New crosses for the Nigerian military

The Nigerian military on Wednesday revealed to People’s Gazette that it is planning a major offensive to reclaim territories currently occupied by Boko Haram. When one considers this statement from the defence headquarters, it is easy to laugh it off as yet another empty rhetoric because there have been many such plans in the past without corresponding actions or results.

The Nigerian Army is complicit in the claim by the federal government that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated”, and is reduced to a rag tag group having lost its captured and occupied territories.

Pronouncements from state and federal lawmakers from Borno have repeatedly debunked claims of victory by the military. What is even more glaring is the frequency of attacks on the state governor Prof Zulum whenever he attempts to visit areas and strategic towns such as Baga. Evidence on the ground indicates that whole local government areas such as Marte and Kukawa are under terrorist control. Military sources have anonymously admitted that Abadam, Kukawa and Marte are amongst the key northeast locations still under Boko Haram control. The locations lie on a lucrative trading route between Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, and have been in and out of jihadist control many times in the past.

For what it is worth, it is important to state that the various strategies deployed by the military have not been working. One of them is the use of fortified super camps to limit the loss of, and attacks on soldiers. The idea sounds good on the surface, but when one considers how such a strategy exposes hapless communities to Boko Haram attacks, it defeats the entire purpose of sending the military to battle the insurgents. There have been at least seven attacks on Auno, a town just a few kilometres on the outskirts of Maiduguri, which is also outside the orbit of the super camp strategy. Less than a month ago, fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in several pickup trucks opened fire on Wasaram, 90 kilometers (55 miles) from regional capital Maiduguri on Tuesday, killing eight villagers and injuring 20.  Three villagers were also killed in a separate attack in Auno earlier that day. Not even the military has been spared the onslaught, as about six soldiers were killed by ISWAP in the same town in May this year.

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Nigeria’s $1.6 billion defence budget is one of the highest in Africa, yet the country’s counterinsurgent troops are so underfunded and ill-equipped that many soldiers resort to desertions and mutiny. On account of the untold hardships faced in conducting combat operations, 356 soldiers voluntarily disengaged from the Nigeria Army in July 2020, forcing the House of Representatives to probe the mass resignations.

The promises by the military to purchase equipment for its troops have not met expectations. However, to give the devil his due, the adoption of motorcycle units to tackle incessant guerilla attacks by the Islamic State is a welcome idea, especially as the stalemate between both sides occur during the rainy season where it becomes really difficult to move heavy vehicles and logistics when chasing after insurgents who attacked on motorcycles.

In order to address the challenges facing the military in its long drawn out war spanning over a decade, the government has to look inwards and tell itself the truth that it cannot continue this cat and mouse game, or continue lying to the public that territories have been liberated. It has to infiltrate ISWAP (a faction dedicated to hitting hard targets such as the military and its bases) formidable intelligence system. Added to these, the welfare of soldiers is important to prevent mutiny and fratricide. Lastly, a new strategy is needed to end this long drawn out conflict that has made millionaires out of people tasked with defending Nigeria’s territorial integrity.