Walking on the minefield of TERROR

Perhaps jolted by escalating security situation across the country, President Muhammadu Buhari sacked the Service Chiefs and appointed replacements immediately. DARE ADEKANMBI looks at the situation against the backdrop of the avowal of the president to end insurgency and the daunting task before the new helmsmen to make terrorists and criminals feel there are new sheriffs in town.

Above the issue of the economy that has been on a downward turn for the better part of the last six years, worsening insecurity in the forms of kidnapping, banditry, insurgency, sectarian conflict, farmers-herders clashes, among others, remain a bigger concern for Nigerians.

Prior to May 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari took over the mantle of leadership, the North-Eastern part of the country was the fertile ground for members of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, who were largely dominant in about 14 local government areas in the zone. There was also occasional unrest by youths in the Niger Delta region who made money spinning industry out of pipeline vandalism, just as there was kidnapping in some parts of the south.

Buhari rode to power in 2015 on the popularly held impression in many quarters that his military background would be handy in solving the security puzzle. Addressing an international gathering in Chatam House in February, 2015, six weeks to the presidential election, Buhari laid out what he would do to end insurgency if elected: adequately equipping and training of the military and supporting the security forces in accurate intelligence gathering.

“As you all know, I had been a military head of state in Nigeria for 20 months. We intervened because we were unhappy with the state of affairs in our country. We wanted to arrest the drift. Driven by patriotism, influenced by the prevalence and popularity of such drastic measures all over Africa and elsewhere, we fought our way to power. But the global triumph of democracy has shown that another and a preferable path to change is possible. It is an important lesson I have carried with me since, and a lesson that is not lost on the African continent.

“Boko Haram has sadly put Nigeria on the terrorism map, killing more than 13,000 of our nationals, displacing millions internally and externally, and at a time holding on to portions of our territory the size of Belgium. What has been consistently lacking is the required leadership in our battle against insurgency. I, as a retired general and a former head of state, have always known about our soldiers: they are capable, well trained, patriotic, brave and always ready to do their duty in the service of our country.

“Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently;…no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service. We will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with. We will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels. We will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas,” Candidate Buhari said in his speech at Chatam House.

Almost six years after Buhari won the keenly contested election and became Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, not only has insurgency festered in the North-East, armed banditry has quaked the North-West zone, particularly in Katsina, where Buhari hails from, Kaduna, Zamfara and Sokoto states. Indigenes-settlers conflict and Fulani herdsmen’s attackers of farmers have escalated in the North-Central. The South-East and the Southw-West have also had their share of armed banditry and incursion of Fulani herdsmen. Tension has enveloped most parts of the country.

Thousands of internally displaced persons who have been forced to vacate their homes and farmlands have put further pressure on the already stretched facilities at the Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camps which were at a point as well hit by shortage of food and aids supply.

Tired of endlessly waiting and relying on federally controlled security apparatuses to secure lives and property in their domains, the South-West governors, in 2020, put aside political leanings to unanimously birth the Western Nigeria Security Network codenamed Amotekun, with a view to locally addressing the deteriorating security situation in the zone. The South-East soon followed with the establishment of the Eastern Security Network. This regional initiative of a formalised security architecture is the first since the return to civil administration in 1999.

But in spite of the widespread of these current challenges, the official line continues to be that of a marked improvement in the security situation prior to the advent of the current administration.

“I can say without hesitation that, though Nigeria is facing security challenges, the situation is far better than what we met in 2015. There is no doubt that we are much better than how it was,” Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said during a media briefing earlier in the month.

In its 2020 World Report on Nigeria, the Human Right Watch gave an account of how the security situation in the country has worsened, precipitating a humanitarian crisis in the North-East zone with hundreds of thousands displaced.

According to the report, “Despite claims by federal authorities of increased security measures, an atmosphere of insecurity persisted across Nigeria in 2019… The North-East Boko Haram conflict entered its tenth year, with renewed fighting between security forces and Boko Haram factions killing an estimated 640 civilians in 2019 alone.

“An estimated 27,000 people, 37 aid workers, have been killed since the onset of the conflict in 2009, according to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

“The military’s decision in August to gather troops from countryside outposts into ‘super camps’ in the North-East impeded humanitarian access and left communities vulnerable to attacks. In the North-East, at least 223, 000 people are without security, while 100,000 have been cut off from humanitarian access as a result of the military’s departure. Humanitarian actors have no access to an estimated 823,000 people, according to UNOCHA.

“Elsewhere in the country, there were widespread kidnapping, banditry and recurring cycles of deadly violence between herdsmen and farmers. The clampdown on peaceful protests, arrest and detention of activists, and media repression signified a renewed intolerance of free speech and dissent by Nigerian authorities,” the report said.

So serious is the situation that government forces confronting the bandits and insurgents have suffered relatively heavy casualties, though spokesperson of the military forces has in several statements released figures heavier figures of casualty suffered by the terrorists.

In July last year, a military source confirmed to AFP that 23 soldiers were killed by bandits in an ambush operation in Jabia district in Katsina State. In addition to the corpses counted, more solders were said to be missing in the aftermath of the attack.

According to SaharaReporters, also in July 2020, about 356 soldiers involved in the battle against the Boko Haram wrote the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, in a letter a copy of which bore the reference number NA/COAS/001, seeking voluntary retirement from the army, while citing loss of interest and low morale as reasons.

The online newspaper, quoting a military source, also reported that about five other soldiers of South-East extraction, resigned to join the Eastern Security Network, while others still serving in the army from the zone are being wooed to resign and join ESN to fortify the regional outfit.

Perhaps the last straw that broke the camel’s back for the sacked service chiefs was the report of the resignation of another set of 127 soldiers. According to Premium Times, the junior cadre soldiers drawn from across the various army formations, are engaged in the fight against insurgency. Buratai was said to have approved their disengagement from the army.

Just recently, Oyo and Ondo states were in the news over the criminal activities of Fulani herdsmen operating in the forests of Ondo and the largely agrarian Ibarapa zone of Oyo State.

While meeting the newly appointed sheriffs manning the security architecture of the country, President Buhari himself removed the veil of deliberate misinformation and propaganda put on the matter by Lai Mohammed by admitting the enormity of the security challenges, when he said the country is in a state of emergency security-wise.

What has been established from the action of the soldiers deployed to the battle front, but who are either deserting from the auxiliary or resigning is the fact that morale is very low and motivation poor. The new service chiefs: Major-General Leo Irabor (Chief of Defence Staff), Major-General Ibrahim Attahiru (Chief of Army Staff), Air Vice Marshall Isiaka Amao (Chief of Air Staff) and Rear Admiral Awwal Gambo (Chief of Naval Staff), would do well to prioritise the welfare of soldiers and others deployed to confront the terrorists. Under the predecessors, reports of soldiers protesting unpaid allowances were commonplace.

The National Assembly, which regularly approves the annual budget other financial requests on security matters, must beam its oversight function light in the direction of what the Executive actually commits to the fight against crimes.

Not only is it imperative for the new men to rethink the counter-insurgency template of their predecessors, they must think outside the box and take drastic measures if necessary. Desperate diseases are by desperate means cured. Globally, terrorism is not a conventional war and thus the tactics must change from time to time.

Although 21st century war against insurgency requires the possession of sophisticated military hardware and software by the troops, investment in intelligence gathering and reconnaissance of the enemies’ camp by the troops should be given priority attention.

The Federal Government, if it must de-escalate built up tension across the country, must be seen to be fair to all in handling the insecurity situation. No sect or a group of people must be seen as sacred cows. This must be clearly seen in the actions and policies of government as well as the body language of the president. The opposition to the mooted policies such as cattle colony or RUGA or inland waterways bill should have put paid to such as unpopular and divisive moves.



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