It must confound any decent soldier as it confounded President-Elect Muhammadu Buhari the other day that Nigeria contracted out its fight against Boko Haram to South African and East European mercenaries. It must confound all Nigerians that our government hired soldiers of fortune to help liberate about 14 local government areas from the stranglehold of a non-state terrorist group. It must be a source of embarrassment to all of us that our National Security was so shredded.
When it was first reported in March this year by Reuters and later picked up by the New York Times and Washington Post, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe the story because the Nigerian press, perhaps overwhelmed by its coverage of the elections, did not give the story any traction. The international media had reported sighting soldiers of fortune camped out in remote sections of the Maiduguri airport, from where they launched attacks against the terrorists at night. The next morning, the Nigerian forces roll onto the “liberated” battlefield to mop up the place, pose for celebratory photographs which their spokesman, Gen. Chris Olukolade, distributes to newsmen and women in Abuja. What a shame!
Generals Azubuike Ihejirika, Abdulrahman Dambazau, Luka Yusuf, Martin Agwai and Alexander Ogomudia (all former Chiefs of Army Staff) should be ashamed for bequeathing onto Gen. Kenneth Minimah an army that cannot sustain a fight on its own soil without running out of ammunition, weapons, fuel and even personnel. To be fair, one can argue that Generals Victor Malu, Ogomudia and Agwai (all Chiefs of Army Staff during Obasanjo’s civilian era) were instrumental to the re-positioning and reorienting of the Nigerian army towards professionalism and away from coup planning which had been ingrained in its psyche for decades. We should recall that the military, under the leaderships of Generals Ishaya Bamaiyi, Alwali Kazir, Chris Alli and Aliyu Gusau, during the interregnums of Abdulsalam Abubakar and Ernest Shonekan, and during the brutish reign of Sanni Abacha, was grossly unprofessional, undisciplined and corrupt. Civilian Obasanjo, with the help of Defense Minister Theophilus Danjuma (himself a former Chief of Army Staff), straightened out much of the kinks in the military by getting rid of dead woods, trigger-happy and coup-prone officers.
But rather than consolidate the gains of the Obasanjo government, Shehu Yar’Adua (due to his fatal illness, I think) didn’t have the time and capacity to touch Defense. Had he been healthy, he probably would have continued the re-organization and reorientation begun by Obasanjo, after which he might have turned to reforming its materiel and overall logistics’ inventory methods.
But Yar’Adua died and Goodluck Jonathan was just too out of his depths about many things, especially military matters. And for those six years, Boko Haram made mincemeat of our military, humiliated our country and displaced our citizens. They effectively altered the geographic map of Nigeria, successfully carving a “Caliphate” out of our territorial space. This embarrassment has left our discerning military minds asking many questions.
How, for instance, did we utilize the Nigerian Army Special Operations Command (NASOC) which Jonathan created in 2014? The way I understand it and the way it is used all over the world, a Special Operations Command (SOC) is manned by Special Operations personnel , those “super-human” people who carry out those “special” operations for which your regular military personnel are neither trained nor equipped. The SOC will have a couple of battalions under it that can be deployed at short notices in whole or in parts for special missions. Nigeria has at least one such battalion – the 176 Special Forces Battalion. How come this battalion was not trained and equipped to carry out against Boko Haram the missions for which we rented foreign fighters?
All around the world, when you retire from a Special Forces group and you still crave” action”, you work for private entities that provide “muscles” in trouble areas of the world – the Middle East and North Africa especially. Is it possible that our own 176 SF personnel were the ones working under the shadows of other countries’ retired SF personnel – those mercenaries from Ukraine and South Africa? Keep in mind that mercenaries are, by their very nature, not obligated to operate under internationally accepted rules of Land Warfare, Rules of Engagement and provisions of the Geneva Conventions, particularly with regards to treatment of prisoners of war. They are marauding rogues outlawed by decent countries and the international community. We must find out if we (or our mercenaries) were just summarily executing Boko Haram fighters even when they may have surrendered or if we were transporting them to interrogation centers. How come Olukolade has not been briefing the press on those we captured on the battlefield, if at all any? Could this be why some western countries were wary of selling weapons to us?
Just before setting up the NASOC and 176 SF Battalion, Jonathan created a whole new army division – the 7 Division – headquartered in the heart of the insurgency in Maiduguri, bringing the total of our army divisions to six. The 7 Division’s sole purpose was (and still is) to fight insurgency and terrorism. Below, using the Ibadan-based 2 Division setup, is the typical composition of an army division save minor modifications depending on whether it is artillery, infantry or mechanized:
244 Recce Battalion; 4 Mechanised Brigade; 177 Motorised Battalion; 221 Light Tank Battalion; 222 Mechanised Battalion; 9 Motorised Brigade; 149 Motorised Battalion; 174 Motorised Battalion;192 Motorised Battalion; 32 Field Artillery Brigade;321 Field Artillery Regiment;322 Field Artillery Regiment 323 Air Defence Regiment
Note: Recce is acronym for Reconnoiter; a Division usually consists of three to four Brigades; a Brigade usually consists of three to four Battalions; a Battalion usually consists of three to four Regiments or Companies; a Company usually consists of three to four Platoons; a Platoon usually consists of three squads and a squad usually consists of eight to 10 soldiers. Depending on the size of the country’s army, a division is usually between 2000 – 2600 soldiers and is commanded by a Major General – a two-Star.
Apart from the 2000 personnel who the Maiduguri-based 7 Division must have on its roster to be considered a functioning division, each of the different elements within it must also have all sorts of equipment – combat, communication, mobility, supply, resupply, medical etc. You are looking at about 3000 organic and attached elements in Maiduguri alone. Almost contiguous with 7 Division’s Area of Operation (AOR) is the 2 Division located in Jos. And close to that is the 1 Division located in Kaduna. How these lumbering, elephantine three divisions still needed help against Boko Haram beats Buhari’s imagination and confounds anybody who wears (or has ever worn) the military uniform in combat. This breakdown must be thoroughly investigated by the Senate in which Defense’s oversight responsibilities reside. Buhari has his job cut out for him in this area. He must streamline and really resume the professionalization of the Nigerian Army. He must jettison adhocism, which is the bane of most of our institutions and embark on deliberate, structured and durable reforms.
And he must quickly unhinge the military from the Nigerian corruption wall. The prevailing situation where the army has 90 different weapon systems in its armory, along with 200 types of ammunition of 60 different categories and yet was out-gunned, out-manned and out-maneuvered by terrorists to the point of needing to enlist the help of hired guns is embarrassing and unacceptable. Obviously, the absence of thorough, rigorous, routine and unscheduled equipment inventories and inspections of this menagerie of materiel were instrumental to the army’s inability to identify short falls and maintenance issues before they became critical. Buhari must return orderliness to the madhouse. He must also create the enabling environment for local production of, at least, basic-issue weapons such as rifles and hand guns, along with their associated ammunition. The fact that we buy arms from so many countries – Russia, the UK, Brazil, Italy, Sweden, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Romania and South Africa – makes it impossible to shop for replacement parts.
The good news about all this is that Buhari is probably already holding meetings with the next service chiefs. Only those who take pride in their profession will make the cut. It will no longer be business as usual in with Nigerian Army.