Options for Saving Borno/Nigeria, By Jibrin Ibrahim
My primary school headmaster use to tell us, with pride, that we must concentrate on what they are teaching us because they had been thoroughly trained in the Teachers College. They know how to take children on the journey starting from what they know to what they do not know and need to know. That was the good old days when primary school plus five years in the teacher training college was enough to produce excellent teachers.
As Nigeria crumbles under the onslaught of terrorism, we know two things. First, the terrorists are well armed, they are motivated and they have a game plan for carving out their vision of an Islamic Caliphate from Nigeria and its neighbours. The second thing that we know is that our armed forces are not sufficiently armed or motivated to fight the terrorists. The result is that the so-called Caliphate is conquering more and more of Nigerian territory.
When Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno stated this truth in February, he was pilloried and insulted from the presidency and his patriotism questioned by the armed forces. It took the Americans, through their Under Secretary of State for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield to come to Nigeria and tell our government and military last Thursday that the time for pride and denial is long passed. With over one million Nigerians displaced from their homes by the ravaging terrorists, no sane person can question the capability challenges that our armed forces have. Had the powers that be listened to Governor Shettima at that time, we might not be losing territory as fast as we are doing today. Lets move from what we know to what we do not know, what is the best option for saving Borno and Nigeria from rampaging terrorists.
The massive congregation of hunters, ex-servicemen and civilian JTF in Maiduguri last Thursday had placed once again the militia option on the table. The idea is that given the lack of motivation and the will to fight within the military, let the local people who are committed to saving their community from the terrorists join the fight and chase them out. The problem however is that in Nigeria, local militia are not allowed to possess lethal weapons and the sticks and dane guns I saw from the Maiduguri gathering will not be sufficient to defeat the insurgents.
Even more important, we must take on board the contemporary lessons we have learnt from arming militia to fight a cause in Libya and Syria. Yes they can start the fight and even achieve early successes but they will not stop the fight and allow the state to operate subsequently thus creating anarchy in the land. We cannot afford to take the risk of arming the militia because they can become just as bad as the terrorists.
If the military cannot fight and the militia option is too dangerous, what other options do we have? One possibility is to call on the Western hegemons to deal with our enemies. The hegemons have appointed France as their security representative in West and Central Africa. France is able to deploy 6000 well-trained troops within hours in our zone from the High Command in Southern Chad. Their assets are complemented with two drone bases – in Niamey and in Agades, both in Niger Republic operated by the Americans.
The Western hegemons have the advantage of knowing our war terrain, which we have opened up to their assets over the past few months. Can we call on them to help? Definitely not, they have told us they cannot work with our military and in any case they are now realizing that powerful as they are, they do not have the capacity to solve all the conflicts on earth. In any case, they are hegemons because they fight for no one for charity or to pursue a good cause, they fight only for their own interests so they will not solve our problem if invited, they will pursue their interests.
The next option for Nigeria, which is the real “God’s own country”, is prayer. Currently, we are all engaged in three days of fasting and prayers following the call from the Borno State Governor. The fact of the matter however is that for the past twenty years, the Nigeria per capita hours invested in fasting and prayers has been the highest in the world. No Nigerian doubts the efficacy of fasting and prayer and spiritual work has been on-going. The realist in me tells me however that if fasting and prayer is going to solve this problem, that would have happened by now. In any case, we all know that God only help those who help themselves. If this option of prayers cannot be relied on, what else can we do?
The best option really is that dictated by article 14:2(b) of our Constitution that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. If government has not been carrying out its primary purpose, we have to make it do its work. We do know that a lot of the arms Boko Haram are using have been obtained from the Nigerian military. They purchased some and seized some in battle. If people on our side are selling arms to the enemy, we cannot sit and do nothing. Those guilty of these treasonable acts must be found and punished.
It is very unfortunate that the very serious allegations made by the Australian, Reverend Davis about the implication of Former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff State and General Azubuike Ihejirika, a former Chief of Army Staff, as some of the sponsors of Boko Haram have not been taken with the seriousness necessary. His allegations must be taken seriously as it is known that he has worked on and off with the Nigerian Government for over seven years. The Government cannot come out today and say they do not know him. He could not have done the negotiations he did without the support of Government. We have had a previous history of arms from the Nigerian army being sold to Niger Delta militants. We cannot allow corruption and treason in high places sap our capacity to defend our sovereignty.
People have always wondered why General Azubuike Ihejirika deliberately disbanded the JTF, which meant that only the army would be in charge of the operation. It was a curious decision as the other services, the DSS, Police, Navy, Air Force, Customs, Immigration, etc., all have important roles to play. Could it be that there were ulterior motives for the action?
The least Government should do is to set up an independent body of investigation to find out more about the allegations made by Dr Davies, and if there is any truth in the allegations, prosecute the culprits. It is when people see accountability at the level of government and the security services that confidence and trust in the security agencies will begin to grow. In addition, those responsible for stealing the monies that had been allocated for arms procurement must also pay for their crimes. If that does not happen, the theft will continue, as officials will be aware that there will be no sanctions against them.
If that happens, then what the Borno Governor said in his broadcast to the people on Friday will become a reality. That we as a people must be confident of victory through a reinforcement of our armed forces and the collective will of all of us, citizens, who are committed to defeating the Boko Haram scourge. He added that in the past, our armed forces have proven their mettle even in global warfare where they were in foreign terrain in the Second World War, in the Congo, in Liberia, in Sierra Leon, in the Sudan and elsewhere. Our armed forces have also, during the Civil War, successfully saved our country from dismemberment. We must rebuild those armed forces of our past to ensure that we have a future.
Dr. Jibrin, a senior fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, and Chairman of Premium Times editorial board, writes from Abuja.