Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff

By UCHE CHRIS

After Governor Zulum was attacked for the second in September on his tour of Gwoza in the state, I wrote an article with this title, Nigeria’s unwinnable war: Why the insurgency has become an albatross, and the need to rethink it? It said:

“This may sound harsh and brutal; but nevertheless, it is the bitter truth: Nigeria’s war on insurgency has come to stay. It is a bitter pill and a new normal that we must accept and learn to live with. It is not going anywhere soon. Unfortunately, the government knows it and Nigerians should also be aware of it. Those pinning any hope on its eradication and ultimate victory may be living an illusion.

… Nigeria has been lying to itself about the war, especially since the coming of this government. In a bid to sustain and bolster its image and commitment to winning the war, which ranked high in its electoral mandate, President Buhari has been issuing largely empty, ineffective and basically unachievable orders to the military with very little positive outcomes. In this war, Nigeria is on the back-foot and the initiative is no longer with it”…

We can reproduce the entire article and still been dead right. From the recent happenings, particularly last week’s Zabarmari killings, it is evident that we are wasting precious lives and scarce resources fighting this war. As previously stated, this war is unwinnable, and unless we accept this fact and change strategy, this war may be the end of the country.

We have ignored the obvious truth and reality since this government came to power but truth and reality don’t go away because we say so. Ultimately, we will return to face them. Some people believe that insurgency, particularly of the ideological, or religious type, can be won; such people ignore the lessons of history.

Contemporary history points to the contrary. Countries have been known to fight insurgencies for a generation without militarily defeating them. In China, Vietnam, Colombia, Philippines, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Southern Sudan and Angola etc, insurgents fought the government for as long as 30 years, and some are still fighting. The question is, if it happened in these countries, why can’t it happen here?

This is a question government’s advisers and the military must answer, instead of making empty boast and raising false hopes. All the present outrage and indignation by the high and mighty over the Zabarmari killing is emotional ventilations that make no difference to the reality before us. Again, we state at the pain of being branded unpatriotic and pessimistic that this war is was over before it even started.

It is not about the ability of the insurgents and our military – though that is still a factor we shall address shortly. Insurgents defeated the greatest military in modern history in Vietnam. Insurgency is like the present Coronavirus facing the world: it has no known cure. Boko Haram has no clear solution and all the military arsenals we can muster is no guarantee of success.

We must swallow our sense of national pride and accept the reality of this war: The longer this war goes on the more will be the danger to both lives and the economy which is perhaps, the ultimate plot and strategy of the insurgents to cripple and force the government to negotiate. Nigeria will be the definite loser in this war unless we stop now and rethink our objective and strategy.

Our military, as gallant and trained as they may be, is ill-equipped, outnumbered, under-motivated, and unprepared for this war. And on top of it all, corrupt, especially at the top hierarchy; because for the military to be openly lying to the nation about the prospects of the war, and moving against those who tell the truth, like Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, former GOC of Operation Lafia Dole, is unconscionable.

Lying is the simplest and most innocuous human malfeasance but one that opens the flood-gate to more heinous crimes. My people have a saying that “a liar is also a thief’, which is both deep and suggestive of the criminal propensity of a lying government or institution, even if it claims to be fighting more serious criminal tendencies such as corruption.

Nigerian government and the people should accept this war as a new normal for some reasons, which are definite lessons from historical experiences. The challenge in Nigeria is that we do things without looking at historical antecedents and acting as if we are insulated from history and primed for special providential treatment.

The first reason why we lost the war is that the insurgents command more physical presence and enjoys more the fear of retributive justice in the region, making it difficult for the local population to cooperate with the military. All the massacres that had taken place in recent times, including Zabarmari, were punishments for cooperating with the Nigerian army.

Now, no war is ever won without the involvement of the local people. So without the assistance of the people, the war is as good as lost, because the growing brutality of the insurgents as retaliation and reward for betrayal is sufficient risk and warning to others to desist. The first thing in war is credible information or Intel, and you can’t get it without the local people – as good as technology is.

Unless the military can assure the people of protection at all times, even though they may be opposed to the insurgents, they are compelled for existential considerations to cooperate with them. This was the situation in Iraq and northern Syria under the ISIL Caliphate. For this to happen, we need more boots on the ground, which is the second factor for losing the war.

The military is overstretched in the morbid fear by the government of internal revolt that they do not have the numbers for the real battle. Guerilla warfare is not won by the conventional army using conventional military strategy; it is unconventional and asymmetrical and it is tackled with Special forces, who take the war to them; not in the air, as we have largely done because they are very mobile and fluid in organization, strategy and location or positioning.

Again, we can never be able to adequately fund the war in terms of equipment and other logistics. So we have to invite our neighbours first to help us while we pick the bill. This is all it will take us to co-opt them. These countries are closely allied with France and can easily and quickly access the right equipment. Without them fully involved we are licked. A long term strategy will be having a military pact with big power to ensure future peace. We must pay a price for our indolence and self-deceit.

As we concluded in the previous article:

“Sadly, the next phase of the war should be containment, not offensive; we should open negotiation with them. It might even come to ceding territory to them for now; otherwise, the insecurity in the Northwest will likely persist because it is a derivative of it. This war, for now, is unwinnable and we should be man enough to tell ourselves the bitter truth and accept the inevitable, instead of continuing to waste lives and resources in what is unrealizable”.

 

PS: Sorry for interrupting the second part of last week article on Debt; God willing we shall return to it next week. Nigeria is history at the speed of light!