Arming against the Boko Haram Insurgency and the Cash-for-Arms Scandal


By  John Uwaya
On 23 rd September 2014, Nigeria's botched clandestine shopping for arms with which to route the Boko Haram insurgency expectedly attracted sharply contrasting reviews by her two largest circulating tabloids – The Guardian and The Punch.  While The Punch in its editorial – “That $9m Cash-for-Arms Scandal” opposed any justification for patronizing illicit sources for arms to end the insurgency, The Guardian in a two-page pull-out – “Nigeria: Politics of Armament Against Boko Haram Insurgency” seemed to offer reasons why Nigeria must have decided to procure arms on the black market.  Although it might be coincidental that both newspaper reviews featured the same day, each appear to mirror and echo the cacophony of voices on opposite angles of the raging debate. However, as much as The Punch copiously quoted relevant international legislations why a sovereign state must follow due process in importing arms, no reference was made to the discriminatory and frustrating national laws of the US and her allies which The Guardian faulted for Nigeria's seeming desperation to visit the black market for arms.

In fact, The Guardian revealed that the West has been reluctant to approve or support arms sales to Nigeria because her perceived human rights violations predispose her to more atrocities. Even after the much hyped foreign assistance that came on the heels of the Chibok hostage saga, the tabloid revealed that Nigeria got help only in terms of surveillance and military doctrine but with no weapons to test the veracity of all that on Boko Haram. Obviously, that explains the hitherto seeming invincibility of Boko Haram on the battle field and the reason why many concur that the insurgents are better armed than our army.  Also, it stands to reason that the same foreign conspiracy must have, over the years, frustrated efforts to equip the armed forces.  But if that is the case, what happened to the hefty budgetary allocations for defence by successive administrations – both dictatorship and democratic?

Meanwhile, there is now little wonder why the Alpha jet bombers acquired by the Shagari administration in the 80s are still the fulcrum of our air force in an era when many countries now boast a fleet of bombers that can strike a target in any part of the world within an hour. The grade of equipment in other branches of the armed forces – the army and the navy cannot be superb either. How then, for instance, can our infantry repose a land invasion or our navy effectively police our high seas against better equipped enemy fleet when they are barely containing high sea piracy? Perhaps that is why the present administration is seeking clearance to spend N1 trillion to equip the armed forces. Yet, there has been wide spread suspicion and opposition from many quarters instead of facilitating the request and ensuring the amount is judiciously spent as intended. I hope we are not our own worst enemies?

By the way, what moral justification does the West have to challenge Nigeria's human rights records? Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, etc. are all hand in glove with the West hunting down their own nationals and earning economic or military aids for fighting terrorism.  And since Libya, Iraq amongst other countries were invaded and their leaders removed purportedly to enthrone human rights, has hell not rather been let loose with no super power able to end the ensuing ethno-religious cleansing that has become pandemic?

Yet, with all those man-made disasters, an ex-president and an incumbent in the West have been granted protection for life for fighting terrorism. In fact, one of those presidents was at a time given some emergency powers by his legislature to summarily deal with terrorists without recourse to the judiciary.  And right now, some countries are enacting laws with retroactive effect to summarily deal with their returnee nationals from the Middle East war theaters. But Nigeria is under pressure to explore a political solution which has not yet resolved terrorism anywhere in the world. Also, all the super powers and some eastern countries have declined membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ostensibly to ensure their nationals who participated in international wars are never arraigned for any war crimes. Yet, here in Nigeria, many are aligning with a foreigner to call for the head of an immediate past chief of army staff just after some other Nigerians hinted at prosecuting the president at The Hague for war crimes after his tenure.

From all indications, it is clear that we are inadvertently playing into the hands of those who do not want this country to exist beyond 2015.  How else could our enemies be vindicated except by ensuring we are deprived arms to confront those bent on breaking up this country?  While Boko Haram – a non-state actor that has been declared an international terrorist organization has unrestrained access to sophisticated weaponry, Nigeria – a sovereign state can neither procure arms officially nor through the black market. Yet, tongues keep wagging about the insurgents being better equipped.  And the same countries blocking our access to weapons to route the Boko Haram insurgency are upbeat that what is happening is a build-up to their predicted disintegration of Nigeria. For according to one of their career diplomats, as long as southern Nigeria retains power against an understanding reached for rotating the presidency, the country would disintegrate by 2015.

Considering that diplomat's effrontery, one wonders where, when and with whom that understanding was reached.  If anything, it is after outcomes of the just concluded national conference are enacted into law that it could be said an understanding has been reached on power sharing in Nigeria.  Or is there any mention of power sharing in the 1999 document which, at best, a legal luminary – Late Chief Rotimi Williams dubbed a lie against itself for alluding “we the people of Nigeria…” when Nigerians never actually met? Is that how the US, his home country arrived at their own constitution?

Come to think of it, what is the difference for instance, between these two societies – American and Nigerian? Even as one of the oldest democracies in the world, over thirty states out of fifty-one threatened to secede from the American federation even as President Barak Obama was re-elected landslide at the fairest polls anyone could imagine.  But eventually that shameful impulsive reaction akin to third world democracies was jettisoned for the US to continue to be “one out of many”. Meanwhile, it is instructive that after many centuries of post-civil war peaceful co-existence, some states in America could still contemplate secession. Similarly, after over three centuries of political union with England and Ireland, agitations for self-determination by the Scotts were at least, for now, laid to rest after a referendum a few days ago.  So, if the U.S and the U.K. did not break-up on those occasions, why should anyone remain cocky with the thought of laying a wreath on the grave of Nigeria, come 2015?

How long shall the West continue to practice double standards and believe others are not reading between the lines? For instance, while they listen to their electorate on all public matters, they think our leadership should not on sensitive issues like anti-gay legislation which they are pressurizing Nigeria to reverse. Also, even as they funnel arms through private military companies to fuel insurgencies across the globe, they forbid sovereign states from arming to defend their sovereignty. Therefore, one hopes the Southern African government would see through all that hypocrisy and never get played against a sister African country like Nigeria nor allow any perceived economic rivalry becloud her final judgment on the raging controversy.

Finally, I hope Nigerians will not tolerate any international conspiracy bent on railroading Nigeria into a failed state for a puppet government to be foisted on the land with hell fire missiles chasing elusive terrorists while inflicting collateral harm.  All those grave prospects are reasons why the different nationalities of this country should close ranks irrespective of any divide – religious, ethnic or political.  As we look forward to 2015 and beyond, let us shame the Nostradamuses of the disintegration of Nigeria by proactively mortifying major societal wounds to foreclose terminal political cancer.

Mr. John Uwaya lives in Lagos and wrote via [email protected]

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