The row between President Goodluck Jonathan’s aide, Doyin Okupe, and Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima over the progress of the anti-insurgency operations in the North-east must be seen as a proof of the motivational problems , which the Nigerian government must fix if the war on terror is to succeed.
AsBorno State Governor Kashim Shettima and President Goodluck Jonathan’s Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, bickered last week over the progress of the federal government’s anti-insurgency operations, it was often depicted as a row between political opponents. But that depiction misses the dangerous import of the disconnect among the authorities in the war on terror.
Shettima is a member of All Progressives Congress while Okupe is an obvious Peoples Democratic Party member – or supporter. Last week, both men disagreed openly on the capacity of the military to win the war on terror in the North-east.
The governor had alleged on Monday in Abuja that the Nigerian security agencies lacked the equipment and motivation to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents that have wreaked havoc on residents of the North-east since 2009. “Honestly, Boko Haram is better armed and better motivated than our own troops,” Shettima had told State House correspondents after talks with Jonathan, stressing, “Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram.” It was a day after Boko Haram militants massacred scores of people in Borno State.
Okupe rebuffed the governor’s assertions almost immediately, saying, “It is wrong for anyone, Nigerian or foreigner, to assert that our armed forces cannot defeat the Boko Haram insurgents or to insinuate that the insurgents are better armed…
“We believe strongly that the statement made by the Borno State governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, that the insurgents are better armed than our military is based purely on a civilian perception of the situation at hand.”
Shettima retorted that Okupe was ignorant of the situation on the ground. “The governor knows exactly what the problems are. A leader must be bold enough to tell the truth so that solutions can be found to critical situations,” the governor said in a statement by his chief press secretary Isa Gusau.
Many were wont to see this mutual diatribe as part of the traditional rivalry between the ruling PDP at the centre and the governing APC in Borno State. But what the public spat seems to indicate is the absence of synergy and motivation among the various authorities and agencies involved in the fight against terrorism in the country.
The president alluded to the disparate attitudes towards the fight against terrorism on January 28 in Yola, when he hinted that lack of “mutual cooperation among the service chiefs and personnel” and “unnecessary competition” might have caused the recent sack and replacement of the service chiefs.
That there is a disconnect among critical state actors in the fight against terrorism is now hardly in doubt. What is in doubt is what the authorities are doing to bridge this gap, which appears to be the major issue impeding progress in the current anti-terror war.
After nearly five years of fighting an anti-terror war that has often been suffused with a lot of politics, and suffering shameful losses on some of the battlefields, the federal government and all the stakeholders must now find a realistic way to end the North-east insurgency.
Jonathan had on May 14 last year declared an indefinite state of emergency on Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States and ordered the then Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, to deploy more troops in the states to maintain law and end the impunity of terrorists. In a broadcast, he promised to do whatever was necessary “to provide the fullest possible security for the citizens” in that part of the country.
The federal government has deployed more troops to the North-east. But the people are yet to see “the fullest possible security” their government can provide.
The new Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Alex Badeh, had also vowed on January 20, while taking over from Ibrahim, to end the insurgency in the North-east by April to avoid a constitutional crisis as the country goes into campaigns for next year’s general elections. “If we do our work cohesively, I can tell you, we will finish that thing in no time,” Badeh stated.
To most people in the North-east today, such proclamations, without doubt, have a hollow ring, what with all the killings of innocent residents and the seeming helplessness of the military and the other security agencies.
The keyword in efforts to solve the Boko Haram insurgency is cooperation. Unfortunately, the relevant agencies and authorities have seemed unable to provide this missing link that will help them to end the terrorist menace. There is no doubt that a good starting point in trying to find this missing link is listening to the governors on the ground, appreciating their concerns, and being in concert with them in the ultimate interest of the country’s peace and security.
Besides, most of the recent attacks in the North-east have occurred in the border areas. This implies that the president’s promise last year, while declaring a state of emergency on Adamawa, Yobe, and Borno States, to explore diplomatic channels of cooperation with neighbouring countries in the war on terror have yet to bear good fruit.
Winning the anti-terrorism war certainly depends on synergy between domestic and foreign stakeholders in the Nigerian project.