March this year was a sad one for Chad. There was an attack on its Bohoma army base by Boko Haram terrorists. They killed more than 92 Chadian soldiers in what army officials called the insurgents’ deadliest ever attack on the nation’s forces.
A faction of Boko Haram fighters with allegiance to Abubakar Shekau, under its commander, Bakura, carried out the attack. This killing did not go down well with President Idris Deby Itno. He condemned the act, and then led his troops on a short-lived onslaught code-named “Operation Wrath of Bohoma” on both Boko Haram and ISWAP elements. The insurgents started running down to Nigeria when they sensed the Chadians were coming at them. We should have formed a wall then to mop them up. We didn’t. Sure, he gave them a bloody nose, killing over a thousand in the eight-day blitzkrieg. Even though President Deby challenged them to try again if they can, they have refused to take up the gauntlet. Since then, Chad has known peace.
Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, our Chief of Army Staff, believed he could do better than Deby. He had earlier told us that Boko Haram’s onslaughts were the last kicks of a dying horse; after all, it has long since been defeated technically. In apparent exasperation and anger, focused on decimating the horse still kicking its last, he went to face Boko Haram in their enclave. He assured us that we were not going to see him in Abuja, the nation’s capital, except with the horse’s carcass. In a picture that went viral, with a pose Rambo’s Sylvester Stallone would envy, kitted better than an American Marine, our General parachuted into (supposedly) Sambisa, the insurgent’s hole. It captured him surveying their vast enclave with the eyes of the eagle, full of fury and resolve, intent on bringing to an end the scourge. Many clapped, some heaved a sigh of relief. But I know a lot who were more amused with what they saw as theatrics.
We had pictures of Deby cooking food for his soldiers and sitting in a war council deep in the bushes. The Chadian army also released videos and photographs of captured and killed insurgents. We saw the large swath of land scorched by the heat of their fire. Well, Buratai’s soldiers too released his pictures serving meals to soldiers. The difference between our army and the Chadians was as clear as the difference between Buratai and Deby. You may think our soldiers were having an outdoor buffet in some countryside five-star hotel.
Well, it would have been OK had that mission been accomplished. A few weeks later, Buratai announced that he was going to Zamfara, again saying he would not be back until he saw the tails of the bandits there. Honestly, I did not know when he left Sokoto. Still, I am aware of many events he has attended in Abuja since then. What I know is that Boko Haram is still kicking and the bandits are still out there.
But why should Buratai’s going to Borno even be an issue? In his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the military chiefs to relocate to the Northeast, the main theatre in the war on Boko Haram. According to the military, they were moving headquarters to Maiduguri, the epicentre of the insurgency, “to add impetus and renewed vigour to the fight against terrorism.” They were supposed to report there with military immediacy and stay there until victory. I am yet to come across the president’s order rescinding that order.
The Hausa man has a proverb: Ranan wanka ba a boye cibi, literally “one can’t hide one’s navel when bathing”. It means there should not be anything to hide when you want to tell yourselves the truth. Two years ago on this page, I wrote about Goodluck Jonathan and his fight against Boko Haram. You see, no one will say Ihejirika’s war but Jonathan’s, who could be said to be comfortably ensconced in the Villa.
Part of the write-up entitled Boko Haram’s Resurgence and Jonathan’s Magic Wand was: “Prior to the 2015 elections, Boko Haram had seized at least 14 local government areas from Borno and two from Yobe, altogether a landmass larger than Belgium, which boasts of an area of 30,528 square kilometres.
“In page 63 of the book (Goodluck Jonathan’s Book, My Transition Hours, in which I was a member of the launching committee), former president Jonathan has written that “A short while before the election was rescheduled, Boko Haram militants had taken hold of a large cache of military-grade weaponry, including Armoured Personnel Carriers from retreating Nigerian troops.
“…The group had almost five thousand fighters behind its growing effort to carve out an Islamic caliphate in the North Eastern geopolitical zone of Nigeria, around Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic borders. Tension was thus further inflamed.”
“The then-president who reasoned, and rightly so, that ‘it was my duty to keep the country intact after my service and (I) was not going to let the country go into crises that could even lead to disintegration’, had to postpone the elections by six weeks, even though the opposition, Nigerians in diaspora and even the international community ‘had a different and unrealistic view of the situation’ because ‘they were focused on just the elections’.
“The former president continued on page 67: “Anyhow, the six weeks served us well. We received the military equipment we were expecting within that period and our Armed forces commendably dealt a deserving blow on the terrorists and repossessed all territorial areas of Nigeria previously occupied by the terrorists. Boko Haram was deflated up to the point I handed over to my successor on May 29, 2015.”
But the Jonathan administration was successful then because it hired a private military contractor (PMC), subtler word for mercenaries, to do the fight for it. In the same article, I quoted Eeben Barlow’s, the man who saved the situation then, assessment of the Nigerian Army. He said: “The Nigerian Army is a clone of its once-colonial master, the United Kingdom. Organized and trained to fight according to a European doctrine unsuited to a harsh and unforgiving African environment, and the terrorist threat facing Nigeria, the army was unable to withstand attacks by a mobile and manoeuvrable Boko Haram… Boko Haram’s actions instilled fear not only in the local population but also in the army units facing them. “This resulted in numerous army units being overrun and withdrawing from the engagement areas, leaving valuable equipment in their wake—equipment Boko Haram would later use in its terror campaign. Poorly trained and lacking actionable and credible battlefield intelligence, the Nigeria units facing Boko Haram were also poorly equipped, lacking in morale, and lacking both air reconnaissance and air support. This resulted in the Nigerian forces applying predictive tactics unsuitable to both the terrain and the threat…Boko Haram was able to strike at will, forcing the Nigerian Army to fight defensively with little to no battlefield initiative.
“Although…initially contracted to train a hostage-release team to rescue the Chibok girls, the mission was changed as Boko Haram’s offensive continued to gain momentum. The new mission called for the establishment of a unit that would be able to take the fight to Boko Haram—and win. This unit would become known as 72 Mobile Strike Force (MSF) and would become the spearhead for the 7 Infantry Division based at Maiduguri, north-eastern Nigeria.
“After a brief selection phase, the selected Nigerian troops were hurriedly and rigorously retrained in numerous military arts such as musketry, field-craft, combat medical aid, communications, mounted and dismounted manoeuvre, and pursuit along with the application of direct and indirect fire. Numerous doctrinal adjustments and changes were made to allow the unit to operate as an unconventional manoeuvre force that could rapidly deploy across the harsh terrain it would conduct operations in. Due to a dire situation facing the country and the looming presidential elections, STTEP was only given a two-month period in which to train and prepare the unit and with the minimum of equipment.”
And we know they delivered and elections held successfully in every part of Borno and Yobe states.
Truth be told, when this administration came on board, for reasons best known to it, it refused to retain the mercenaries. However, the momentum of their efforts continued, and we emotionally hailed the new regime as dealing with Boko Haram, forgetting who were doing the fighting.
Instead of fighting the terrorists and bandits, we now rely on excuses and cover-ups. Being the emotional people we are, we insist against the reality that all is well because we think we see in our heroes traces of the gods. From accusing some administrations of being our problems to blaming some countries, but we never look inwards and try to change things to improve. You will hear people shouting “it is France” or “Boko Haram had a pact with Chad, Chad killed them when they breached the pact”. OK, since you know of the pact signing, who should “deal” more with the insurgents? A country with a pact or that with no pact? If Nigeria had no treaty with them and they are killing our soldiers in droves, why can’t we roast them more than the Chadians? Do you think Chad would allow Auno or Zabarmari to go just like that? Some will say, in shielding incapacity, that “Chad gives them a base”. Is it not self-indicting to insinuate that Boko Haram can saunter into Nigeria from Chad unchallenged? And without a single sling-shot from the Nigerian Army, attack parts of Yobe, burn people alive in Auno, slaughter people in Bazarmari and return to Chad?
We can even be so heartless and unmindful of God that even the dead are not spared in our desperation to believe our gods are infallible. Now, the slain of Zabarbami, from not getting clearance, have become collaborators who deservedly got their right desserts. Haba!
Pride, lies, sentiments, emotions, burying our head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich aren’t going to take us anywhere. If we continue this way, we may end up with nowhere to hide. Boko Haram remains a menace, bandits and kidnappers now prowl our streets, and armed robbers rob at will. Already, travelling by road is at significant risk.
Our mentality is such that we would not talk of “sovereignty” were America or Israel to come to our aid. But we should come down from our high horse if we do not want our “sovereignty” taken by brigands. We should contract Chad to come in and help while we form a wall to stop them (Boko Haram) from escaping into the country. Or else we call in the mercenaries.