This article is not about insecurity, but about the federal government’s refusal to address it. In a way, it can be viewed as a prequel to the last article where I pointed out that security arrangements like the Southwest’s Operation Amotekun have been made virtually inevitable by FG inaction.
By not ensuring the release of Leah Sharibu two years later but holding up the release of the other Dapchi schoolgirls as evidence of success, the FG is unwittingly promoting the narrative by the group calling itself Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) that their beef is with government forces and non-Muslims only. Thus the FG is being once again taken for a ride, primarily because it does not appear to have its own strategy and thus cannot react appropriately to changing battlefield scenarios.
You better be careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there. – Yogi Berra
To be fair, the negotiators were between a rock and a hard place. I don’t know at what point the terrorists informed them that Leah would not be released but, if I were in their shoes, it would be at the 11th hour because that would force the government to accept their terms. The outcry if it became known that they had a chance to secure the release of all but one of the girls but refused would be enough to topple any regime, no matter how entrenched. And though I’m certain that security agencies are spending sleepless nights trying to locate her and secure her safely, the failure so far to do so still counts as a win for the terrorists.
The timing of Shekau’s propaganda videos is also very informative. The fact that he’s willing and able to record and release so soon after an event shows a couple of things. First it says the obvious; he is not afraid of the Nigerian government. It also says that his location is safe and communication lines are under no threat of discovery. This makes the FG policy of SIM card registration being tied to everything in your life under the guise of fighting terrorism at best questionable, at worst suspicious. Essentially, the video tells us that the FG is still a long way off from degrading, much less technically destroying, the group.
After all, if you think about every internationally wanted terrorist, you’ll recall that they all went deep underground once the heat was on. Osama bin Laden managed to release some audio tapes after 9/11 but they were always released late, probably after he had changed location. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was neither seen nor heard from for years before his eventual killing. But Shekau is back to releasing videos in a timely fashion.
And not only that, the ever-confident Shekau has threatened a minister of the federal government, as well as the president himself. The terrorist leader has made so bold as to promise to kill the minister, and warned the president to stay away from Borno state on pain of death. If this is not directly addressed and subsequently dealt with, you will soon notice government officials being loathe to mention the group by name, much less declare policies targeting them. Chalk that up as another win for the terrorists.
Finally, what Buhari and his handlers may be missing is the realisation of how they are tacitly conceding defeat to the various terrorist groups that are taking over whole swathes of the country.
Yes, I said terrorist groups taking over the country. What else would you call it? The atrocities committed from Zamfara to Ebonyi and even the president’s home state of Katsina are purely terrorist in nature. Call the perpetrators bandits if it makes you feel better, but by definition bandits are usually motivated by profit. These men kill with malice and burn everything down. Reports from yet another Katsina massacre indicate that they didn’t even rustle the cattle or raid food stores; it was purely a scorched earth attack. Women, children and the elderly killed in the most gruesome fashion. Cattle too. And all this after the state governor had made concessions and promised amnesty. Clearly the terrorists don’t care much for all that.
What do I mean by Buhari’s concession of defeat? Well, he was unable/unwilling to visit Auna where the attack took place, preferring instead to traverse areas of safety alone. He also opted to pass on spending Eid-al-adha (Sallah) last year in his hometown of Daura after a member of the royal family was kidnapped there. This has been a constant feature of his rule for years now. As I’ve mentioned before, when a president visits a disaster area, (s)he not only is there as chief mourner and to assess the damage, but it also serves as a clear message to the people and the perpetrators that the nation retains control. But here is the president, presumably too afraid for his own safety to visit. It’s a quiet admission to Nigerians that these places are unsafe and they’re on their own. Little wonder everyone is going for self defence.
The Enemy Always Gets a Vote
Then, in a move seemingly designed to dumbfound your already frustrated writer, the president, through his spokesman Garba Shehu, put out a statement that’s as poorly thought out as it’s unbelievable. The statement continues to insist on the FG position that BH attacks are “obvious signs of frustration” and “mere propaganda efforts.”
I will not even go into how insulting such a statement is to the memories of the dozens (hundreds?) of victims and survivors, as well as their loved ones. That insensitivity alone should be enough to see the president’s spokesman severely chastised. But besides matters of decorum and humanity, such statements exhibit a lack of situational awareness that is at least partly the reason we are in this mess.
Here’s what I mean. When Buhari first took office in 2015, he met BH already on the back foot due mostly to the help of international partners as well as former president Jonathan’s drafting of a private military company (PMC) to help out. The PMC employed new tactics and trained our military and the results could not be argued with, as I’ve previously written. President Buhari then made more changes to the prosecution of the war which further brought the terrorist group pretty much to its knees. But for some reason or other, the FG was unable to deliver the coup de grâce. Instead they slapped each other on the back and celebrated victory by “technical defeat.”
But this is not a licensed boxing match where the referee declares a winner and the loser shakes hands and goes home quietly. Instead BH did what every terrorist group tends to do in these situations; it evolved and adapted its tactics to match the new reality. Then it built up its capabilities and is now unleashing same on the Nigerian population. The problem is that neither the president nor his men of 5+ years seem to appreciate that the nature of the fight has changed. That’s why the spokesman talks about preventing BH from holding any more Nigerian territory with such pride, completely ignoring the fact that they now show little or no desire for any such symbolism. The evidence is clear when you consider that the military was attacked so much it had to retreat into what the chief of army staff optimistically calls “Super Camps”, leaving large territories vulnerable to BH and yet the terrorists have shown no interest in hoisting flags. They would much rather strike and melt away, as they’ve learnt from the folly of holding territory without accompanying local support.
And for me that’s the key difference between the enemy and us; BH seems to appreciate much more than the FG that this is a life or death fight for the very essence of Nigeria’s soul, and it fights accordingly. That’s why they constantly review their strategy and adjust tactics. The FG, on the other hand, seems stuck in an outdated mindset and completely incapable of turning the car around. There’s no review and no appreciation of current realities. It’s why you hear excuses such as BH being “cowardly” or troops on ground not translating the top brass’ strategy effectively. Such excuses seem valid to a mind that’s created a narrative it likes and closed its eyes to evidence. Crucially, it ignores the fact that you have to face the realities on the ground, not the wishes in your head.
“We need not stride resolutely towards catastrophe, merely because those are the marching orders.” – Noam Chomsky
And then the presidential statement also said that Nigerians will “witness an aggressive campaign to rout Boko Haram once and for all in the coming weeks.”
Such grand announcements are pure propaganda and serve no purpose except grandstanding. Secondly, when fighting an enemy that’s so good at vanishing it’s perhaps a little unwise to give them a timeline which they can exploit to melt away, observe troop movements and then counter. Finally, the “once and for all” bit just further proves my point about this government being unable to appreciate the true nature of this fight. Because, let’s face it, BH will be with us in one form or another for at least a few more years, until we can fix our societal injustices and other problems. To imagine a final and decisive battle is the work of a mind stuck in the previous millennium because nobody does grand Napoleonic battles anymore.
Politics over People
But one of the most frustrating aspects for me is that neither the president nor the presidency appear to care one bit about the lives being regularly lost and humanity wasted. As I’ve mentioned before, the presidency is constantly talking but the president never speaks. With the nature of this security crisis and what’s at stake, for the number one citizen to not deem it fit to directly address the nation is, in my opinion, the highest level of callousness and I am personally ashamed for him, even if he isn’t himself. It is such preference for the pomp of office than the grind of it that has allowed the security hierarchy to deteriorate into such a public fight for control as we are witnessing, as well as its attendant disadvantages and failures.
As for the presidency, which Nigerians have now become wise to as being functionally removed from the president, that entity appears to favour politics and power above the lives of Nigerians. As pointed out by the National Security Adviser in his recently leaked memo, some members of the presidency haven’t sworn an oath to defend the country, implying that they may not feel the attendant burden of having to answer to whatever higher power they hold dear over a broken oath.
The uncaring nature of this regime also evidences itself through such unguarded statements as when the presidency, under pressure to replace the service chiefs, claims that doing so would not guarantee of success. I’ll tell you who is not afraid to replace commanders that don’t achieve results – Boko Haram.
It would appear that the skies over Abuja have an amazing ability to filter out the crying and wailing of the country surrounding it.
Update: I was going to also mention the herdsmen militia, “bandit” groups, organized crime in the form of kidnappers and armed robbers, etc. But I guess Nigeria’s issues are too many for a single volume.