What I can pledge, with absolute certainty, is that from the first day of my administration, Boko Haram will know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror, and bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas. – Muhammadu Buhari
On May 29th 2015, Muhammadu Buhari was sworn-in as the new Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This position makes him the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of the country’s armed forces. As CSO, much is expected of the new President.
For security watchers, Buhari’s coming is expected to activate a paradigm shift in the country’s approach to national security, especially in the war on terror, considering the fact that comprehensively “defeating Boko Haram” was one of the major planks on which his pre-election campaign was based; a factor that probably accounted for his sweeping victory at the polls. His statements and actions during and after his inauguration have continued in the same firm stead: a dogged commitment to putting a permanent end to the deleterious activities of extremists who have turned the country’s North-East into a boiling point from where peace has completely taken flight. Although the President in his humble and realistic demeanour has not promised to perform any overnight miracle in the country’s security sector, he has, however, continued restating the determination of his administration to be more expeditious in dealing with the threats posed to the security of the North-East and the country in general by the pernicious activities of the Islamist Mullahs within the shortest possible time.
As proof of his readiness to match his words with commensurate action, the President has hit the ground running by: first, ordering the relocation of the Command and Control Headquarters of the military to Maiduguri; ordering the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector General of Police to dismantle all checkpoints nationwide in order to free up military manpower and resources for the conflict against Boko Haram; attending the 25th African Union Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa where regional security was top on the agenda list; attending the G7 Summit of the World’s leading economies in Germany – the first time in a long while that Nigeria was invited to the summit – where he was given firm assurances of international support in the fight against violent extremism; and other proactive diplomatic moves within the Western Africa Sub-region that are aimed at mobilizing the leaders of neighbouring countries with a view to constructing a sub-regional alliance against Boko Haram.
Commendable as the President’s first steps are, much more still needs to be done in order to avoid making the same avoidable, horrendous mistakes the previous administration made in tackling the crisis at its earlier stage; tactical blunders that were largely responsible for the consequent explosion and corrosive spread of the regime of violence that has become the Albatross of the country’s North-East. Unlike his predecessor, MB must think both tactically and strategically, and be firm and decisive in his words and actions. He must not only talk the talk, but should also be ready to walk the walk. He must have a clear road map that defines his modus operandi in the battle against violent extremism.
MB currently enjoys the goodwill of the international community, judging from the assurances and support he has been receiving from across the globe since his swearing-in. At both the G7 and AU Summits, firm assurances of the readiness of the international community to assist Nigeria in its anti-terror campaigns were clearly spelt out to the President. He must completely lap up the current momentum. Without compromising the country’s national security interests, MB must be more open to collaborating with foreign partners, unlike the conservative approach of the previous administration which made the country a kind of pariah in its relations with other potential allies.
Some previously abandoned training programs under the Jonathan administration, such as the training of a Nigerian Army battalion by the U.S military, should be immediately reactivated and fresh ones with other allies initiated to help the war efforts. Boko Haram’s links with A-Qaeda and other global extremist groups makes it imperative that the country embraces all available assistance from her friends and partners.
Again, MB should consolidate on his diplomatic forays into neighboring countries, especially those with similar threat indicators in order to create a multipronged alliance against Boko Haram. The failure of the previous administration, at the initial state of the conflict, to respond speedily and decisively by forging a multinational front with neighboring countries whose borders were ceaselessly exploited by the group in launching murderous raids into Nigeria, resulted in the escalation of the conflict to the extent that expansive swaths of territory in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno were brazenly seized and even administered separately from the rest of the country – as part of Boko Haram’s proposed Islamic Caliphate – for some time. Fighting Boko Haram from several fronts will greatly limit its ability to launch cross border raids into Nigeria and other neighboring countries.
Also pertinent is the need for the country’s security forces to be properly equipped and remunerated for better performance. Embarrassing complaints of insufficient arms and ammunitions, poor rations and unpaid allowances, must be expeditiously addressed, to motivate the fighting men. These avoidable impediments seriously limited the efficiency and effectiveness of the country’s military in its previous encounters with the insurgents, who due to the superior weapons at their disposal, in conjunction with other incentives, initially had the upper hand in their bloody exchanges with the country’s security forces.
Again, intelligence gathering, which is the key to success in any theater of war, should be the fulcrum of MB’s anti-terror strategy. The intelligence arm of any standard military is its life-force. Poor quality intelligence gathering makes it impossible to plan and execute effective battle strategies. Adequate knowledge of your enemy’s psyche, habits and tendencies gives you a strategic advantage in any eventual confrontation. The failure of the country’s several intelligence agencies to produce reliable intelligence on Boko Haram has greatly limited the effectiveness of the military effort. There is an urgent need for a top to bottom overhaul of the country’s intelligence services as currently constituted.
Nigeria’s high ranking – fourth place behind Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – on the Global Terrorism Index for 2013, calls for a more proactive, forceful, objective and multidimensional approach to the ongoing war on terror, if only to alleviate the excruciating pains that have become the sad lot of the indigenes of those parts of the country worst affected by the insurgency. Aid agencies have put the figures of persons so far killed in the insurgency ravaging Nigeria’s North-East at approximately 17,000 persons, a figure security watchers say is largely understated. On the other hand, the National Emergency Management Agency put the number of displaced persons since January 2015 at over 981,416. Meanwhile, the Republic of Cameroon is playing host to more than 70,000 Nigerian refugees, while 200,000 others have taken refuge in Chad. This is, indeed, a national emergency; a desperate situation that requires equally desperate solutions.
MB’s Buhari’s administration came to power on the promise that it will work assiduously towards putting a full, final stop to the violent conundrum in the North-East. As a former force man who made his bones during his active days in the military, Nigerians expect nothing less from their President. If the President can muster the courage and sagacity to confront Boko Haram in the same uncompromising manner he handled the Maitatsine Crisis in the 1980’s, in conjunction with other Multi-Track Diplomatic initiatives, the ongoing asseverating bloodletting in the North-East can be deescalated and ultimately transformed. Compared to his predecessor, MB has the pedigree, coupled with the local and international goodwill he currently enjoys, to activate the processes that will bring this orgy of violence to an end. If anybody can, he can.
God save Nigeria!
Image: Sarah via Flickr