The political-economy of Boko Haram war

While speaking recently at a programme organised by the Nigerian Army in Abuja, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Tukur Buratai, blamed the country’s elongated war with insurgents in the North-East on the poor commitment of soldiers to defend the country in almost every task they had been assigned. The COAS had said, “It is unfortunate, but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigerian Army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks.”

The only thing that can make a leader speak of his people in the manner Buratai did is frustration. But his frustration is understandable. Buratai, who has been the 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. Since he cannot see himself as the cause of the seeming ball room dance which the battle with the insurgents has become, Buratai has to look for someone else as the fall guy, and in his estimation the poor soldiers on the field fit the role.

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 in 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.

So, Buratai’s frustration makes a whole lot of sense. But rather than bringing his frustration to the public and picking on his men, the Army Chief should have interrogated the situation with a view to coming up with a solution. Problems wear the toga of seeming invincibility when leaders are of the view that it is impossible to get a solution to such problems. The war against the insurgents is winnable, but for us to put the Boko Haram quagmire behind us we have to answer 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 to know what to do rather than making his war-weary soldiers the target of his frustration.



Re: The real problem with Buhari presidency

Sir, I just read your column published by Tribune newspaper. Thanks for that boldness, you have just described the interest of Buhari in governance.

Mike from Lokoja, Kogi State.