With 10 Major Security Operations Across the Country, Military Stretched Too Thin

  •  Army campaign ongoing in six geo-political zones
  •  UN fret about conditions in former Boko Haram stronghold

Senator Iroegbu in Abuja

More than any other period in the nation’s history, the Nigerian Armed Forces are engaged simultaneously in at least 10 major internal security operations across the six geo-political zones of the country.

These major internal security operations include the war against terrorism, deadly herdsmen, cattle rustlers, kidnappers, oil thieves and pipeline vandals, and the joint police/military security outfits against criminal activities such as armed robbery in the 36 states of the federation.

The various operations involve huge deployment of military assets and manpower and are being prosecuted simultaneously at a period of dwindling national revenue and protracted war against terrorism and insurgency that has lasted six years, thereby stretching the military too thin.

In the North East, there is Operation Lafiya Dole, which handles the overall Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency Operations with expanded scope, scale and depth comprising three divisions and more than five states. This has dovetailed to other specialised operations like Operation Crackdown to wind down the war against insurgents and clear the remnants of the Boko Haram sect in Sambisa Forest; Operation Gama Aiki, which serves same purpose in the northern part of Borno state; and Operation Safe Corridor, set up for the de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram terrorists.

North Central has Operation Safe Haven stationed in Plateau State with area of operation extending to Benue, Kogi, Nasarawa and Kwara States to quell ethno-religious conflicts and other criminal activities.

There is also Operation Sara Daji and Operation Harbin Kunama in the North West, established to battle the criminal activities of armed bandits, cattle rustlers and robbers operating particularly in Zamfara, Kaduna and fringes of Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kano states.

Down south, the military has a major operation codenamed Operation Delta Safe which was formerly Operation Pulo Shield. It is now complemented by the Nigerian Army’s Operation Crocodile Smile, and Navy’s Operation Tsera Teku. These operations are all aimed at crushing the resurgent Niger Delta militancy and other acts of criminality like oil theft, vandalism, and bunkering in the region.

In the South west, there is Operation Awase with a mandate to contain the criminal operations around Ogun-Lagos axis, particularly in Arepo where illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism are regular occurrences. South East has Operation Iron Fence to combat armed robbers, hooligans and kidnappers.

In addition to all these operations is Operation Mesa, which is a Joint Task Force (JTF) operation against all forms of criminal activities in all the states of the federation.

The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brig-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, confirmed that the military was currently handling not less than 10 such major operations but gave assurances that the Nigerian armed forces were capable of the assigned internal security responsibilities.

Abubakar however agreed that other security agencies must step up to assist the complementary roles of the military in the ongoing campaign to rid the country of all forms of internal threats and criminalities.

He stressed that the military in spite of all the limitations in the area of personnel, funding and support from relevant agencies would not sit back and allow the country disintegrate or drift towards anarchy.

He said: “There is no military in the world that can claim that it is overstretched when it comes to internal security challenges. This is our primary duty to ensure that our country is united. Even though the military would have loved a situation where other security agencies step up and play their role to complement our supporting duties.

“There are certain security operations that could have rightly been carried out by other security agencies to assist the armed forces but in the event this were not done we cannot just fold our arms to allow things to deteriorate. This is our country, it is our duty to protect it and we are able and capable of defending our territorial integrity.”

On the various operations across the country, Abubakar said,”so far we have over 10 major operations aimed to sustain tight security, peace and stability in the country.”

He said: “You are aware of the most critical is ‘Operation Lafia Dole’ in the North East against Boko Haram, the other one is ‘Operation Sharan Daji’ against cattle rustlers and criminal activities in the North West. We also have ‘Operation Safe Haven’ located in Jos to quell ethno-religious crisis in the area. There is also ‘Operation Delta Safe’ which replaced ‘Operation Pulo Shield’ to crush criminal activities to protect the critical economic infrastructures in the Niger Delta

“We have ‘Operation Safe Conducts’, which is to guide armed forces participation in electoral matters. This is to create a conducive atmosphere for elections, while ‘Operation Iron Fence’ targets armed robbers, hooligans and kidnappers. This operation which is jointly done with other security agencies, armed forces across the country is mostly domiciled in the South East. We also have Operation Gama Aiki which is a multi-national operation with troops from the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) member states. This together with Operation Crackdown is an operation within operation aimed to mop up Boko Terrorists in the North East.”

“Further down South, we have ‘Operation Tsare Teku’ guarding the Sea which was launched early this year by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Its being spearheaded by Navy to secure the maritime environment and it has been very successful in reducing hijacking of ships and piracy. There is also ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ launched by the Army to support the larger ‘Operation Delta Safe.

“In addition, there ‘Operation Awase’ in the South West, it is equally meant to contain the criminal operations around Ogun-Lagos, especially in Arepo, which has been very successful and has restored confidence within the affected communities who can now sleep with their eyes closed. Added to all these is ‘Operation Quick Response Squad’, which is mostly against armed robbery, which is coordinated in various formations.”

A security consultant, Mr. Max Gbanite, called for more funding as well as expansion of the resources and personnel of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

Gbanite argued that with proliferation of internal insurrections in various parts of the country, the military needed serious attention for it overall improvement and modernisation.

He therefore, called for special funding for the security and defence sector in the form of National Security Fund.

He said: “Our military requires additional funding, mobilisation of human capacity or training because the amphibious force we have in Calabar, which part of them has been deployed to the Niger Delta for Operation Crocodile Smile and Delta Safe is not enough to handle the problem and vastness of that particular region.

“So there is a need to increase the capacity of the Army, Navy, Air Force because we are a big and serious nation. When you increase this capacity, it gives the Nigerian Army Corps of Engineers the opportunity to build the infrastructure to address oil spill as its not only a civilian responsibility. It however requires money to do that. So my clear answer is that we must increase the size of our armed forces. But if and when you do that, how do you fund it? You cannot fund it from the statutory allocation.

“There is a need for National Security Fund, where a deduction from all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for certain percentage to be put aside to assist all military operations including Police, DSS, DIA and everything about security. When it comes to funding we are actually lagging. It is easy for someone to actually raise alarm that $2.8 billion was allocated to the security sector, that is nothing compare to other countries.

“If you go and ask the US government how much did they spend on their Army you can’t get an answer. They can only tell you that X amount is budgeted for military and that’s all you will hear. You don’t know what is given to the Air Force, Marine and other forces. At this particular point in time, the Nigerian Army is due to have an operating Aviation Wing, Navy does not have enough patrol vehicles for our waters, NAF does not have enough and operational aircraft for the internal security that we are faced with,” he added.

Speaking further, Gbanite blamed the precarious situation in which the Nigerian Armed Forces found itself on the downsizing policy carried out by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who purged the military and drastically reduced the number of their personnel.

He also recalled that former Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, had a wonderful proposal that could have solved the emerging security situation when he tried to establish a National Guard for internal security operations, similar to the one in the United States.

“We have been a very great nation that we have never had any issue with external aggression against our nation, instead we have always done interventionist force as exemplified in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Cote’d Ivoire. And under President Olusegun Obasanjo, our military was really downsized but if you look at our growing population that means there will be growth in internal insecurity,” he said.

“Unfortunately,” he noted, “the Police are not properly equipped and trained to manage those things at this particular point in time.”

In another development, the UN refugee agency has expressed concern over basic services and security in a territory formerly controlled by Boko Haram insurgents, as hundreds of internally displaced people are returning to their devastated villages and towns in the north-eastern state of Borno – only recently liberated by the Nigerian armed forces.

Speaking to journalists at a press briefing in Geneva Friday, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mr. Leo Dobbs, said “Comprehensive figures are not available but our field staff and partners are reporting both government-facilitated and spontaneous return in recent days of hundreds of people to places such as Mafa, Konduga, Benisheikh and Dikwa,”

UNHCR expects the number to grow in the coming weeks, while noting that government and aid agency assistance has been stepped up in Borno’s 16 newly accessible districts.

“UNHCR and its partners have restricted access to 10 of these districts, where some 800,000 people need urgent help,” Dobbs elaborated. “Some of those now returning to their homes in the liberated areas from places like the Borno capital, Maiduguri, appear to be happy to go back, citing dire conditions in the places where they have been living, including camps for the internally displaced.”

However, UNHCR is concerned about the welfare of the people, who are returning to areas that have been devastated under Boko Haram rule.

“Many of the internally displaced will be going back to destroyed homes and infrastructure, and areas lacking health care and other services,” said the refugee agency’s spokesperson. “The returns should be voluntary, dignified and safe – people should be informed about conditions in their home areas.

In regular contact with state officials, UNHCR has raised its concerns and offered to work closely with them to help ensure that the reinstatements are conducted safely, with dignity and in accordance with international standards.

Dobbs pledged that the UN agency would continue to monitor the situation of returnees, especially the most vulnerable.

“Meanwhile,” he said, “as we and partners scale up our operations in the north-east, security and access to the needy, especially those in the newly accessible areas, remain major challenges. A greater humanitarian response and presence on the ground is urgently needed, aid efforts must be better coordinated, and data collection improved.”

In the past week, UNHCR began to deploy a 14-strong emergency response team, including experienced senior emergency coordinators and several protection officers.

Most of the displaced are women, children and the elderly. Priority issues include shelter, food, potable water and health concerns, including acute malnutrition and cholera prevention.

In concrete terms, UNHCR continues to work through local partners to carry out vital protection monitoring in Bama, Monguno, Damboa, Konduga, Mafa, Dikwa and including Biu, Bayo, Hawul, Shani and Kwaya Kusar districts in southern Borno.

Over the past two weeks in Bama, the UN refugee agency provided 200 shelters for 1,000 people and distributed non-food items to 16,000 people, while in the Cameroon-Nigeria border town of Banki, it handed out aid items to 10,000 people. In Maiduguri, UNHCR constructed almost 2,000 semi-permanent shelters for around 10,000 people, and is building emergency shelters for 5,000 people in Dikwa.

The UN refugee agency also warned that Boko Haram continues to pose a real threat, despite the recent setbacks suffered by insurgents during joint regional military operations.

“Although the government has rolled back Boko Haram gains since last year, the insurgency has switched to terror attacks and remains a potent threat,” said Dobbs.

The insurgency in the north-east of Nigeria has forcibly displaced more than 2.25 million people since 2014, including 2.066 million internally displaced people, and almost 190,000 refugees in neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Meanwhile the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in Operation Gama Aiki has braved the challenging difficult terrains and unpredictable weather conditions to conduct an aerial bombardment of 12 Boko Haram terrorist Camps in northern part of Borno.

The Chief Military Public Information Officer of MNJT, Col. Muhammad Dole, in a statement saturday, said the troops killed four terrorists and lost two personnel in one of the operations.

Dole said “despite these limitations for the ground forces, the Air component of the operation, through successful combined air operations continue to deny the terrorists freedom of action and movement within the battle fields. Recent air strikes and simultaneous clearing operations on 12 identified terrorist camps and hideouts have greatly shattered their cohesion.”

He noted that the continuous blockade of the terrorists main supply routes and arrest of their logistics suppliers caused serious economic hardship and led to the surrender of many terrorists in different locations in the Area of Operation (AOO) of MNJTF.

“Additionally, the troops of Sector 4 in Diffa Niger Republic tracked and neutralised four terrorists suspected to have attacked the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp and Two others were arrested at Tumoua village,” he stated.

Dole stated that in another development, the troops of Sector 4 while on clearing operation after successful air strikes at Baroua village, encountered an Improvised Explosives Devices (IED) explosion.

The incident, he said, led to the death of two personnel including an officer and a soldier, while six other soldiers were wounded. He said the deceased personnel were given befitting burial in Diffa while the injured soldiers were evacuated to Niamey, Niger Republic for medical treatment.

The MNJTF Spokesman however, assured that in spite of this unfortunate event, the morale and fighting spirit of the troops remain very high.

In a related development, the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), said a fighting patrol team of 33 Brigade Nigerian Army following a tip off on September 9, 2016, had contact with suspected kidnappers at Lame Burra forest near Dutsen Ganye, Gunduru and Kati Layin villages, Bauchi State.

Usman said during a heavy exchange of fire, troops killed seven of the kidnappers and destroyed their camps. He said the troops also recovered two AK-47 rifles and three Dane guns at the camp.

The Army Spokesman stressed that troops are still combing the general area to further track down other fleeing members of the criminal gang.

He said: “It is important to state that the Brigade after the initial successes of its Operation Forest Kunama, which was aimed at clearing all livestock rustlers and armed bandits camps in Bauchi and Gombe States general area, the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, directed them to maintain continued presence at the Lame-Burra forest. This is to prevent the criminal elements that fled from returning.”

Subsequently, Usman said, two Forward Operation Bases (FOBs) were established at Lame and Jimi to cover the Lame and Burra axis of the forest respectively. He noted that the troops usually carry out periodic fighting patrols into the forest from the FOBs.

In the same vein, he said the troops on Operation Lafiya Dole deployed at Forward Operation Base (FOB) Buratai in conjunction with local vigilante arrested a suspected Boko Haram terrorist named Adamu Damuna. He is currently being interrogated.