Government’s current approach to the fight against insurgency is evidently inefficient. It must immediately review and change its tactics, writes Samuel Ajayi
The killings, last week, of about 118 Nigerian soldiers by insurgents, who invaded the 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele, Guzamala Local Government Area of Borno State, has again reinforced the thinking in security quarters that government must as a matter if urgent national importance, review and change its tactics in the battle against insurgency.
The latest killings, which was announced by the insurgents themselves through a graphic video uploaded online, has exposed the staggering inadequacies of the Nigerian soldiers in terms of ammunition, as the insurgents literally walked through their base and practically shot each and everyone of their victims at close range, without as much any resistance from the soldiers.
This well-coordinated attack left scores of officers and soldiers dead in the wake of it. And following the ugly news, families and the nation at large have continued to mourn the gruesome deaths of the gallant men, who laid down their lives for the country. Importantly, however, questions are being asked about the sincerity of the government to end a war it long claimed to have technically won.
Is Insurgency Technically Defeated?
The attack on the 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele, Guzamala Local Government Area of Borno State, perhaps, came to many as a surprise. And if it did, maybe they had every reason to see it so. Not on few occasions had officials of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), boasted about how Boko Haram had been greatly weakened and its capacity to launch attacks reduced to pockets of weaving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) around the waists of young girls targeting soft spots. In fact, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, famously claimed Boko Haram had been “technically defeated.” Maybe they celebrated too early.
While soldiers who survived the deadly attack of Tuesday said to even evacuate their slain colleagues was as difficult as escaping the attack, an online news medium, had reported that efforts were being made to evacuate corpses of the fallen soldiers on Tuesday morning. But sources close to the centre of the attack said efforts to evacuate the bodies of the dead soldiers were also thwarted by the insurgents.
The fight did not last for more than 45 minutes, but it was bloody, because the Boko Haram fighters had more armament advantage than the soldiers. “When we realised the fight would be against us, we decided to retreat from the camp, but it was rather too late. The camp was surrounded with barbed wire, and the enemy fire was coming from the direction of the entrance.”
Even more disturbing was that the insurgents carted away arms and ammunition belonging to the Nigerian Army after the attacks. Though army authorities, in a statement on Friday, neither denied nor confirmed this development, it also did not say anything on the number of casualties. In fact, the statement was more eloquent about what it did not say than what it said.
“The attention of the NA has been drawn to several social media, print, electronic and online publications about the recent attack on 157 Task Force Battalion at Metele. Whilst it is true that there was an attack on the location on 18 November 2018, it has however, become necessary to correct several misinformation being circulated with regards to this unfortunate event.
“It is important for the public to note that the NA has laid down procedures for reporting incidents that involve its personnel, who fall casualty in action. Out of respect for the families of our gallant troops, the NoKs (next of kin) are first notified before any form of public information so as to avoid exacerbating the grief family members would bear, were they to discover such from unofficial sources.
“Furthermore, it suffices to observe that several social media, print and online publications have been brandishing false casualty figures as well as circulating various footages of old and inaccurate BHT propaganda videos and alluding same to be the attack on 157 Task Force Battalion.
“Whilst it is understandable how such misinformation can spread in this era of social media frenzy, the spurious circulation of some of these videos only contribute to further propagate the propaganda intent of the terrorists: to misinform the populace and portray themselves as what they are not. So far, the situation is that the location is under control as reinforcing units had been able to repel the terrorists and stabilise the situation.”
It then added: “The (Nigerian Army) sincerely wishes to thank the various arms of government, MDAs and sister security agencies that have stood with her in these trying times by commiserating with the families of the fallen heroes, who have paid the supreme price for the defence of our dearly beloved country. The necessary support being given the NA by the federal government and the goodwill of the Nigerian populace will undoubtedly continue to spur the NA towards the ultimate defeat of the highly degraded BHTs.”
Moles in the Military
Government’s policy of integrating former insurgents into the army appears to be gradually boomeranging, according to Nigerians, who spoke to THISDAY during the week. The belief is that these former insurgents, who are believed to have been deradicalised might still have sympathies for their ‘former’ colleagues.
Hence, these former insurgents who have been integrated into the Nigerian Army might actually be the one supplying Boko Haram with information about location, strength of arms and ammunition and how to go about attacking the soldiers.
Presidential candidate of the PDP in next year’s election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, days ago urged the federal government to review its policy of releasing so-called repentant terrorists. He said for federal government to think that it could de-radicalise these individuals in so short a time was wishful thinking, noting that many people, including himself were of the opinion that the upsurge in terror activities are coming after the release of such detainees.
Atiku, in a statement personally signed, said the increasing deaths of the country’s servicemen at the hand of terrorists and criminals, especially in the Northeast and Middle Belt, was a clear sign that the troops need to be better funded and better equipped and therefore called for increased funding for the military, adding that increased funding would ensure that the military was well equipped and their morale boosted enough to contain and defeat insecurity in Nigeria.
“This is an emergency and if we do not take care of an emergency, it becomes a crisis, which can lead to a total breakdown of law and order – anarchy in essence. It is unacceptable that terrorists and criminals are frequently better equipped than members of our armed forces. It is the duty of the political elite to put aside any political differences and take a united stand to put an end to this.”
Tunde Bamgboye, a Lagos based fashion designer and social media enthusiast, said it would be wrong to rule out the possibility of these former insurgents giving sensitive information to their so-called former colleagues.
“I cannot rule it out. We are talking of religious emotions here and these do not wear off easily. To me, there was no need recruiting these guys into mainstream army. Deradicalise them and let them go rather than bringing them in.”
Another issue was payment of ransom to Boko Haram to free those they kidnapped or even pay some of them off to drop their weapons. While the government will never admit, it is believed that ransom was paid for the Dapchi girls kidnapped in February this year. Many believe that monies paid are actually used to buy weapons and sustain the life supply of the insurgents.
Anti-terror Fight as a Bazaar…
Sometime in 2012, a top government official had told THISDAY that unknown to many Nigerians, the war against Boko Haram might actually be in the interest of top government and military officials, who were using the war to make a lot of money via defence contracts, slush funds and even management of internally displaced person camps. He said since most of these monies were not subjected to budgetary inquisitions and were often not investigated, the chances of the funds being mismanaged could not be ruled out.
While President Buhari and his government have always created the impression of sainthood, many are of the opinion that top officials of this government, both civil and military, have picked up where the PDP left off. And that is the fact that the war against Boko Haram insurgency is being sustained to ‘keep the boys happy’ and also ‘provide food for military contractors’.
A Nigerian social media user wrote that Nigeria might have borrowed from the American Military Industrial Complex.
“I am now convinced that the menace of Boko Haram, almost a decade long is simply a manifestation of Nigeria’s own Military Industrial Complex. Call it our Boko Haram Complex. To be sure, there are nuances (e.g. we don’t have weapons producing industries for instance). The bottom-line though is that there seems to be an unholy alliance between key actors (military, civil servants, contractors of and for all sorts etc) to keep this “war” going. Think of it – arms must be bought, troops have to be catered for, IDPs have to be maintained and cared for etc. All these require enormous financial resources, most expensed under nebulous “Security budgets” that can hardly be queried openly. In the process, persons (humans and corporates) benefit massively. Why will they want it to end?”
Changing the Approach
Many are of the opinion that it may be time to change the military top brass who appear to have completely run out ideas on how to defeat the insurgents who besting the army in nearly every department of warfare. Nigerians are genuinely frightened by the frequency of the attacks on military formation with such high casualty rate. In the last few months, the army has lost over 500 soldiers to ambushes and targeted attacks launched against military barracks and brigades.
From all indications, if government genuinely desires to bring the menace of insurgency under control, then, the time has come for it to change approach. One thing that is missing in the recent reports of the killings of the Nigerian soldiers is that the Nigerian army is now in battle with ISIS West Africa. The name, Boko Haram, is just a nomenclature. The hardened members of ISIS, who melted away from Syria after they were decimated by the Syrian government returned to their respective bases.
Those belonging to West Africa have found the Nigerian soil very suitable, hence the concentration of attacks with a view to not just taking back territories reclaimed from them by the military but also establishing a solid base in the country, with gradual seizing of more territories.
These are well-trained ISIS men with loads of armament at their disposal and that is why they focus more on the military, being the strength of the country. Therefore, these are not the familiar Boko Haram men, but better trained ISIS members, whom the US had long warned were being sneaked into the country to sustain the insurgency battle in the North East zone of the country.
This is why the federal government must review its strategy and embrace a different approach, perhaps, borrowing leaf from the approach embraced by the former President Goodluck Jonathan government before it was voted out of power.
The Jonathan administration, in the twilight of the administration, had bought into many unconventional tactics in the determination to contain the Boko Haram menace. Apart from procuring ammunition from an informal market, it also hired mercenaries since these insurgents are also mercenaries. In fact, the story is that the leader of a neighbouring country, who assisted with armament collected cash for his supplies, a deal that the Jonathan government went into, because it wanted to save lives.
But the Buhari government, on assumption of office, stopped this practice in the name of fighting corruption and projecting integrity. Yet, on the other hand, it was alleged to be re-integrating within a very short time, insurgents, who had sworn allegiance to their colleagues into the Nigerian army. Such contradictions, it is believed, boosted the confidence of the insurgents, who now have access to information and the modus operandi of the army through their colleagues, who had been re-integrated.
The indiscretion of throwing away the baby with the bath water, because it was from an allegedly corrupt government is one of the prices the Army is paying today in the fight against insurgency. Unfortunately, what the government currently has on its hands is bigger than the Boko Haram idea and except it changes its tactics and pushes harder, the attacks are not stopping anytime soon and there may be more body counts soon (God forbid).
Col. Sakaba’s Sunset at Dawn
The attack on 157 Battalion though left an enduring scar in the hearts of all Nigerians; the one particular scar that would always give a painful reminder is the killing of Lieutenant Ibrahim Sakaba, who so loved his fatherland that he died in active duty. It was his love for Nigeria that made him to enlist in the Army and he had risen through the ranks to become a Lieutenant Colonel. But that dream ended on Monday, November 19, 2018, when his earthly journey was terminated finally. He, alongside his troops, was mowed down.
Different accounts have emerged how the last moments of these soldiers panned out. But one thing was clear: they didn’t expect the kind of fire power that came from the enemy end nor did they expect that the insurgents would dress like them: army camouflage. The soldiers were relaxing even though they were at alert in case of any untoward development.
But if they had expected what came upon them as dusk beckoned that Wednesday evening, it was debatable. The insurgents came and launched an attack – a deadly attack. And by the time the dust settled, scores of Nigerian soldiers lay dead. Those who were lucky escaped with various degrees of wounds. It was indeed a sad day for the Nigerian military as body bags piled up with the unenviable task for the army authority to contact the next of kin of these gallant soldiers.
One soldier, who was lucky enough to escape the deadly attack, said all seemed well when the insurgents came as friendly soldiers and made to the office of the commander and mowed him down alongside five other soldiers, who were with him then. There was confusion – confusion in the sense that the worried soldiers could not make anything of gun shots coming from the office of their commander. But they were soon to find out what was amiss. And by the time they did, it was perhaps too late for many of them as their bodies became receptors of fatal shots from the deadly insurgents.
“We saw some people dressed in full military uniform, who came into our camp, but we thought they were friendly forces,” the soldier who did not want his name told an online medium.
“They went straight to the office of our commander and shortly after, there were gunshots in the office. We became confused, waiting for orders but it was too late. Boko Haram had already surrounded us. They killed the commander with five other soldiers that were with him in the office. Before we knew it, there was heavy fire from Boko Haram from all sides of the camp with more fire at the entrance. One of our anti-bomb vehicles tried to charge through the barbwire but got hooked. It was a terrible fight. We couldn’t do much because their number and fire power were more than our own.”
Fighting Insurgency as Collective Duty
The latest development in the fight against insurgency has also thrust on the Nigerian leaders, the collective responsibility of coming together to confront the menace that the insurgents constitute. Regardless of political differences and responsibilities, the task at hand transcends petty political rivalry. At stake here are the lives of almost 200 million people.
It was therefore commendable when the Senate on Thursday agreed to send a delegation to visit the troops fighting insurgents in North-East. Bala Na’Allah, Deputy Senate Leader, moved the motion after the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had drawn the attention of his colleagues to the death of the soldiers.
“We are all aware that a few days ago, we lost about 44 brave soldiers of the Nigerian army in northern Borno,” Saraki had said, adding, “We must pay our respects to these brave men that have sacrificed and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our own safety and peace in our country.”
Moving the motion, Na’Allah said: “About five days ago, a camp in Maiduguri was attacked by Boko-Haram and we were reported to have lost about 44 soldiers. I want to bring it to the notice of the Senate that Lieutenant Colonel Sakaba was my cousin and he was head of that team that was attacked and he lost his life.
“Unfortunately, he was one of the most dedicated soldiers I have ever met, not because he was my relation but because I knew from his commitment on what he has gone through and his contribution to the Nigerian army.”
However, as the nation mourns, questions must still be asked about the commitment of the authorities to end the war or at least get the military better equipped to face the insurgents and stop being at the receiving end of superior fire power.
A video trending on the social media by some aggrieved soldiers claimed that some of the tanks being used to fight the insurgents were actually purchased in 1983, during the regime of former President Shehu Shagari. The soldier, whose face was not shown in the video, claimed that some of the tanks could not fire more than twice before they stopped.
As the family of Colonel Sakaba and other families mourn their slain relatives in their homes, Nigerians would still want to know how rag-tag army of insurgents always has upper hand over the army of a nation as big as Nigeria.