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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Our C-in-C Needs to Earn His Stripes



Postscript  By Waziri Adio, Email:

The last few weeks have not been good for us in our fight against terrorism. And that is putting it mildly. Boko Haram has put our troops on the back-foot and has significantly expanded the climate of fear beyond its immediate areas of operation. More than at any other time, we need President Goodluck Jonathan to rise up to the occasion and earn his stripes or epaulettes as our Commander-in-Chief. He needs to take charge and lead this war with more decisiveness before the terrorists run us out of territory. President Jonathan needs to quickly shake things up, starting with, but not limited to the leadership of our security agencies.
If he needed any evidence that those leading the war on terror and that our current war-plan are not producing the desired result, President Jonathan got more than enough in the space of two weeks. Within that time, Boko Haram became more murderous and more audacious, graduating from a mere hit-and-run terrorist organisation to a conquest-minded terror group, with an eye on sitting pretty on our territory. Within that time, Boko Haram took over police training academies in two states. Within that time, Boko Haram captured Gwoza, Gamboru-Ngala and Dikwa in Borno State and Limankara in Adamawa State, and hoisted its flags as indication of conquest. And within that time, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the terrorist group, declared an Islamic Caliphate within our country. This last move, which has been dismissed by our officials as delusional and crazy, clearly has Islamic state written all over it and should get all of us, including our president, deeply worried. It has clearly bumped this war in another territory.
Unfortunately, the news from our side has been equally, if not more, disturbing. And it is disturbing because it shows a soughing mismatch between our seriousness about winning this war and the determination of the increasingly emboldened terrorists. About the same time that Boko Haram launched a series of lightning offensives against us, wives of some soldiers demonstrated in Maiduguri against the deployment of their husbands to fight the insurgents, a group of soldiers reportedly refused to confront the terrorists without adequate arms, and 480 Nigerian soldiers “tactically manoeuvred” into Cameroun and had to be disarmed, quartered and escorted back to Nigeria days after by our less illustrious neighbour. 
The curious case of the 480 soldiers is a new low for us as a country as well as a sad marker of the sharp decline of our military profile and prowess. We used to be the big brother in the neighbourhood, with our soldiers gallantly bailing out other countries in distress, and with remarkable success, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Now we are becoming both a laughing stock and a potential problem for the sub-region and a clear worry for the world.
To be sure, fighting terrorism remains uncharted territory even for the most technologically and militarily advanced countries. Terrorism is asymmetrical warfare with no known enemies and no clear enemy lines. Unlike in conventional warfare that traditional militaries are trained for, the enemy in asymmetrical warfare thrives on disguise, sabotage, surprise and fear. These challenges should be acknowledged, though it does not mean we could not have done better given the residual and immediate experience of our troops in fighting insurgents at home and abroad and given the quantum of resources allocated to this war so far.
Also, the gallant efforts and uncommon sacrifice of our troops must be appreciated. They put their lives on the line to keep us safe. But this is the more reason we should make adequate provisions for them. Sadly, this doesn’t seem so. For a while now, national and international media have been heaving with stories about how corruption is undermining the war against terror, about how our soldiers are lowly resourced, poorly motivated and clearly out-gunned by the terrorists, about how soldiers lobby not to be posted to the North-east, about how our soldiers are deserting in droves, and about occasional mutinies. Most of those stories have been brushed aside or rebutted with clever sound-bites. With issues of morale, welfare, and ammunition denied rather than addressed, it was inevitable that soldiers’ wives would become demonstrators, or that soldiers themselves would refuse to fight or would conveniently undertake tactical manoeuvres into another country. 
Clearly, the reverses of the last two weeks have been well foretold. It is important that our Commander-in-Chief gives the marching orders for these recent setbacks to be reversed. But regaining lost grounds will not be enough. President Jonathan needs to come to terms with the fact that we are officially in a state of war and that his most important job as both president and Commander-in-Chief is to secure our territory and keep us safe. His transformation agenda is important, but real transformation can only occur and make sense when there is security of life and property. At the moment, most Nigerians do not feel secure, including those living far from the assumed frontlines. This is partly because there is no clear sign we are winning the war.
The good news is that most Nigerians are convinced that our forces are capable of routing the insurgents if given the necessary support and leadership. But the word out there is that operational support is low, cornered by those in the cosy offices at the expense of those on the battle-fields. What could pass for the military and the civilian leadership of the war does not look fit-for-purpose. Members of our military high command, save for a few, look mostly out of shape and uninspiring. Though intelligence gathering should be at the heart of the war against terror, the Department of State Security (DSS) is more interested in showboating and in engaging perceived enemies of the government. The Minister of Defence is mysteriously under the radar while the junior minister seems more interested in burnishing his political profile.
As the Commander-in-Chief, President Jonathan needs to demonstrate that the task of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria and of protecting Nigerians is dear to him. He should take advantage of the recent setbacks to salvage the flailing war on terror. His present war team is not helping him much. He should be tired of all the excuses and the lies. He should be embarrassed about how our country is being diminished and about how Nigerians are living in fear, turned to refugees in neighbouring countries and kidnapped and killed at will by some deranged terrorists. He needs a new war team. He needs people with fresh ideas and with fire in their bellies. Shaking up the team will inspire confidence, will signal that result is important to our president, and will show that he is determined to win this war.
But changing the team is not enough. The president needs to ensure accountability in the management of allocated resources and insist that our troops are adequately taken care of and well-motivated, including with symbolic gesture of being visited by their Commander-in-Chief.
Getting more money for the war effort might be important, but much more important is to ensure that we are not just throwing money at problems and not creating a tunnel for scarce public resource to end up in private pockets or in the war-chest for a different war. The president should also insist on a comprehensive review of our war plan. At the moment, what we do most of the time is reacting while the terrorists dictate the pace. We need to improve both our reaction time and our offensive capabilities.
We should not be reduced to celebrating recovery of territories that shouldn’t have been taken over in the first place. With combined ground and air power, we need to smoke out the terrorists and decimate them. While the soft approach to fighting terrorism is a good complement of the military approach and is a reasonable medium to long-term strategy, we need to comprehensively rout the terrorists first. So we need to urgently fix our boots-on-the-ground approach. And lastly, the president needs to address the mind-set that frames Boko Haram as a political campaign against him by a section of the country and the opposition. Apart from being defeatist, this mind-set is divisive and unhelpful. This is a war against Nigeria and Nigerians. We don’t need excuses from our president. We need him to do what presidents and Commanders-in-Chief do.

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