How we are countering new security challenges, winning the Boko Haram war —Chief of Defence Information, General Nwachukwu
The Chief of Defence Information, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu, speaks to BODUNRIN KAYODE on how the Nigerian Armed Forces are squaring up to new forms of security challenges, especially as regards Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East.
Can you give us an overview of the security challenges in Nigeria from last year to now?
I would like to start by saying that whatever violence or insecurities that are being experienced today, they are a chain reaction of something somewhere. I have mentioned in several fora that there is an increasing employment of the instrument of violence by non-state actors to push their agenda, to address grievances, whether political, economic, religious or otherwise. We need to understand that there is an incremental use of violence by non-state actors across the globe. We have talked about the issue of funding of these non-state actors which needs to be addressed internationally. We have also talked about the issue of arms proliferation across the globe. Where are these arms coming from? Where are these non-state actors getting the fund to acquire the weapons? We have seen terrorist groups brandishing brand new firearms and weapon systems with which they conduct their atrocious activities. These are issues which must be looked at globally and internationally and not limited only to our shores. It goes even beyond the sub-region, right up to the Maghreb region. I don’t know if people think about it, during the Arab Spring and similar situations, where there were uprisings, who took care of the armories in such situations? Many of the armories of those countries were looted and those weapons have found themselves in wrong hands, especially these non-state actors who wish to push their mission or vision to the front burner in nations or sovereign states.
Now, coming to Nigeria, I must say that we have made tremendous progress in countering these emerging security challenges. They are emerging because they are not the traditional security challenges we had or been trained to confront over the years. I keep saying that our military is an evolving one, given the spate of the emergence of these kinds of new security challenges. We are talking about terrorism, insurgency, banditry, piracy oil theft, herders/farmers clash, rustling of cattle and kidnapping, all rolled into one as a multi faceted challenge. And that is the reason why we have to look at these issues holistically to address them.
Now you find that the military’s hands are full. We are involved in a series of theaters of operations. In the North-East, we are fighting terrorism. In the North-Central, we have issues of farmers and herders, plus communal crisis and, of course, banditry. In the North-West, we are talking about banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling and then when you go down to the south, lots of other challenges, the military is handling in one way or the other in different theaters of operations.
Would you say that Nigeria needs support from the international community to deal with proliferation of arms?
The international community must play its role in clearing these arms in circulation in the realm of global terrorism. I told you how the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) had formed an alliance with the international terrorism, how Boko Haram had pledged allegiance to ISIS and how the ISWA was created and is contributing immensely to the security challenges in the country now.
We need to understand the hard statements from ISWAP that ‘because our leader Al-Bagdadi, was killed, we must take vengeance by killing unbelievers in Nigeria’. So, you need to see the global nexus which I am trying to connect to understand these security challenges we are dealing with. And that is why I am saying that at the international level, deliberate efforts must be made to address the issues of funding. How are they funded? Mostly by illicit drug trades, international money laundering, secret sponsors. It should first be tackled at that international level consciously so that the effect will not be much over here.
We have been very creative as a nation and as the armed forces in tackling the issue of Boko Haram in the North-East, even in the face of denial of military hardware. Yes, in the face of denial of military hardware. We have had instances where we were not allowed to purchase what was needed to prosecute this war and we have resorted to looking inwards through creativity and innovation to make our own weapons system and defence hardware. It is a tremendous achievement. And these weapons have been deployed in the theatre of operations. There are many of them such as Armored Personnel Careers and Emeralds, created by the armed forces. We have developed capacity to build our weapons systems to face the recurring challenges of the war. I am being modest about this because this is a tremendous innovation by the armed forces.
I need you to understand that we have a very robust concept of decimation, domination and occupation of the theatre of operation. That was why we needed to move the Command and Control Centre from Abuja to Maiduguri. It had never been done in the history of warfare in this country. So, these are laudable innovations. Units were created and injected into the system to tackle these issues. The war is dynamic. As we make progress, so do the adversaries make theirs and when we see them moving, we develop further strategies which give us an edge. The strategies are not fixed. They have to follow the trend. When we developed the mobile strike teams, the idea was based on the pattern of the combat and operation within the theatre of operation as of then.
When we developed the concept of super camps, it was also based on the trend of that operation and the tactics of the adversaries. We review these things as the operations continue. Now, you need to understand that Boko Haram has indeed been decimated and because they wanted to regenerate manpower, they had to pledge allegiance to ISIS and it is because of the new alliance that we are seeing these new challenges. Boko Haram was decimated to the point of factionalisation. We need to understand that.
Decimated? Look at the way they slaughtered that man of God from Michika and our soldiers…
Yes. But we must understand that these are the tactics of global terrorism: kidnapping for ransom, creating terror to make people live in fear and putting it out in the media to gain publicity which is the oxygen of terrorism.
They want to be seen as virile and potent all the time. That is why they will make those media pronouncements. Like a chameleon, they can change into our own uniform and abduct even our own personnel. They employ other means of terror like callously using women and children that are abducted as human shields and to carry out suicide bombings just to make their announcements to create terror. It is the most callous thing to do in the name of terrorism. And that is why all the elements of national power must be mobilised, including diplomacy, to confront these terrorists. When I talk of diplomacy, I am not calling for people to come and take care of our operations.
What other challenges would you say have impeded the armed forces in the North-East and how have you been able to overcome them?
Well, we have been able to provide logistics in terms of uniforms, boots and what have you to motivate our troops. Above all, their allowances are regularly paid. Increase in allowances must be considered only based on budgetary allocations and provisions and once we are able to get any such approvals, definitely, it will be done. The Chief of Defense Staff has been very frequent to Maiduguri to sort out their challenges.
What do you intend to do differently this year?
We would be reinvigorating our operations, injecting more logistics, manpower and, of course, taking the war to the camp of the enemies all over the country. Let me assure Nigerians that we are reviewing our recruitment processes. But this is not going to be by conscription. We must statutorily carry out those exercises. It is procedural and it takes time because it has to do with adequate training facilities and all that. Since it is going to be taxing on our existing training facilities, we are going to take our time to expand existing training facilities to accommodate the number of people that must be brought in as personnel.
The vision of the Chief of Defense Staff, as it stands today, is to ensure well motivated, well trained and well equipped armed forces. So, it is not just to bring people in. We must look at the capacity and quality of people. We are talking about warfare, so it is not everybody that can cope with those indices I just mentioned. This is a very special profession, not an all-comers affair. So, it has to be a gradual process statutorily and procedurally conducted. So many factors are looked at for us to achieve our objectives.
So many personnel have been killed while going on private trips to see their families. How does the system protect them?
There are rules and regulations on how you move. When personnel decide to move and they are on pass, we have modalities on how they should move and we have passed kits across to all the armed forces. It is administrative and no personnel will tell me that he or she is not aware of this. So, if they decide to violate it and get into a wrong situation, they would be very unfair to the system. Our personnel need to abide by the provision that has been made for their movement. There are regulations for their movements. I was in Lafia Dole theatre for three years. There is no movement that is ordinary. Every movement is operational in the theatre of operation from point A to B; you do not move as if nothing is at stake. No. Something is at stake each time. This is why it is very disheartening to read that our personnel fell into the hands of our adversaries during one private visit or the other. When any personnel want to move in and out of the theatre, escort is provided to move them in and out of the theatre to a safe location. I was in the theatre for three years and I drove myself all the way to Abuja when I was transferred but every point I touched, an escort was provided to ensure that I was safe even in mufti. That is the ideal. We must be able to follow these rules. We cannot provide an escort for one individual but where you decide to move on your own, it means you are violating the rules but because many personnel want to leave in a hurry, they do not want to wait. It is impatience that makes some personnel to fall into the hands of the enemy during such movements.