By Augustine Akhilomen
Nothing can be more bizarre to imagination than the fact that the Nigerian military, once one of the strongest in Africa is struggling to combat an Islamist insurgent fighters in the North Eastern part of the country.
The most recent of such attacks on the Nigerian army took place in Metele, Borno State, on November 19 by some suspected IS-affiliated Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), has thrown question marks on the nation’s security in combating insurgency.
Multiple deaths have been reported after a rescue team dispatched to comb the area in the aftermath of the November 18 Boko Haram attack on Nigerian soldiers in Borno State came under fire on November 19.
The attack, which came after the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration disclosed that the Boko Haram insurgency has been technically defeated by the Nigerian Army, perhaps exposed the country’s weaknesses in dealing with salient security issues on the cover of newspapers.
Being the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Buhari is expected to have acted promptly and decisively on such sensitive matter that involved death of some personnel of Nigerian Army immediately the incident occurred.
However, it took Buhari days to find his voice after the videos of the attack on the soldiers had been widely circulated on the social media.
In his words, “No responsible Commander-in-Chief would rest on his oars or fold his hands to allow terrorists to endanger the lives of its military personnel and other citizens. Our loyal forces have proved their strength over the terrorists and we are ready to give them all the needed support in terms of equipment and manpower to succeed in ending the renewed threat.
“In the coming days, I am engaging the Military and Intelligence Chiefs in extensive discussions on the next steps we shall be taking.”
It should be noted that the attack is among the deadliest since Buhari came to power in 2015 and it has increased the pressure on him to do something urgently to end the protracted crisis ahead of the election in February 2019, not least because he has claimed victory over the nine-year insurgency.
Does it mean that the lives and sacrifices being rendered by some of the slain soldiers are not valued by the President Buhari’s administration?
Does it mean that the Nigerian Army is walking alone without the support of the Federal Government in equipping it with sophisticated weapons capable of withstanding the Islamic insurgents terrorizing innocent souls within the North Eastern part of the country?
This goes beyond just holding emergency meetings with top security apparatuses in the country without concrete results to show for it at the end.
It is also quite worrisome to imagine that the Nigeria’s defence budget is more than $6 billion — among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa — but experts say much of that is lost to corruption. Many low-level soldiers complain that they have not received their $100-per-month salary and yet they still sacrifice their lives for the interest of their fatherland.
Interesting, this will not be the first time that the Nigerian military have been ridiculed by the ‘deadly’ insurgent group poaching the North Eastern region of the country. Some years back, there was a similar attack on Maimalari Cantonment on May 14, which humiliated the Nigerian military at a time the force came under international spotlight over the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Chibok by the extremist Boko Haram sect.
In the most prominent case, 54 soldiers from the 111th Special Forces Battalion were sentenced to death for mutiny after they refused to join an operation against the insurgents in August 2015. A month earlier, the same unit had been ambushed, leaving 26 fighters dead and 83 others injured, a situation which prompted the soldiers to demand for better munitions to fight the rebels, armed with antiaircraft guns and armoured personnel carriers.
Meanwhile, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari asking him to urgently set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the spending of defence and military budgets between 1999 and 2018 in order to promote transparency and accountability in the sector.
“The military’s inability to respond adequately to the Boko Haram insurgency suggests among other things mismanagement in the spending of the country’s defence budgets. Establishing a commission of inquiry to investigate how defence and military budgets have been spent since May 29, 1999, would help Nigerians to know if the funds meant to defend the country and for purchase of arms to empower Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram have been transparently and accountably spent.
“The proposed commission should be led by a retired justice of the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The activities of the commission must be open to the public and all those who have been responsible for the spending of the country’s defence and military budgets should be summoned to give a public account of how the money was spent.
“Testimonies should be taken in a way that ensures that specific military operations are not disclosed and national security not compromised. The commission should make recommendations including on the prosecution of those found to have mismanaged and/or stolen public funds meant to fight Boko Haram,” SERAP added.
In the same vein, a South African mercenary who fought Boko Haram jihadists in Nigeria noted on his Facebook account on Sunday against President Muhammadu Buhari’s handling of the Islamist insurgency, blaming “poor political decisions” for an upsurge in violence.
“Pressure forced only a small part of the campaign to be successfully implemented before we were ordered to pack up and leave,” Barlow said.
“Many of the men we trained as part of 72 Mobile Strike Force have remained in contact with us (STTEP), pleading for our return to Nigeria,” he said.
“They have also told us that they have been used to a point of exhaustion. Northeastern Nigeria is an example of what can happen when intelligence is rejected in favour of a false narrative,” Barlow said.
“Don’t blame the armed forces when poor political decisions result in the deaths of people.”
Also, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Oby Ezekwesili, said President Muhammadu Buhari has not been an ‘effective’ Commander-in-Chief in handling security challenges the country is facing, especially the Boko Haram insurgency.
“The president has not been an effective Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He has not been! We cannot have any group whatsoever by whatever name feel this level of freedom to operate in our territory without the decisiveness of action that would end these monumental tragedies that we face all the time,” Mrs. Ezekwesili said.
In addition, a former aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Doyin Okupe, has urged President Buhari to hit Boko Haram hard.
Okupe, on Twitter, responded saying “A C-in-C doesn’t prophesy in war. He takes charge & repositions troops 4 reappraisal attacks. PMB hit BH like a General not like a Pastor.”
Consequently, former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, has criticised President Buhari for waiting for days before saying anything about the recent Boko Haram attack at Metele.
He said, “Nigeria and its people must reject a Commander-in-Chief who will wait for four days to express shock over the brutal killing of over 100 of his soldiers. His time is up!
“If it were to be issues concerning his reelection bid, he will be aware immediately and deploy necessary agencies of govt, but on the killing of over 100 of our soldiers by Boko Haram, our President was not aware until about 7pm today and they said he was shocked! His time is up!
“May our departed gallant soldiers rest in peace and may God deliver our country from the hands of a Commander-in-Chief that will wait for days to express shock over the brutal killing of over 100 of his soldiers.”
By and large, President Muhammadu Buhari must show some sense of human feelings for the lives that have being lost by the Nigerian army and prepare a template that would help to subdue the Islamic Insurgents in order to give the army some element of pride.