence to would be aggressors and fomenters or anarchy. This practice of watching whole families slaughtered in cold blood; of survivors gnashing their teeth, wailing and throwing themselves on the ground; and of our military and politicians throwing up their hands in total helplessness will then come to an end. And we would have our country back.