By SHAKA MOMODU
I am at a loss as to how to begin this article. If I may ask, what can someone reasonably say to me to assuage the humiliation I feel by the bull’s-eye victory the Chadian forces scored against Boko Haram recently and the failure of our military to defeat these terrorists in the last 11 years? How can the military reasonably justify their failure to defend the fatherland? There is no doubt that Nigeria is fighting a half-hearted war against a barbaric brood of vermin – a very determined enemy whose intransigence has lasted this long because of a combination of perplexing geopolitical/religious considerations and corruption within the military/political establishment. The war has been hijacked by officials who don’t want it to end. They are milking the situation at the expense of the lives of Nigerians and the territorial integrity of the country. These people are arguably the most unpatriotic people in the universe. While our smaller and poorer neighbours like Chad are taking the fight to the enemy, Nigeria is fiddling and fidgeting as the higher-ups collude with terrorists to undermine our country.
For reasons best known to this government, it is treating the terrorist group and its members with kid gloves, periodically releasing thousands of captured members of the terror sect on the pretext (without providing evidence) that they have been de-radicalised. Some it was alleged were even recruited into the military. An allegation the military has denied. But considering its antecedents, it is difficult not to take such denial with a pinch of salt. Reports have also alleged that some of the guys released by this government were later caught fighting alongside Boko Haram against the Nigerian military in subsequent battles. This is the only country in the world that treats terrorists with reverence and the victims without a care in the world.
Why is our military not fighting Boko Haram – the enemy? Why is it that each time they are advancing and getting close to a major target, orders come from above to stand down an operation? Who usually gives these orders and why? My childhood fascination and reverence for the military, particularly the army, was shattered when images of soldiers escaping from the fight with Boko Haram surfaced on the internet years ago. The shock almost gave me a heart attack. I could hardly believe what my eyes were seeing. It broke my heart. And I have yet to recover from it. I grew up believing soldiers don’t run from danger, but run towards it.
As I try to understand the gloomy situation, staring blankly at my laptop, at a loss as to how to say what my agonised thoughts were telling me to say, my thoughts drifted momentarily to what could have been for our beloved country if we had purpose-driven leaders. As I ruminated about this, I was transported out of our reality, momentarily liberated from the agony of our tragedy to a paradise yonder. I imagined walking on well-paved streets, having stable power supply in my home, and an economy driven by innovation and discovery. A beautiful landscape of opportunities for all who can dream and work hard to pursue and realise their full potential. Ensnared and immersed in this dream world, I forgot my sorrows about our country and its leaders. Momentarily, I wanted to live for a 1,000 years in this land of my fathers. I was in that ecstasy when a shrieking cry rang out in my neighbourhood, jolting me out of the paradise to the hard reality of our daily grind. Soldiers had shot dead a young lad for disobeying the lockdown. “Oh my God!” I screamed.
Chad’s military success against the terror group is first and foremost a big bloody nose to Nigeria’s military campaign that has lasted over 11 years. To add insult to injury, President Idris Deby of Chad openly questioned Nigeria’s commitment to defeat Boko Haram. It is a devastating shaming of our country to the world and it is threatening to push our military into irrelevance in the West African sub-region. It confirms long-held suspicions that there is more to this Boko Haram fight than meets the eye. Boko Haram is not just the enemy, it has highly placed collaborators within the inner circles of government.
Major Kaduna Nzeogwu stated in his famous coup speech of January 15, 1966, that “our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles”. Unfortunately, no act of humiliation shames our military and their civilian collaborators and supporters into deciding that enough is indeed enough. Nothing to jolt them to their senses to see they have made Nigeria a big-for-nothing country. Major Nzeogwu’s position remains a true depiction 54 years after.
The truth is, there is nothing really suddenly magical about the Chadian military prowess. Unlike Nigeria whose war against the terrorists is weighed down heavily by political considerations, Chad is unleashing the full potential of its military to fight terrorists within and outside its territory. Chad is succeeding because no top government official, senator, governor, lawmaker, community leader of a particular region is colluding with the terrorists to undermine Chad’s territorial integrity. They are not playing ethno/religious politics with terrorism. They are not sympathetic to the terrorists. They call terrorism its true name and see it as a danger to the collective national interest of Chad. The president of Chad set the tone and led from the front to flush out the agents of death and destruction.
The recent ambush and killing of 98 of its soldiers by the satanic Boko Haram was definitely the turning point and has brought out its capacity to the fore. President Derby himself led the way to burst the myth that terror cannot be defeated. He not only routed the Boko Haram terror group, Derby sent its ragtag fighters scampering into Nigeria, their safe haven. At the end of that audacious military operation, according to reports, over 1,000 Boko Haram fighters lay dead while their armoury within Nigerian territory was captured by Chadian forces who also freed many innocent captives including Nigerian soldiers held by the terrorists. The Nigerian military was nowhere to be found in all of this, vindicating the Chadian president who stated in 2015 that the Nigerian military was absent in the fight against Boko Haram. Rather, they were on the streets, harassing and beating civilians as they enforced President Muhammadu Buhari’s sit-at-home orders. Some civilians were reportedly killed by soldiers in a purely civil operation! But the prime objective of the lockdown is to save lives and not to destroy lives. Now, how does one explain that Covid-19 has killed 19 people while security agents have killed 18 in this lockdown period? Why this appetite to kill innocent civilians?
Back to the Boko Haram menace. The terrorists have repeatedly killed hundreds of Nigerian soldiers in several daring attacks on military targets and ambushes without serious repercussions. This did not trigger angst from the high command to launch a determined push to flush out the terrorists like Chad did when 98 of its soldiers were ambushed and killed by Boko Haram. No, nothing of such. Instead they secretly buried the fallen soldiers in mass graves. Some of the remains of the fallen soldiers were even left for days to the elements to decompose before eventually being retrieved. Afterwards the government and the military carried on as if nothing had happened. When they eventually decided to talk about it, they denied and denied and where they owned up at all, they minimised the casualty figures. Really? Is this what Nigeria has become?
What kind of country treats its fallen soldiers that way? What kind of military allows the enemy to constantly seize the battlefield initiative? What kind of army flees from a battle with ragtag terrorists? Who did this to our military? Who did this to Nigeria? What has happened to the $1 billion as well as other budgetary allocations approved for the government to purchase security equipment for the military since 2015?
I am distressed, depressed beyond words, and filled with a deepening sense of melancholy about this country because in all of human history, one can hardly find a people so unimaginably dense and unpatriotic as our leaders. In a viral video, President Déby was seen telling his troops that “this place will be our zone until Nigeria sends its soldiers. Stay with them for about a month. Do not let them free captured weapons or any Boko Haram terrorists, they will return to Chad and this will just hurt us. So let them just understand. We are not leaving the situation like this… You guys destroyed at least 90 percent of Boko Haram. That I confirm and can tell the world that 90 percent of Boko Haram is destroyed. The 10 percent that are left are running everywhere. Some have drowned and some ran to Niger, some to Nigeria but they will never come to Chad again. Chad is no place for Boko Haram.”
Derby, apparently frustrated with Nigeria’s handling of Boko Haram’s menace, warned that his troops deployed to fight jihadists in the Lake Chad region and the Sahel will no longer take part in military operations outside its national borders. “Our troops have died for Lake Chad and the Sahel. From today, no Chadian soldier will take part in a military mission outside Chad,” he told his country’s television network in Arabic. Derby also publicly complained that his poor country was shouldering the burden of the war. Still basking in the victory, he issued Nigeria and Niger an ultimatum to reoccupy the territories and that his forces would move out of the bases seized from the jihadists by April 22, regardless of whether their armed forces moved in or not.
The Derby-led counterattack so badly decimated Boko Haram fighters, prompting the leader of the terror group, Abubakar Shakau, to appeal to his fighters not to be demoralised or be deterred by the onslaught against them by the Chadian troops.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that some of the loudest voices denouncing the criticism of our military’s handling of the war in the wake of the Chadian military’s merciless beating of Boko Haram were angry about the exposure of our military’s questionable commitment to ending the war and not the fact that the military’s commitment and actions were indeed questionable. I know that we cannot serve our country well if self-evident facts are negotiable. It is not a sign of patriotism to excuse or obliquely support and cover up the clear failure of our military to defeat Boko Haram despite huge budgetary and extra-budgetary allocations, or help propagate a false narrative to give Nigerians a false sense of security.
You see, Nigeria’s government and the military had repeatedly stated that it had defeated the terrorists and that no part of the country was under Boko Haram control even when the facts on the ground told a different story.
The constant echoing of official talking points to have defeated Boko Haram would have been funny if it weren’t so stupid. Now can the army tell us which territory Chadian forces operating deep inside Nigerian territory seized from Boko Haram? In a most humiliating way, they have been caught with their pants down. And the world is laughing. Chad’s recent routing of the terrorists has confirmed many shady things about our military’s commitment to the war against Boko Haram; that Boko Haram is not as strong as some have made them look, that these barbaric monsters can be defeated if we are really serious and committed to the cause.
It is interesting that neither our military nor the government has uttered a word about the sect since its thumping beating by Chadian forces, a feat our own military can’t boast of. Maybe, they are still thinking of how to talk their way out of a tight corner. It’s a crying shame.