Buhari’s Erratic Spell: The Case for An Overhaul

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Politics and Policy

Apart from the 118 soldiers killed in the Boko Haram attacks at Metele, about 153 others are missing. The terrorists opened fire on a rescue team called in after the battalion was attacked in the Borno town, according to Premium Times. Just like that, Nigeria lost the worth of six 18-seater buses full of soldiers in less than 48 hours to a group supposedly “technically defeated”.

Genuine anger is in the air because this is happening too often. Another cohort of military families have been crashed into mourning. Some young children and parents will never see their fathers (and probably mothers) and children anymore because they were in the battlefield defending their fatherland. Fun times at the mall for Lt. Col Ifeanyi Sakaba’s family will never be the same.

If it was propagandist hype at the time of declaration, the Buhari government’s claims of capturing territory from the terrorist group shows up, in the circumstance, as bankrupt and phony. Based on a September report by SBM Intelligence on the military’s encounters with ISWAP, 2018 is set to be the year “of the debacle – the year in which the gulf between official claims of Boko Haram’s technical defeat and the sordid reality of a resilient insurgency that is unlikely to end soon was cruelly exposed” The government’s premature victory laps may have evoked a false sense of normalcy, creating the impression that days of harm were behind, never to return. Soldiers deployed in sensitive zones may have been told they had no need for extra combat support because the worst was over.

The reports of the past weekend are proof this crisis is far from over. President Buhari (through a statement by Garba Shehu) responded as you would expect; that the sacrifice of the deceased soliders will not be in vain. But what will he do to ensure this never happens again? How have past “sacrifices” improved the situation today?

Under Buhari’s watch, the Nigerian Army has had a bad run that have stirred much local indignation and international alarm. The horrors of its December 2015 orgy in Zaria will not be forgotten soon. Since then, there have been no shortage of miscarriages in its duties and operations, whether in failing to prevent the Dapchi girls’ abduction (Leah Sharibu is still captive) or the recent broad daylight killings of Shiites in parts of Abuja. The flip side is the recurring loss of soldiers to Boko Haram now increasing astronomically. SBM says the casualty count has gone from 300 in the whole of 2017 to 600 so far this year. There have been 17 separate attacks since July, with 48 killed in one September swoop.

All before Metele.

Giving the army all it needs to fight and win this terrorism war was President Buhari’s major assignment from his first day in May 2015. He pursued this by appointing a new national security team and ordering a few command centre relocations to position the Army as close as necessary to the theatre. More than three years later, the leadership of the national security response is unchanged. Likewise, the national mood around the war against insurgency remains melancholic.

Clearly, enough is not being done. Whatever the truth of Lai Mohammed’s assertion that soldiers welfare is being taken seriously, the boom in casualties reveal a strong structural problem in the institution that is the Nigerian Army. It should not be possible for such large numbers of soldiers to be killed without a sickening level of competence or criminal negligence among the high ranking cadre, particularly those working from Ship House. No amount of presidential emergency meetings at State House with the chiefs will convince Nigerians that someone is taking responsibility untill a structural change is carried out. It is people that run organisations and the climate of success or failure is determined by the top brass.

The Nigeria Army is on a spell that looks bound for many dangers; an unwanted layer of tension to the 2019 elections, crisis of confidence in the economy, and prospects of mutinies are high when morale is low. Tweeting that politicians not milk these killings for political capital is not going to solve anything; a Commander-in-chief’s decisive show of competence by a measured structural overhaul could.

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