By Olusegun Adeniyi
It has not come to that or perhaps it has; at least in the family of the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN). But before I get ahead of myself, let me explain. It was early in 1994 during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha. A ghastly accident had just occurred somewhere in Garki Area 3, Abuja where the offices of newspapers were domiciled and one guy was rendering an “eye-witness” account to a group of people who had gathered around him. An eloquent story teller, the guy was speaking in “pidgin English” but as he went on and on, I interjected: “Did anybody die?”
Looking in my direction, he dismissively waved his hand and said, “Abeg, dat one na June 12”. All the people around him laughed as he continued his story. Apparently sensing that I did not get the message, one man close to me said, “What the guy meant was that you are just trying to draw us back, like all those June 12 people. Yes, many people died and he has already said that before you came.”
The incident that I described happened less than one year after the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election and at a time the political crisis it would engender was still smouldering. But the story teller, like the people in government at the time, as well as their collaborators within the political space, believed Nigerians had moved on and that June 12 had become history. Yet any dispassionate observer of events in our country at the period would come to only one conclusion: the nation paid a heavy price for living in denial about the fact that we had a problem that demanded some honest conversation and solution until the convenient death of both General Abacha and Chief M.K.O. Abiola less than 30 days apart in 1998.
I have brought out the story because the same disposition that informed the cynical joke about June 12 is not different from the one that drives official response to the issue of the abducted girls of Government Secondary School, Chibok who today will be spending their 150th day in the captivity of Boko Haram insurgents somewhere in Borno’s Sambisa Forest. To many people in government and supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan, nothing irritates more than to bring up the issue of the abducted girls. It is therefore no surprise that until yesterday in Abuja, there were several large banners proclaiming #BringBackGoodluck2015as opposed to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Whoever approved such a callous hashtag has damaged the president considerably as Ishaan Tharoor wrote in the Washington Post on Monday.
By appropriating the slogan of the campaign to free the Chibok girls, the pro-Jonathan people may have unwittingly scored what in football would be called an own goal because the inability of the government to minimally account for these girls is the summation of all that is wrong with the current leadership. Those who engineered the banner may in fact be poking fun at a government that cannot guarantee the basic minimum requirements of normal existence to a growing number of its citizens. Even at that, it is a blatant abuse of impunity and a tragic sense of political humour. It is therefore good that the president would distance himself from the banner which he appropriately condemns as making “light of the very serious national and global concern over the abducted girls.”
Unfortunately, even that may not undo the damage that has already been done, especially considering that some presidential handlers had been using the same hashtag on their twitter handle with which they were sending out intemperate messages. That perhaps explains why any mention of Chibok girls in official cycle is immediately perceived as an attempt to jeopardize the 2015 re-election bid of President Jonathan which has become the biggest industry in town with all manner of groups emerging in a campaign that brings back the memory of the Abacha era. Yet, four more years is not such a long time as many of the people around the president imagine without much reflection. It may seem so far away but 2019 is almost here.
In all my private sessions with people close to President Jonathan, I have always said that, all factors considered, the odds appear to be in the president’s favour to win re-election. But in doing so, I have also never minced words that they should be more concerned about President Jonathan’s place in history, especially now that we are gradually losing our country to the Boko Haram insurgency which has become a full-scale war, even when they still don’t get it. Obviously, those who are jumping all over the place to keep Jonathan in power care more about the preservation of their own privileges than whether or not Nigeria collapses on the president’s head.
I hate to say this because I could be misconstrued, but I do not understand the preoccupation about 2015 elections at a time our country is at war. Holding periodic elections (or aspiring to be the longest ruling Nigerian leader) is good but it cannot be an end in itself; it must be a means to the end of making life meaningful for the people. As things stand today, millions of Nigerians in the Northeast states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa are not guaranteed even the irreducible minimums of what any functional state owes its citizens. And now, the families of the Chibok girls have practically given up hope of ever seeing their children alive, going by the statement released last week which is perhaps the greatest kind of indictment on any nation by her citizens.
Unfortunately, nobody seems bothered that the parents of the Chibok girls have already performed funeral obsequies for the girls because they have lost faith in the capacity of the state to rescue them. In a milieu where everything is seen within the prism of THEM versus US and where politics trumps common sense, it is not difficult to understand why the insurgency was allowed to fester and why our armed forces have become seriously challenged.
Having bastardised (and politicized) recruitment into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), we turned it into a degree awarding institution that also begun to award dubious honourary doctorate degrees to some undeserving politicians and office holders and in the process lost focus on what its core objectives are. To compound the problem, not much has been done to equip the military by succeeding administrations. And that has led to the racket by which governors now purchase some overpriced and mostly unserviceable Armoured Personnel Carriers and Hilux vehicles for them to chase armed robbers and kidnappers in the name of one nebulous “operation” or another!
So effectively, we are not prepared for the battle forced on us by Boko Haram but it is one we can easily win if there is a political will on the part of the relevant authorities and a unity of purpose by all Nigerians. That has been sorely lacking. In the last three years, politicians across the divides have striven to take advantage of the tragedy in furtherance of their own agenda. But it should be clear now to everyone that we have a common enemy in Boko Haram whose agenda is, and has always been, to destroy our country.
My piece last week attracted reactions from several retired and serving military men though most of them emphasised the fact that they were private mails not meant for publication. What came across from reading the mails is that we have a serious problem in our country. However, rather than dwell on the problems, George Alily, a retired Naval Officer and Fellow of the War College, in his own mail (part of which he has granted me permission to use with attribution) made some critical interventions that I find very insightful as a conclusion to this piece:
“As a nation, we must come to terms with the fact the war on terror is a marathon and not a sprint. It is inherently a protracted struggle that will test our resolve as a nation. Without doubts, we will suffer reversals. Thus, defeating Boko Haram insurgency requires a multi-disciplinary approach in an all-inclusive and coordinated effort. Politicians of all shades, the media and all Nigerians must all come aboard. What is going on is Irregular Warfare (IR) which is a security condition of violent struggle among state and non-state entities for legitimacy and influence over relevant population. Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations to defeat Boko Haram insurgents will therefore entail the employment of all elements of national power.
“Drawing from this imperative, our ability to defeat Boko Haram depends on a number of factors in the immediate and long terms. I totally agree with you that we need to treat the insurgency as a full-scale war. Accordingly, the President needs to make the necessary declaration in accordance with the Constitution. Furthermore, the news media has a critical role to play towards winning the war on terror. It provides the nation with a vital service we can get nowhere else. It is one of the pillars of national power. The news media should not be perceived as propagating reports of renegades or psychosomatic plants intended to demoralize our troops and cause dissatisfaction among Nigerians. The media as a body should assist in countering Boko Haram’s narratives and psychological warfare. Importantly, it should also help in counteracting the growing sub-culture of conspiracy, cynicism and misinformation, including those from the foreign media.
“Going forward, Nigeria must reconstruct its security architecture in order to contend with contemporary security imperatives. The government must seriously consider the establishment of a National Guard. The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and all other peripheral para-military organisations should be collapsed into forming the National Guard. The National Guard should be trained and equipped to be the bridge between the armed forces and the Police. Establishing the National Guard would remove the military from the very many distractions it is currently involved in, such as various states’ task forces in internal security and guarding national critical assets. The use and over exposure on these duties degrades and impacts negatively on military training, doctrine and ultimately combat readiness. The military is a fighting force, and an instrument of state power.
“Similarly, the Armed Forces need to be reorganised along the Joint Command structure. Future challenges point to the need for interoperability and joint operations. Accordingly, there is the need to restructure the military into geographic Joint Commands with Force Commanders exercising operational command over Army, Navy and Air Force assets without recourse to the Services. This will strengthen the military’s capacity to respond to operational situations on time, seamlessly, and robustly with requisite assets.
“The war against Boko Haram insurgency is real. We must all play the role expected of us all, as individuals, the news media, communities, government at different levels, corporate bodies and Non-Governmental Organisations. As a nation, we must now come together to confront this evil before it consumes us all. If we don’t, and in your words, ‘the consequences for our country and all of us may just be too much to imagine’!
This opinion piece written by Olusegun Adeniyi was culled from YNAIJA
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