This column started a series last week, which I promised to publish on these pages in the next few weeks. But I am jettisoning it this week to discuss with my readers the reasons why the change of guard atop the nation’s armed forces will only, at best, make little positive difference.
The personalities of the new service chiefs, who have replaced the ones that have resigned and retired last week, have since been in the public domain, and so this column is assuming they are the round pegs in round holes needed to restore Nigeria to peace, as canvassed by many.
This column has since its debut in August 2019 devoted a lot of attention to our national security, arguing that the twin wars against banditry and terror go beyond mere personalities of the service chiefs; that there are issues of more fundamental importance being ignored both by the government and the people; and that, unless these issues are fully addressed, we can only continue chasing shadows, with little or no difference seen in our fight against the twin evils, even if America’s CIA or special forces were to be in charge of the war.
Firstly, there is too much frustration in the land, with Nigeria having a rate of unemployment that is one of the highest in the world. Very recently, this country was dubbed as the poverty capital of the world. This alone underscores the depth of frustration in the land. President Buhari’s efforts to address some of the acts of serious injustice and imbalance in the country have met a brick wall.
The governors are averse to a functional local government system that was giving lots of hope to ordinary Nigerians. Sons and daughters of the have-nots have risen to become local council chairmen or councillors. So also access to contracts and other privileges. But we now have a system where our legislators, whose salary and humongous allowances are the highest in the world, also greedily deny almost every opportunity for ordinary Nigerians to thrive. Most job offers are being snatched by them. So also the social investment programmes under which the government of the day has spent trillions of naira so far. Our legislators have also turned themselves to contractors, as accounts from the Niger Delta Development Commission have proven. Yet, even at that, many of them are so callous as to blatantly refuse to discharge the contracts, even after collecting full payments for them.
Rather than create jobs by patronizing goods that are made in Nigeria, our politicians have a mad taste for foreign goods, including for the most expensive wines and beer that is the highest in the world. The House of Representatives purchased hundreds of cars for its members, and refused to patronize our own INNOSON Motors, which will have created thousands of jobs and reduced our insecurity.
And yet, this country has a very active population, with 32 years old and under accounting for a whopping 72 per cent of our national population. What these mean is that criminal elements will always find it easy to recruit soldiers from among our teeming idle youths, including out of school children that number about fourteen million, one of the highest in the whole world.
Also, the four service chiefs replaced were in reality only offering a helping hand in the fight against insurgency and banditry. Both evils are internal security challenges that are the primary responsibility of the police and the Department of State Service (DSS). The small international dimension to the war, such as ISIS setting up ISWAP and the infiltration of killer herdsmen, are clear failings of the Nigeria Immigration Service, which has proven most ineffective in manning our borders. Also, over the years, the Nigeria Customs Service has became more interested in rice and stopping its importation, rather than dwelling more on sophisticated weapons being smuggled most times through our borders.
What this means is that, unless the large-scale importation or smuggling of sophisticated arms is stopped by the Nigeria Customs Service, terrorist and bandits will continue to get fresh supplies of these weapons, at a time our troops are mainly handicapped to get the same, since they have to procure their own from legitimate sources, meaning some countries producing them.
But then there is the issue of some opposition elements writing letters to parliaments and presidents of these countries selling the weapons. Their demand has always been that Nigeria, their own country, should not be sold any weapon, on the allegation, most of it false, that it has been trampling on freedoms of its citizens. Yet, the same persons making these allegations and destroying the image of Nigeria would deploy the social media to abuse the government of the day, and most often, nothing would happen to them – an indication of the same freedom that they falsely allege they have been denied is very much available to them.
Efforts by the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, to ensure these weapons were produced locally were met with very hostile comments even from some respected individuals. Still, he soldiered on, producing mine-resistant ambush vehicles and many others weapons that the Nigerian Army relies on in prosecuting the war.
So, in essence, in as much as our commentary on national security would continue to be based on religious and ethnic sentiments, there is simply no way we will ever appreciate our military and encourage the forces and their leadership to do more, in our protection.
Psychology is a key element of war. The troops, being in different forests or trenches, may not know what they are achieving unless they are told. Sadly, in this country, most of the commentaries are always negative, giving the troops a false feeling of being subdued by the enemies. It largely informed why some of them were reportedly deserting the armed forces, seeing no silver lining on the horizon.
Also, unless our Immigration Service discharges its constitutional responsibility fully, and not by half measures, meaningful peace will continue to elude us, as bandits and Boko Haram could always engage foreigners to help fight the war for them, since our borders are very porous.
On the part of the government, it is surprising that the recent changes only affected heads of four out of twenty seven security organisations, some of which have a larger share of the blame for worsening of our insecurity situation. It is also shocking that their supervisor, the National Security Adviser, has been left in his position, even when most Nigerians know he has failed woefully in proper coordination of our national security. It is clear the man does not have the capacity for the big office he is manning, and should have been relieved of his job a long time ago. The sad and painful reality is that for as long as this same man continues in that position, we will be deceiving ourselves as a nation thinking this war would be won anytime soon. It is an important office that should properly coordinate the war and handle many other issues of our national security, but which it has woefully been failing to discharge since the appointment of the current holder of that office almost six years ago.
There is also the issue of our indisciplined politicians who like stoking the embers of discord almost everywhere. As of last week when the four immediate past service chiefs resigned, the Nigerian army in particular has been engaged in putting off fires started by our politicians in at least thirty two out of thirty six Nigerian states. Nigeria is about the only country I know, whose politicians irresponsibly use national security to settle political scores.
Our politicians and religious leaders have succeeded in dividing our armed forces along political, ethnic and religious lines, though a large segment have continued to remain apolitical owing to the efforts of the last helmsmen in charge of the military. But so bad was the situation that cases of mutiny were recorded, mostly with religious or political undertones. Some politicians even support the rank and file to abuse the service chiefs, or obey lawful instructions passed to them by their superiors. This is a fact the armed forces managed to keep away from the public, but which it did everything to handle as efficiently as possible. Now that some overly-ambitious officers have lost out in the battle to be appointed service chiefs, chances are that they are going to align with some unscrupulous politicians to sabotage the system, exactly the same thing they did against the four chiefs that just retired.
The former service chiefs were needlessly blamed for failure to man every space in Nigeria. What many Nigerians fail to realize is that the entire armed forces of Nigeria, including the police, number only a little above five hundred thousand. For a country having 923.768 billion square meters, it is practically impossible to man every nook and cranny of the country. And for as long as this cannot happen, spaces will always be left for terrorists and bandits to exploit and attack soft targets, especially when they are pinned to the wall, as the former chiefs successfully did.
That huge gap can only be filled by the citizens through intense cooperation with the security services. Everywhere else in the world, including our immediate neighbours, the locals drive intelligence. But here, we are mostly experts in deploying our smartphones to do mischievous videos, just to portray the armed forces in bad light. We were so deep in our animosity against the armed forces that a foreigner may think Nigeria had two sets of armed forces, one for the government, another for the citizens.
Another fundamental factor is funding: no country in history has ever won a war against terror and banditry with less than 5 percent of its gross domestic product. With all the talk about billions being released to the military, what many Nigerians do not know is that this country has been applying only half percent of its GDP in the twin wars against terror and banditry. That is a serious far-cry. Of course the Buhari Administration may not altogether be blamed for this. The reality is that the money is simply not there. None of the elders or legislators that were making strong cases for removal of the immediate past service chiefs raised a voice against Goodluck Jonathan when his administration shared over two billion dollars to politicians in desperate bid to have him reelected as president in 2015.
Ridiculously, while the entire Nigeria police has only three operational helicopters, New York City alone has seven. The entire budget of the Nigerian Defence sector is only a fraction of that of the New York Fire Service, while the entire budget of Nigeria itself is not up to that of the University of California.
Yet, war is like a drainpipe that needs massive resources on a sustainable basis. Nobody in America is raising an eyebrow, even when the country’s armed forces have so far spent over three trillion dollars in fighting the Taliban. Nobody in that country is calling for change of service chiefs because the armed forces have failed to vanquish the Taliban after more than twenty years of war without victory. The reason is simple: in America and everywhere else in the world, politicians know when to draw the line when the matter at stake is national security. Here we make capital out of every attack to condemn the military and its leadership. Ask any of the former service chiefs or their close aides. That alone tends to destabilize them and badly affect the morale of the fighting forces.
Unless the new service chiefs are going to get the cooperation of the media, traditional and social, I do not see them achieving much, if anything better than their predecessors. Nigeria is also one of the few places in the world that I know, where terrorists and bandits get free publicity worth several billions of naira. Of course for the traditional media, the editors and reporters are hardly doing so deliberately, but there is the fact of media ownership in this country, with politicians with vested interests having the upper hand. Some of them see the media as a means of pulling down the government, once it does not serve their interests. The social media is being deployed here mostly for negative purposes.
There are very high expectations on the part of Nigerians on the new service chiefs. The impression has been created that once the previous ones were changed, all our insecurity problems were going to disappear overnight. But even though it may too early to say so, the fact is nothing has changed so far, and hardly would anything ever would. I am not a prophet of doom, but these are realities we cannot shy away from.
And as this column has always argued, whoever would replace the former service chiefs, must be senior officers that have been key parts of the everyday decision making process in the armed forces. Incidentally, all the four new service chiefs have played key roles in the theatre of war against terror in the northeast. Which means they have been part and parcel of the solution being fashioned by their former bosses. Did I hear you talk of putting old wines in new bottles?
Definitely it is in the best interest of Nigerians if we all cooperate with the new service chiefs, and indeed the entire security apparatus, to help them secure a safer Nigeria for us all. Sadly, we can only do so when the realities enunciated above are properly and fully addressed. And the earlier this is done, the better for us all, as a nation.
Doing anything less will be akin to chasing shadows or engaging in sabre-rattling. Bring the best military chiefs in the world, they will achieve very little or nothing here, given our prevailing circumstances. And it is on that score that I doff my hat to the ones that retired last week, for recording unprecedented achievements against all odds.