The Brave Hunter’s Tale, the Military and the State, By Jibrin Ibrahim
Nigeria continues to lose territory to the Boko Haram insurgency and we are moving fast along the path of a complete takeover of a significant part of the country by terrorists. As our country gradually loses its sovereignty, the actions that define political behaviour consists of the insurgents perpetrating violence, mass murder, abductions, hate, sex slavery and other atrocities and crimes against humanity against Nigerians?
Meanwhile, our governing class under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan is watching with what I suppose must be a sense of helplessness, fear, foreboding and paralysis. This is putting it positively. They may in fact be watching these developments with nonchalance or even a callous attitude that it serves those opposition northerners right that their people are killing them.
Whatever their attitude, what we know for sure is that our ruling classes in general, from the local government level to the presidency remain focused on stealing the national wealth and self-aggrandisement. The people look on in disgust wondering why they have rulers they certainly do not deserve. Religious leaders continue their profession of extracting money from their poor followers. Very few are engaged in the necessary struggle of stopping the violence and saving and rebuilding Nigeria.
The question before us therefore is who will save Nigeria from the onslaught of the insurgents. Eureka, I am told, it’s the traditional hunters and so-called civilian JTF. Over the past week, it appears that they have been mobilised to liberate Maiha and Mubi in Adamawa State from the insurgents. Using sticks and bows and arrows, the traditional hunters were reported to have chased out Boko Haram from Mubi, killing 75 of them and recovered five armoured personnel carriers from them. Their brave action allowed Mubi’s 234-army battalion to return to the town.
Maybe I am stupid, but I just don’t get it. The dominant discourse has been that due to thirty years of corruption and neglect, the Nigerian armed forces are suffering from lack of modern arms and equipment. The insurgents on the other hand are said to be well armed with rocket grenade launchers, state of the art armoured personnel carriers and so on. I simply do not understand how traditional hunters with cudgels, sticks, bows and arrows are able to rout them out.
Let me say that I know that in war, motivation, commitment and fearlessness are key ingredients that can produce victories in spite the odds. Boko Haram fighters who have engaged the Nigerian armed forces with motivation and fearlessness had won numerous victories against soldiers who according to the Ministry of Defence statements in numerous Court Martials have shown fear and cowardice against the enemy. The military are busy trying to sentence their cowards to death while hoping the remaining ones would become brave. In the future, we will return to this theme of how we ended up with soldiers who are afraid of fighting.
Meanwhile, what we have been told this past week is that the hunters, unlike the Lilly livered soldiers are fearless and motivated to recover their homelands and their attitude might well have shocked the Boko Haram fighters who are used to fighting our armed forces who run away as soon as they hear the enemy is approaching. This gives the hunters the element of surprise, which is so important when battles are being fought.
All the same, there is a limit to how far you can go with sticks and cudgels when the enemy has state of the art military assets. When Nigeria was being colonised, our forefathers were brave and motivated but their bows and arrows were no match for the Maxim gun and that was why we were defeated. I have never really ever understood the military narrative on the Boko Haram insurgency. With our mighty armed forces, the insurgents were supposed to have created traction by fighting asymmetrical warfare. And yet, over the past three months, they have moved to conventional warfare in which they are conquering and keeping territory. That is not supposed to happen. The famous Sambisa forest I am told is simply savannah bush land with a few stunted trees and bushes. I do not understand how our mighty armed forces have not moved in with tanks to clear it of insurgents over the last four years. Could it be that there is a political decision not to defeat the insurgency?
If the hunters are able to deal with Boko Haram insurgents so easily, then the narratives about how well Boko Haram insurgents are armed is exaggerated. If however the success of the hunters is an exaggerated tale, then Nigerians deserve to be told what is really going on. The story of the hunters and their successes is extremely comforting to Nigerians who have been subjected to years of bad news. I am myself in desperate need of comforting stories so I love the narrative of the brave hunters. However, I am sorry to admit that as a social scientist, I find it difficult to believe that the hunters can so easily defeat a rugged well-trained terrorist group.
I also have problems at the strategic level. Our salvation from terrorism cannot lie in searching for and arming local fighters. They can become a problem to their communities subsequently. The state exists to takeover security functions from local warlords. We cannot take the risk of supporting local warlords who would subsequently use their arms to commit acts of extortion and arbitrariness against their communities. Its clear to all that we have an army that is unwilling or not allowed to fight. In such a context, I can understand recruiting motivated young hunters and elements of the civilian JTF into the army to do the fighting but I want to be spared the story of using sticks to defeat APCs.
The continued existence of our country is under serious threat. Unfortunately, our leaders are clearly not sufficiently visionary to see that what is at stake is the continued survival of all of us, and that when things fall apart completely, they too and their relations and acquisitions would not be safe. I have argued previously in this column that what Nigeria has lacked in its recent history is a leadership with a vision and a sense of enlightened self-interest. The idea of enlightened self-interest is simple, by serving the common good of society, the leadership serves their own interest of getting legitimacy, respect and even the material gains they seek.
The alternative approach is approaching leadership on the basis of greed and myopic selfishness. This approach has negative consequences as the whole community suffers loss as a result of conflict and its impact, as well as decreased efficiency and productivity. The result is costly for the community as a whole as each individual seeks to provide for their own protection without success. A few greedy leaders and their cronies make enormous personal gain to satisfy personal greed but the majority of the members of the community experience net personal loss.
The war against the insurgency definitely needs significant local input to succeed. Local communities need to take leadership of the war against the insurgency by encouraging their young and motivated members to join the army and by providing intelligence to the armed forces. At the same time, during this delicate point in our national existence, all governments at the three levels, federal, state and local government, need to keep politics aside and work towards building faith in the possibility of rebuilding the nation and restoring peace.
The security agencies for their part need to weed out cowards and rogue elements within them that are engaged in creating more mayhem rather that working for peace. We must avoid the path of communities relying on traditional hunters to save them from terrorists. We are supposed to have a State, let’s have some evidence that the State and its armed forces exists to protect us.