When the leadership of the Nigerian Army met last week in Asaba, Delta State capital, only two issues were placed before the military top brass; the insecurity in the land and the welfare of officers and men of the force. BAYO OLADEJI, who was at the conference, reports.
Since August 2011, the insurgent attacks and counter-attacks in parts of the country were reported to have claimed over 3,000 lives. The Boko Haram sect staged a number of attacks on government establishment by planting bombs and using suicide bomb attacks at strategic locations and churches across the northern region.
Although there has been a catalogue of attacks on these institutions, the one that took place in Jaji military cantonment, Kaduna State, last Sunday, was regarded as the climax and an affront that the military top brass who met in Asaba last week for the Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference vowed to tackle.
There were two bombings at the St. Andrew's Protestant Church in Jaji military cantonment shortly after the church service.
According to the Director, Army Public Relations Department, Brig.-Gen. Mobolaji Koleosho, a bus ran into the church and exploded five minutes after service, while a Toyota Camry packed outside the church detonated 10 minutes later.
Although the initial figures of casualties were that 11 people lost their lives and 30 injured, Koleosho later told our correspondent that the figure had rose to 18, as some of those that they rushed to the hospitals later died.
These insurgents had attacked institutions such as the Police Force Headquarters and the UN Building, both in Abuja, as well as police and military institutions in Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Sokoto, Jos, Kaduna and Kano states to mention but a few.
The unanswered questions is; 'What has become of Nigeria's intelligence gathering? Why does it look as if these attackers are having an upper hand?
Not a few security watchers have raised an eyebrow in the use of the army for the maintenance of internal security. Another factor that has continued to worry observers is the approach of the police to the security issues. The police seemed to be overwhelmed with the situation at the moment, hence the drafting of the military.
It was recently reported that, the military has recovered explosives and bomb-making items from a suspected Boko Haram base in Zaria and arrested a suspect.
"During the operation, a two-bedroom bungalow of bomb-making factory was discovered in which Improvised Explosive Devices in stage one state of readiness and several IED-making components were recovered," the military said in a statement.
It said bomb-making items found in the building at the Jushin Ciki neighbourhood in Zaria on penultimate Thursday included 17 sensor mechanical timers (remote control), 11 primed suicide bombers vest, 36 primed IEDs in cans and one military kitbag.
The military said they arrested a suspect and destroyed the building. "A 60-year-old man, Umaru Mohammed, was arrested within the premises and in line with resolve to deter terrorists, the building housing the factory was demolished," it added.
Kaduna has been attacked by the Boko Haram of recent, prompting frequent military crackdown on hideouts of the members of the group. Violence linked to the sect's insurgency in northern and central Nigeria is believed to have left some 3,000 people dead since 2009, according to the Human Right Watch.
The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has accused the sect of engaging in crimes against humanity.
The ICC said its investigations had shown that the sect was involved in murder and persecution. The report also said the alleged crimes committed by Niger Delta militants and activities of security agencies during the militancy era in the oil-rich region did not amount to war crimes.
Interestingly, the sect had indicated interest in having a dialogue with the government, but from what President Jonathan said at his last media chat, the government would rather prefer using force to silence the group as advised by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Ihejirika.
But last week, after a deadly attack on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) office in Abuja, soldiers stormed suspected "cells" and hideouts of Boko Haram members in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Some of the suspected cells and shanties were burnt in Apo and Guzape districts. Also, security agencies have arrested more than 20 suspected members of the sect in the last five days in and around Abuja, following intelligence alert.
In a presentation to the military top brass at the Asaba conference, Gen. Isaac Obiakor, while making his recommendation on how to restore peace in the country said: "The government should establish an agency/ministry to oversee the internal security of the country, should sustain its support for the Armed Forces' counter-insurgency thrust, the Office of the National Security Adviser should facilitate bilateral/MNJTF patrols with new mandates, the Ministry of Defence should encourage in-country training and equipment provision from partners, and the minister should also explore joint international investigation of IEDS; sources with our partners."
In what appears like matching their words with action, no sooner than the conference was over, Gen. Ihejirika, the Chief of Army Staff, had read a Riot Act to those who had no right to be in the barracks. Following the bombing of a church located at Command and Staff College, Jaji, he asked all illegal civilians to quit voluntarily military formations nationwide.
Speaking with newsmen after the closing ceremony, the Army Chief said: "I have already informed all the commanders to eject all illegal civilians in all our barracks, and they know that the commanders would not wait for the Chief of Army Staff before taking action along the line. Rather, from next week in respect of illegal squatters and similar should be sent parking. And any commander that failed to enforce the order would face serious sanction."
He lamented the absence of fencing for virtually all the barracks due to financial constrains. Although he believed fencing could only reduce the menace of insecurity. He noted that next year's budget is not sufficient to enable the military embark on the project nationwide.
"Several of our barracks have not been fenced in the last two years, we must have fenced may be two or three, at most four. But we are talking about maybe 80 barracks that are not fenced. So, doing that will require a lot of resources, a lot of support which the current budget may not contain. But again, whether barracks are fenced or not, it does not serve as excuse for any commander to allow what happened to happen.
"But one thing I would say is that the lack of fence compounds to the challenge. So, every commander must think of ways of putting in his best to ensure that what happened in Jaji does not happen. What is important is that you have to put in your best in terms of planning, in terms of security measures, in terms of intelligence. Even when barracks are fenced, fences could be climbed, houses could be broken into, and we are not going to fence cities.
So, what it means is that fencing of barracks would not be the only solution, but it would aid security. So, a board of inquiry has been set up by the Nigerian Army and another one by the Defence headquarters. So with these two inquiries and their various terms of references, I believe that a number of revelations will come up which will further help us to ensure that such a thing does not come up again."
Speaking further, COAS said the Conference has afforded the Army the opportunity to confront the Boko Haram sect decisively more than ever before adding, "Nigerians should expect more comprehensive action by the military and all the security agencies as part of the decisions arrived at is that unit commanders should liaise more and they should supervise and monitor their personnel more closely than they have done in the past. So 2013, to mind would be decisive."
According to him, "The Nigerian Army works in collaboration with other services. We work hour by hour, day to day with the state security services. We also receive support from the Nigerian Intelligence Agency. And apart from that there are also certain international bodies that also relates with us. You are also aware of my visit to the Inspector General of Police, we also agreed on ways of enhancing intelligence collection and dissemination.
The conference also emphasized the need for national intelligence fusion. What it means is that all the various measures are going to be fast tracked to ensure that intelligence is further enhanced. And you should know that it is running battle because the people you are fighting are people within the country. So they know what measures you are even taking.
So that is why I also drew the attention of commanders on the need for them to on a continuous basis devise new tactics in dealing with the problem. Certain groups are going to be set up too to monitor the commanders in the field. And make no mistake about it, Command responsibility is one area we will more emphasis on next year."
Ihejirika was said to have warned all Commanders of all army formation to ensure the Jaji embarrassment does not reoccur anywhere else. According to an insider, the COAS was not happy with the unfortunate incident and charged them "to do all within their power to guarantee security of lives and property under their watch or face the consequences. He did not hide his disappointment in some lapses that were responsible for the last Sunday Jaji bombing and warned that he is not ready to accept such a blunder again"
Speaking with LEADERSHIP, the spokesman of the Army, Brig.-Gen Koleosho reiterated the decision of his principal to put an end to the activities of insurgents in the country. He did not hide his impression about what transpired at the meeting and said, 'We are coming out of this conference better than we came and this is what the Conference was meant to achieve.
The Army, other sister forces and all security agencies have mapped out strategy as advocated by President Goodluck Jonathan and the COAS team is ready to make the country safer than before '
Not a few participants agreed with him and as one of them succinctly put it, "Those terrorists should get set for the worst as all hands are now on deck to put an end to them once and for all. Enough is enough. I want to assure Nigerians that the military would not fail them."