Boko Haram: Court-martial Runaway Soldiers!
Let me start by joining other well-meaning Nigerians to express my heartfelt condolences to the families and relations of those innocent pupils of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, in Gubja Local Government Area of Yobe State and other victims of Boko Haram's recent onslaught in Adamawa and Borno States. Without prejudice to the reservations that have been expressed concerning the frequency and rapidity of Boko Haram's raids given the emergency measures in place in these states, we must continue, as a matter of urgent necessity, to support the Federal Government and our security forces in their efforts to check the excesses of these faceless cowards, whose only agenda is to cause harm, death and sorrow in their efforts to shove their version of sharia down our throats, irrespective of our collective or individual wishes. One cannot agree more with Governor Babtunde Fashola in re-naming a Hall that was originally to be named after him in memory of the slain students, “Peace Hall” that: “No matter how diverse we are, we are still one people. This is a time when colours and flag do not matter and political ideologies mean nothing….This is the time we must show and respect the values of the lives of fellow Nigerians”. It is neither a time for pointing accusing fingers, nor playing the blame game. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge and take note of our deficient strategies so far and find out how to overcome this chimera of insurgency.
We may use the most scurrilous words to describe Boko Haram and condemn its band of deranged fanatics, who cowardly deploy improvised explosives, grenades, AK 47 rifles and rocket launchers against defenceless civilians, including children, but it would not stop them from continuing in their atrocious carnage. What we need now above all are actions not mere palliative words! The allegation, therefore, strikes one as odd that an army commander should not only refuse to answer his phone call from a traditional ruler in one of the recently attacked villages, but would actually switch off his phone altogether for the duration of the time during which Boko Haram committed its murderous acts without hindrance. Even more surprising is the fact that it has been alleged that an army checkpoint near the college in Buni Yadi was dismantled a few hours before the assailants moved into the school on Monday night. It has also been alleged that, soldiers manning checkpoints in Adamawa fled on sighting the terrorists. These allegations should be thoroughly investigated and if found to be true, the soldiers in question should be court-martialled for disserting the very country and citizens they have sworn to defend and protect. This should be done as a matter of urgent national importance and the result made known to Nigerians. It serves two inter-related purposes – deter those who may want to do the same in the armed forces and forestall future occurrences. Government must not stop at that, but go on to identify the moles in their midst for appropriate disciplinary action.
In the short term, the Senate Committee on Defence' resolution, calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to make available, all needed resources and logistics to the armed forces to ensure an end to the violence is one that must not be over-emphasized. The suggested actions to be taken by the Chief of Army Staff, including re-strategizing on possible new ways of curbing Boko Haram's excesses; mobilising all available military resources and face the insurgencies; temporarily relocating to the 7the Division in Maiduguri and take urgent and appropriate steps to quell the situation; as well as ensuring that, all schools and health institutions are provided with special security to avoid a repeat of these killings of innocent citizens are all in order. One must add that all schools, including universities within the emergency zones should have security measures in place and conduct regular or periodic emergency security drills to forestall any future occurrence, or reduce damage or death. These steps are necessary albeit insufficiently comprehensive package to deal with this seeming perennial insurgency.
While our armed forces may have the upper hand in logistics and fire power, these qualities would need to be aligned with timing, technical competence and good intelligence. The failure of intelligence is, perhaps, the single most important reason why our military has been unable to deal decisively with this hydra-headed monster; or, is it a case of intelligence being available, but not acted upon? This leads one to inevitably conjecture that, there is very little or no synergy between our armed forces and intelligence agencies. The tendency of our security forces to work in silos rather than in unison is one that is likely to result in their unpreparedness and seeming incapacitation in the face of consistent onslaughts by Boko Haram.
In the long run, government at all tiers – federal, state and local need to build confidence in the Nigerian people. They can only do this by bringing government closer to the people and deliver on their electoral promises by way of good and effective governance. I recently asked a coalition of civil society groups if we could go out to demonstrate against Boko Haram's recent incursions on the aftermath of the killing of Nigerian children, sadly, some assumed such a step would tantamount to supporting the Jonathan administration. Though regrettable, this position is largely held by a cross-section of them. The attempts by some Nigerian youths to demonstrate against the recent killings using social media as a vehicle of mobilisation, was brutally supressed by the police in Abuja. Such high-handedness on ordinary law-abiding civilians cannot endear government to the people.
Government must go further to ensure that there is a good working relationship between security operatives and the people generally and residents of the emergency zones affected by the insurgency, in particular. In concert with local authorities, willing able-bodied men and women in such communities should be organized into vigilante groups who should interface with the military and intelligence agencies for proper and effective communication. For their own safety and security, including the success of the mission, their identities may not be disclosed. Members of the vigilante must be provided with modern means of communication and thought how to reach out to the military high command in their respective areas in coded words, signs or texts.
The last but not least is, a point which has been emphasised by most commentators – economic empowerment of our youths, generally and, in the restive areas, in particular. One is not unmindful that religious fanaticism rather than economic determinism is the defining philosophy of Boko Haram. The fact however that thousands of its members are idle hands make them a ready tool in the devil's workshop.
Finally, government must be able to manage expectations by not making promises it cannot keep. President Goodluck Jonathan is always quoted as saying Boko Haram will be thing of the past or would be overcome. Instructively, he has not set a time line. But, our newly decorated Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Alex S. Badeh, was quoted as saying that the Nigerian armed forces would bring the Boko Haram insurgency to an end by April, 2014. Although this was later clarified by the military, what it meant to discerning minds is that either our military underestimates the enemy, or does not have a firm grasp of the situation it is confronted with. That the US military, which is possibly the most sophisticated in the world should be retreating from Afghanistan without decisively winning the war against the ragtag Taliban is an indication that Nigeria is in for the long haul against Boko Haram. I am not aware of any country in the world that has decisively won the war against terror. Terrorism will continue to rear its ugly either at the same place, but at different times, at the same time, but at different places or at different times and places for the very fact that it is ideologically-driven.
This ideology of hate and violence would need to be supplanted with a more humane and tolerant ideology, if we are to finally win the war against terror. In the meantime, what is required from the citizenry is eternal vigilance.
* The views expressed in this article are exclusively those of the author and must not be ascribed to the organization with which the author is affiliated.