Boko Haram: Issues For Engagement

Recent successful attacks by Boko Haram terrorists on military formations and civilian communities bring to the fore the need to re-evaluate and re-examine the strategies for the engagement of the terrorists. The latest attack on the 157 Task Force Battalion at Melete, Borno State where the casualty figures have not been officially confirmed but different media organisations are quoting different figures throws up so many posers. But let us start by acknowledging the supreme sacrifice of our gallant soldiers who have given their all. They died in defence of our lives. May God grant them eternal rest and their families, the fortitude to continue life without their loved ones.

This discourse intends to raise so many posers and issues which the military and intelligence high commands need to answer or seek answers to, in a bid to rejig their operations and adequately protect Nigerians, as well as save the lives of men and officers on the frontlines. This is not about blaming anyone but points in the direction of the need for persons in authority to put on their thinking caps.

The first issue that comes up for analysis is the state of equipment and hardware available to our soldiers. At least, since the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the defence sector has been well-funded through appropriation and at least, we are made to believe that there is no one diversion of and disbursement of defence money for other purposes. We are also made to believe that soldiers are paid on time and their motivation is very high. Again, the administration states that Boko Haram has been technically defeated and what they attack now are soft targets, which is evidence of a “dying insurgency”, in its last days and without the ability to take on hard core fights. But of late, the insurgents have been taking on and routing military formations which contradicts the postulation of a technical defeat. How is it possible that the insurgents who are not in a position to buy arms and ammunition legally, but only procure them through the black and illegal market can get equipment to match and outgun Nigerian troops whose source of procurement is official and the Nigerian state has more resources available to it? Who is supplying them the equipment and hardware to take on the Nigerian defence forces?

The second issue is this; is it possible that a large contingent of insurgents will move over so many kilometres without anyone sighting them or the intelligence activated to warn soldiers to lay ambush for them? Does it mean we do not have military equipment that can sight humans and objects from afar and warn about irregular movements? If we do not have such equipment, how much will it cost to acquire them? What about the communities and civilians? Would it be too much for the civil communities to give information of irregular movement of persons to military authorities? And this can be done through the telephone. What exactly is happening?

The third issue is that in these attacks, especially on military formations which last for a fairly long time, is it possible that no one used the military signals or even mobile telecommunications to contact the defence headquarters or the nearest level of command for reinforcement? If the infantry is facing challenges and the air force is available with fighters and other aircraft, it is expected that they would come to the rescue of the infantry and overwhelm the insurgents. But the news coming out of the attacks suggests that a command under attack is left to shoulder the entire burden. They will overcome or go down on the basis of their own strength and ability. Flights between Lagos and Abuja or Port Harcourt or Abuja to major destinations are usually of 45 minutes duration. It is safely assumed that fight jets and military aircraft should be faster than civilian transport aircraft and from any point in Nigeria, should reach the desired destination under 30 minutes. Even if the combat is such that aircraft cannot use bombs, the aircraft could still track the insurgents to their base and pound them with the relevant mortars and bombs.

The foregoing is appealing to common sense, reasoning, tactical command and coordination. In the earlier attack on a civilian community, the insurgents were reported to have set houses on fire, used guns and knives to kill people and then loaded about 200 cattle and sheep into trucks and carted them away. The picture of the foregoing is that they took their time attacking the community and stealing their properties and this could have gone on for hours. Moving 200 cattle and sheep will not be possible with sleek salon cars. Rather, they would be done with trucks which hardly speed up to 100 kilometres per hour. And they would therefore be moved slowly and off-loading at the point of destination will also be another time-consuming effort. So, no one could mobilise and follow up on these bandits at a time they were bound by circumstances to move rather slowly?

The fourth issue is that every time a military or civilian target is successfully attacked by insurgents, they thereafter literally vanish into thin air, with no trace. They simply disappear only to reappear at their due time for the next attack? How is this possible? We are dealing with large areas of land with little or no vegetation and forest cover; barely shrub covers. It would be easy, whether in follow-up infantry and or air force engagement to track and target the terrorists and take them out. Considering that the military engagement includes a multi-national task force, even if the insurgents cross national boundaries, proper coordination means that there would still be defence forces waiting to engage them across the border.

The fifth is that while international organisations including the United Nations organs and agencies have stated that Nigeria has been paying ransom to secure the release of persons held by insurgents, the government has been living in denial. The more resources available to the insurgents, the more vicious they will be and it appears that the Nigerian state is somehow funding and supporting them when they receive this back-door money. A re-examination of the need to pay ransom has to evolve.

Finally, the military high command should be forthcoming in providing information when incidents such as the Melete attack occur. It is not enough to condemn social and print media reports and tag them as fake news, disinformation and even threaten to prosecute persons who spread them. The press release from the military authorities on the Melete event merely warned about contravening the extant law without providing the official account of what happened. Nature abhors a vacuum. To the extent that official information is not forthcoming on a timely basis, something else will take its place because Nigerians are hungry for news about the performance of our beloved armed forces. Again, if official information deviates from what eyewitnesses told journalists, different accounts of such an incident will continue to be in the media.

A new strategy is needed. The ball is in the court of Mr. President and the Commander-in-Chief.

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