Buratai, Boko Haram and political-economy of war

SINCE the Federal Government announced in December 2019 its plan to withdraw troops engaged in internal security, the destructive activities of insurgents in the North East have gone upscale. On January 6, a bomb exploded at a market in Gamboru, Borno State, killing at least 30 people. No fewer than 17 soldiers were killed, while many others were abducted penultimate Friday in a gun duel involving the military and Boko Haram insurgents on Bama-Gwoza highway in Borno State. A series of attacks on villages along the Damaturu-Maiduguri road recently did not only leave behind spluttered blood and splintered bodies, it also left in its trail a regime of darkness as Maiduguri and its environs have been disconnected from the national grid as a consequence of damages to the equipment of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) by the insurgents.

Then this past week, Boko Haram beheaded Reverend Lawan Andimi, the abducted chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Michika, who also was a pastor with the Church of the Brethren at the District Church Council of Michika.

But in his reaction to the spate of attacks by the insurgents, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, said the attacks, which had claimed the lives of scores of soldiers and civilians, were the kicks of a dying horse. Buratai added that a review of the ongoing operations in the North East showed a renewed zeal and determination by troops to conclude the counter-insurgency operations with favourable outcomes.

Lt General Buratai is a very optimistic man. So, his view that insurgency is in its last days is understandable. Naturally, Buratai, who has been COAS since July 2015, will want to go down in history as the Army Chief who defeated Boko Haram. He will want to be remembered as the Army Chief who stood tall where others before him went down flat. That would be a very good way to end his career. But it appears that the more he tries to defeat the insurgents, the stronger they appear to get because he relies more on hope rather than strategy to win the war. Hope is good, it keeps the soldiers going, but every General that is worth his epaulette knows that hope is as different from strategy as the North is from the South.

The Boko Haram insurgency, which started in 2009, has spanned over a decade with thousands of people killed and maimed, hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, millions displaced and the economy of the North Eastern part of the country totally paralyzed. Many schools have been closed down, many hospitals destroyed, many businesses have been forced to their knees, many bank branches in the region have been shut and many telecommunication masts destroyed. In 2015, Integrated Energy Distribution and Marketing Company, which had acquired 60 per cent equity in the Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YEDC), opted out of the company saying the state of insecurity in the axis had rendered the company unviable.

The country has expended so much on procuring weapons and ammunition as well as on keeping officers and men of the armed forces at the battlefront. The Nigerian security agencies have lost hundreds of their men and officers to the butchery going on in the area. Yet, the insurgents, once described as ‘ragtag’, continue to beat the Nigerian military that gave a good account of itself when it went out on peace keeping missions outside the country.

Methinks the Boko Haram war has continued seemingly endlessly because of the failure of the leadership to ask the right questions. The tragedy of that is the failure to ask the right questions will deny the leadership of the right answers and they will keep on deploying wrong strategies, the result of which will be the inability to make any headway in the war. Therefore, to put the Boko Haram quagmire behind us, Buratai and others in charge need to ask two very fundamental questions.

The first question: Are there people whose economic interests are being served by the war situation in the North East? If there are people who benefit economically from the insurgency, either through supply of ammunition or the sharing of booty, the chances are that they will want to ensure the perpetuation of the crisis. So, to end the war, we have to first identify those whose wealth swells as the number of the war casualties rises and make it absolutely impossible for them to prosper from the killing of our compatriots.

The second question is that are there people whose political interests would be served if the war does not end immediately? Are there politicians whose political fortunes are dependent on the span of the war? Are there government functionaries whose political relevance would expire if the war ends immediately? If there are people who will not win elections if the war should end, then they will spare no effort to ensure its perpetuation. As observed by Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” The Boko Haram war could be the continuation of politics by other means.

Experts are agreed that for as long as there are people who benefit from the prosecution of a war the war will never end. The end of a war begins with the perfect comprehension of its political-economy.

These are the issues Buratai should look into instead of relying on hope as a strategy. No war has ever been war solely by relying on hope because hope is not a strategy.

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