Every statement that comes out of the tongue of the Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Tukur Buratai has the limitless capacity of attracting attention. That is because he is Nigeria’s chief warrior against the insurgents in North Eastern Nigeria, a war that has ramped up pain and punishment for thousands of men, women and children in Nigeria for the past 10 years or so.
Out of a sense of war weariness combined with a sense of expectancy of the silencing of the guns Nigerians often expect to hear from Buratai a heart-warming message from the frontlines not the propaganda laden lingo of Boko Haram being “technically defeated,” “almost defeated” or “nearly defeated.” Anytime I hear this exercise in verbal perambulation I remember what my primary school teacher used to say to us when we thought we missed the correct answer to a problem only narrowly.
He would tell us matter-of-factly that “Nearly does not kill a bird.” We all expect Buratai to end the war soon and bring our misery as a people and as a nation to a closure. When he spoke recently about the need for spiritual warfare I think many Nigerians must have wondered whether the man wants to exchange his position with some of the many well-known spiritual warriors that dot Nigeria’s landscape and spew all kinds of messages, doomsday messages mainly, about Nigeria. You don’t need to be an imam or a reverend gentleman to know that Nigeria is in a very bad shape right now so the predictions by these pastors are not inspired by the gift of clairvoyance or crystal ball gazing or vision from God. Any perceptive analyst can see that the signs are dire and except Nigeria makes a quick and definite effort to dig itself out of the hole in which it is now we will all be on the road to a destination we did not bargain for. Buratai said at a seminar in Sokoto that we must deploy spiritual warfare in the fight against insurgency and other forms of restiveness.
He said: “Boko Haram and the like cannot be totally defeated by kinetic military warfare alone.” Although his statement is capable of being misinterpreted I believe that since the Boko Haram insurgency has some religious connotation he is right in asking us to seek help from God. All moslems and Christians in Nigeria believe that God can be helpful if we invite Him to intervene in our affairs. Inviting God to be our helper is not a substitute for doing the needful. Many Nigerian leaders are fond of saying, whenever an avoidable calamity occurs that it is an act of God. That is fatalism which has been recklessly used by many Nigerian leaders for their failure to act, failure to do their duties and a reason not to be held accountable.
It is pure mental laziness. I went to Apapa a few months ago for the first time in a long time and I saw rows and rows of oil tankers lining up on the bridge bumper to bumper. I shuddered because the day one of them explodes Lagos will be gone. And then those whose duty it is to ensure that we do not stack the tankers in the heap that can reduce Lagos to rubble in a matter of hours will then tell us that the calamity is an act of God. I am sure that Buratai truly believes that God can be helpful to Nigeria in the Boko Haram fight. I believe, as I suspect he does, in the Muslim proverb that says that “prayer carries us halfway to God, fasting brings us to the door of His palace and alms-giving procures us admission.”
It is my suggestion that Buratai believes in the words of Dryden that “we are glad to have God on our side to maul our enemies when we cannot do the work ourselves” God cannot be made by us to be a substitute for our lack of appropriate equipment, lack of accurate intelligence, lack of undivided commitment by the soldiers and lack of exceptional leadership by the commanders.
On May 13, 1935, a French Foreign Minister had suggested that Russia should do something to encourage the Catholics in order to please the Pope. The Russian Marshall and Dictator Joseph Stalin promptly responded, “The Pope! How many divisions has he got? That was a sharp dismissal of the moral and spiritual authority of religion. In other words prayers are good in a war or in any situation but definitely not sufficient.
There are many wise cracks on the issue of God and accomplishments by human beings. In many shops in the United States there are notices that say: “In God we trust, all others cash.” In war settings there is this one: “Put your trust in God and keep your powder dry.” There are a few other proverbs that I would like Buratai and his team to take on board. Here they are: “God is always on the side of the big battalions.” “Fortune favours the strong.”
What all these mean is that you must do your duty as a human being paying close attention to the details because, really, God resides in the details. In a war the details come from the quality of equipment, quality of intelligence, quality of the men and women on the front lines and quality of the leadership.
A famous war General George Patton said that “war may be fought with weapons but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.”
On one occasion wives of our soldiers had demonstrated on behalf of their husbands who they claimed were saddled with outdated equipment while the Boko Haram terrorists were using superior weapons.
The women claimed that was the reason some of their spouses were killed and all they wanted was good equipment for their husbands. On another occasion, some of the soldiers were reported to have refused to fight because of the failure to pay them their allowances. This kind of absurdity cannot make for a morale boost at the war front and the impression has also been given or gained that the combatants from different arms of the Armed Forces are apparently working separately if not at cross purposes with each other. If there is a lack of efficient coordination and a lack of intelligence sharing then our war efforts will suffer from unexpected handicaps. A war is a very difficult enterprise and this particular war also includes a mental dimension over and above what is a always present in all wars.
The heretical message of Boko Haram is that western education is sinful. And in a place where western education is not regarded as one of the most important items of societal transformation Boko Haram’s message gets a ready hearing. See how many young people are being chained, cained and maltreated in several towns in Northern Nigeria in the name of Islamic indoctrination. Such people are fertile minds for stupid indoctrination by Boko Haram. That is why the insurgents are able to recruit them as suicide bombers.
So there are all kinds of angles from which to look at the insurgency in the north: the educational, religious and military. If the leaders in the north continue to make their people illiterate hewers of wood and drawers of water for the elite, then the katakata that will come can only be imagined, not described. Boko Haram may, by comparison, be child’s play. Buratai is right to talk about spiritual warfare.
He should also talk educational warfare because that is very important in the war matrix. Those who think Buratai should only worry about military tactics are wrong.
War must be looked at comprehensively, holistically, because victory is in the details as guaranteed by God based on the strength of the fighting forces. Governor Nelson Rockefeller of the United States was in love with the expression: “the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God (BOMFOG). He recognized as a leader that he needed the combination of man’s talent and God’s support for success at any time. Buratai needs both.