By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
Last week, while the rest of Nigeria was busy with the politics of 2019 and Abba Kyari’s alleged Toyota Hilux scam, Boko Haram attacked Zari village, located 30 kilometres from the town of Damasak, in northern Borno State, on the border with Niger, and seized it briefly after a fierce battle. Scores of Boko Haram fighters in trucks stormed the place, armed with heavy weaponry, and sacked the Nigerian army post in the village, killing many Nigerian troops. So far, the bodies of two officers and forty-six soldiers have been recovered. There were reports in the international media that the Nigerian troops were forced to temporarily withdraw from the location, before reinforcements arrived. The attacks appear to undermine the repeated claims of the military that Boko Haram had been defeated. The terrorists took weapons and military equipment before they were pushed out of the base by troops with aerial support. Gradually, Nigeria finds itself at tenterhooks again, with a terrorist group that has been declared “technically defeated” by President Buhari.
It is very concerning that attacks by Boko Haram are on the increase. It is more worrisome that the army seemed unprepared each time this happened. With each attack, certain nagging questions should be on our lips: Can a nation averse to lessons learnt, governed by corrupt people, who oversee corrupt and heavily politicised institutions, defeat Boko Haram? Is it possible that the Army brass has turned the Boko Haram insurgency into a full-time money making occupation, wasting the lives of soldiers on the field, while generals make money both in Abuja and the theatre of operations, by not providing the necessary tools and intelligence capacity required for counter-insurgency? The escalating effect of force multiplier schemes that fed the insurgency under President Goodluck Jonathan are too vivid to ignore. It seems those who served force multipliers to the insurgency are creating it again to confront the Buratai led army. For any lasting solution to Boko Haram, the nation must look at those who profit from this misery. In a country where actions do not have consequences, where there is no conscience when money is to be made, where common good and patriotism has no meaning, we need to look more at the military complex.
A decade after, the military is yet to have an effective blueprint for ensuring that it remains one step ahead of today’s increasingly prevalent threats to Nigeria’s sovereignty and national security. A once enviable military has been decimated by the legion of ills plaguing the larger society. Corruption, nepotism, ethnicism and politics of religion have affected the troop’s agility and readiness to take on a mission. As it was in the time of Jonathan, morale is poor, brought on by unpaid allowances, bad meals and sometimes with the troops being served only one meal per day, while they are actively fighting to control the insurgent group. The problem with the military’s inability to deal with Boko Haram is not funding. It is far deeper because the corruption within the military is so destructive, and it has prevented it from being strategic.
Internationally, our military is considered a joke and rag-tag. In 2017, the military received $1.5 billion from the budget but it is still under-equipped from years of misappropriation. There is no sunshine into military expenditure. There are allegations that commanding officers skim the daily pay and rations of soldiers for their own benefit. The level of sloth at the top is galling. As seen in last week’s attack, the loss of soldiers is symptomatic of the decay, and Nigerians long desensitised to mass death moved on as if nothing had happened. Even the military wore no somber mood, as the situation was treated as normal. What kind of Generals make money at the expense of the lives of soldiers? What kind of army can a country whose troops protest unpaid salaries have? Can a country whose military Generals get rich, while their troops do not have the necessary gear to fight, even when intelligence indicates possibility of attacks, survive?
We hear of training with elite forces, here and there. Training cannot be of any consequence when the government complicates the issues by failing to set performance targets within set timeframes, while measuring the attainment of these targets. With a military that is not performance driven, primordial interests take root. Most Generals now see the Boko Haram war as an open ended fight against insurgency without limits. This invariably guarantees the inflow of huge monies into individual pockets. Nigerians have walked, open eyed, into an arrangement where an existential threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty has become an industry to some.
With glaring failures, loss of lives and mounting costs on the war on terror, it is obvious that General Buratai, the chief of army staff (COAS) ought to be replaced if Nigeria were a performance driven country. The COAS has overstayed his tenure. It is dumbfounding and counter-productive that Buratai has remained in the position till now. This is one area that the president needs to rejig fast. The cost of loyalty over competence is too grave at this crucial time. It is time to introduce a fresh hand who will introduce new ideas into the fight and would want to be seen as performing. The longer Buratai stays, the more resentful those who feel short-changed by his prolonged service could get, and they might even sabotage the army. Without set targets and performance evaluation for the army high command at the end of target periods, they will continue to see the Boko Haram insurgency as big business. Until President Buhari wakes up from his slumber, we are in big mess.
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú is a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst.