To Help New Service Chiefs


If you give a man a job, you must also give him the tools and enabling environment to perform the job. It is only then that you can reasonably demand, and expect, good results. An expert without tools, and who also does not have the enabling environment to perform, will only have his hard-earned reputation ruined. Thus, when an expert is given a task he would have ordinarily performed very well, but is not given what he needs for the job, he will achieve nothing commendable. Also, for an expert to succeed, whatever he needs must be given to him on time, in the right measure and to the degree required. For instance, the most brilliant and experienced car mechanic or Maintenance Officer will not be able to change a single spark plug in a car if you just announce his appointment, read out his resume and then send him into the workshop without a tool kit. He will be a disaster. The same thing will happen if you send a great war general to the battlefield with nothing but his reputation as a great war general. Modern warfare is not traditional wrestling.

A close look at events of the last decade, with regard to the Boko Haram insurgency, suggests to me that this may well be what we have been doing to some of our otherwise high flying military officers and senior security personnel. True, the New Service Chiefs already know their job descriptions. True, they have been sworn in and have pledged to carry out those duties. True, they mean well for the country. True, the real and imaginary lapses noted about the recently retired Service Chiefs were the results of human and other factors. But are we thinking about that, as the new Service Chiefs are taking over? Are there clear, measurable steps being taken as proof of lessons learnt and new engagement templates adopted? Is there any indication that the logistical and other factors that undermined the war against Boko Haram have been addressed?

One of the “other” factors in question here is timing. We often here of procurements of the best military equipment as headline news. Somehow, we rarely get to hear of their arrival, or deployment. It is only on closer reading that people discover that some of the equipment were not to arrive Nigeria for months, or even years. Meanwhile they were needed months before they were ordered. So, lives get wasted. The reputation of serious military officers get damaged. And the federal government retains the reprehensible reputation of being unserious about fighting insurgency in the Northern parts of the country. What is a soldier with poor arms and ammunition back up, and who cannot match the superior fire power and capabilities of the insurgents, expected to do?

The politics of procurement and the drama of supremacy in the Military of Defence (MOD) is another matter that has been having a debilitating effect on national military and security operations, but without attracting the right kind of attention. The federal government may need to review all matters relating to the selection, procurement and delivery of military wares and kits, after issues of quality control are resolved by professional and not just any available civilians. Attention should also be paid to the fact that it is only when needed equipment are delivered and are in use at the Theatre of Conflict that we can justifiably expect, or demand, results from our officers and men. It is not enough that we have news reports announcing government’s plans to buy equipment and that we celebrate same on national television. Too many lives are being wasted, and the professional reputation and military records of too many officers that the nation spent decades and millions of naira to train, are being ruined for no just cause. No new Service Chief, no matter how well trained and how much of a patriot and strategist he is, will perform any magic unless he is properly enabled to carry out his duties.

Beyond the matter of military hardware and soldiers suffering on the front, in terms of pay, rations, arms and ammunition and even the simple matter of going on regular Pass, there is also the problem of a “local economy” that has developed around the Boko Haram insurgency generally. Even though every officer and soldier is somebody’s son/daughter, husband/wife, uncle/aunt, brother/sister, etc., almost everyone rails at them to hurry up and sweep away Boko Haram. Is it that simple? What are their needs, even on the job? Are those needs being properly addressed? What should they do when we put them under pressure to satisfy their needs “by other means”? When the professional, institutional and infrastructural logistical machinery statutorily put in place to insulate and cushion them from the vagaries of the socio-political environment around them evaporate? Did they sign up to be martyrs, or did they sign up to defend their fatherland, as regular military and security professionals?

But what you get from the press today, especially since the appointment of the new Service Chiefs, is that everyone has suddenly become an expert on national security. New deadlines are being set for them to defeat Boko Haram and end kidnapping and banditry in Nigeria. They are also being warned to quickly secure Nigeria’s territorial integrity, restore confidence in the armed forces and protect our democracy by every means possible. These are sound demands. But only on the face of it. Let us get real. First, deadlines are not new. The Gowon-led federal government set a two-week deadline for an end to the Biafran threat in 1966. It was even tagged a “police action.” Yet, it lasted for three years. A disastrous mistake, right? Reason? The government did not know what it was up against. More recently, the then Chief of Defence Staff announced a specific month and date for an end to Boko Haram. The insurgents grew stronger, instead. Reason? The man had no idea what he was up against. Two years after the date in question they said that Boko Haram was “technically” defeated; at a time of rising casualties from the asymmetrical assaults of the group. The Nigerian military and security forces were never in greater disgrace.

That is what happens when military and security professionals find themselves constrained to seek cheap cover in political statements. The armed forces and security agencies failed then, partly because the challenge was grossly underestimated and partly because monumental financial irregularities and procurement scandals had replaced the primary task of dealing with the insurgents. For years now, especially within the last five years, our military and security forces have been celebrating the surrender and rehabilitation of “repentant” Boko Haram insurgents. Yet they do not know where Shekau, their leader, is. Interesting, is it not?

Truth is: The newly appointed Service chiefs are inheriting a thoroughly messed up theatre and socio-political environment. Before we start blaming them, let us bear it in mind that close to 40% of Northern Nigeria and much of the Lake Chad Basin are home to convoluted, and shape-shifting crises. Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria are enmeshed in its many-sided manifestations. Statutory structures for government and governance do not exist in the area. There is no such thing as economic growth and the people, where they are found at all, are sometimes like moving bands. There are literally no clear templates for organised engagement. Add the foregoing to a burgeoning humanitarian crisis in an environment where desertification has abolished political boundaries, and you have the perfect recipe for all manner of challenges.

As many are already poised to start blaming the newly appointed Service Chiefs, let us keep it in mind that they are being sent to a place with wide and ungoverned spaces; where displaced peoples are an absolute majority. The war is totally asymmetrical. Most communities have worked out survival formulas with the insurgents and pay toll to go to their farms. Livelihoods are decimated. There are no real local economies and structured economic activities. Economic factors, poor political leadership or outright abandonment of the people by their elected leaders, have all played into the hands of the insurgents. Yes! The person who feels abandoned, and who also has no real means of livelihood is more likely to listen to ideological narratives that promise El-Dorado. Is it any wonder, then, that “radicalization” of some areas remains an ongoing affair?

The new Service Chiefs need to synergise closely with the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), which has recently been at pains to give greater multi-dimensional meaning, direction and purpose to that endeavour, under our own Gen. Yusuf. But successful military operations are not enough. An area retaken from the insurgents is not thereby automatically restored economically. Military success will not create a sense of community, or give political, environmental, economic and humanitarian and security. The military and security agencies, alongside local and international NGOs, should work with the affected communities and their traditional power centres for a cocktail of complementary endeavours, for lasting solutions. Above all, someone should tell the governors of most of the affected states, particularly in the North-east, that their abdication of governance duties has lasted long enough.

We need a lot more than change of Service the Chief to change the narratives. The ‘counter messaging’ that will drive a new resolve must pay some attention to everything the Service Chiefs need in order to succeed. Templates for lasting societal revival are important. The use of emotional language by spokes persons of military and security outfits, along with the expectation that the moral condemnation of Boko Haram, or the description of its actions as “cowardly” and “inhuman” is of any real value. Sometimes, we are too busy blaming religious ‘radicalisation’ to notice that local feelings of marginalisation and discrimination has chased some into the very arms of Boko Haram. Those who have switched loyalties, due to loss of faith in government agencies are now the majority.

As many are already poised to start blaming the newly appointed Service Chiefs, let us keep it in mind that they are being sent to a place with wide and ungoverned spaces; where displaced peoples are an absolute majority. The war is totally asymmetrical

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