BY GEORGE AGBA
..…. an x-ray on the role played by the Nigerian military in holding the nation together politically, against all odds, within the two years of the Buhari administration.
2015 became another watershed in Nigeria’s military history, especially after the nation had fought the acrimonious and bitter 1967 -1970 Civil War which shook Project Nigeria to its foundation. It was a defining moment on how the military would effectively tackle forces that had tended and still tend to divide the nation along political lines.
In the military parlance, there is a congruence of opinion that the chemistry, character and content resolve and resilience of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) that have enabled it over time to successfully snatch the country from the jaws of attempted disunity, destabilization and dismemberment is legendary.
But among civilians, opinions appear divided on the overall positive roles of the armed forces in the political evolution and development of the country. There is a consensus that it is the military that has effectively welded the Nigerian State in the face of series of successive political flip-flops from the first republic to date. There is also the narrative that after gaining independence, the over 30 years of military rule hampered the growth of democracy in the country. The jury is out.
To the former, the military had always emerged on the scene to pull the nation, like the chestnut, out of the political fires stoked by careless agents of political adventurism, though this subject remains germane to current discourse, particularly against the backdrop of the nation’s recent Democracy Day anniversary.
During the build-up to the 2015 general elections, the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the then opposition party started to strike a common chord with many Nigerians when it tipped insecurity as one of the three major areas it will tackle.
It even went ahead to present and market its presidential standard bearer, (then candidate) Muhammadu Buhari as a tried and tested military general with the Midas touch against the then incumbent President GoodluckJonathan who was variously pilloried as a clueless academic without the required experience to tackle the general state of insecurity in the country.
Expectedly, this narrative was vigorously spinned to the point that it began to gain global reckoning. It was therefore little surprise that Buhari was widely seen as president-in-waiting. It was probably the fist in the history of presidential elections that the subject of security became a major campaign issue.
Waving the insecurity red flag, APC constantly pointed to the menacing activities of BokoHaram in the North East part of the country. Whether Boko Haram was a ploy ingeniously and savagely deployed by Goodluck Jonathan’s political opponents to electorally dislodge him as some of his lieutenants are now alleging in the social media, the point remains that as Commander-in-Chief, he allowed the menace to fester, thereby raising doubts about his ability and competence to arrest the ship of state from drifting. When he was defeated, not a few Nigerians hailed his decision to concede victory even before the vote counting was completed.
Next to Boko Haram’s menace was the militancy in the Niger Delta which was non-existent during Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure. Under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration where Jonathan served as Vice President was the birth of the presidential amnesty program that saw about 30,000 militants dropping over 2,500 sophisticated guns.
President Muhammed Buhari assumed office two years ago fully prepared to tackle the monster of insecurity which was then the major insecurity flashpoint in the country which the abduction of the Chibok school girls helped to globalize to high proportions. The activities of the Oby Ezekwesili-led Bring Back Our Girls(BBOG) further helped to bring the matter to the international front-burner.
In all respect, Nigeria had a president and leader who came to the scene fully prepared to change the narrative created by Boko Haram. First, he did his homework well. From the presidential dias where he was inaugurated on May 29, 2015, he gave directives that the Command centres of the counter-insurgency operations should move from Abuja to Maiduguri. He then undertook necessary sub-regional diplomatic shuttles to Cameroon, Niger and Chad and personally met their presidents and effected the immediate payment of Nigeria’s monetary commitment to the Multi-national Joint Task Force. It was a clear indication of a man ready for the job.
Boko Haram’s dreaded enclave in the SambisaForest, estimated at over 60,000 sq. km fell when Buhari was just less than 18 months in office to fulfill a campaign promise to exterminate the terrorists, courtesy of the gallant troops of Operation Lafiya Dole in the North East part of the country. Today, the sect is in complete disarray, notwithstanding its propaganda-driven suicide/ambush attacks that pale into insignificance. Their remnants mayexist but they no longer have the capacity to launch organized attacks. No inch of Nigeria’s territory is under Boko Haram. Those left can’t change the general consensus that President Buhari’s government deserves praise for carefully selecting a crop of tested, focused, highly committed military leaders that have brought Boko Haram to its knees to enhance the nation’s image and integrity in the eyes of the world.
Keen observers of military operations in the country aver that Nigeria is reaping the gains of the president’s diligent search for the present crop of competent service chiefs led by the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, General AbayomiGabriel Olonisakin, whose emergence have changed the focus of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) in a manner that has progressively turned the tide against terrorism and insurgency in the North East region, thereby re-positioning Nigeria’s image in the comity of nations.
Upon assumption of duties, General Olonisakin outlined a vision anchored on the need to ensure well-motivated, professionally-trained and strategically-equipped Armed Forces that is responsive to national security commitments.
Defence analysts believe that this vision, anchored on operational synergy, intelligence and information-sharing easily feeds into the universal principle that says a nation’s aggregate strength is measured by the professional and combat readiness of its defence forces.
This winning template by the CDS and his team has been fully embraced by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok E. Ibas and the Chief of the Air Staff, Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar, creating a situation whereby it has cascaded down the rank and file of the military establishment.
It also formed the fulcrum of the Nigerian military’s counter-terrorism strategy that resulted in the series of events that made possible the eventual fall of Camp Zero and Camp S (Shape) headquarters of the Boko Haram in the North East, the Niger Delta and other parts of the country experiencing national security threats.
It is to the credit of the CDS as well as to the energetic COAS, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai and CAS, Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar that the Theatre commanders of Operation Lafiya Dole in the North East worked very hard to restore security and stability in the once-troubled region where over 12,000 captives comprising men, women, children and the elderly were rescued with over 10,000 territories and communities liberated from Boko Haram many of who are now back to their ancestral roots.
Nigerians and the global community have applauded the military for the successful battle against terror which has brought about a steady decimation of the Boko Haram terrorists such that they now lack the capacity to directly confront the Nigerian troops or hold territories at will.
Over 10,000 battle-tired Boko Haram members have surrendered while more are still surrendering. The operations may not be totally over yet but certainly these are key indicators that the nation is much far from the pre-July 2015 situation when troop casualties arising from cases of armed attacks, killings, abductions and missing in actions were very high. The situation is different today. The hitherto low morale of the troops is now high. The rate of casualty, by credible accounts, has reduced from about 500 per cent to 10-20 per cent.
Nigerian military has grappled with many internal security challenges and armed conflicts such as insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustling, farmers-herdsmen clashes, pipeline vandalism, electricity cable vandalism, oil theft, illegal bunkering, ritual killing and even electoral violence and cultism.
The consensus is that the military has done very well in effectively quelling civil disorder and other forms of armed conflicts based on the CDS-driven inter-agency synergy, intelligence and information-sharing as an effective war-time strategy.
The military leadership has displayed immense capacity to degrade Boko Haram as a means of preparing the North East for a speedy return to peace and normalcy to enable the displaced people return to their ancestral homes. Very recently, the Federal Government secured the release of 82 Chibok girls.
The Concerned Professional Congress (CPC), a civil society group mobilizing public support to the Nigerian military towards promoting peace, democracy and good governance in the country described the recent successful negotiated release of 82 Chibok girls’ from Boko Haram terrorists as a major morale booster to the Nigerian troops in their current mop- up counter-terrorism operations in the North East.
It said that apart from boosting the morale of the troops, the release of the girls had further raised the profile of the Nigerian military without whose determined resolve and resilience to hunt down the members of the sect, it would have been impossible to force the terrorists to the negotiation table.
To this effect, chief media strategist of the CPC and a development activist, Mr. Emeka Nwankpa said, “The point is worth-stating that but for the determined efforts of our troops some of whom have paid the supreme price, it would have been near-difficult, if not impossible, for the Boko Haram to agree to come to the negotiation table. Our military has proved to be as asset to the nation at this crucial, critical and defining moment in our history as a nation. The girls’ release is a reward for their courage, hard work and professionalism.
There had not been any doubt about the effectiveness of the winning strategy which sources said the military high command had constantly subjected to periodic review to keep up with the dynamics of terrorism across the globe, citing as examples the recent suicide attack in Manchester in the United Kingdom that killed 29 children and over 200 injured, and in Kabul, Afghanistan a few days ago which killed scores of innocent people.
Not long ago, the U.S Secretary of State, Mr. Rex Tillerson, at a World Conference on Global Coalition against Terrorism in Washington D.C in the U.S being attended Chiefs of Defence Staff from over 200 countries drawn from five continents openly recognized efforts by the CDS-led Nigerian military for deploying synergy, intelligence and information sharing in combating terrorism and insurgency.
Mr. Tillerson officially recognized Nigeria for leading West African nations in a successful sub-regional collaboration against terrorism and insurgency in the North East part of Nigeria. He praised Nigeria for defeating Boko Haram and advised countries with similar challenges of domestic terrorist groups to build and adopt Nigeria’s excellent examples of synergy, intelligence and information sharing system which Nigeria as a workable counter-terrorism strategy.
The remarks by the U.S Secretary of State remarks, in the opinion of Mr. Musa Tukur Tilde, are in sync with the vote of confidence by many observers on the Nigerian military since Gen. Olonisakin became the CDS to lead the nation’s Armed Forces in the onslaught against the terrorists. He emphasized however that the anti-terror war has taken a huge toll on the Nigerian military, a fact which featured prominently in the remarks by the U.S Secretary of State who also observed, with regrets, that huge casualties had been suffered in the war against terror.
Tilde said, “This high rating by the U.S, in my opinion, is apt, fit and proper. It will go a long way in boosting the morale of our troops as well as enhance the image of our country in the global coalition against terrorism and violent extremism. It will enable our military to remain steadfast in the execution of their duties spread across the various flashpoints across the nation fighting insurgency, militancy, communal clashes and cattle rustling, among others, all in a bid to ensure our collective security.
Commenting on this, Nwankpa said, “These double endorsements on President Muhammadu Buhari’s successful counter-terrorism strategy by two successive and bi-partisan political dispensations in the U.S, in a space of three months, is befitting and defining in our quest to achieve national unity, stability and prosperity. The U.S has the credentials to confer such endorsement being one of the strongest fighting forces in the world. It is believed Boko Haram, an affiliate to ISIS, is the world’s most deadly terrorist group after ISIS and al-Queda.
The Niger Delta situation, in the estimation of observers, appears to present a completely different scenario for the military as far as tackling national security challenges is concerned. They reckoned, however, that the character and mode of military operations in the Niger Delta is defined by the need to protect critical oil installations and arrest the trend of militancy and all forms of criminality in the oil-rich region that is the mainstay of the national economy.
By creating political solutions to the restiveness in the region, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has, through Acting President Yemi Osinbajo’s brilliant moves which were propelled by the president’s zeal and sincerity, effectively and robustly engaged the dragon of nation’s troubled oil-rich region otherwise known as “the Niger Delta Question”.
The entire region now enjoys considerable peace, creating much optimism which stems from the acting president’s active engagement with the people of the region. He has brilliantly underpinned his message on the region’s long-drawn angst against injustice and under-development and has been suing for peace as a necessary recipe for growth and development in the region which he emphasized must be made to adopt a new narrative- a place where only peace and stability guarantee robust engagement and sustainable investment. This message again formed the basis of his town hall meeting in Calabar, the capital of Cross River State recently.
Observers are quick to point to Osinbajo’s credible credentials as a pastor, professor of law, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a renowned arbitrator and mediator, and above all, a consummate confidante of Buhari, his boss.
“It is evident that the president has good plans for the Niger Delta and he has shown it. The Acting President stated that much about the New Vision for the region in his Democracy Day address to the nation. Except those who seek to profiteer from criminality and chaos, the future is bright for the region. We won’t allow them to create problems, we should disallow them. The militancy in the region is a product of mischief. The offer of dialogue by the federal government is the strength of leadership and statesmanship. This is the spirit behind the visits by the acting president. We fully endorse it”, said CPC.
Bassey Mfon, a Calabar-based clearing agent traced the problems of the region to long years of gross injustice, elite greed and irresponsibility, criminal environmental neglect and under-development which he said created insecurity, vandalism, violence, cultism, kidnapping and criminality in the region, resulting in a siege mentality that has enveloped the people of the Niger Delta. He called for a paradigm shift to resolve the contradictions through a frank, honest and sincere dialogue, a process which he said the Buhari government has rightly undertaken.
Maintaining that violence, criminality and instability are inimical to any meaningful development, the cerebral acting president did not mince words while addressing stakeholders including traditional rulers, representatives of oil-producing communities, youths, political leaders and community elders in Calabar yesterday.