Listen to Zulum

On Tuesday, the Governor of Borno state, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum, while hosting a delegation of the House of Representatives led by its Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, at the Council Chamber of the Government House, Maiduguri, raised an alarm that the counter-insurgency operations against the Boko Haram in the state and the Lake Chad Basin axis might not end soon as it is being expected.

Zulum caused my jaws to drop on the floor, so to speak, when he stated that the terrorists have gone ahead to adopt the strategy of sending drones to monitor and track down the Nigerian military and the Multi-national Joint Task Force operations in all the affected areas  surrounding the notorious Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad Basin.

He was quoted as saying that the terrorists appear to possess better technological weapons of warfare than those at the disposal of our military, warning that without the Nigerian military adopting proper and up-to-date arms and armaments over the terrorists, the war would not end soon.

Expectedly, Speaker Gbajabiamila assured his host that the House would collaborate with the Senate to increase the manpower capacity of the Nigerian military to meet with the contemporary challenges of the fight against insurgency among others.

I salute the courage and frankness of the governor. His immediate predecessor, Kashim Shettima, must have noticed in him the rare quality to speak truth to power before putting him forward for the job. Besides being bookish and left-handed, courage is also what the duo share as leaders.

Let me recall that on February 17, 2014, Kashim Shettima paid one of those routine visits to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to brief the then President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on the state of affairs in the then beleaguered state in his capacity as the chief security officer. 

Fielding questions from journalists at the State House, Shettima was quoted as saying: “I made it emphatically clear to Mr. President that the Boko Haram members are better armed and better motivated. Anybody who is following events in this country can attest to the fact that they have a very smooth sail overrunning communities and killing people.”

Shettima’s open declaration, driven by an uneasy sense of foreboding should the situation persist, did not go down well with the Presidency as exemplified by the vituperation of the then presidential spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, who dismissed the claim, saying that the governor’s statement was based purely on a civilian perception.

“It is clear that Governor Shettima does not have the expertise to categorise or classify the effectiveness of any weapon. We state categorically that the Nigerian military is one of the best equipped in Africa and that in 2014, the Federal Government made a budgetary provision in excess of N1trn for the military and other security agencies, an amount which is about 22 per cent of our entire national budget for this year. This definitely belies the suggestion in certain quarters that the Federal Government is not doing the needful in prosecuting this war.”

The Presidency treated Shettima’s observation as coming from the opposition’s camp calculated to tar the Jonathan government and decided not to act swiftly and decisively. Had that regime taken the criticism in good faith, perhaps our military would not have found itself on the lam in some battlegrounds at that time.

Consequently, the Boko Haram insurgents began to overrun communities. Their exploits were at an apogee when they took positions in places like Gwoza in Borno where they appointed a leader for the community and also headquartered their caliphate there! The conquests came on the heels of the abduction of over 300 students of the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok in April 2014.

As the hostilities escalated at various war zones across the axis, the media space became awash with reports that soldiers were refusing deployment to the battle fronts because they were poorly equipped to face the enemies who were fitted with sophisticated weapons. There was an instance of troops from Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri defying orders to go to Gwoza and Damboa, demanding to be better equipped for the mission.

A couple of days before the defiance, wives of soldiers at the Giwa Barracks also in Maiduguri blocked the deployment of their spouses to dislodge the insurgents in Gwoza and insisted that they should be well kitted for the mission. The unprecedented development was against the backdrop of a previous mission to free Gwoza which was met with stiff resistance by the well-prepared and better equipped insurgents that left several troops including their commander dead.

The then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah, did not take the action of the mutinous soldiers lightly and threatened that any soldier or officer caught sabotaging the counterterrorism would face firing squad. 

In my reaction to the incident at that time in this space, I had said: “No one bothered to investigate the recalcitrant soldiers’ claim. Soldiering is not a tea party. Those who choose the profession know that in the military, it is kill or be killed. There have been unending allegations of sabotage and corruption even among the top military echelon. A soldier is as good as the equipment at his disposal. An ill-equipped soldier going to war is merely on a suicide mission. What will fire up our troops to overcome the challenges posed by the insurgents is to do the needful by providing them with superior air and ground firepower to prosecute what is gradually becoming a war of attrition and not the fear to face the firing squad.”

A couple of days after Zulum’s revelation, the Presidency is yet to show any vituperation like Okupe did. It goes without saying that the observation has been taken in good faith, coming from a member of the party. Zulum’s concern was obviously to get the federal government to ensure that our military is a step ahead of the insurgents.

It is obvious that the Buhari administration has degraded the Boko Haram insurgency, though not completely eliminated as he promised during his 2015 electioneering campaign. The armed criminals have been sacked from more than the 75 per cent of the territory of Borno state they hitherto occupied freely.

The insurgency war is not an easy conflict to handle. Afghanistan where the Taliban forces have been having a running battle with the successive administrations in the country since the 80s is a typical example. The best thing is not to allow the terror war to take root. Once it does, it becomes a way of life for the enemies of the state, while the innocent masses are the collateral damage. It is unfortunate that we have allowed this deadly bugbear to be our portion a decade on.

Indeed, it is high time we deployed state-of-the-art technology to prosecute the war… a conflict where your enemies know you but you don’t know them, where the enemies can disguise as your compatriots to surprise you and the communities you are fighting to protect. We should be thinking ahead of the criminal elements; we should be in a better position to do so. Also, no efforts should be spared in curtailing their sporadic attacks on soft targets which their operations have been reduced.

The Buhari administration has the next four years to completely eviscerate the scourge from the country whatever it would take and in spite of the ISWAP fusion. As it is said, what is worth doing at all is worth doing well.

The good news is that the Buhari administration has seen the need to give state governments the nod to deploy drones to monitor forests in their domains swarming with all manner of criminal elements. This indication came barely 24 hours after Zulum expressed his worries. The monitoring exercise should be backed by decisive action.