The Military, Press and War Against Insurgency, by Hassan Gimba

Hassan Gimba.
Hassan Gimba.

The Arbiter

Nigerians were happy when the news reached them last week that Baga, in Kukawa Local Government of Borno State, was recaptured by the Special Forces of the Nigerian Army, who were said to have displayed uncommon gallantry in routing the splinter Boko Haram terrorists who now call themselves the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Even though the Nigerian Army had vehemently and repeatedly denied that the Boko Haramites had captured Baga, a major commercial town in northern Borno, after dislodging soldiers of the Nigeria military, including those of the Multi National Joint Task Force, a statement by the spokesman of the Army,Brigadier General Sani Usman Kukasheka, said troops were able to reclaim the community after a heated gun battle.

“The triumphant troops, particularly the highly revered 707 Special Forces Brigade which is the vanguard of the great exploit, dealt the decisive blow that neutralised several terrorists along that axis despite prior warning to them by some unpatriotic elements…The Special Forces commenced clearance operations on 28th December, 2018, where they cleared Zare, Gudumbali, Kukawa and Kross Kauwa without any resistance from suspected terrorists,” his statement said.

When Nigerians wail about the failure of the Nigerian Army or the ascendancy of Boko Haram, it is not because they are happy at either occurrence but because they are concerned for the country. Every patriotic Nigerian – and we are more in number – wants the Army to succeed in securing our country from both internal and external aggression. Would we have a country without that?

This is why there should be no paranoia over the motives of people who cry out over what they perceive as things going wrong. Again, press statements should be based on truth because truth begets truth, especially those to do with losing ground which everybody would know because of the significant human traffic or the restrictions occasioned by road closures. When a press statement is released contradicting what everyone knows as the truth, then people will grow to distrust the issuers of such releases. The worst of all is to label people who fault the claims as enemies of progress.

There is this fable of a king who, together with his palace courtiers and subjects, was scammed by a con artist who knew that people, rather than acknowledging truth, would always be hypocritical if it would ingratiate them with the king.

This man met the king and told him that he would knit him a cloth that would be the most beautiful in the world but only those without any sin hanging on their necks could see it. The more he was “knitting”, the more the king and his courtiers showed “marvel” at the “wonderful work of the master knitter”.

The day the cloth was completed, all the king’s subjects were ordered to assemble at the village square to watch the king parading with the cloth.

The king moved around to the admiration of his subjects who kept enthusing “what a cloth!”, “what a beauty! Some even talked about the aesthetic beauty of the designs on the apparel, declaring that they had never seen anything like that in their entire lives and may never see anything better till they returned to their creator.

It was in the midst of all these compliments that a little boy shouted, “But the king is not wearing any clothes!” and the bubble burst.

The king would have been spared such embarrassment had he been a truthful leader who desired the truth from his subjects. But because his truth was not deeper than his tongue, his courtiers all adopted hypocrisy as a service code and told him whatever he wanted to hear. It took only an innocent boy to puncture that veil of hypocrisy.

Now, even if they saw him as the king’s enemy, that perception could not change the fact that the king was naked and that he and his courtiers and followers were wrong. But that did not mean he hated the king nor did it mean he wanted his downfall. He just stated the naked truth – that the king was naked – despite all the pretense around him.

While the Daily Trust’s edition of January 6, 2019 was seen by the Army as divulging military secrets thereby warning Boko Haram elements, many Nigerians lined up on either side of the divide in the “altercation” between the press and the army, the pen and the sword.

But nothing can be further from the truth. The Nigerian press had always fought hand in hand with progressive elements right from the fight against the colonialists to the fight for democracy. The Nigerian press is among the truest lovers of democracy and sanctity of the Nigerian nation. Of course, now and then, some take to partisanship, but by and large the press has always been a partner in progress with any government, only divorcing itself from the partnership when the government begins to work against the generality of the citizens.

At least to me (I cannot speak for all), the publication in question raised my hope that the Nigerian military was getting its acts together, boosted by its unflinching support for Nigeria’s unity, peace and progress. For the insurgents, that report must have demoralised them and punctured their confidence which can result in fear and erratic planning. That is if they read it.

We are living in times when concern over Boko Haram’s resurgence and fear for the people of the North East in the light of general insecurity that seems to engulf the Northern region is overwhelming. I have not for once entertained the thought that Daily Trust desired the Army’s failure by deliberately alerting the terrorists or that its reporters were being mischievous.

The Nigerian Army can deliberately use the press to deceive the insurgents and come at them from where they least expect with tactics and force they least envisage.

In “Operation Desert Storm”, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s assault plan depended on two main actions, a Marine-led invasion of Iraq-occupied Kuwait from the south and an attack to the rear by Army tankers – the famed “left hook” – that would cut off Iraqi retreat and confront elite Republican Guard forces. But what the world was led to believe, through the press, was totally different.

In his analysis of the war, in the Small Wars Journal, Steven Beardsley wrote: “After Coalition Forces drove Iraqi occupiers out of Kuwait in February 1991, U.S. Special Forces discovered an intricate sand-table model used by the Republican Guard to plan for the defence of Kuwait City.

“Most of the defences displayed on the mock-up were pointed toward the nearby sea coast; from where the Iraqis believed – as did most of the world that had watched – U.S. Marines would mount an amphibious assault. Model artillery and concertina wire lined the shoreline.

“But that anticipated amphibious attack was an illusion, an elaborate ruse concocted by Gen. Schwarzkopf’s planners to conceal the real main attack: a roughly 150-mile sweep west by U.S. Army ground forces into Iraq that cut off supply lines and retreat for many Republican Guard troops.

“More than a month of bomb strikes had largely blinded Iraqi surveillance capability, allowing the U.S. to manipulate what the enemy still could see. A week before the main ground attack began on February 23, Marines had crossed over the Saudi Arabia border to conduct attacks on the Republican Guard defences.

“But they were a feint – although powerful enough to keep Saddam Hussein’s forces believing they were the main ground attack to support an amphibious landing…”

In warfare, even the asymmetrical one we are now fighting, the enemy must be led into a false sense of security.

While we all rejoice at the success of the Nigerian military in retaking Baga and other areas, and pray for more successes towards restoring total sovereignty over every inch of our soil, we hope the fight will continue to be taken to the doorsteps of the insurgents, not to those who are patriotic partners in the Nigerian project.


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