The Chief of Army Staff, Gen Kenneth Minimah, revealed to some journalists recently that the controversial court-martial set up to try soldiers who compromised their positions during the offensive attack against the Boko Haram was what turned the war against the insurgents. CHIKA OTUCHIKERE writes.
The war against the Boko Haram sect has given Nigerians sleepless nights in the last six years. Gladly however, within six weeks after the postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections earlier sheduled for February 14, by the independent National Electoral Commission, the military, who are the chief prosecutors of the war, gained an upper hand over the insurgents and are at the verge of wiping the notorious sect out of the Nigerian soil completely.
Many Nigerians have been wandering what magic wand the top brass of the military waved to turn the table against the rebellious Islamic sect.
Quite a handful of permutations sprang up. One was that the assistance of the joint military forces of neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon pulled the strings which gave an edge to the Nigerian troops and ultimately decimated the insurgents.
Others averred that the purchase of new and sophisticated equipment was the joker which brought victory to the troops and returned palpable peace to the country.
However, the country’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen Kenneth Minimah, in a chat with some journalists, recently revealed that contrary to popular opinions, the military court martial which was instituted against errant soldiers, both of the rank and file sent to the battleground was the actual magic wand which destroyed the myth of invincibility woven around the terrorists.
According to Minimah, if his predecessors had set up the military court-martial at the inception of the war with the terrorists, the battle would not have lasted this long.
“I’m sure that before the deferment or postponement, the atmosphere in the north east was still charged with the activities and violence of the Boko Haram sect, they still had a strong hold over a handful of local governments across the three states, and also in Gombe State. They had also threatened that they would disrupt elections and the elections would not hold.”
“Anyone could have as well believed that it was not going to be possible. Alas today, the reality on ground has vindicated the armed forces of Nigeria, because so much has been done that as at today, we are already moving into Sambisa forest and hopefully, very soon, the military action will be rested in the north east.”
“It is common knowledge that the Nigerian army has been demanding for equipment from the government, it is common knowledge too that part of the teething problems of the war against the insurgency has been requisite modern equipment for the Nigerian army and the Nigerian armed forces.”
“It is common knowledge too, that the equipment the Nigerian army had were old, aging, and obsolete and that we were doing local repairs to maintain them. It is also common knowledge that the Nigerian troops were running from battle, and that the government was doing everything it could to buy equipment for the army.
“Eventually, the equipment came in, and with my personal effort of ensuring that the affected officers and soldiers were court-martialed, dismissed for running from the adversaries, for abandoning the equipment we had and so forth, the psyche of the Nigerian soldiers changed. The equipment that arrived changed the battle dynamics, changed the battle platform, everything was reversed, the terrorists started running, and we changed the battle, that is what happened.”
“The personality of the chief of army staff, utility of the equipment that arrived, changing the dynamics and changing the individual soldiers themselves, that is what we have, so for the commoner, who does not understand, let him have his right to freedom of speech. He can interpret it any way he wishes, but for you who know that certainly nobody was keeping war; to be dying and losing colleagues every day because they hoped they were going to win at the end, what if victory does not come at the end. Leave them, it’s their right to freedom of speech.”
“The public has its say, but war has to be fought and in fighting war, there must be sanctions for people who breach the process of war or for people who run away from battle.”
“Okay, what you do not know too is that the battle had been turned before the equipment arrived, because the average officer realizes now that if he runs, he will be court martialed, the soldier knows that if he runs away, he will be dismissed, so everybody was prepared to stand and fight and die, because if you run back there is nothing, and the fact that they stood and fought the Boko Haram was surprising to them. They(the Boko Haram) turned and ran, saying these people, they are not Nigerians’, because before when they come and fire, everybody runs away, now people were standing to fight back, and the sustained fire fight lasted for two hours , three hours, so, they said no, we don’t understand these people they now ran away. That’s how it started.”
“In Konduga I, Konduga II, Konduga III, we held it, when the other fellow, the other Mr Shekau , I don’t know the number he is, was killed, it was the old equipment we used, and it was the soldiers themselves that said’ no way we are not running anywhere, when you run back that mad man is waiting for you, he will court martial you, he will dismiss you, he will jail you’, they remained there, and that was when the ice broke and it was proven that these people are not invincible, and since then everything picked up. The equipment arrived just six weeks ago.”
“It is the soldier that fights, not the equipment, if I had set up the court martial as soon as I came, we wouldn’t have lost all those territories, because at one point they would have realized it that they had to stand and fight.”
“How can it become fashionable that soldiers are running, soldiers were telling civilians in Mubi, ‘Boko Haram dey come, Boko Haram dey come’, they were running, and now you want me to listen to some other person who says, why did I set up the court martial,” he said.
The Army chief, when asked if he had any regrets for the on-going court martial, said given the opportunity he would repeat the action.
He dispelled rumours that the joint military forces restored the confidence of the Nigerian troops. He gave an insight into the involvement of the forces of the neighbouring countries.
“At the last council of state meeting, most of the speakers disagreed and wondered what could be done if in the last five years they couldn’t do anything, of course I convinced them that it was very much achievable, more so that our neighbours, who have been lukewarm have, all of a sudden, decided to join the battle, they realized in their own right that if Nigeria eventually defeats this terrorism, it will eventually empty into
their own territories if they do not join the war.
“ Of course, Chad had its economic blockade and had to join the war for economic reasons to reopen the routes. The Maiduguri routes, Malam Fatori, Pulka, from Cameroon side to Chad were blocked by these elements, the Nigerian side was blocked by them, and since much of their goods and services were coming from Cameron and Nigeria, they had no choice but to join the war.
“Niger also saw the genuine reason to join in the war because they knew their country was used a lot by Boko Haram-both for the arms and ammunition, and sometimes the recruitment of individuals who they used as war machines and so forth. They too decided that they were going to join the war, because to me they saw it too late that we were going to turn this thing around and when we turned it, these elements would run into their countries. Prior to this time, these countries have always been sanctuaries to Boko Haram terrorists; they move in freely and come out freely.”
“Cameroon did not show much enthusiasm, not until they moved in en mass into Cameroon and started causing destruction, killings, kidnapping and so forth. They now realized that they also had to fight the Boko Haram terrorists. I tried to explain it to that august body that with our neighbours showing greater enthusiasm in participating in the war, the end is near, because all we need now is to push them out; they cannot run into any of those countries.
Once they all block their borders, we are good to go, and of course they reluctantly agreed, and today we are witnesses to the result. So it’s a feat that was never thought of but we have achieved it,” Minimah said.
The Chief of Army Staff, who assured that militarily, the Boko Haram terrorists have been defeated and affirmed that in six months from now Nigerians will forget that the sect ever terrorised the country, also gave assurance that the abducted Chibok schoolgirls will be rescued if they are still alive, as soon as the troops completely capture Sambisa Forest.
“I will tell you that militarily, they were defeated but as armed groups, thieves, armed robbers, or people who go about to steal, burn markets and loot to go back to the forests, that will continue for a while, but the other programs of government will take care of those ones.
Bomb explosion also happens in civilized worlds where there are no terrorists.”
“Yes by the time we capture Sambisa forest completely we will be able to find out where the Chibok girls are, because as it is now, anybody you ask will say they did not see them, they are not there. When we capture Sambisa forest, we will be able to know where they are and the government will take it up from there,” he said.