By Uche Chris
Nigeria’s current insecurity challenge, particularly in the North east and north west, is symptomatic of the bad politics and inert diplomacy that has characterized most of our national life. It is such an intriguing, and even bewildering, knowledge that we assume others take us seriously, when in actually fact we do not take ourselves seriously. There is this thing about the Nigerian political leader who believes that the world owes him something which we must have for nothing. Only in Nigeria!
Obviously, insecurity, like Nigeria’s other problems, such as corruption, tribalism, mediocrity, electoral fraud etc, has crystallized into a monster, and assuming a life of its own, because of our penchant to look the other way when things are going wrong. We always manifest this tendency to wish away our problems until they return to bite our backside. How do we explain the fact that there was actually an international attempt or policy to preempt the present security challenges in the country? But like most things Nigerian, we balked at it and are now paying dearly for it.
It is evidently clear now that Nigeria cannot independently and singlehandedly resolve the current insecurity, especially in the Northwest without provoking an internal strife. This recognition gave rise to the establishment of Multinational Task force, which produced major success in driving the insurgents into the Sambisa forest, before as usual our inept politics and predictably corrupt disposition crippled its operations.
So we should not be ashamed to admit that we need help and we should be ready to pay for it, because other nations that receive such assistance also pay for it. Insurgency and banditry has never been amenable to easy or quick solution. Terrorism has become globalised and it smacks of political and diplomatic naivety to assume an air of independence and military capability to quell it.
Even before the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2010, an opportunity had been given to Nigeria to prepare against a day like today, which we willfully spurned out of bad politics and professional arrogance by the military. Worried by the growing presence of terrorist groups in Africa, particularly Al Qaeda, Al Shabab etc, which had entrenched itself in Somalia, the U.S. set up the Africa Command as a rapid response unit to tackle insurgency and terrorism in the continent, particularly in east and west Africa, following 9/11.
The U.S. had swallowed a bitter pill in Somalia in 1992 because it was ill-equipped and unprepared to tackle this new threat to global peace. So to guard against future and further occurrence, AfriCom was born to, not only stem its spread, but nip it in the bud in other countries, such as Nigeria. But in our characteristic indifference to and ignorance of the emerging new security challenge, our military betrayed the nation on the basis of professional self interest.
It was Gen. Victor Malu, Chief of Army staff, in 2000, who threatened to overthrow the fledgling government of President Obasanjo if he accepted the AfriCom arrangement, which would have provided Nigeria a rapid military and intelligence capability support in the event of any terror crisis. How we wish Gen. Malu was alive today to explain and justify their action in rejecting AfriCom? Could any loss of professional independence, or even national sovereignty compensate for the carnage and social destruction going on today?
Gen. William Ward, the African American first commander of AfriCom, recently lamented of Nigeria’s lost opportunity to save itself from the existential threat confronting the country when we rejected the policy. According to him, AfriCom was not motivated by politics but strategic self interest informed by the realization that terrorism has become a global threat and is seeking safe heavens where it can hibernate and mutate.
AfriCom considered Nigeria a high risk country in term of terrorism, first because of its large Muslim population with an emerging radical tendency; as well as its large expanse of ungoverned land mass, which could easily provide such safe heavens. Nigeria made three fundamental miscalculations in refusing it:
First, we assumed that terrorism could not be a problem to us; second, we thought that terrorism is a local issue that could be handled within our sovereign territory; and third, we believed that our military – the largest in Africa – is capable of dealing with it. To be expected, we were wrong on all the premises simply because we lacked knowledge of current developments and our bad politics.
Nigeria missed it because of the failure of international intelligence, diplomacy and politics. We failed to see and understand the evolving world and how non-state actors are grabbing political space to pursue narrow, and often, destructive objectives, and how religion, since Algeria, is assuming political importance in global politics. We ignored the development in Algeria where the Fundamentalist Islamic Movement, FLM, unrelentingly battled the government for over a decade before it was defeated, essentially for lack of international support which Al Qaeda later exploited.
We ignored the violent skirmishes within our sub region in Mali, Mauritania, Cote d’Ivoire and Chad, where insurgencies and military mutinies were happening, which led to the proliferation of small arms and trans-border movement of insurgents. We lived in our world devoid of strategic military policy and plans against such eventuality that when it finally came upon us, we had no effective response to it.
With the military overwhelmed by Boko Haram, who had encamped in swathes of ungoverned territory in the Sambisa forest, and eventually sacking and occupying several local governments, the Jonathan government was compelled to engage defence contractors or mercenaries, as the 2015 elections approached, who succeeded in flushing the insurgents out of the country to enable elections hold in those areas.
This was a strategic victory that would have marked the beginning of ending insurgency; perhaps, we may never have had banditry, except for the bad politics that created it. However, the government has been implacable on the issue of defence contractors, which have been deployed by even the U.S. in some of the most troubled terrains, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, because of their specialized training in urban terrorism and guerilla warfare.
Government may be justified in its hard stance on the mercenaries as a long term permanent solution to insurgency because of its national security implications. But we are hemmed in between the devil and the deep blue sea that we cannot possibly afford the political caution and social morality being demanded to justify opposition to it.
Perhaps, another window of opportunity to end this dangerous situation now seems to open to Nigeria with the recent call by the U.S. Under Secretary for African Affairs, Mr. Michael Gonzalez, stating his country readiness to assist Nigeria in ending banditry, which has become a more pernicious threat, given its effect on education and life generally across Nigeria. This should be good news for the country, especially with the soon-to-be delivered Tucano attack helicopters by U.S. firms.
We must swallow our national pride and face the brutal fact, namely, Nigeria cannot win this war on its own and the longer it takes the more difficult it will be to win. The odds are highly stacked against the country that such ill-advised thoughts should not be entertained at all:
We lack the military capability, especially on the ground – and terrorism is a boot-on-ground warfare; the country cannot fund the war perpetually given urgent contending needs; the civil population is vulnerable and therefore, cannot provide needed intelligence without reprisals; and the insurgents are well resourced and mobile leaving our troops permanently on the defensive. We must not cut our nose to spite the face!