…they must have specific outcomes they want to see in the short to medium terms. These should be communicated to Nigerians as a way of building confidence and engendering positive expectations. Nigerians are weary of the security situation and need to be served hope on the basis of concrete plans.
The military is one of the most important institutions of state in Nigeria and indeed anywhere in the world. Apart from their traditional mandate of protecting the country’s territorial integrity, the Nigerian military is also charged with ensuring internal cohesion. All over the world, the military is authorised to use coercive instruments, including weapons, in defending the motherland by combating actual or perceived threats.
The state of war in the country in the last ten years, characterised by banditry and insurgency, has put the Nigerian military in sharper focus. The terrorist group, Boko Haram’s activities have created a heavy security burden on Nigeria, with added adverse effects on the economy, resulting mainly from the dislocation of communities and the creation of glitches in the productive chain.
Boko Haram, which began as a ragtag Islamic sect led by the late Muhammed Yusuf, has grown in leaps and bounds in the past years to become a blood thirsty organisation. It is currently ranked as the world’s third deadliest terrorist group, with strong links to foreign terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Shabaab in Somalia. It is suspected that these organisations provide skills for Boko Haram’s operations, especially in guerrilla warfare, the production of sophisticated improvised bombs and kidnapping for ransom as an additional form of funding to its allied sources. Boko Haram has since spread into Nigeria’s neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.
The expansion of the terror group’s reach and sophistication would naturally elicit a proportional response from the Nigerian government. In recent years, defence spending in Nigeria has been on the increase. It is now superior to other sectors of the economy, mainly due to the required security response to insurgency, and now banditry. One of the less discussed economic impacts of the fight against insurgency is that the country faces the challenge of meeting the costs of catering for, rehabilitating, and resettling both internally displaced persons and refugees. The state is also burdened with reconstructing damaged infrastructure, which is a vast encumbrance for the government, especially with the global drop in oil prices that has assailed an oil income dependent economy like Nigeria.
The increasing focus and expenditure on defence have naturally hurt investment in other economic sectors, particularly social infrastructure, thereby imperilling the government’s economic development targets. This is aside the human cost of the fight against the insurgency, leading to thousands of Nigerians being maimed and killed, and millions more who are internally displaced, alongside other attendant socio-political strife.
The cost of the war against insurgency on the country has put greater focus on the service chiefs – the officers leading the Nigerian military’s different arms. There was a time in the recent past when many Nigerians hardly knew who the chief of defence staff was, or the Nigerian Army’s head. But not these days.
For the past two years or so, as the Nigerian military recorded significant losses against the Boko Haram terrorists, there have been strident calls from many sections of the country for President Muhammadu Buhari to shake up the top echelon of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Even the National Assembly was involved, with persistent calls from the hallowed chambers that the military leaders should pay the price for the tottering fight against the insurgency.
The recent replacement of all the service chiefs, including the chief of defence staff, elicited mostly positive reactions from Nigerians. As a retired General, the natural assumption is that President Buhari has a visceral understanding of the modus operandi of the military. His knowledge of the necessary technicalities and intricacies should be far greater than that of the ordinary Nigerian politician, who is usually susceptible to populism and quick fixes. This may have influenced his decision to wait for this long before overhauling the top leadership of the military in Nigeria.
For the new service chiefs, their work is well cut out for them… it is expected that a new injection into the security architecture will lead to fresh strategies, new leadership ethos and novel perspectives. The new service chiefs should carefully analyse their predecessors’ shortcomings and ensure that noted gaps…are filled for better results.
It would be overly simplistic and naïve to believe that a mere change of the military hierarchy would mark a sudden turning point in the fight against criminality or lead to an overnight decapitation of Boko Haram. The insurgency threat in Nigeria is complex and multifaceted and would require deeper intelligence, analytical thinking, strategic planning, immense professional expertise, consistency of purpose, and time to be overcome.
However, there is a famous adage that you cannot continue doing the same thing repeatedly and expect a different outcome. When things are not working out, when there is stagnation or when a situation continues to deteriorate, there is usually the need to do a diagnostic review, change the old guard and bring on new faces with fresh ideas and perspectives. Sometimes the mere fact that there is change at the top has motivated the rank and file to put more effort into their duties for better results.
For the new service chiefs, their work is well cut out for them. Nigerians recognise that their appointments do not automatically mean that they are the messiahs that the country has been waiting for to resolve her security challenges. However, it is expected that a new injection into the security architecture will lead to fresh strategies, new leadership ethos and novel perspectives. The new service chiefs should carefully analyse their predecessors’ shortcomings and ensure that noted gaps in the efforts of the previous leadership are filled for better results.
After a careful consideration of the herculean military tasks facing these new service chiefs, I am proposing seven suggestions on the way forward.
First, they must have specific outcomes they want to see in the short to medium terms. These should be communicated to Nigerians as a way of building confidence and engendering positive expectations. Nigerians are weary of the security situation and need to be served hope on the basis of concrete plans.
Secondly, a prolonged war makes combatants weary, demotivated and demoralised. Our new leaders must think outside the box in creating new solutions to motivate the forces, alongside a new incentive system that will make them give their best.
Thirdly, wars in the 21st century are intersections between technology, politics, and psychology. I doubt if our military has taken enough advantage of technology to fight insurgency and other criminal activities plaguing our country. It is time to scale up the use of technology, both for intelligence gathering and the warfare proper.
Fourthly, there is need to urgently infuse strategies from outside the military into their operations. This is an unconventional war that needs a different approach. It is no time for “big egos” or personal interests. No one method is best for defeating insurgents. It is time to listen to other perspectives and collaborate with anyone who has anything different and plausible to offer. No military establishment or organisation can win this war alone. We need all the intelligence and security outfits and civilians, who have anything to contribute, to get involved in this war.
The new service chiefs should brace up to our nation’s challenges and note that their appointment at this time, more than at any other point in our national history, demands an enormous sense of commitment, responsibility, and determination. They must secure our nation and restore peace, order and national cohesiveness in our polity.
Fifthly, because of our current security challenges are transnational nature, we need to talk to our neighbours and collaborate with them in fighting the war. We need to involve global powers like the United States of America and Russia in order to defeat Boko Haram. It is unacceptable that we have not yet fully understood the structure, source of funding, and weapons acquisition of Boko Haram insurgents after eight years. It points to the fact that there is something wrong with our intelligence gathering capabilities.
Sixthly, it is high time the executive and legislative arms of government give the military more support in terms of resources to scale up infrastructure, technology, and human capacity to confront this monster, once and for all.
The last point is that Nigerians are yet to see the best of the coordination efforts of the National Security Adviser (NSA). The synergy of military chiefs and the NSA needs to be evident for all to see, whilst they maintain political neutrality. Without a shred of doubt the missing link in this fight against insurgency is the coordination of all the units involved in the war. This is squarely at the doorstep of the NSA.
Insecurity is perhaps the most critical issue facing the country today. Therefore, the new service chiefs must hit the ground running. The tenures of their predecessors were not without merits, so they should try and consolidate on the areas the past leadership performed well. The new service chiefs should brace up to our nation’s challenges and note that their appointment at this time, more than at any other point in our national history, demands an enormous sense of commitment, responsibility, and determination. They must secure our nation and restore peace, order and national cohesiveness in our polity.
Boosting the morale of troop would be vital in winning the fight against insurgency. Cases of desertion and the cowardly abandonment of their duty posts by soldiers, while confronting a less equipped but highly motivated enemy, is rampant. Soldiers’ salaries and allowances must be paid fully and when due. The military equipment needed to overpower the terrorists must be always made available. Service chiefs should also ensure that acts of indolence, corruption, recklessness, abuse of process and partisanship amongst the commanding officers, which negatively affect troop morale, are eliminated in the Nigerian armed forces.
The military chiefs must not allow the biases of their ethnic nationalities to influence their judgments. At this point, the military does not need those who give preference to the interests of their ethnic nationalities. They should see the entire country as their constituency.
There is also the need to get community leaders and the civil society involved in the war against insurgency. In the same vein, it is expected that all militias and armed groups are kept in check to ensure that none can challenge the state. These are part of the duties of the new service chiefs.
Nigerians are full of expectations and not ready for more excuses. Insecurity has affected all facets of the Nigerian body polity and it is threatening the country’s corporate existence. The new service chiefs must answer the call to duty.
Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.