By Gabriel Onoja
In every institution, changes are necessary from time to time in order to reposition the organization to meet its targets, mandate and emerging challenges. A clear-headed leadership ensures fresh hands with new ideas, are injected into a system for perfect service delivery. Fresh puzzles, sometimes require new hands and ideas to demystify them.
Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai is a fascinating soldier. A thorough breed no doubt, the Army Chief decodes a problem ahead of time and knows when to move against it. He has just reorganized the Army. And tampering with the counter-insurgency structure is meant to reposition soldiers to meet the emergent challenges of defending the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Nigeria, with focus on punching remnants of terrorists with lethal blows.
The Army Chief knows flushing out residues of insurgents is quite easy; but also a complex task based on the insidious manner the terrorists remnants operate. He realized they have to be assailed from all angles.
The Army boss, one of the finest breed of combatants, a tactician and strategist whose huge reservoir of knowledge always brims with a pool of dynamic ideas, knows ending a war is important; but sustaining the victory is more crucial. He is aware the counter-insurgency war has entered the last lap of chasing, flushing and if possible, apprehending the remnants of fleeing terrorists. And in extending his attack chest, new hands and ideas are needed to accomplish this awesome task.
In a surprise shake-up in the Nigerian Army, Gen. Buratai tampered with the hierarchy of the engine room of the anti-terrorism war in the Northeast. He appointed Major. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, as the new Theatre Commander of the “Operation Lafiya Dole”, the army’s operational headquarters in the counter-insurgency war in the region. He has replaced Major Gen. Lucky Irabor, who has been redeployed to the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) as Field Commander.
Many may not discern the import of these two postings in the anti-terrorism campaigns. But the posting itself is strategic in many respects. Gen. Irabor had held forth as Theatre Commander of “Operation Lafiya Dole” at the peak of the military onslaughts that humbled and defeated the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria.
Gen. Irabor’s co-ordinative military exploits were actively complemented by another patriotic soldier, Brigadier Gen. Victor Ezugwu, the Acting General Officer Commanding (GOC) 7 Division who worked relentlessly as Commander 28 Task Force Brigade. He has been redeployed to the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, as Commandant. But while Gen. Irabor pulled the strings against insurgents at the center, Gen. Ezugwu amplified the fire at other angles.
Gen. Ezugwu led the troops that chased out Boko Haram insurgents out of Mubi and many other towns in Adamawa State. Thereafter, he keyed troops under his Command into the COAS’s “Operation Crackdown,” where clearance operations in different locations in the area like Geram, Bulankassa and Chukungudu routed out Boko Haram terrorists, rescued hostages and recovered arms and ammunitions. Added to it, Gen. Ezugwu would frequently conduct operational tour of formations and units within 7 Division Area of Responsibility (AOR), reminding troops of the necessity of maintaining constant aggressive patrols and ambushes in order to keep the roads safer for commuters traversing parts of the Northeast.
However, since the defeat of terrorists, the Nigerian Army has alerted of escapee terrorists regrouping in communities of neighbouring countries to re-energize and strike soft targets occasionally. This was envisaged leading to the formation of the MNJTF with the mandate to fortify and effect synergized military operations against terrorists in the three neigbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroonian Republics affected by terrorism.
MNJTF was intended to block escape routes and avenues of hibernation by terrorists when the heat is turned on them by Nigerian troops. While Nigerian soldiers pushed and pressed hard on terrorists, the surrounding countries somewhat relaxed on their professional duties and assignments, as they defiled the pact.
This has been responsible for the bulwark offered fleeing terrorists, who regroup in border communities of neighbouring countries, from where they stealthily stray into Nigeria to launch occasional attacks on obscure targets. Gen. Buratai knows deploying an MNJTF Field Commander in Gen. Irabor who is abreast with the intricacies of the counter-insurgency war, particularly the last phase of flushing out the residues of terrorists, would finally achieve the mission of routing and cleansing the land of the remnants of Boko Haram terrorists.
Gen. Irabor has proved his mettle as an excellent executor of the directives of his boss in the anti-terrorism war as Theatre commander of “Operation Lafiya Dole”. Apart from playing sensitive roles and co-ordination of field operations that terminated the reign of Boko Haram terrorists, he is privy to special operations like “Operation Rescue Final” and before his redeployment, also supervised “Operation Crackdown” conceived to finally flush out remnants of Boko Haram terrorists in the Northeast in clearance operations.
Therefore, with Gen. Irabor’s experience in the insurgency war and his fortifying the battle from the MNJTF angle and another equally competent Gen. Attahiru co-ordinating it at the home front as Theatre Commander of “Operation Lafiya Dole” the plot for final dirge for terrorists is successfully executed. The MNJTF back-up under Irabor would provide a wonderful and an unbreakable synergy in the operations to crackdown on the last remnants of Boko Haram terrorists.
The Army Chief expects that the new Theatre Commander would sustain the pace and tempo of checkmating fleeing terrorists who may dread the fresh fire that might be ignited by the MNJTF and attempt to take refuge in Nigeria. Gen. Attahiru will also intensify focus and stimulate soldiers in the team of “Operation Crackdown” to comb and keep vigil in Nigeria’s border communities with neighbouring countries; serve as physical and psychological beacon of troops in the battle; while he ensures there is no laxity on the part of troops in surveillance of vulnerable villages and communities as well as the destruction of relics insurgents anywhere they are spotted.
But most importantly, the new Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Gen. Attahiru is also expected to intensify and expand soldiers’ grip on Sambisa forest, the terrorists’ former haven; while the building of infrastructure in the area remains interrupted. The current template laid by Gen. Buratai for the return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to deserted homes would have to be supported to ensure all victims of the unfortunate insurgency peacefully resettle; as soldiers safeguards the rebuilding and reconstruction efforts of the Northeast by States and Federal Governments and other volunteers.
The new Theatre Commander must also necessarily sustain and possibly improve on the legacies of the 7 Division in Adamawa state; a sensitive flank in the triangle of states extremely affected by terrorism, by ensuring commuters’ travel without harassment of whatever kind and the tempo of clearance operations is not lowered.
Expectations are quite high and much as Nigerians appreciate the gallantry and sacrifices of Nigerian troops in ending insurgency, all eyes are set to see the final flushing out of the remnants’ of Boko Haram terrorists. By voting Nigerian Army as the best security agency in defending Nigerians and the territorial integrity of the country, the people believe the recent change of guard in the counter-insurgency war signals the final end to the plaque of terrorists’ remnants.
Nigerians expectedly feel Gen. Attahiru will leverage on the footprints of Gen. Irabor while he held sway in the position he now occupies and strive higher given the overt collaborative posture of the current re-organization and re-alignment. And surely, with positive prayers from Nigerians, Nigerian soldiers are set for another epic ground breaking record in world counter-terrorism battles.
Everything that has a beginning has an end. Nigerians are optimistic that Gen. Attahiru would be the final Theatre Commander of Lafiya Dole. He is elected to bury the last shadows of terrorists, where insurgents who do not abandon Nigeria and its environs, would necessarily surrender to the power and strength of the Nigerian Army, under the illuminating and edifying professional leadership of the COAS, Lt. Gen. Buratai. The Army Chief is poised to accomplish this task within the shortest possible time again, to the cheers and celebration of Nigerians.
Onoja, anti-terrorism and extremism campaigner writes from Jos, Plateau State.