There is no sugar-coating it. These are difficult times, not the best of times for the Armed Forces of Nigeria. And last weekend was particularly painful, especially in the Northeast operational area under Operation Lafiya Dole.
Sunday April 25, 2021 was particularly a bad day for the troops in the North East battling against Boko Haram/Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists as the terrorists invaded the heavily fortified 156 Task Force Battalion, Mainok Army Super Camp. In the fire fight and confusion, the Battalion Commander, a Lieutenant Colonel and six soldiers were killed.
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The terrorists drove into the community located just 55 kilometres away from the state capital, Maiduguri, along the Maiduguri – Damaturu highway, in a convoy of between 15 and 20 vehicles. Apart from fighting the troops and carting away military supplies, they set houses of residents on fire as they broke into and looted shops.
The incident in Mainok was on just as Boko Haram/ISWAP still held and terrorized Geidam, headquarters of Geidam Local Government Area (LGA) of Yobe State. It is also the hometown of Acting Inspector General of Police, Baba Alkali. They attacked the community on Friday. But after initial air bombardment by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) jets, they retreated, only to attack again.
The chairman of Geidam LGA, Honourable Ali Kolo, said thousands of his people are still trapped and mingling with the terrorists inside the town, even as they slaughtered two people on Sunday morning including a Kawuri Primary School teacher, Malam Baba Tazira. Hundreds of people are displaced in the town and are currently taking refuge in neighbouring Yunusari LGA or the state capital, Damaturu.
This is not the way it used to be. Something is definitely wrong. There must be urgent changes, either in strategy or personnel as the way they are going, these terrorists may override even Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Things are really bad. Many soldiers are being killed in the terrorists’ invasions. This is becoming unbearable. Personally, I have never felt so bad.
As a former Defence Correspondent of The Guardian on the frontline of reporting how the Nigerian military fought and subdued foreign trained fighters in Liberia and Sierra Leone under the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), the situation is disheartening. It is difficult to believe that this is the same Armed Forces of Nigeria.
Some stories from the North East war theatre are most worrisome. The most discomforting is that it is most times difficult to distinguish between Nigerian Army vehicles and those of the terrorists. With this, even ground troops and Nigerian Air Force (NAF) aircraft find it difficult knowing if a gun truck or operational vehicle is a friend or foe, after all, it is same colour, same vehicles as the one in the Army’s inventory.
On Sunday, the Abuja-based Daily Trust did an expose on this, revealing that out of about 30 armoured fighting vehicles procured in order to turn the tide in the intractable war against terrorism, 16 were either destroyed or taken away by Boko Haram/ISWAP.
In reality, these terrorists have been fighting the Armed Forces of Nigeria largely with the military’s supplies of weapons as they have perfected the art of invading Army bases, carting away guns, APCs, rocket launchers, gun trucks, Hilux vehicles and communication gadgets. Towards this, between 2018 and the first quarter of 2021, Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgents have raided at least 38 Army formations in the North East, carting away military supplies. The fear is that a frightening percentage of the weapons procured for the Army is ending up in terrorists’ hands.
Yet, the most alarming is that the terrorists seem to know every move of the soldiers and even when aircraft is called in. This they are perfecting by deliberately targeting Army’s communication gadgets and radios and use them to monitor their movements and plans. On Sunday in Mainok, they took possession of the communication gadgets and used it to their great advantage till late in the day. Something must be done quickly.
The other issue plaguing the operation is lack of coordination. And this is where the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, Chief of Army Staff (Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru), Chief of Naval Staff (Vice Admiral Awall Gambo) and Chief of the Air Staff (Air Marshal Oladayo Amao) have already scored a home run, committing to joint operations.
And at the strategic level, this has become operational with the synergy they are working. But it is yet to sink in fully. Perhaps it would take more time because in the last few years, the Services (Army and NAF) didn’t synchronised their operations. And now that synergy is being inculcated in all military operations, it has not been easy. This may be part of what is driving the allegations of bombing own troops.
Yet, generally, the frequent breaches of Army bases may have a lot to do with the quality of the recruitment and deployment of officers and men. Let the truth be told. The last set of real voluntary military personnel will soon be history in the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
What we have largely now is that entry to Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) is not just about the brilliance of the candidates anymore as it used to be. It is more about who is backing you.
It now seems that it is mostly the children or relations of the politically-connected – Presidency officials, ministers, National Assembly, governors, top traditional, religious or business elite that make it to NDA. Even for the lower ranks, the same pressure makes it difficult for children of ‘nobodies’ to be enlisted into the Army, Navy or Air Force, unless they have an acceptable Note from any of the above.
It is difficult to believe but corruption, favouritism and nepotism have crept and occupied the military recruitment process such that the era of qualified, tough, willing and able young men and women eager to serve in uniform and if possible lay down their lives for Nigeria is becoming a fairy tale. For many of those in service now, especially those recruited in the last two decades, they just have a job. But serving in the military is much more than a job. It demands a passion to also give all you have for the best of the country.
It is also worthy of note that the CDS and Service Chiefs have signalled they are prioritising competence. This is because the failure of troops in the battlefield has much to do with the choice and deployment of competent officers. There were much tales of preferential posting of some officers and favouritism in appointments in the past. This milks troops’ morale and discipline. There are stories of politically-connected individuals dictating postings for their children or relations, and even campaign for their promotions.
Whatever is the situation, Nigerians are in no mood for any reason of failure. The situation in the North East demands swift ‘fire and fury’ reaction. Immediately, a crack team of the Army’s best should be redeployed to the frontlines. This is a national emergency. Nothing should be spared in bombing and smoking out the terrorists from their hideouts and camps.
The terrorists should be made to know that they have touched the beard of a lion. And for the sake of the gallant men and women who have paid the supreme sacrifice in this war efforts, the guns and antics of these terrorists, and any troubler of Nigeria, must be silenced. And the time is now. There should be no joking with nonsense. Nobody should touch the ‘raw’ of the Armed Forces of Nigeria and sleep, unless it is eternal.
Madu Onuorah, a veteran Defence Correspondent, sent this piece from Abuja