Jingle bombs, jingle bombs, jingle all the way”, is the song of death terrorists are singing all over Nigeria, particularly in the North. This is one weary Christmas season that won’t be considered merry in many homes.
The terrorists got so bold they fired missiles around Maiduguri hours before President Buhari’s plane was due to land. They are no longer festering sores; they are gangrenous ulcers. Still, some people think that as long as the terrorists haven’t made any formal radio announcement as coup makers are wont to do, the problem can still be contained. Meanwhile, terrorists are collecting taxes from Nigerian citizens; bandits are charging and enforcing protection fees. They have taken effective control of territories. I wonder what we are afraid of in not calling a war by its name.
Three retired generals — Olusegun Obasanjo, Sa’ad Abubakar and Mohammed Magoro have been speaking up. The Buhari administration is best advised not to treat their suggestions with disdain. Obasanjo is a former military head of state and a two-term democratically elected president; Abubakar is the incumbent Sultan of Sokoto; and Magoro is the Galadima of Zuru and President Buhari’s former colleague who enrolled in the Army and was retired with him on the same day.
Obasanjo and Abubakar were participants in the meeting of eminent Nigerians tagged Inclusive Security Dialogue Retreat. In attendance were elder statesman, Edwin Clark; Muslim cleric, Sheik Gumi; representatives from the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Middle Belt Forum (MBF); the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and several other groups.
Acknowledging the serious security decline in the country, the group suggests that the government convene a national reconciliatory conference where Nigerians can all address the underlying issues of the country’s challenges and hateful statements/agenda that successive governments have failed to address. This suggestion is not remarkably different from the calls made over the years for the government to implement the reports of earlier conferences or convene a new one, all of which have been ignored.
They also want a constitutional review done quickly. That way, the root cause of many of the injustices in the present system can be addressed so as to fully protect the rights and interests of Nigeria’s diverse constituencies.
“We call on the Government to begin a process of constitutional review, amend and rework the constitution, drawing on previous constitutions, amongst other things, to synchronise/harmonise the laudable principles they embody. This will ensure, not one-off solutions, but lasting change”, they plead.
The call by civil society and many well meaning Nigerians on the government to engage in dialogue with disgruntled groups instead of maintaining a scorched earth policy in the form of incarceration, bullets and counter-attacks, received support from the group.
It is clear that the eminent Nigerians came together to forestall what they saw as a slide to disintegration. The notion that Nigeria’s unity (on the basis of the iniquitous constitutional arrangement currently being operated) is not negotiable has now been seen to be fraudulent and delusional. Nations which follow such mantra usually glide to disintegration inch by inch until cohesion becomes a distant dream and disintegration a fait accompli.
By far the most detailed intervention thus far was made by General Magoro. Those of us who had been making suggestions on how to tackle the various shades of terror afflicting the land have been derided as armchair generals by those who believe in the divine rights of incumbent governments. I wonder what they will now say when they hear a General worth his weight in gold toeing the path of the same kind of arguments we had been canvassing.
Unfortunately, the North should have seen this tragedy coming. According to former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard”. Magoro contends that the snakes currently threatening our national security ought to have been wiped out when they were still assembling in our little backyards. But it’s not too late to destroy them. In fact, he gives a deadline: six months.
Without pussyfooting, Magoro tapped from his experience as a general and a former Minister of Internal Affairs to declare matter-of-factly that Nigeria is at war. Boko Haram and bandit gangs have declared war on Nigeria but it seemed Nigeria was yet to make the same declaration against the criminals. Anyone still in doubt about the seriousness of the problem should remember the blowing off of a section of the railway line between Abuja and Kaduna when a train was in motion. “The aim was to create maximum damage and kill as many people as possible”, noted the general. If this isn’t war, then what is?
Magoro says enough is enough. On the operational guidelines for the fighting forces, he declares: “We don’t even need any prisoner of war. Lay down your arms, you are free. If you don’t, then you’re dead. We should use all the means of our national power at our disposal to subdue these terrorists”.
He is convinced that our soldiers are far outnumbered by the criminal gangs. He advocates that the president recall retired military personnel who are adjudged experienced to help with the war effort, just as was done in 1967 at the onset of the civil war.
“I am asking for the recall of the discharged soldiers of UNIFIL operations, ECOWAS operations (ECOMOG) and the ones that had served in the Sudan. We should raise thousands and hundreds of battalions. Similarly, Mr. President should recall all the retired officers from the rank of Lieutenant to Brigadier General to be the commanders in the field for this operation. There is the need for massive deployment of soldiers across the nation”, he says.
Isn’t the six-month estimate too ambitious for ending the terror scourge? Magoro thinks not. His plan: Issue an ultimatum to all armed groups to disarm and surrender after which artillery units move into the forests to exterminate identified camps and havens of the terrorists.
“As of now, it is the Army operating with the Air Force. I’m yet to know if supporting units are involved in the operations of the Army. That is, the Artillery. Because the locations of these bandits are known; bring artillery fire there, no matter how far they are. As they are dispersing, the Air Force comes in. That’s why I said, maximum six months, this thing will be over”.
General Magoro also appeals to President Buhari to ensure that the Boko Haram and bandits war is not one of the problems he hands over to his successors.
Alongside the military blitzkrieg suggested by the retired general, he also details what should be done internationally. He advocates a diplomatic offensive intended to draw maximum support from influential European, North American and African countries. Also, he wants the government to reactivate public industries with massive potentials for employment and social cohesion, such as the Ajaokuta Steel Complex and the Mambilla Power Project.
A couple of years ago, I did warn that if the bandits holding Kaduna hostage were not promptly exterminated, the loser would not be Governor El Rufa’i but all of us. Now that insecurity has become a pandemic, there is no joy in saying, “I told you so”. How one wishes the narrative was different! Those advocating “amnesty” for “repentant terrorists” now sound like terror enablers themselves. El Rufa’i’s warning has become a haunting refrain: The only repentant terrorist is a dead terrorist!
It can’t be said that this government is short of counsel. Everyone with anything to offer has spoken out at one time or the other. It is now left for the government to distil the suggestions and map out a well considered programme of implementation. That is what governments do when their raison d’être is threatened. And that is what Nigerians expect their government to do.