Levi Obijiofor: Fantasy And Reality In War Against Boko Haram

The rhetoric in the war against Boko Haram has shifted from the perception that it is in defence of the territorial integrity of Nigeria to a campaign for ‘total war’ against the insurgents. This has prompted the question: When is warfare total or partial or limited in scope? The question is relevant for a number of reasons. No government can afford to watch a group of evil rebels bomb and kill and torture and behead members of the armed forces, as well as the civilian population arbitrarily without intervening.

No one in their right mind would suggest that the government’s response to the bloody rebellion taking place in the northern parts of the country should be anything other than an absolute war. Ever since the official commencement of the battle, Boko Haram has continued to launch staccato operations that target members of the armed forces, infrastructure and buildings. It is this strategy that has enabled the militants to capture remote villages and deserted communities on a temporary basis, only to lose the territories to Federal forces in counter-attacks.

You have to wonder why many people are now asking the Federal Government to declare a “total war” on Boko Haram when President Goodluck Jonathan had indeed ordered his war commanders and military advisers in May this year to engage the blood thirsty group measure for measure, blood for blood, violence for violence. That is the only language that seems to make sense to Boko Haram. Jonathan made that call in his nationally televised Democracy Day broadcast on 29 May 2014. Jonathan’s call came against the background of the embarrassment the government faced and still faces over its inability to rescue more than 200 school girls who were kidnapped from their school — the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State — since 14 April this year.

It is unclear whether the most recent calls on the government to declare a total war against Boko Haram are designed to make the government appear as if it had adopted a limited campaign against Boko Haram. Whatever objective the current rhetoric is meant to achieve, Boko Haram’s campaign of terror has not slowed.

The leadership of Boko Haram appears to be sending the message that they are unwilling to stop their violent activities unless they achieve their overriding objectives, one of which is to impose Sharia law on all states of the federation. That grand illusion will never come to pass. Nigeria is neither a predominantly Moslem nor largely a Christian country.

Regardless of how anyone chooses to define the concept of total warfare, the battle against Boko Haram has become something of a nightmare to the government and defence officials. Only a few plans have gone according to strategy. For example, the army has suffered a significant number of setbacks since the government declared officially two years ago that it was determined to destroy Boko Haram. That declaration saw a large contingent of soldiers moved to the northern states.

The difficulties the soldiers faced in two years of unsuccessful attempts to overpower Boko Haram cannot be attributed to insufficient troops, lack of strategies, or lack of leadership. The barriers to success arose essentially because the soldiers were not equipped with high-tech weapons of warfare to fight an enemy that is constantly on the move, an enemy that has appropriated an unusual territory and adopted hit-and-run strategy to confound soldiers tracking their movement.

Soldiers fighting Boko Haram have not delivered the much expected knockout blow that will smash the violent organisation’s resistance. Again, this could be attributed to low morale, lack of esprit de corps among soldiers and, more fundamentally, the duplicity of some soldiers who serve as double agents.

I have said this in previous essays on this topic and I will repeat it here — part of the reason why segments of the army have regularly been overwhelmed by Boko Haram militants is that some soldiers who enjoy certain privileges are feeding the enemy with vital information about troop movement and military strategy. Some of the turncoats have also been providing Boko Haram with funds that have helped to strengthen the rebels.

Why is the call for an absolute war against Boko Haram getting louder and louder more than two years after the government took the fight to the territory of the terrorists? If some people believe the government has not yet declared a total war against Boko Haram, we must then ask the question: why did President Goodluck Jonathan wait for so long to be advised that this is an appropriate time to launch what some people have described as an absolute war against Boko Haram in order to end the insurgency in some northern states? When Jonathan called out soldiers two years ago and redeployed them to serve in the north where they were tasked with dismantling Boko Haram’s horrible domination of the region, did he believe he had applied sufficient force against the insurgents?

Without doubt, part of the reason why the army has not been able to overpower Boko Haram in parts of the north must be attributed to lack of modern weapons, limited resources and low strength of will by soldiers to execute the war with professional diligence. Added to these must be conspiracy within the armed forces, particularly the traitors who provide the enemy with vital information, intelligence, finance, and moral support.

If Boko Haram militants have survived the onslaught of professional soldiers pursuing them in the forests, it must be because of the activities of collaborators within the army and some politicians. These are people who conspired against their fatherland to assist Boko Haram whose members they perceive as their brothers by virtue of the fact of their close religious ties, regional affiliation, and shared political ideology. The question to ask is whether these affiliations are stronger than loyalty to one’s country.

Insiders within the army who provide Boko Haram with vital information and finances that have sustained the organisation are the greatest obstacle in the government’s efforts to detect and destroy the Boko Haram castle. Let’s get this point clear: Boko Haram is not invincible. What makes them appear unbeatable is the tip-off they receive ahead of major military operations directed against them. They also have the ability to recruit members from a large pool of disconnected and impoverished youth inside and outside the country.

Against this background, it is logical to see why Boko Haram will not be defeated easily. Whether the government launches a total war or limited warfare against Boko Haram, it will be difficult to dismantle a violent organisation whose members have gained access to various arms of government. What is paramount now in the campaign to take ownership of our country from insurgents is for the government to address the critical issues that have contributed to poor performance by soldiers in the war front.

In warfare, the morale of soldiers is a forerunner to achievement of victory. When the self-confidence of soldiers is low, when troops lack esprit de corps, that feeling of pride in belonging to the federal troops, you cannot expect them to conquer the enemy. To win the war, you must keep your troops happy, satisfied, well equipped, and make them to see the higher goal of putting their lives on the line in defence of their fatherland.

It is not a good feeling when we read reports of soldiers who were deployed to confront and destroy Boko Haram fleeing to Cameroon where they surrender like cowards. When this happens a couple of times, you know right away that something has gone terribly wrong with our soldiers. Of course, soldiers in battle can retreat to rearm or to lure the enemy into a position of weakness where they will be eliminated. But when soldiers who are deployed to defend our national interests and our territory go cold in front of the enemy, you get that butterfly feeling in your stomach. It is not a comfortable feeling, I must say.

No one should expect soldiers who are ill equipped to produce state-of-the-art equipment on the spot to be able to overwhelm the enemy. Life is not meant to be that way.

Propaganda based on empty talk will not win the battle against Boko Haram. The inability of the Federal Government and the war commanders to acquire and equip soldiers with high-tech equipment to strengthen their position in the frontline must be addressed as a priority. Unless this is done, unless our soldiers are fitted with modern weapons that will enable them to match Boko Haram militants violence for violence, constant rhetoric by field commanders will continue to be mocked by Boko Haram leaders. Blowing hot air has never won a war. It could even demoralise soldiers who understand that exaggeration is an old propaganda tactic that has long ceased to be effective against a fully armed enemy.

I am fully aware that misinformation is an important tool of warfare but there are instances in which propaganda or exaggeration can actually undermine the confidence of soldiers.

Boko Haram militants are sworn to die. You cannot frighten them by issuing innumerable threats of an all-out attack that will erase their presence on earth. These are young men and women who have been deluded, radicalised and programmed to believe that they will go to heaven when they die. The irony is that their leaders who urge them to sacrifice their lives have smartly secured themselves in their hideouts where they enjoy all the luxuries of life they can lay their hands on.

To this group of young men and women, death is something they look forward to. It is that elixir that drives them to engage in suicide bombings, to go to the warfront with little or no protective gear. How do you talk these religious zealots out of their reckless ways, their naïve beliefs, and their juvenile thoughts? Surely, threats of losing their lives will not persuade these young men and women to change their death-defying conduct.


Article written by  Levi Obijiofor


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