By Kennedy Emetulu
“Progress has been made in recent weeks by our security forces but victory can not be achieved by basing the Command and Control Centre in Abuja. The command centre will be relocated to Maiduguri and remain until Boko Haram is completely subdued”. – President Muhammadu Buhari (excerpted from Inauguration Speech, 29 March, 2015)
It is instructive that the only decision taken by President Muhammadu Buhari on the day of his inauguration as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces is one relocating the Armed Forces Command and Control Centre from Abuja to Maiduguri. This decision has expectedly started generating some debate, but I think to an extent, people are being precipitate and getting things a little mixed up at the moment.
First, many commentators on the issue report the president as relocating the Armed Forces headquarters or the Defence Headquarters to Maiduguri and naturally from that supposition a lot of political motives are unnecessarily being read into the decision. Yet, the real issue is that a command and control centre is not the same thing as the entire command of the Armed Forces. A command and control centre is basically a place, building or structure housing military communication devices and equipment and specialist personnel charged with directing and controlling the military forces on the ground through provision of information, intelligence and technical wherewithal towards the accomplishment of a mission. Its main duty is to coordinate all the services needed for the success of that operation under the direction of a commanding officer from this tactical command known as the command and control centre or command post (where used by a military unit in a deployed location). So, the command and control centre is basically an information management unit. It monitors the quality of command, the effectiveness of the mission and the general system performance. The human resource and logistics to monitor these things are put in place at the command and control centre as a way of controlling actions in the field of operation towards achieving the overall success of the mission.
Obviously, every command and control centre will develop its own unique approach based on the nature of the military operation or mission in question, the available technology and other appropriate means and capabilities, the capability and capacity of the forces, a fair and factual behavioural assessment of adversaries and others and the environment in which the armies operate. This is because the command and control centre is established to achieve a purpose, which according to the president in our own case is the complete subjugation or defeat of Boko Haram.
The elements of a command and control centre would naturally depend on the purpose. Tasks to accomplish can differ. We might be talking the creation of something at a strategic level with the aim of using this at an operational level or it could be the execution of a specific task at the tactical level. Since the tasks are different, the resources needed to accomplish them can be different too. For one task, you might have organic assets to accomplish it and for the other, you might need to put together a large diverse coalition with different types of resources. This difference determines the set of metric appropriate for the task. While we must note interdependencies and fractal properties between both types of command and control centres, for an enterprise-specific one like the Boko Haram command and control centre, we’ll likely have those traditional control and command elements such as establishing intent, establishing operational rules and constraints, determining responsibilities, roles and relationships, monitoring and assessing the situation and progress of project, inspiring, motivating and engendering trust (very dependent on the kind of leadership), provisioning and training and education.
Anyway, what matters to us in this discussion is that President Buhari is the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and in both capacities, he can determine how the armed forces should be organised for a specific mission. Of course, it is not exactly where you have the command and control centre for a mission that matters, as far as it serves the purpose of effectively directing the operation through the appropriate management of the relevant intelligence and information and as far as it applies the right tactics and strategy to achieve the mission. But if the Commander-in -Chief says move from A to B to achieve the mission, it is within his rights to do so, because he takes full responsibility for outcomes. So, on the technical and military aspect of the decision, no one can fault the president, unless it fails. We cannot fault him from taking a lawful military decision (no matter our personal view), because that’s why we voted for him, that’s what he’s paid to do.
However, the president can be criticised politically for making this decision at the time he did. Of course, the president as Commander-in-Chief can call a designated commander and give him orders as to what he wants accomplished with the Command and Control Centre, including, if need be, its relocation to any part of the country or operation theatre; however, making it a policy statement on the spot at inauguration raises a few questions. How informed is the new president about the situation or effectiveness or otherwise of the current Control and Command Centre when he’s yet to take over as president and effectively evaluate their work so far? How sure is he that the progress he himself has noted in that same speech is not as a result of the Command and Control Centre being in Abuja and outside the battle hotspot? Is he sure that insulating the Command and Control Centre from the pressure of everyday demand of servicemen and women in the field is not a huge plus to the operation? We know for instance that the service chiefs had relocated to Maiduguri since last year, so is this new order about relocation of the Command and Control Centre an improvement on that or a counter to that, considering that a designated commander of the Control and Command Centre will have to operate under his superior officers once they are there together? Or does the president intend to give orders directly to the designated commander bypassing his service bosses (that is, if in this case there is a designated commander outside a service chief)? Considering also that Nigeria’s participation in the campaign against Boko Haram in the North-East is as part of a multinational force (as the Boko Haram has been internationally recognised as a regional terrorist threat), wouldn’t it be wiser to come in and review what we are doing at the moment operationally with others, especially as it does seem to have helped in drastically dealing with the insurgency to the extent that today, we can clearly see that Boko Haram is no longer the force it used to be, say three months ago? Is this decision more a populist stunt than a necessity?
The point is moving command and control centre from one place to another has huge implications and the president does realise that Boko Haram cannot be defeated purely by military force alone. So, it certainly would have been politically savvier to come in, make a general if not very detailed review of the mission first before deciding what needs to be changed and what needs to be added. I mean, if he was making this decision a week or two after taking over, and after consulting with the necessary military and political authorities, people would have felt more confident that he’s making the decision from a knowledgeable point of view. Of course, he’s a general and would be more familiar with the technicalities, but as a president, politician and democrat, consultation and acquisition of necessary information before decision-making is a standard procedure in all things. President Buhari needs to learn that quickly.
Apart from the above, which is the decision taken by the president on day one, I would like to touch on a few things that are somewhat not related, but which I consider worthy of consideration going forward. The president must know that not many Nigerians trust the role the United States has played over Boko Haram and also during this election that has produced him as president. This is the plain truth. The United States for inexplicable reasons during the Hillary Clinton period at Foggy Bottom simply refused to declare Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) when all the evidence was right there in their hands and even after other US state agencies, like the Justice Department, have recognised them as such. By the time they were being declared FTO in November 2013 by the Senator John Kerry State Department, Boko Haram had acquired enough arms and finance to prosecute its war against the Nigerian state for a long time. It also transpired that they were getting steady flow of arms from allies of the United States in Algeria, Libya and Mali. When the Al Muntada organisation in the United Kingdom was exposed as financiers of Boko Haram by Lord Alton of Liverpool, a Member of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, the Metropolitan Police didn’t think it worthy of investigation and the UK Charity Commission’s response was that there are a number of registered charities with a similar name to Al Muntada, “so the commission is not able to confirm at this stage whether or not this relates directly to a UK registered charity.”
While all this was happening, the United States led a Western conspiracy to deprive us of arms to fight Boko Haram under the spurious excuse that our soldiers have a poor human rights record in the fight against Boko Haram when all the verifiable evidence of atrocities we could see were by the same Boko Haram. It was part of the irony of the situation that while America and her allies were denying Nigeria arms to fight Boko Haram under the excuse that the Nigerian Army did not pass their human rights test, they were falling over themselves to supply arms to murderous elements in Syria. Of course, without arms from those we consider our allies against terrorism, even with our money, the Jonathan government was forced to look to the East, China and the black market. In the meantime, the full-scale demonisation of President Goodluck Jonathan was being spearheaded by Hillary Clinton. To compliment that, Mrs Clinton and the Obama Administration developed a full-scale romance with the APC and Buhari. They recruited Obama’s ally and campaign guru, David Axelrod and his AKPD Message and Media to run Buhari’s campaign and throughout the campaign, Senator John Kerry was overseeing things and hopping down to Nigeria to ensure that nothing derails the plan to get Buhari to Aso Rock. The British were equally showing their own support through Tony Blair and Chatham House. To cut a long story short, the plan worked perfectly and Buhari is sitting pretty now in Aso Rock.
Alright, I’m not so doe-eyed about international relations not to recognise that it is not a morality game where you expect others to look after your interest or to not shaft you, if they have the opportunity to. So, really, I have no issue with the APC getting foreign support, including Arab money, to win the election. I mean, we all can play cynics till the cows come home, but it won’t advance the cause of our nation. The bottom line for me is that whoever gets to Aso Rock, no matter how you manage to get yourself there, you have to serve the interest of the Nigerian people and nobody else. That is why I urge President Muhammadu Buhari to adopt his statement that he belongs to everybody and belongs to no one in his international dealings too, because some of us are already seeing the vultures hovering over our country while we celebrate a new dawn. We have watched them trot the London-Washington-Abuja routes jauntily throughout these times and we know from their history with us that nothing good will come from this.
The West and their agents are interested in two key areas and in both areas, while they are keen to present themselves as helpers, history has proven that they are likely to lead us into a deep hole. The first is their interest in our mineral resources, most crucially our oil. Messrs David Cameron, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson seem to be the initial pointsmen of the Bretton Woods institutions in this regard. They’ve been harping on about the need for Buhari to act fast and remove the petroleum subsidy and Buhari himself has not hidden the pressure he’s under when he scurried over to London to see Cameron in the heat of the fuel crisis, a few days before his swearing-in as president. The orchestration is on and very soon they will blanket the media with reasons why Buhari has to act now. Obviously, they are banking on the goodwill the president has now amongst Nigerians. They believe if he does it now, he will not suffer the backlash President Jonathan suffered in 2012 when he attempted it. Buhari must not listen to them. We know that the subsidy regime as presently constituted and as presently implemented is a racket and a cesspool of corruption, but ordinary Nigerians need not bear the cost of cleaning it up. Buhari’s newfound Western friends may have convinced him that the economic case for removing subsidy is perfect, but he needs to know that the political case for it at the moment is very bad.
Amongst OPEC countries, Nigeria still sells petrol at the highest price to its citizens while it pays the lowest minimum wage. This is a country without social safety nets and social security and in terms of any kind of social benefit, the subsidy is the only thing we can say they enjoy. So, why should we be removing subsidy when it is obvious that the economy of Nigeria is too weak and disposable income too low for Nigerians to do without it? Can Nigeria afford to be exposed to externalities with the poor state of our local industries? The negative multiplier effects of this decision can only be imagined, especially the effect on wages and general inflation. It simply won’t be nice. If Buhari does it now without consultation and without getting into conversation with Nigerians with a view to convincing them at every level why he needs to do this, including providing good palliative measures, their goodwill for him will vanish in the twinkle of an eye and it would be difficult for him to survive the backlash intact. If he must take that decision, he shouldn’t do it under pressure from these foreign interests. He must think it through deeply, have that conversation with the Nigerian people and together reach a compromise.
But there is a basic answer to all this and it’s one that must be addressed on two fronts. Buhari should work with the national legislature to once and for all pass the Petroleum Industry Bill and mobilise the private sector to build new refineries and refurbish the existing ones to begin full internal refining of all our petrol needs. While that is being done, he can put the searchlight in the subsidy payment and management system to get to the root of the scam. Anything short of these would be skirting the issue. In fact, if he listens to his Western friends now and go for the subsidy removal immediately, once it all comes crashing down as it surely will, they would be the first to throw him under the bus. In any case, this whole foreign interest in our oil is not the purpose of this piece. I just have to mention it to signal the fact that we are already seeing the hands of Esau everywhere.
The second area of Western interest is tied to the above and it is our national security. Yes, their role in our national security is highly questionable. The fact that the West totally refused to help with Boko Haram raises huge suspicion about their role in all this, especially with reports that the Boko Haram people are getting supplies and sophisticated weapons from people who are/were allies of the United States in Africa. We know also that the West is not happy with the great economic and political relationship Nigeria under Jonathan has been enjoying with the Chinese. There are reasons to believe that the US and some of its allies are sponsoring instability in areas this can disrupt Chinese economic interests. This seems to be the real purpose of the United States African Command (AFRICOM) in Africa. The real reason the United States didn’t like Jonathan was because he refused to sign away our sovereignty to the United States through AFRICOM. Though his government succeeded in outflanking the United States diplomatically by cutting off France from the Western conspiracy after Charlie Hebdo (which was the reason Chad, Niger and Cameroon finally began to pull their weight as part of the multinational force after being whipped in line by France) leading to the success against Boko Haram we are celebrating today, it still was not enough to keep him in Aso Rock. America and the West have decided on their candidate and he is Muhammadu Buhari.
Now, I’m a political realist. I do realise that whatever we say, the West did not invade us and impose a president on us. If they did anything, they did it by using or compromising our national institutions to achieve that. If the Jonathan government didn’t see it coming or if they saw it coming and did nothing to forestall it, I shouldn’t be shedding much tears on their behalf. But I am a Nigerian, a patriot and like me, Muhammadu Buhari is a patriot. A patriot must do what a patriot got to do, no matter how he got to the position that gives him power and legitimacy to make decisions on behalf of the country and the rest of us. So, on no account should Buhari sign anything with the United States on AFRICOM. President Umaru Yar’Adua almost got lured into it when he visited the White House in December 2007. He had to quickly deny he did. Jonathan simply refused to consider it. But what are we seeing now? We are seeing that amongst those chosen by President Obama to be part of the US Presidential Delegation to the Buhari swearing-in was General David M. Rodriguez, Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). This was the same General Rodriguez that led a team of US soldiers down to Nigeria with pomp and pageantry talking tough about helping us to smash Boko Haram and get the Chibok girls back. In the end, they did absolutely nothing. Buhari has to be careful. If he signs anything with the United States over our national security, he would see that the same spirit that roused Nigerians in 1961 to come out and protest the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact is still alive and well. We might fight amongst ourselves over anything in Nigeria, but we will always collectively defend our sovereignty.