Five Reasons Nigeria is Losing the war against Boko Haram
Every time in history and everywhere in the world, terrorists’ objectives are often murky and undefined to outright ridiculous. Yet, attacks are often targeted to maximize fear and publicity. Attacks planned in advance are usually executed through means ranging from crude to sometimes, sophisticated with the aim of causing the highest possible casualty.
Boko Haram’s ideology is founded on the Salafi-Jihadi movement. It proposes that interaction with the Western world is forbidden especially western education and seeks to replace the government of Nigeria with a theocratic regime based on Islamic shariah law. Boko Haram is reported to have killed more than 10,000 people since its emergence in 2009. It is reported to have established links with other Jihadist movements around the world including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Government neglect and insensitivity has ensured that over time the group has metamorphosed into a brutal international affiliated militant group. The Nigerian government has been half-heartedly fighting for 5 years to break its back with disappointing results culminating in the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls, which is gaining world attention. Can terrorist organizations be defeated? If the answer is yes, Nigeria yet might not be able to defeat Boko Haram due to the following reasons:
Leadership is everything
The growth of an organization is not known to have ever exceeded the capacity of its leadership. Nigeria’s political leadership has not only failed to inspire, it is making a complete mockery of the very essence for which the state exists. Laymen and intellectuals alike have lashed out at the government in derision over what is perceived as the breach of social contract which is regarded as the foundation of State authority whereby free men surrender some of their freedom to assure the rest, chief of which is security.
Increasing violence in the north of Nigeria has exposed a lack of vision stemming from past government and the cluelessness of the current administration. For instance, past and present government have not only rejected international assistance when offered but have remained passive in the face of escalating violence. President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to put overbearing partisan politics beneath his presidency to focus on the challenge of curbing insurgency and has displayed a pitiful lack of charisma to get authorities in neighbouring countries to get on board the fight against what clearly is a common danger to the entire sub-region and beyond, until the recent intervention of France’s President Francois Hollande.
The apathy, bickering and distrust that exists between his PDP controlled central government and the most affected states where the opposition party is in control could not be more demonstrated than the lack of communication between the President and Governor of Bornu state for more than two weeks after an attack on the village of Chibok where over 200 girls were abducted in their school dormitory and the impasse generated by whether the girls were abducted or not.
An Underwhelming Military Strategy
If Nigeria’s military could kill or capture its way to victory against Boko Haram insurgents, its grossly underwhelming strategy and tactics will ensure the country still does not win the war. Not many governments have launched successful counter-insurgency campaigns within or outside their borders relying solely on a militaristic approach. However, curbing an insurgency usually requires putting insurgents on the back foot militarily relying on the right strategies and tactically astute units. Is Nigeria getting her overall military strategy right? I posit no. Counter-insurgencies require large numbers of troops because government forces are expected to hold territory, protect civilian population and ensure force protection.
Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters says it has deployed up to 25,000 troops in military operations in the 3 northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe where a state of emergency has been in place for more than a year now. A comparative assessment of the adequacy of troop level between Nigerian North East states under emergency rule and the war in Afghanistan suggests that Nigeria probably might be working the numbers right. The combined size of the three states is approximately 161,000 sq.km, which is about ¼ of Afghanistan’s geographical size of 652,000 sq.km where the US at one time deployed up to 101,000 troops to fight insurgents.
Despite the foregoing, there are large holes in the overall military strategy as it appears that the military high command has neither created a working standard operating procedure (SOP) for the troops deployed nor has it designed effective operational tactics for units established for specific roles. The Air force for instance, claims to have established an infantry airborne unit about a year ago, meant to function as a Quick Response Force in the fight against insurgents. This tactical unit has neither intercepted Boko Haram’s often times ubiquitous convoy neither has it ever intervened in the terrorists’ long and brazen attacks on villages in the North East of Nigeria.
A Quick Reaction Force or (QRF) is a military unit, generally platoon-sized, capable of rapid response to developing situations. They are to have equipment ready, to respond to any type of emergency, typically within ten minutes or less, or otherwise based on unit Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The readiness level of the QRF is based on unit SOPs and an ideal QRF is postured, based on the likelihood of being called up. Its Readiness Condition defines the speed at which a QRF is expected to react. My opinion is that with strategic basing, Nigeria’s military could have several units of QRF within a 20 minute flight range of the remotest village in the North East and the Chibok abduction may not have happened.
The Forces not only provide the needed intervention against insurgents who carefully pick their targets usually far away from areas with strong military ground posts and patrol teams, in addition it will without doubt boost the vanishing morale of ground troops who are sometimes left to fight with their backs against the wall or retreat when outnumbered by insurgents because no back up will arrive. Also, if Nigeria had acted quickly in this direction, it would have seized the initiative from insurgents who currently have a wide range of space to operate uninterrupted for long spells simply because it will take a long time to get troops by road to where they have had no presence or where men stationed in an outpost are being outgunned.
Boko Haram employs brutal tactics but how sophisticated could a militant group inflicted with heavy casualties by well-prepared villagers be? We probably do not know enough about the group or have lost the plot on controlling the narrative of the face-off. The psychological damage from the deadly blow they might be dealt by an army on high alert and within range, to challenge its attacks, is not what Boko Haram is prepared for at the moment. It is therefore probably safe to say that the lack of a highly trained, well equipped QRF in the mix of the current broad military strategy is the single largest clog in the wheels of Nigeria’s military campaign against Islamic insurgents.
Corruption and Sabotage
Sadly, Nigeria’s military like other state institutions reflect perfectly the state of the society as a whole. Corruption is of monumental proportions, permeating the society from top to bottom. According to reports by top US Pentagon oficials, much of the funding that goes to the Nigerian military has been cornered by its hierarchy.
The frustration of the rank and file is beginning to show going by recent events. Unpaid, ill-equipped soldiers facing increasingly well-armed militants fired on their superior after deaths blamed on his bad orders.
Nigeria’s military expenditure, which remains less than 1% of her GDP for the past three years despite the geometric escalation in violent insurgency is already short, compared to spending by countries facing similar situations, hence the result of official corruption by military top hierarchy has further devastated troop morale and the overall campaign against insurgency.
Prominent also in the government’s failure in this regard is its inability or unwillingness to investigate and identify the source of terrorist funding let alone make prosecutions.
Education kills the blight of diseases, ignorance, superstition, fear and poverty. It inoculates the mind against violent anti-humanistic extremist ideas, like the global extremist Islamic Jihadist campaign which unmistakably is unpopular among most western educated Muslims aside those ones which seek to benefit from it.
In the belief that overcoming illiteracy and ignorance will eventually lead to self-actualization and accelerated national development, education is globally considered a right inalienable to all humans. However, against such compelling evidence that education is crucial to the levelling of opportunities, there has been a wide gap in access and quality of education in Northern Nigeria.
According to the United states Embassy in Nigeria fact sheet on education released in January 2012,
Nigeria has a large number of out-of-school children and young adults with limited literacy and numeracy skills who have little hope of ever joining the formal workforce.
While Education indicators are poor nationwide, the greatest need for assistance is in the predominantly Muslim north.
Non-school attendance is highest among states in the Northeast and Northwest zones. 72% of primary age children never attended school in Borno state. This compares with less than 3% in most southern zones.
The almajiri (itinerant children under Qur’anic instruction) constitute the largest group of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
Traditionally, boys are sent to Qur’anic teachers to receive an Islamic education, which includes vocational or apprenticeship training. Some are involved in street begging.
Nigeria’s Ministry of Education estimated that there were 9.5 million almajiri children in the northern part of the country in 2010.
The number of almajirai in urban areas is estimated to be rising.
Much has not changed since the release of the report and its major highlights above, save for the introduction of model almajiri schools by the Federal Government designed to incorporate formal educational curriculum into traditional almajiri school systems in order to reverse the dangerous trend of an uneducated and poor population.
The agonizing reality therefore is that, while Northern Muslim children spend too much time on religious education, the children in the South, where Western education is taken seriously, pull ahead in terms of development. The long run has created a disgruntled population of young adults among which Boko Haram has an unlimited field to recruit.
Nigeria suffers from a foundational failure of leadership. In the North of the country, the phenomena encourages social and class immobility. Over time, having entirely based their business interests in the more socially mobile south. Boko Haram therefore was bred by an interplay of historical, geo-political, economic, religious disaffection with the Nigerian state – a child of dissatisfaction and ignorance. Nigeria over time has become a fertile ground for terrorism because successive government has not only been inept and insensitive but also have been massively corrupt.
World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, in April 2014 at an IMF/World Bank Spring Meeting stated that Nigeria is one of the top five countries that has the largest number of poor. In the north of the country 72% live in poverty. Poverty, lack of opportunities and in some proven cases, extreme hardship has made it easier for Boko Haram to attract recruits and sympathisers.
The North needs economic development anchored on careful planning consistent with historical and socio-cultural realities. The government therefore must find its rhythm to inspire the population, build partnerships across a broad spectrum, motivate the army, stamp out corruption, invest in education and reverse the ugly trend of bad governance if it is to stand a chance of cutting short what seems to be looking like a protracted battle with insurgents and defeat them in the end.