It was a bright summer afternoon on the outskirts of Maiduguri when a moving military vehicle spotted a heavily pregnant woman bearing a small child of barely one year old. The woman was trekking to a nearby military checkpoint, obviously seeking help, and the load she was carrying, coupled with the small child and her pregnancy, were clearly making her task all the more Herculean.
In line with the renewed training for military personnel in Nigeria to be as compassionate as possible to civilians, especially victims of the war against terror, the commander of the team, an army captain, decided to help the woman, and he asked the vehicle to stop. That, however, turned out to be a costly mistake, as unbeknownst to him, the woman was a Boko Haram terrorist, and she wasted no time in detonating the high-caliber bomb strapped around her waist. She killed the army captain and all but one occupant of the vehicle.
Since the beginning of Nigeria’s war against terror in 2009, Boko Haram terrorists have devised several means to kill innocent Nigerians, including using decoys to ambush the army fighting them to a standstill. They do this with ease because by appearance, a Boko Haram member does not look any different from the rest of us.
On August 23, 2015, a few days after he was appointed Army Chief, Lt. General Tukur Yusufu Buratai embarked on a tour of troops locations in Borno State. Boko Haram was at that time on the verge of taking over Maiduguri, having taken over and were in full control of tens of local governments areas of the state. About forty kilometers out of the city, the convoy of the Army Chief was audaciously attacked by Boko Haram terrorists.
Mr. Jibrin Ndace, a senior journalist who was embedded with the troops at that time, wrote that General Buratai ordered the convoy to stop and the soldiers pursued the fleeing terrorists into the bush, until all of them were either captured or killed. That was how daring and close the terrorists were, to taking total control of large swathes of Nigeria.
That’s choking attack however, did not stop the Army Chief from extending kindness to civilians in critical need, with the latest of such acts coming on February 14, 2020. The Maiduguri-Dambua Road had been closed down by the army for about a year, as the terrorists were using it to lay ambush on innocent civilians. On that day, the road was being official reopened by the armed forces, and the Army Chief was doing the risky job of flying it for the first time since the closure when he saw a commercial vehicle full of passengers, parked by the roadside.
The occupants of the vehicle were obviously stranded, and so, he asked his convoy to stop. It emerged that the vehicle had broken down in the middle of nowhere, and the passengers were filled with real fear when a savior came. All the passengers were evacuated into one of the vehicles in his convoy, and a team was sent to fix the vehicle.
Unlike military personnel who must wear uniform at all times while on duty, Boko Haram and other terrorists dress like every other civilian. Like the woman who succeeded in killing the military vehicle, many of them would appear as old men or women seeking desperate help, and once a move is made to render assistance, they callously kill the helper and consign him to the dustbin of history.
It is on record that several personnel had been killed by ordinary-looking civilians approaching checkpoints.
The troops have always faced a Hobson’s choice in situations of that kind: when they kill the approaching civilian, who in most cases are terrorists, organizations like the Amnesty International will hype the matter in the global and local media, showcasing the Nigerian military as barbaric and irresponsible. If, on the other hand the troops fail to take action, chances are that they all would be killed and the nation will move on without them. Sadly, the same people that they were killed in defending will turn their back on them and deploy the social media, hailing the terrorists for killing our own national troops. Only in Nigeria does this kind of thing happen, and all because of cheap politics.
Since the advent of this column in The Sun newspaper, I have made it a cardinal policy to take sides with Nigerian troops and write hailing them for their endless sacrifices, even if that is all I am going to do every week. I am not a soldier, but have an idea of the deep pain victims of the war against terror go through when my very dear friend and colleague, Suleiman Bisallah, at that time Managing Editor of the New Telegraph was killed in cold blood when Boko Haram attacked the popular Emab Plaza in Abuja six years ago. The innocent man had gone to the plaza to pick his phone that he had taken for repairs, and on his way out, a bomb went off and tore him to pieces, barely 30 minutes after I spoke with him on phone. I collapsed when I saw his mangled body in the mortuary of Maitama Hospital.
Many Nigerians have forgotten that until the present leadership of the armed forces were appointed five years ago, Boko Haram was operating in many states of Nigeria virtually at will. The terrorists had even daringly attacked the Police Force Headquarters, barely a kilometer from the Presidential Villa, and had made a show of attacking the world by striking at the United Nations building in Abuja. At that time, many churches and mosques were virtually deserted. So also markets, as people feared for their lives. In those days, churches and mosques, as well as markets, were attacked in different cities almost on daily basis.
Then came President Buhari, who campaigned, among other things, on the promise to defeat the Boko Haram terrorists. Within three months, the ability of Boko Haram to hit at such major targets was severely limited, and they were forced out of Abuja and other northern cities, as far as Kano and Sokoto that they were attacking at will. They were limited to the northeast.
Many Nigerians fail to appreciate the fact that this administration’s promise to rout out the terrorists in a record time was made severely difficult because a neighboring country, in obvious advancement of the Anglophone and Francophone countries rivalry, was according sanctuary to the terrorists, meaning that whenever the Nigerian troops pursued the terrorists, they will run to that country and hide in the shores of the Lake Chad.
Many Nigerians fail to appreciate the fact that these terrorists were being armed and trained by a foreign super-power, but even at that, they were getting a breather only when they run to our neighbour that was giving them sanctuary.
One of the major things that give any army the teeth with which to bite is the sophistication of its arms and ammunition. Sadly, whereas the terrorists were getting regular supply of those weapons by their sponsors, the ability of the Nigerian troops was severely limited as a result of foreign powers in whose countries those weapons are produced refusing to allow Nigeria purchase the weapons. Even the few that allow so, will not deliver until years after the order has been made.
Notwithstanding these insurmountable odds, the Nigerian troops that some Nigerians find pleasure in deriding have made it impossible for the terrorists to expand beyond a limited space in the northeast. Many have forgotten that it was the sacrifice of our military that made it possible for them to continue engaging in mischief, because without Boko Haram being limited to a few places in the northeast, the terrorists will probably by now have captured Abuja, Kano, Sokoto, Kaduna and make forays deep down the southern planks of the country and hoist their flag of evil all over Nigeria.
It was the peace brought about by the armed forces that has given us the relative peace to power our smartphones or computers and write all sorts of negative stuff against the armed forces.
When a full-scale war erupted in Rwanda and that country’s armed forces were overwhelmed, all media houses in that country closed shop, and even the electricity with which to charge phones and enjoy life was not there, as their national grid had collapsed and destroyed.
In fact, the struggle for their citizens was all about the ability to feed even once, as people in certain parts of Kigali were forced to be drinking their urine, in the total absence of water supply for months. It is courtesy of our armed forces that Nigeria has not found itself in that kind of situation, even if a total resolution of the entire problem is still a work in progress.
When the armed forces of Nigeria realized they were not getting the needed help from the foreign powers that produce the weapons that they need, except for a few, as mentioned earlier, they resorted to manufacturing their own weapons, though not in industrial scale. Very shockingly however, some Nigerians took to the social media condemning the move, saying the army was losing focus with the production of weapons that will as much as possible boost our defences and enrich us even economically.
Boko Haram terrorists play on the ignorance of our teeming young men and women to recruit them as soldiers. The Buhari Administration felt that an enduring approach goes beyond merely killing the present crop of terrorists, but to entirely wipe out terrorism from our shores. This, it decided to do by elevating knowledge and education and placing them in the front burner, especially in the theatre of war. The wisdom behind this is simple: It is a Herculean task hiring a well educated person to become a terrorist. And so, the Nigerian Army set up a university in Biu, a major town in the southern fringes of Borno. It was a move commended by countless well meaning Nigerians and several global citizens. But not the few that had control over the social media in our shores. They went to town with all sorts of spurious stories, ridiculously even labeling that bastion of knowledge as a misplacement of priority.
A latest indicator of the need for more educational institutions in the northeast could be seen in the fact that this year, the University of Maiduguri is the number one in admitting more students among Nigerian universities. It is a deliberate policy that the government of the day has been promoting, and it has luckily been getting good support from Governor Zulum of Borno, as well as his Yobe counterpart Mai Mala Buni, who are doing the best they could in elevating primary and secondary education in the theatre of war. Without all that, what it means is that the best that the military could do is to extinguish the present crop of the leadership of the terrorists, which they have been doing, but leaving behind a system that makes it possible for the terrorists to continue to bounce back, indoctrinating our teeming young population, with the implication being that the war could continue in the next one hundred years or so.
In its bid to woo the civilian population and get all of us to play our role as worthy citizens that volunteer needed information, the military has built and/or upgraded its hospitals not just to cater for wounded soldiers or members of their family, but also other Nigerians, such that civilians are far more in number than military personnel, among beneficiaries of such sophisticated medical centers. It also engages in medical outreaches to communities, drilling boreholes to many areas in critical need of water supply, and setting up shops and supermarkets to make items more affordable to its personnel and civilians.
Yet, the army achieves all these at a time not a dime has been released to it since the beginning of this year, for capital projects. This much was revealed to a shocked nation by no less a personality than the Senate Committee Chairman on Army, the irrepressible Senator Ali Ndume. He complained that whereas President Muhammadu Buhari has since issued the necessary approvals, certain individuals in government are holding it back, thereby starving our armed forces of much needed funds. How,does the army manage to achieve these? The secret is, of course, probity and accountability that have since been enshrined in the system. Leakages have as much as possible been blocked, and the little that is available is being utilized maximally
I have reported last week, and it is openly known to most readers, that the American armed forces have never lacked in funds and sophisticated weapons in its fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet that war has so far taken over twenty years, with over three trillion dollars spent. But the American troops has been getting all the support they need from their people, who believe, like Hans Sebald Beham, that “patience is one of the greatest attributes of war; and that it is the ability to endure waiting, delay or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset, or to persevere calmly when faced with difficulties.”
The fact that the Taliban is still attacking the American forces does not mean the terrorist group is having any headway in the war against civilization. Similarly, the fact that bandits and terrorists are now resorting to hitting soft targets in Nigeria does not mean they are in any way having a headway against our armed forces. Losing a loved one is the height of deep pain, and it is all part of the propaganda unleashed by those criminals to make the people rise against the Nigerian State, and in so doing inadvertently helping them advance their evil cause.
A lot of compatriots do not even know that we, the citizens, have a bigger role bigger than that of the military in winning the war against terror. One of the greatest military generals in global history, General Smith Paton, who commanded the American Seventh Army in the Mediterranean theatre of World War 2 after the allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, famously said wars are caused by politicians who use it to advance selfish interests.
The military that we take pleasure in deriding was far from the scene when some selfish politicians set up the armed group that metamorphosed to Boko Haram. The military is also not participating in the ongoing political war taking place in Edo State, which could also metamorphos to a full scale war beyond even the imagination of those fueling the fire at the moment. The military was also not there when a former governor of Zamfara State is spending two hundred and forty million naira to drill boreholes whose real cost is not up to five million naira, and also engaging in endless acts of injustice that has helped in igniting banditry in the state, which has now spread to other states, with some politicians opposed to the present order also taking advantage to worsen the situation. The civilians who are sponsoring bandits and kidnappers did not involve the military in perpetrating all these evils. Yet, when the fire rises, it is the same military that has no hand in bringing about that will be called upon to put it out.
So in essence if politicians get their acts right by playing the game selflessly and patriotically, there won’t even be need for such wars against the nation, and those soldiers killed in line of duty will have been alive today, in the comfort of their families. General Buratai will also have had no need relocating to the northeast, leading the war against terrorists, and the military in general will not have been overstretched by operating in all the states of the federation, putting out fire needlessly stoked by civilians and politicians.
Though politicians created Boko Haram, if we, the civilians, especially the people of Maiduguri had been cooperating with the security services by volunteering important information, Boko Haram and banditry will not have had a foothold in the country. Inspite of the victories that the military has been scoring against them, bandits are still killing people in Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, parts of Kaduna and other places because some highly placed people in those areas are complicit in promoting them. The governor of Zamfara State has had to summon immeasurable courage to depose some powerful emirs and senior title holders in parts of his state after finding them guilty of supporting the bandits.
Some people will see bandits riding into towns on motorcycles, but all they would do is to snap videos of them and share same in the social media. Some would even go to the ridiculous extent of using videos of political events that happened years ago, or some happening in a foreign land, and share it in the name of bandits attacking some area. Through all that, the bandits have been accorded a larger-than-life image and status, such that even our courageous vigilantes that were confronting and killing them are now afraid and go into hiding when the bandits make an approach towards their towns and villages. Hardly would anyone care to place a call to the armed forces. And in some cases some villagers will deceitfully call the armed forces on phone even when there was no attack.
So strong is the way some Nigerians are cooperating with bandits and terrorists that the military had since stopped operating from Katsina airport, because as soon as a war plane takes off from that airport, some agents of the bandits would call and warn them to go into hiding. Many villagers do the same when the ground troops are advancing on locations where the bandits hide.
Similarly, if the media will in unison, as they do in other countries, give solid support to the military and give a total blackout to the terrorists and bandits in our newspapers, radio and television, the propaganda that is fueling their actions will have had no platform to spread, and we all will have been breeding a more peaceful and prosperous country that we will live in peace and tranquility and be very proud of.
It is shocking when you hear some Nigerians disputing casualty figures released by our armed forces, but believing hook, line and sinker, those issued by the terrorists, forgetting that the soldiers are fighting to defend all of us, and will very much love to also be in the comfort of their homes and offices, as the rest of us have been.
Welcoming Northern Ireland’s STEMM academy to Nigeria
It is with pleasure that this column welcomes Northern Ireland’s first private independent science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) academy to Nigeria. As the great Nelson Mandela said, education is the only weapon with which you can change the world. This move is good for Nigeria because STEMM is partnering with the National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM), an agency of the Federal Government, to bring a host of opportunities to Nigerians, especially those of us that were not born with any silver spoons in our mouths.
Professor (Dr.) Terence McIvor has founded Northern Ireland’s first private international STEMM training institution – the Academy for International Science and Research (AISR) – which was officially launched during the week in Abuja, by AISR’s Director of Business and Curriculum Development, Prince Adeniyi Enero John, a resourceful Nigerian who is also the founder of the Global Scholarship Trust, an NGO that has been granting scholarships to indigent students to study in some of the best universities in the world.
The AISR has been established in response to a clear market need to address the decline in the interest, enjoyment and uptake of STEMM subjects among young people. What makes it different is that it offers more meaningful and practical teaching approaches to students, and gears them for career progression and skills for business and other trades.
Its Corporate Head Office is located in the historic city of Derry~Londonderry, (Northern Ireland) and AISR’s new Clarendon Street campus offers local, national and international students vocational training to the highest standards (technical professional level) in areas such as engineering, science, mathematics, Medicine, IT and interactive media and cyber security.
AISR will deliver new, International and truly global study programmes and initiatives, that will help to educate and upskill the talent of the future, and presents a persuasive case to students about the multiple benefits associated with studying STEMM.
The partnering organisation, NACETEM, is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Nigeria, that was established in 1993 to provide critical knowledge support in the area of science, technology and innovation (STI) management for sustainable development. The Agency has, since inception, trained over 5000 middle-to-high level manpower in STI management and played a leading role in the production of the current science, technology and innovation policy in Nigeria.
Speaking at the launching, Prof. Dr. Terence McIvor, CEO and Chairman of AISR International Group, said: “This is a momentous day, I am very proud to open our African office in Abuja, Nigeria in partnership with NACETEM, called AISR Curriculum Assessment, Examinations and Accreditation Standards Office with Prince Adeniyi Enero John as Director of Business and Curriculum Development and Engr (Prof) Okechukwu Ukwuoma, Director General/CEO of the National Centre for Technology Management.”
With AISR Africa now officially open for business, it will be reaching out to local school leavers, students wishing to enter higher education, those looking for highly skilled jobs and life-long learners, encouraging them to study STEMM in new and innovative ways and through partnerships to open up new entry points to industry, commerce and business.
This column hopes that more global institutions that offer real-time opportunities to children of the poor in Nigeria would find our beloved country a worthy place to set up shop and deepen knowledge and education in the country.