X-raying Military Operations and National Stability


Emeka Nwapa

When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed General Abayomi Olonishakin in June last year to lead the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), it was not too clear to many what exact direction he was headed until the new defence helmsman unveiled his vision thus: to ensure a well motivated, trained and equipped Armed Forces that is responsive to national security commitments.

Almost 15 months down the line, the full import of that vision is so clear to all that it provides a refreshing insight into the chemistry, character and content of the Nigerian military’s combat architecture that have significantly advanced the frontiers of national security and stability in the country.

In other words, the current state of security across the country amidst unrelenting threats and challenges has compelled a content analysis of the military institution’s rigorous and painstaking search for peace in a country that, since 1999, still manages to stabilize its democracy and actualize a collective quest for national stability that guarantees a united, peaceful, progressive, prosperous and violence-free society that is the envy of the world.

‘’This scenario best illustrates where the Nigerian nation is now’’, says Mr. Chidi Omeje, the National Coordinator of Citizens Initiative for Security Awareness (NISA), a civil society organization engaged in creating and spreading security awareness among Nigerians.

He said that Nigeria’s military had never been engaged in sundry internal security operations as it is now. On many fronts, it is assailed by crises and conflicts of different scope, shape and size ranging from insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustlers, farmers-herdsmen clashes, pipeline vandalism, electricity cable vandalism, oil theft, illegal bunkering, ritual killing, electoral violence, cultism, etc. These, he said, are severe security threats to national security that are clearly beyond the capacity of the civil police to contain.

Corroborating Chidi Omeje’s observation, Dr. Emmanuel Onoja, a scholar whose doctoral thesis was on the ‘Imperative of Military Operations in Combating Civil Disorder in Nigeria’, observed that the Nigerian military has creditably acquitted itself very well in effectively quelling civil disorder and other forms of armed conflicts in the country and has moved from the last to the first as the nation’s line of defense.

Mindful of the challenges of providing internal security and perhaps lending credence to Dr. Onoja’s submission, the Chief of Defence Staff, who observers believe has proved to epitomize the cerebral content of the present top brass of the nation’s military, recently stated that the military has readjusted its training programs to incorporate maintenance of internal security with a caveat: the citizens must also play their civic roles in promoting national security and stability.

Gen. Olonishakin espoused the theory that the entire gamut of security involves the citizens who, according to him, are required to play complementary roles to ensure effective homeland and internal security management, saying that the people should assist security services by divulging useful and timely information capable of promoting peace, law and order in the country.

“No single arm of the security agencies can secure the nation alone. We suggest a more coordinated response by security outfits and the involvement of the citizens in tackling our growing security problems”, he said, emphasizing that the citizen component in any nation’s national security road map is a sine qua non for national stability which involves the necessary participation of stakeholders in the entire nation.

Dr. Onoja maintained that the recurring Internal security challenges in the country were a sad reflection of the complex Nigerian State, pointing out it is also a direct fallout of the nation’s diverse ethnic, religious, cultural and geo-political arrangement which more often than not, have always threatened Nigeria’s corporate existence and her collective quest for national security and stability.

He explained that where severe internal crisis in any part of the country had tasked the capacity of the civil police to contain, the military had always been deployed by the President, Commander-in Chief in line with the military’s constitutional obligation to provide assistance in aid of civil authority in the restoration of law and order, peace and security.

He argued that the resort to the military had always ensured that emerging internal security threats do not degenerate or escalate to the point of consuming the entire country or any of its federating parts, pointing out that the President, Commander-in-Chief can invoke his constitutional powers to deploy the military accordingly.

‘’In such circumstance, the President would rely on the Defense Council assess the situation and after being fully convinced that since the crisis is clearly beyond the capacity of the civil police, it requires the immediate deployment of the military to stem further escalation of hostilities. This is where and when the Nigerian military comes in.

‘’At critical stages in the history of the Nigerian State such as the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War, the military under former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon fought to keep the country together. Don’t forget that Gowon’s name became an acronym of ‘Go On With One Nigeria’ as a battle slogan to inspire, motivate, mobilize and galvanize the troops to win the war to maintain the unity of the country. No wonder it worked very well’’, Dr. Onoja noted.

Significantly, we have strategic military exercises that were created by the military high command across the country for specific intervention purposes.

For example, in the North East, Operation Lafiya Dole under which an aggressive counter-insurgency warfare being waged by the military against the Boko Haram Sect has been effectively expanded in scope, scale and depth to dovetail into Operation Crackdown which seeks to clear the remnants of the Sect in Sambisa Forest and wind down the war, and Operation Safe Corridor with which the military seeks to de-radicalize and rehabilitate the repentant and surrendered sect members.

Dr. Onoja further explained the military leadership has displayed rare skill and capacity to combine various delicate strategies and to decimate and degrade the capacity of the sect as well as prepare the region for a speedy return to peace and normalcy so that the people can return to the ancestral homes and resume their lives again.

‘’It may interest you to note how the military leaders have displaying skill, tact and brinkmanship, juggling many balls in the air without losing focus but keeping their eye on the ball of the war on terror. It has been a delicate balancing, the type you can only get in a constitutional democracy that emphasizes due process and the rule of law. That is why you can see the observance of best practices such as the creation of a Military/Civilian department to interface with the civilian public on human rights issues as well as the Military Rule Of Engagement to emphasize commitment to conventional rules in combat’’, he said.

He cited the recently inaugurated Operation Safe Corridor in Gombe State as an integral part of the consolidation of the human face of the anti-terror war whereby it seeks to mop up repentant ex-Boko Haram combatants who have dropped their arms to join the rest of the society as good citizens. The initiative, which has received enthusiastic widespread support across the global community, is aimed at rehabilitating, reintegrating and de-radicalizing repentant Sect members.

In the Niger Delta is the Operation Pulo Shield of the former Administration which has been renamed Operation Delta Safe with the recent complement of Operation Crocodile Smile. The entire mission of the military in the oil-rich area is to check the resurgent restiveness and militancy as well as effectively rout the criminal oil theft, pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering and other criminalities in the Niger Delta region. The specific focus of the military in the region is to protect critical national oil installations that had come under violent attacks and wanton destruction by militants especially the Niger Delta Avengers.

Observers have applauded what they called the pro-activeness and the capacity of the military high command to fashion out seamless structure and strategy for its operations that has enabled its troops to easily adapt to the peculiar requirements of the different theatres of battle across the country.

Malam Tukur Musa Tilde, Coordinator of Concerned Professionals Congress, CPC, a civil advocacy platform promoting peace, good governance and democracy in the country described as novel and unique the ability and capacity so far displayed by the military in fashioning out the mode, tone and character of its interventions across the country.

‘’We have reviewed the situation in the Niger Delta, we are happy the Chief of Defence Staff and his team have come up with a structure and strategy that can decisively address the militancy, vandalism and general criminality in the region in line with best practices and the military’s Rule of Engagement and in a manner that meets national aspirations vis-à-vis Federal Government’s political solutions to the region’s problems’’, he said.

The group particularly endorsed the choice of Rear Adm. Joseph Okojie as the new Commander, saying that as the immediate past Chairman of the National Pipeline Protection Committee (NPPC), he is versed in the demographics, politics and dynamics of the Niger Delta.

In North Central Plateau State is Operation Safe Haven with operational jurisdiction stretching to neighboring states such as Benue, Kogi, Nasarawa and Kwara. The military offensive is against criminal elements whose activities had caused ethno-religious conflicts in the area. They specialize in cattle rustling, arms building, kidnapping, armed robbery and sundry criminalities which have in the past orchestrated sectarian clashes and carnage on the Plateau but the re-invigorated Joint Task Force currently under Maj. Gen. Rogers Nicholas has brought remarkable peace to the area. Operation Sara Daji and Operation Harbin Kunama in the North West particularly in Kaduna and Zamfara States were raised to stop criminal activities of armed bandits, cattle rustlers and daylight robbers operating around the thick forests within the border fringes of the states such as Kano, Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto. This military task force was an answer to frequent calls by Governors of the affected states whose citizens had complained bitterly of series of incessant and sporadic attacks by armed gangs operating from the thick forests around the area.

Across all the states of the federation, military personnel are involved in various security Joint Task Forces under the auspices of Operation Mesa to assist the civil police in dealing with violent crimes. It is safe to say that indeed the military has been of tremendous assistance in maintaining internal security.

Not a few people would imagine how insecure, volatile and unstable the country would be by now if these military operations had not been raised to appropriately tackle emerging internal security challenges to the civil police and other para-military organizations as envisaged by the Chief of Defence Staff and his battle-tested service chiefs while coming on board mid-last year.

Upon assuming office in on May 29, 2015, the President left none in doubt about his determination to halt the degenerating internal security challenges in the country especially the Boko Haram menace. He wasted no time to assemble the present crop of experienced, focused and battle-tested officers to take charge of the military with a clear mandate and timeline to wrap up the counter-terrorism war by December last year.

General Olonishakin and the service chiefs quickly went to work, admonishing themselves that the king’s business deserved haste. They tenaciously held to the President’s charge and relocated their war room to Maiduguri, the field of battle to prove that they indeed meant business. Not long after, the situation began to change for the better as captured villages, towns, territories and an entire Emirate of Bama whose Emir had run for dear life, were completely rescued. About 27 local government councils in Borno State alone under the terrorists’ firm grip regained their freedom from paying obnoxious taxes, levies and rates to the sect. It was sunset at dawn.

For the troops which had now started to appreciate the comradeship and camaraderie of their new service chiefs and commanders who are always with them to feel what they feel, eat what they eat and drink what they drink, it was the breaking of a new day.

Rampant cases of desertions hitherto caused by low morale, poor equipment and grievances over allowances and welfare, are now consigned to the past.

Troop morale, that essential war-time ingredient, is now at the all-time high. Nigerians and the entire global community are still applauding the military for the successful battle against terror which has brought a steady decimation of the Boko Haram terrorists such that they now lack the capacity to directly confront our troops or hold territories at will. Today, they are fleeing in different directions. Over 20,000 hostages made up of men, women, children were freed from Boko Haram with over 10,000 territories and communities liberated. About 10,000 battle-tired ex-Boko Haram members have surrendered and are being profiled. The operation may not be over yet but these are certainly key indicators that the nation is almost there.

However, notwithstanding the obvious successes of the military in combating emerging internal security challenges, not a few Nigerians have expressed concern about the short and long term implications of over-reliance on the Armed Forces to deal with every security threat. They argue that it can demystify the military and gradually erode its professionalism.

Nevertheless, many Nigerians believe that the military has acquitted itself creditably and professionally well in the discharge of this important constitutional responsibility. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have expressed support for the military in adequately rising up to emerging internal security challenges in the country.

The Citizens Initiative for Security Awareness (CISA), the first group to organize a street march in support of the military said: “We urge Nigerians to remain steadfast and unyielding to the antics of Boko Haram. We urge our gallant military and other security agencies to continue to push for the total and final decimation of Boko Haram and other criminal groups in the country. We salute their courage and determination. We believe that for us to achieve the critical issue of rescuing our Chibok girls, we must assist the military to complete the onerous task by rejecting the terrorists’ evil propaganda.

It is advocated that the media, clergy, the political class and indeed all citizens and stakeholders in the Nigerian Project should take the lead in giving support to the military and other security forces to free the country from the forces of terrorism, militancy, vandalism, violence and bigotry in the interest of our collective peace, unity, stability and survival.

––Emeka Nwapa, a journalist and public affairs commentator, sent this piece from Abuja.