New Service Chiefs Must Get it Right

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RingTrue with Yemi Adebowale, yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 08054699539 (text only)

RINGTRUE BY Yemi Adebowale 08054699539 Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

Aside the issue of capacity and equipment for our soldiers, infighting, unhealthy rivalry and ineptitude were some of the reasons adduced for the failure of the immediate past service chiefs to tame rampaging Boko Haram and bandits. Indeed, there was glaring lack of synergy between the Army and the Air Force, under the leadership of Tukur Buratai and Sadique Abubakar, respectively. On a number of occasions, the Air Force failed to appropriately respond to distress calls of the Army on the battle field. One good example here was when soldiers were ambushed by Boko Haram in Gorgi, Borno State, March 2020, and scores killed. Air support failed to arrive. The new Army Chief, Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru and Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal Isiaka Amao are precisely 53 days old on the battle field today, with synergy still an issue in this war.

The Boko Haram attack in Gudumbali (in the Lake Chad region) 10 days ago, left me wondering if that vital synergy between the Army and the Air Force had really been restored. During the bout, a Major, U.I Urang, 14 soldiers and four civilian JTF members were killed. It was an ambush launched on a military band by ISWAP faction of Boko Haram. Major Urang was the commanding officer of 123 Special Forces Battalion of the Nigerian Army. The convoy of 10 vehicles was on its way to Gudumbali from the town of Kukawa in Borno for an operation against the terrorists when it came under fire. How come soldiers went for such operation without air coverage? Why was there no air response to the distress call? These are the big questions for Attahiru and Isiaka.

Field reports after 53 days of Attahiru and Amao have not been palatable. Just five days back, Boko Haram attacked Katarko in Gujba Local Government Council of Yobe State and razed the military base in the town before hoisting their flag in the compound. They went further to raze a primary school and a healthcare centre in the community.

A resident of Katarko, who identified himself as Fannami, sheds light on the attack: “The terrorists drove in gun trucks, headed straight for the military base and opened fire on the soldiers. The soldiers fled and the terrorists drove into the town. That was around 5am, when we were going for Alfijir prayers in the mosque. When we heard their chanting of Allahu Akbar and rapid gunshots, we became confused and abandoned the prayers. Some ran into the bush for safety, while many others locked themselves in their rooms. We only came back to our homes when we were certain that they had left. They operated for over one hour without any challenge or resistance from either the military or the locals.”

Katarko, just about18 kilometers south of Damaturu, the state’s capital, has been repeatedly attacked by the terrorists in the last three years. That’s the trauma communities in the North-east are still subjected to by the terrorists.
As for curtailing rampaging Fulani militias, nothing has changed in the last 53 days. The militias attacked Kabasa Village, in Magami, Gusau Local Government Area of Zamfara State, leaving behind blood and tears. Four soldiers and three civilians were feared killed in the attack. “The whole community was thrown into pandemonium as several other residents trying to escape the attack were injured. Seven people were confirmed dead in the attack,” said a resident identified as Saminu.

Last Wednesday, the militias stormed Jargaba village, in the Bakori Local Government Area of Katsina State, killed businessman, Ibrahim Kwatahi, and kidnapped two of his children. “After killing Kwatahi and abducting his two children, they carted away huge sums of money from the house,” a resident said.

Under Attahiru and Isiaka, Kaduna State became the epicenter of attacks as Fulani militias seamlessly moved to the state. I wonder how they did this without intelligence corps knowing and stopping them. The attacks in Kaduna have been ferocious in the last 53 days. The latest is the attack on Rema Primary School, where three teachers were abducted. They are yet to be released. There was also the abduction of 39 students at the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State on March 11. They are yet to regain freedom.

Aside Attahiru and Isiaka still not reflecting synergy, there is nothing on ground to suggest that our gallant soldiers are now well motivated. There is also no improvement in terms of equipment. Soldiers suffered greatly during the tenure of the immediate past service chiefs. Irabor, Attahiru and Amao must not just promise change. They must walk the talk. Soldiers that have overstayed at the war front should get reliefs. Let’s start seeing better equipment delivered. The service chiefs need to pressure the Commander-in-Chief to shift ground on foreign military contractors; we need to start seeing military contractors helping with aerial battles for soldiers to mop-up. We also need them for digital intelligence gathering. We are in an era in which drones play a big role in war. This is one edge the military contractors will offer.

On the flip side, Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna State has to raise his game, if he still has any. Violent attacks in the state, in the last five years and 10 months are unprecedented. Official statistics showed that 937 people died in violent attacks and mass atrocities in the state last year alone. The 2020 security report by the state government attributed the deaths to kidnappings, banditry and other criminal activities, cutting across all ethnic and religious groups in the state.

Of the 937 killed, Igabi Local Government Area recorded the highest number of casualties (152), followed by Kajuru Local Government Area with 144 casualties. Birnin Gwari, Igabi, Giwa and Chikun local governments in Kaduna central accounted for about 50 per cent (or 468 deaths) of the entire fatalities in the state. 286 died in Kaduna South from the violent attacks, which is about one third of the total. 1,972 persons were kidnapped within the period under review.

While receiving the report, El-rufai said the state had been using its limited resources to address the security challenges facing it. Mr. Governor, you have to do more. You have so many military formations in your state. So, use your security vote proactively and motivate the soldiers to secure your people. You have to start takingactions to control the situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened. Those running the show from the centre have evidently failed.

Hijab Crisis and Kwara Gov’s Failings
Honestly, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq has been a big disappointment in the violence in Kwara State over the wearing of Hijab in public schools. Kwara State’s religious diversity was wisely managed by all previous governors. The magic was simply not to take sides, be diplomatic and fair to all. That was why everybody lived happily in Kwara State until the man called Abdulrazaq became governor. This man brazenly took sides and destroyed the religious harmony in the state. I am still struggling to understand what Abdulrazaq stands to gain by destroying the peace of this state. This governor should not have decreed wearing of Hijab in Christian mission schools, even with the Appeal court’s ruling favouring pro-Hijab citizens.

The governor should have maintained the status quo since the Supreme Court granted a stay of execution of the reliefs obtained by Islamic leaders. He snubbed the proprietors of the Christian mission schools, ordered the reopening of these schools, and openly endorsed the wearing of Hijab in all public schools.

The blanket approval for the wearing of Hijab in all Kwara public schools by Abdulrazaq means trouble. Last Tuesday, he stated that the Christian Mission Schools (acquired by government years back) must respect its policy that allows the use of the Hijab in all public schools. “The government is convinced that its policy to allow willing Muslim schoolgirls to wear their hijab in public schools will lead to sustainable peace and communal harmony anchored on mutual respect and understanding,” the Kwara State Government stated arrogantly. By his actions, Governor Abdulrazaq clearly showed religious bias.

Of course, there was trouble when some extremists took laws into their hands by going from school to school, enforcing the wearing of hijab, including in the schools that enjoy the state government’s grants, but owned by Christian missions. It was heart-wrenching watching Christians and Muslim parents at Baptist Secondary School, Ilorin, violently attacking one another last Wednesday over Hijab. Governor Abdulrazaq’s prejudices did not allow him to come up with a tactical solution to the crisis. Approving the wearing of Hijab, while the case is still in the Supreme Court is premature and equally prejudicial.

Today, in the interest of peace, I urge this Kwara governor to amend his government’s approval of Hijab in Kwara Government-controlled Christian mission schools. Christian mission schools that also enjoy grants from the state’s government should also be exempted from this Hijab policy. Kwara State has been granting aids to some Christian mission schools since 1974, and no governor had ever insisted on particular uniform for the schools. This has always been the duty of the owners. Abdulrazaq must respect the religious cultures of such schools. Other Kwara public schools can continue with the Hijab policy. Surely, there will be no problem with this. Governor Abdulrazaq should stop using his political position to further the cause of any particular religion for peace to reign in Kwara State. His pronouncements on the Hijab crisis have left me wondering whether he is holding a religious position. Abdulrazaq has suddenly forgotten that he is the governor of the whole state. What a shame.

$1.5bn for Repair of Port Harcourt Refinery?
I thought there was an error somewhere when it was announced on Wednesday that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had approved $1.5 billion for the rehabilitation of Port Harcourt Refinery. The said approval was at the 38th virtual FEC meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, repeated the figure while addressing State House correspondents at the end of the FEC meeting. Four days after, there has been no denial of the figure unveiled for the repair of the refinery. So, it is true. This is certainly not good news for Nigeria. Those running Nigeria are clearly confused. There is no sense spending $1.5 billion to repair a refinery when a new, better and more efficient one can be built with that kind of money.

For the record, last February, Shell US sold its Martinez Refinery in California to PBF Energy for $1.2 billion. It is a modern 157,000-barrel-per-day high-conversion refinery. So, why should the Nigerian government spend $1.5 billion repairing an outdated refinery, when a new one can be built with this money? This is happening amid so much hunger in this country. Former vice president, Atiku Abubakar was correct when he said approving the amount for the renovation of a refinery at a critical period of increased unemployment and inflation “would appear to be an unwise use of scarce funds.”

Atiku adds: “At this critical period, we must as a nation be prudent with the use of whatever revenue we can generate… To therefore budget $1.5 billion to renovate or turn around the Port Harcourt Refinery would appear to be an unwise use of scarce funds. We cannot, as a nation, expect to make economic progress if we continue to fund inefficiency, and we are going too deep into the debt trap for unnecessarily overpriced projects.”

The refineries are not working; yet, billions of USD goes into turn around maintenance and repairs. It’s about time these money guzzling plants are sold. This is the only way forward for beloved Nigeria. We must all put pressure on the Buhari government to stop wasting state resources on these plants. I expect civil society groups to come in here. This rubbish has to stop.