The last straw was the announcement yesterday by Abubakar Shekau that Gwoza has been incorporated into the Islamic caliphate and has nothing more to do with Nigeria. The war against Nigeria by Boko Haram has been going on for too long and the response of the Nigerian state has been to play the ostrich hiding its head in the sand to block our reality.
It was only in the beginning of March this year that for the first time, someone from the Presidency finally admitted that there is a war going on. Dr Doyin Okupe, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs declared to the press early March “we are in a war”. After over four years of the war, people were amused that he has been the last to find out,
Since the occupation of Gwoza on 7th August, more and more of Nigerian territory has been lost to the insurgents. Dambua and Limanka where we have the Mobile Police College in Borno State, Buni Yadi in Yode State and Madagali in Adamawa State. This is alongside the on-going scorched earth policy being implemented by Boko Haram in southern Borno and northern Adamawa states, the abduction of young women and men and senseless killing of people.
Over 250,000 thousand Nigerians have been displaced by the war before the current escalation that would have further raised the numbers of internally displaced persons. Today, we have one of the the largest number of war refugees in the world and we are not even talking of the war.
For too long, our authorities have addressed the war in two ways. One is to say repeatedly that the problem will be over very soon. The other is by harassing the media for saying there is a war and the Nigerian armed forces are not fighting back. This must stop and we must develop a new approach.
In Saturday Trust (22, August), Col. Sani Usman, the spokesperson for 7th Division in Maiduguri is quoted as saying that there are no deserters and its not true that that soldiers are refusing to go to fight. His boss and GOC of the 7th Division, Brigadier General M. Y. Ibrahim summoned Daily Trust staff and scolded them for daring to do a report about soldiers refusing to go and fight.
In the Punch of 23rd August, we read a statement by General Chris Olukolade, the spokesperson of the Defence Headquarters threatening deserters from the armed forces that they will be arrested and dealt with. He even appealed to the general public to report any deserters they come across so that they can be punished. The armed forces have also been making announcements that the punishment for mutiny and refusing to fight is death. At the same time, they have been repeating that there has been no mutiny. You cannot have such mixed messages when a war is raging, Nigeria is losing territory and the armed forces are not able to respond effectively.
Nigerians were living in all the towns and villages taken over or ravaged by Boko Haram and they have been recounting their horrible experiences to friends and relations. The whole world knows, and certainly virtually all Nigerians know that our armed forces have a very serious capability challenge at this time. Most of the people I speak with daily express their fear at this situation because of the concern that we will lose more and more territory to the terrorists. We Nigerians do not want to live under the terrible conditions the terrorists are creating. We love our democracy, rule of law and human rights with all their imperfections. We do not want to lose the imperfect democracy we have for a regime of terror. When therefore we say the military is weak, we are saying we want them to be strong so that they can protect us. The armed forces have said repeatedly that it’s unpatriotic to allow the enemy hear that the armed forces are weak. The reality however is that the enemy is fighting the armed forces in the field and they know exactly what is happening. They don’t need journalists to tell them what they know already.
Our neighbours, especially Niger and Cameroon also know exactly what is happening as more towns and villages are run over and refugees rush to their countries for safety. The world hegemons know what is going on which is why the asked France to set up a command post in southern Chad with 6,000 boots on the ground to protect their interests as the war intensifies. So lets all agree that everybody knows what’s going on. Let us also agree that what is going on is very serious as the territorial integrity of our believed country is under serious challenge. A lot of our officials have said in the past that the insurgents come in from neighbouring countries but I hear less of that today. There might be a few foreign individuals but the bulk of those threatening our territorial integrity are Nigerians who have decided to recreate another political entity that is different from what we have.
Now to Lenin’s famous question – what is to be done? The first thing is for President Jonathan to make a declaration for general mobilisation of Nigerians to fight the war. The President should admit that insurgents are overpowering our armed forces and are trying to dislodge our political system. The President should call on young Nigerians to come out and join the armed forces to save the country. The President therefore needs to make it clear to Nigerians that he understands the severity of the risk we are facing and that extraordinary measures need to be taken to salvage the situation. The question of re-equipping the armed forces with the urgency it deserves need to be addressed. In so doing, those who have created the conditions for under-equipping the armed forces by stealing the monies allocated for equipment in the past should be court marshalled, after all we are in a war. If nothing is done to those who have brought us to the terrible state we are in today, then the new people in charge will not feel the need to act correctly and might repeat the problem.
We need to begin a serious political and ideological campaign as happened at the beginning of the civil war to – “to save Nigeria is a task that must be done” and to “go on with one Nigeria” (GOWON). Our artists should work on the new slogans we need to mobilise for the successful prosecution of the war. It is only when we accept that the current risk of losing more and more territory is real that we can begin to make effective moves to salvage our country. As Wole Soyinka told us, let’s all resolve that “I love my country I no go lie, na inside am I go live and die”.
Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, a senior fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, and Chairman of the Premium Times editorial board, writes a syndicated Monday column. Kindly follow him via his twitter handle – @Jibrinibrahim17