It was not so long ago that Nigerians were a proud, self-confident people, known the world over for our self assurance, independence of spirit, and why not, a bit of arrogance. We were not one of those people whose spirit was broken by colonialism. We were a large, multi-ethnic and multi-religious people with each corposant proud of their history and the whole certain of its great historic destiny. Yes that was the Nigeria we were. I spent the weekend reflecting about our leaders going to the neighbours on their knees and begging Idris Derby of Chad to please come and help us chase out Boko Haram because our soldiers were running away from the fight and the insurgents were annexing more and more of our territory. Our embattled President has been campaigning for a second mandate to rule over a territory much smaller than what he was elected to rule over in 2011.
Nigerian soldiers are too proud and too well trained to be cowards in a battle where the odds are even. Nonetheless, with inappropriate guns and insufficient bullets, superior officers stealing their feeding allowance and the high command joining the list of Forbes richest Africans, thanks to massive embezzlement of the over 4 trillion Naira devoted to security over the last four years, I will understand their refusal to fight due to anger, frustration and unacceptably high level of risk they are placed under. Even their uniforms, the sign that they are fighting for our country, they need to procure with their salaries we hear. Today when asked in international conferences why we cannot fight Boko Haram, I bow my head and start asking my brain to give me a good response and the brain disappoints me as well. How hath the mighty fallen.
Over the past few days, Chadian bombers have been dealing with Boko Haram and their land forces are retaking towns we have lost to the insurgents. The old me would have lashed out at the Nigerian Government accusing them of bringing us into ridicule by relying on our little northern neighbour to help us win a war we should have won long ago. How could they dare allow an incursion into our territory by a foreign force, I would have demanded. The new me is more prudent. If we cannot fight our war, maybe there is no alternative in the immediate to begging our neighbours. I therefore thank Uncle Idris Derby for capturing Malam Fatori and other towns and I hope he is doing it on our behalf. It has been so painful living in a Nigeria where Boko Haram’s black flag had been flying over so many towns and cities for so long.
As if to prove that the meltdown is almost total, the mercenaries are apparently coming in as well to help out. The South African Defence Minister was reported to have warned “mercenaries” from her country from coming to fight the Nigerian war. This followed reports that a multinational team of over 100 private military experts was on its way to Nigeria to help against Boko Haram. Former soldiers of the SA Defence Force [the predecessor of the SA National Defence Force] formed the core of the group. The South African Minister was said to have warned them that: “There are consequences when somebody leaves the country and provides any form of military assistance that is not part of the government’s deployment.” This means that we now have to once again to on our knees to beg our mortal enemies, the South Africans, to allow their mercenaries come and help us out. Over the weekend, the African Union agreed to send a force of 7500 to also join the fight against Boko Haram. The conditionality however is that we have to go on our knees to beg the United Nations to fund the mission. With all arrogance gone, we can do that easily after all, in for a penny, in for a pound. The latest story is that even the Americans would sell their arms to us if we show enough contrition following our sharp outburst against them two months ago, no problem, we will henceforth behave ourselves.
For so long, our governing class under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan has been watching the gains of Boko Haram with what I suppose must have been a sense of helplessness, fear, foreboding and paralysis. The Nigerian people, for their part, have been looking on in disgust wondering why they have rulers they certainly do not deserve. Our religious leaders have continued their profession of extracting money from their poor followers while the country burns. No one was responding to the question of who will save Nigeria from the onslaught of the insurgents. Towards the end of last year, we were told Eureka; our brave traditional hunters would do the job. There were excited reports in newspapers that the hunters, using sticks, bows and arrows, had chased out Boko Haram from Mubi, killing many of them and even recovering armoured personnel carriers from them. I never understood the story, as I am certainly not smart enough to see how bows and arrows would conquer sophisticated modern arms. Were we no taught in history that our brave forefathers fought the colonialists with bows and arrows but the Maxim gun stood its ground. I guess since we no longer teach history in our country, we can tell tales for some time. Eventually however, we cannot deny that the insurgents who are well armed with rocket grenade launchers, state of the art armoured personnel carriers and so on would win the battle with the hunters.
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. That did not happen hence the recourse to foreign aid.
As we remain on our knees begging, its worthwhile reminding ourselves that the national interest of Chad, Niger and Cameroon is that the Boko Haram contingency remains contained in Nigeria. There are also strategic interests around our side of the Lake Chad, which is rich in petroleum. Ultimately, we need to strengthen our armed forces and fight our war. Yes, the others can help but they will not solve our problems. We need to engage in a massive mobilisation of new young and motivated members to join the armed forces. If young local hunters are recruited and armed with rocket launchers, we would not need to tell tales, they could do the job. 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. Let’s get up from our knees, get back our self-assurance and return to the reconstruction of our nation-state.