News Analysis: Big Blow to Nigeria’s Military
News Analysis: Big Blow to Nigeria’s Military
By Bayo Onanuga
Skeptics of Nigeria’s military campaign against the murderous Boko Haram gunmen in Nigeria’s northeast now have a smoking gun to prove that all is not well with the campaign.
Almost daily, Nigeria’s military authorities issue one bulletin after the other about their triumphs against the insurgents; the massive killings they have achieved, the bombing plots foiled, how they have flushed insurgents out of the major urban centres, how they have smoked out the insurgents out of Sambisa forest; how the ‘frightened’, hungry remnant, weakened forces of Abubakar Shekau have disappeared into the mountain fringes between Nigeria and Cameroon.
Each time we are entertained with such heroic stuffs, we are benumbed by how easy Boko Haram gunmen and bombers return to do even more horrifying damage, with impunity in the besieged Northeast.
The last time Governor Kashim Shettima raised the alarm that Nigeria’s forces are losing the war as the Boko Haram boys appeared better motivated and armed against Nigerian soldiers, he was taken to the cleaners, vilified and scolded like a primary school boy by military chiefs and even the commander-in-chief, Goodluck Jonathan. Subsequent events and rampant raids on military barracks, schools and Borno towns of Bama, Gamboru Ngala and Gwoza district and the capital city of Maiduguri have shown that Shettima’s assessment of the situation was correct.
• Nigerian soldiers on an operation
The military authorities have certainly not been saying the whole truth. Something is surely wrong on the battlefront.
What better proof than the abduction of 129 teenage schoolgirls by Boko Haram gunmen Monday evening in the town of Chibok. Let’s look at the elements of the story: the school had invited the girls to come and take an examination; it requested for armed guards. But when the Boko Haram gunmen arrived Monday, the armed guards proved inadequate as they were overrun. The Boko Haram, without any resistance, carefully arranged their booty of war, young, nubile girls into trucks and took them into Sambisa Forest; the same place the military authorities claimed had been quarantined against Boko Haram.
To demonstrate that Nigerian soldiers were probably busy taking pepper soup in Mammy Barracks in Maiduguri when the abduction took place, there was no challenge offered these armed abductors, no aerial chase by air force or land chase by ground forces, until they disappeared into the labyrinth forest of Sambisa!
What interpretation can we ascribe to this incredible dare-devilry action by the enemy under emergency rule?
To me, it simply shows that the Nigerian forces have failed in their primary task of safeguarding Nigeria’s territorial integrity. They are certainly not in control of the Northeast and they have been feeding Jonathan and the nation lies about their efforts in this region.
Nigerian Director of Defence Information Maj-General Chris Olukolade: Accepts army goofed
The more ridiculous dimension in this shocking drama was the attempt by the army to claim credit, for rescuing the abducted girls, just like the Nigerian police do in cases of kidnapping. This has now blown up in their faces and must have been a monumental embarrassing blow to the military.
While parents, the school, Governor Shettima, the nation and the international community grieved about the abduction of the girls, the military headquarters in Abuja, issued a statement that all but eight of the girls had been rescued, even adding that one of the armed kidnappers had been arrested. Everyone applauded the military’s quick response. But they applauded too early.
The army must have been talking about another kidnap and rescue, not Chibok’s. The girls’ parents and the school principal issued a vehement rebuttal. They said the military was engaged in blatant propaganda and blatant lie. Defence Headquarters chief spokesman, Maj. General Chris Olukolade recanted almost 12 hours after, offering a lame excuse for the egregious misinformation, which he described as an ‘unfortunate development’
He said the military received a “major breakthrough” report from a reliable source that supposedly included information from the principal of the school where gunmen seized the students Monday night.
But the principal denied releasing any information.
“I never made that claim to anybody,” said Asabe Kwambura, principal of Government Girls Secondary School.
Who could have been the source of information to a supposedly fighting army, other than the commanders on the ground? Why did the army want to claim a credit they did not work for, like the police in many kidnap cases? Were all those stories about ‘ongoing frantic efforts,’ copter pursuit of the kidnappers cock and bull stories, tales by moonlight, to deceive the Abuja based commander-in-chief?
President Goodluck Jonathan should be interested in getting answers to these questions to ascertain the seriousness and readiness of Nigeria’s forces in waging war against Boko Haram. These are some of the issues a multi-party, broad-based summit on security should also discuss.
Governor Kashim Shettima: offered correct assessment of the war situation
I have the gut feeling that the Nigerian military authorities are taking the nation on a ride, in this battle of attrition against Boko Haram. It is incredible that the army of Africa’s ‘largest economy’ has failed in one year of emergency declaration to defeat the rag-tag forces of Abubakar Shekau, in a corner of Nigeria. Will this army be combat ready to face an invading army of an enemy nation?
What is also clear to me is that Nigeria cannot hope to rout Boko Haram by ‘contracting’ out the war to its army, hoping it can do it alone. We need to recruit and urgently train a counter force of nothing fewer than 100,000 soldiers, made up of young, patriotic people of the North East to defend their territory against a rampaging, brutal enemy force that has laid siege in the area. This is not a suggestion about a ‘civilian JTF’ that we ridiculously arm with cutlasses and sticks. This is about founding a real army, better armed than Boko Haram and better motivated. Our nation did it before against the secessionist threat of Biafra. We can do it again.
Onanuga is the editor-in-chief of TheNEWS magazine and P.M.NEWS