THE BEGINNING OF THE END OR THE END OF THE BEGINNING? PART 1
You do not need to be a Jean-Paul Satre to see the sense of worry inherent in this article. The title speaks for itself. As I reflect on what Nigeria has become, what with the orgy of blood typified by the weekly ritual of bomb blasts at Nyanya, it is clear that something will give very soon if we do not start taking proactive steps. Perhaps the steps might be too late, especially with the type of leadership elite Nigeria is saddled with.
There are calls for President Jonathan to quit his post because of his seeming cluelessness on dealing with Boko Haram and other terrorist threats. I hold no brief for GEJ; maybe the demands of the job overwhelm him. But who will replace him and get the job done? Do we realize that the terrorist nightmare goes beyond the man at Aso Rock? The forces we face did not start organizing today. Besides, it is a long war and it can consume Aso Rock, if care is not taken. So let all Nigerians and their friends seek for solutions. But our President is not being presidential about this clear and present danger and that worries many Nigerians who would have otherwise supported his war on terrorism, if there is one.
These are my ideas for getting rid of this seemingly stubborn specter:
First, does GEJ have real political, security and strategic advisers who can tell him the facts as they are? They need not be politicians; they need not even be in the public domain. Does he have anyone of this sort who will talk to him, not out of narrow interests but as one who loves his country? One whom the president can trust, in spite of his sharp tongue? If he lacks a Demosthenes his government may not last out 2014. Then if he has a few who are vast in these areas, namely, security; strategy; politics; diplomacy; warfare, and the ensemble of capabilities collectively called winning hearts and minds, he should listen to them now. He should take the current situation to them and after thorough brainstorming, act on their counsel even if it goes against offerings from the likes of Doyin Okupe, Abati, the service chiefs, ministers and PDP henchmen and women.
Second, no war on terror succeeds without the citizens. The average Nigerian is becoming thoroughly alienated from Jonathan and his men. While in some cases, such as in parts of the North, this is rooted in political grievance and dissemination of blatant falsehood and propaganda by political enemies, the facts are: the citizens are not seeing results of this government's campaign. On the contrary the enemy continues to unleash sorrow, tears and blood. No knowledgeable person will expect the terrorists to be vaporized overnight but there should be tangible improvements. Ever since 9/11, no terrorist group has launched an attack within USA. The threats have not gone away in spite of the death of Bin Ladin but successive American governments are proactive 24/7. It seems our system is reactive. It is a dangerous omen for our democracy. Not too long ago the Malian military struck because they felt their government was incapable of taking on the Taureg insurgency in the northern part of the country. It is a fresh history lesson. If Jonathan can comprehensively get our Chibok daughters safely home, no matter how he does it, the country will rally round him.
Third, there is no point lying to ourselves. Nigeria is at war. The war began in 2009 with the first Boko Haram onslaught in the days of President Yar' Adua; what we are seeing is an escalation by Boko Haram and her partners coupled with refinement of tactics; upgrading of weapons systems and entrenchment in areas of support. Terrorism essentially has four levels and each is vital for its success. The levels are:
1. The sponsors: these guys usually have goals far different from those of the horde that take their cash and weapons and go to the frontlines. But they are smart enough to conceal their true intentions and act as if they are one with the foot soldiers.
2. The planners: These guys plan the operations; the organization of weapons; and other logistics. In many cases they lead the groups. They are the heartbeat of the group; they have the brains but at times they lack the funds.
3. The ideologues: In my opinion these are the most dangerous elements. Why? First, they are true believers in their cause. Though there are exceptions. Second, they are the ones that carry out the indoctrination programmes; they are the ones who spread the word; they convert people to their cause; they are specialists who can give the best psychologists a good run for their money. They identify the groups, communities and entities whose grievances, sufferings and challenges can become vehicles for transporting the terrorism 'gospel.' A country like Nigeria, with its cleavages and gross injustice and inequality, gives the ideologues rich offerings.
4. The foot soldiers: They are the bombers, gunmen and killers. They get the job done, even if their indoctrinated heads go down.
So how do we engage so determined and ruthless an enemy who, from all indications, is in no mood to stop shooting? It is only a numb skull who will conclude that bullets and bombs alone will win this war. But the military approach is significant so I ask: what are the capabilities of the Armed Forces for this campaign? I do not expect the service chiefs to lay bare their war plans. Boko Haram's members are avid media consumers. But basic issues must be raised:
1. Is our Commander-in-chief 99 percent sure of the loyalty of his troops? If no, there is trouble.
2. What of equipment and capability to use them? Our weapons systems, how good are they? Can they match those of Boko Haram?
3. Conventional warfare is necessary but guerrilla, commando and special operations capabilities are vital to take on Boko Haram. Do our forces have these? USA can boast of Delta Force and Navy SEALS (They eliminated Bin Ladin); UK has SAS (Special Air Service regiment); Israel's commando forces are many. Does Nigeria have Special Forces units in her military? We need not know them or their modus operandi but if they are in existence or operational, maybe Boko Haram would have thought twice before seizing our daughters.
4. What is the morale of the soldier in the field like? The police officers who must be the first frontline in the urban, rural and semi-rural warfare tearing apart the Northern part of Nigeria?
5. What caliber of recruits, both officers and men, are entering our Armed Forces and Police?
6. How knowledgeable are our warriors about the terrain they fight on? The geography, the people in those areas? Just what are our cadets learning at the Defense Academy and other military schools?
The first question raised above matters a lot, not only to President Jonathan, but to all Nigerians and her friends. But it is our C-in-C who must address it. He told us Boko Haram has infiltrated his government. So that means a lot for the war on our hands. I humbly entreat the C-in-C to adopt both short-term and long-term measures to address this challenge.
Short-term: He must recruit mercenaries or private military contractors or whatever they are called to take on aspects of this war NOW. Nigeria and Biafra did it during the civil war and it was a devastating success for both sides, especially Nigeria. True, international laws are not mercenary-friendly. Also, mercenaries are a double-edged sword; they can overthrow their employers and cash determines the loyalty of most of them. A good example is the Comoros Islands on our continent whose leader was at the receiving end of a coup l spearheaded by Bob Denard, the ace French mercenary who commanded the President's guard units. But the contemporary mercenaries or military contractors have come a long way from the wild freebooters of the 1960s that ran wild in African wars. Governments find it useful secretly blessing their activities if their operations do not conflict with their interests. Also, a good number of them possess the Special Forces and espionage capabilities we need. It will do Jonathan no harm if he reaches out to USA and UK for this type of assistance. The last thing Obama, Cameron and Netanyahu would want are for their regular forces to come out and die in the Nigerian scrublands and savannah areas. But they can put us in the way of military contractors who have official blessing and can do the job. These guys are useful because they are expendable. Believe it, Nigeria has more than enough to foot their bills and keep them happy. While it is possible that our regular forces may be uncooperative or even pose security threats to their operations, if Jonathan has capable strategists (which I doubt), they can set up plans that will ensure the military contractors come in as advisors and special forces brigades. The former will work with our forces to train them and update their anti-terrorism capabilities while the later are deployed against Boko Haram forces with an offensive, preemptory strike mandate. Our regulars, especially at the foot soldier level, will appreciate the help; they are really having their hands full just trying to contain Boko Haram. Besides, they will be freed up to take on other security challenges that, though risky, are not so daunting; eg. The Taraba imbroglio; the never-ending Plateau crisis; the expanding need for troops to protect installations and strategic areas. The military contractors, if equipped with the right intelligence, stand a better chance of doing the job because they lack all the primordial ethnic, religious and sentimental ties many of our troops have with people from the insurgency-prone territory.
Long-term: We need new Armed Forces. The concept of the people's military is one Nigeria must imbibe. Israel is a case study. Every Israeli is military personnel but only an insignificant percentage officially bears arms. When national conflicts or wars erupt everyone rallies round, ready to defend the nation. USA has a similar concept with its ROTC (Reserve Officers Corps) scheme. We can begin this scheme with our National Youth Service Corps. It is not a single day's journey but steps should be taken. My article titled 'Time to militarize the National Youth Service Corps' which is available on any search engine spells out practical methods of doing this and the benefits to both corps members and Nigeria. It is vital if the Nigerian Armed Forces must become ours and serve our national interests such as this anti-terrorism war.
TO BE CONTINUED
Henry C. Onyema is a writer and historian