Nigeria's Military On the Back Foot

I spent the whole week raining ovation on President Muhammadu Buhari for his management of the COVID-19 crisis and even ran short of superlatives. In a matter of life and death, with the global pandemic taking its toll on lives and individual economies, I was applauding Nigeria's painstaking effort to keep the numbers low on affliction and death, while ensuring that victims recovered and were being discharged. In Nigeria, there is politics in everything. If you commend the Buhari government in however small a manner, there are sworn haters of his government who will counter all claims and even make it a personal issue. The corporate management of the COVID-19 crisis took my mind off everything I had been critical of in the unfolding failure of Nigeria particularly on security of lives and property and the bogged down counter insurgency effort in the North East.

Then videos of President Idriss Déby leading Chadian troops in an onslaught on Boko Haram emerged on the internet. As a Nigerian, when I looked at the videos and saw Déby acting like some African John Wayne in a remake of the war epic 'The Longest Day' on Nigerian soil, I could not help but bow my head in shame. I am used to a football team supporters' clubs cheering their players only to turn and cheer the opponents in anger of disappointment because the club's players have messed up. I was downcast as my fellow countrymen and women cheered and made a hero of Chadian President Idriss Deby for displaying the kind of muscle expected of Nigerian troops against Boko Haram as if the Chadian military budget is anywhere near Nigeria's humongous expenditure. The Chadian arsenal and mechanisation was awesome. In the short videos the volley of shots that rang from normal guns, mortars, anti-aircraft was similar to those displayed by Boko Haram in their victory dance. The Chadian troops dealt a major blow on Boko Haram and nearly got hold of Abubakar Shekau who as always, fled to Dikwa in Nigeria. Reports say that scores of Nigerian soldiers being held prisoner by Boko Haram were freed by the Chadians.

Come what may, as Nigerians, our support and solidarity for our gallant troops at war against Boko Haram is without question. Indeed all able bodied men must be ready for the call up in the war if push comes to shove. A massive recruitment to match Boko Haram man against men has long been a welcome wish, not considered by the Nigerian Armed Forces. In the last four years, we have seen Nigerian troops destroy all Boko Haram bases making it impossible for the insurgents to hold territory as had hitherto been the case. They however fled to neighbouring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon from where they planned and executed often deadly hit and run attacks on Nigeria. They would raid villages abducting women and children and carting away food items. Many Nigerian communities in the North East live at the mercy of Boko Haram. Yet all the praise one can give the Nigerian military pales against the long lingering torment of the Boko Haram. Nigerians are ashamed that the insurgency has lasted over 10 years and ruined the lives of more than 3 million internally displaced persons. They would ambush troops effectively and seize arms and ammunition. Nigeria has lost hundreds of its soldiers to many such guerrilla attacks.

Nigerians are angry that the military is fighting an asymmetric insurgency war, but using symmetrical methods. No less a person than Governor of Borno state, Babagana Zulum has berated our military for holding positions until it was attacked, often in surprise ambush. The sentiment in Borno is that the military is in occupation without desirable termination of the insurgency. A no-war-no-peace situation in which you spend time only to repel attacks after losing to the brigands is a war that will take a long time to win, if you win at all. In time it breeds distrust as exists today because the military accuses the communities of leaking sensitive securities to the insurgents. Would this not be as expected? Common folks are left at the brutal mercy of returning insurgents that will drive off only momentarily like a swarm of locusts from a farm. More upsetting is the failure of the Nigerian military to be angered into dealing this type of Idriss Déby retaliatory blow, for the killing of our troops, which Boko Haram has done incessantly almost with impunity. Indeed this is the reason Idriss Déby is getting accolades locally. He showed visible angst at the killing of over 90 Chadian troops and made a spectacle of rubbing the nose of Boko Haram in the hot sand desert in retaliation.

Nigerian troops have done the yeoman's work of routing Boko Haram these past 4 years, but it is an unfinished work left for Idriss Déby to dramatise Chadian gallantry in finishing. To imagine that Idris Déby believed to have been a blackmailer who is allegedly behind the duping of the Goodluck Jonathan's government, of upwards of $2m in failed negotiations for the release of abducted Chibok girls; the grant of sanctuary to Abubakar Shekau and his men whenever Nigerian military turned the heat on Boko Haram, the thwarting of every effort to rout the criminals from the Lake Chad, in fact even the mastermind of banditry and kidnapping in Nigeria for funding of Boko Haram. Indeed, it is intriguing how a fight broke out between Shekau and his men and Chadian troops in Lac Province of Chad resulting in the killing of over 90 of Déby's soldiers by Boko Haram to warrant this feud. There is international treachery in the whole episode. Now, the West dresses despotic Déby in superlatives like "one of Africa's most formidable strongmen", and "the West's favourite African autocrat". The Nigerian military are portrayed as disoriented, corrupt, and lacking in commitment.

Surely, it is Nigeria's fault. Our military certainly can do better than it has done these past 10 years, yet failing to deliver on Buhari's mandate despite the President's confidence and reputation as a general who once nearly captured Ndjamena when Chadians invaded the Lake Chad region in 1983. Much of Buhari's support against Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 was this attribute and the hope that it would be brought to bear on the lingering insurgency. This Déby episode has dented our image and placed Nigeria's military on the back foot. We must reconfigure and clear the mud splashed on our face by Idriss Déby. We must crush Boko Haram immediately.

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