Posted by News Express | 12 March 2015 | 3,640 times
First, a confession: the copyright to the above title is not exactly mine because it is adapted from the book, “Wars, Guns & Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places”, by renowned Oxford University Professor of Economics, Paul Collier. Published in 2009, the narrative is on how power is sought and retained, especially in African countries while explaining the intersection between violence, ill-gotten money and ballots. That Nigeria features in the book should be no surprise but it is the 2007 general elections that provided the basis for the few pages on our country.
However, the subject of this intervention is not about how Nigerian politicians fiddle with ballots but rather about the current military offensive against Boko Haram and the manner in which some neighbouring countries have now entered the equation. The worry really is that, because we are too obsessed about the coming presidential election, we have refused to pay attention to the potential dangers coming from our neighbours. Yet, more than at any period in history, it is important that we have our neighbours on our side not necessarily because we need them as friends but rather because we cannot afford to have them as our enemies.
At a lavish press briefing in N’djamena last week Wednesday, Chadian President, Mr. Idris Deby, said he knows the whereabouts of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, whom he ordered to surrender or face death. Shekau, according to Deby, was sighted in Dikwa, a village in Borno State, two days earlier. “Abubakar Shekau must surrender. We know where he is. If he doesn’t give himself up he will suffer the same fate as his compatriots,” Deby had said. A few days later, Deby would mock both our president and country, saying it is Chad that has taken the fight to Boko Haram. Unfortunately for us, it is the narrative of Deby and that of his military authority that has been drawing both local and international attention.
When big tragedy befalls a man, according to a Yoruba adage, it is not unusual for small ones to follow. That precisely is the Nigerian situation today as we have now become objects of ridicule to countries that ordinarily should look to us for direction because of the way we have (mis)managed our affairs and the politics of expediency that is driving the 2015 election campaigns by both the government in power and the opposition that seeks to oust it. But there may be far greater danger ahead given the way the Chadian authorities are ridiculing our military not only to win legitimacy with their own people but also to court international endorsement for whatever their ultimate goal might be.
Nigeria, I understand, has for a long time had a “Status of Forces Agreement”, a military term that is almost akin to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with two of our neighbours (Chad and Niger) with the exception of Cameroun. That was what led to the establishment of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNFTF) with headquarters in Baga, and of which Nigeria has always provided the commander. With our military leading the initiative, the force was able to deal effectively with the Chadian rebels in the past but with Boko Haram, things have never really been the same. First, it was difficult to ascertain on which side Chad stood, and then, the Nigerian authorities would not equip the Force such that the insurgents were able to sack it and carted away arms and ammunition. In fact, I have it on good authority that more than 50 percent of the arms and ammunitions that the Boko Haram insurgents have deployed in their war against our country are “captured arms” that were looted from the armories of our military.
For sure, the smaller countries bordering Nigeria understand that a strong military is a necessity for self-respecting nations and they have over the years invested in that direction whereas it is an institution we have for a long time neglected. Even with the Boko Haram crisis, we only started to pay attention to the military less than a year ago. To compound the problem, our diplomacy has been very lousy. That perhaps explains the failure to secure the right of hot pursuits, denial of safe havens and sharing intelligence with our neighbours until very recently, despite several bilateral meetings.
That Chad would be forced to join our efforts was in a way fortuitous though it came after what amounted to a national disgrace. Following the sacking of the MNJTF from Baga, Chad became practically exposed with its economy and social life threatened by the insurgency. That perhaps forced the hands of the Chadian authorities who now agreed to participate in the war against Boko Haram. Thereafter, the Chadian forces commenced operations and within days captured Gamboru Ngala and Dikwa in Borno State and were helpful in liberating Dutji and Damasak in what happened to be a joint operation with Niger.
While Nigerian soldiers are as valiant as their counterparts, what has come out of the recent joint military operations is that our neighbours have superior weapons, which is a shame considering the resources of our nation compared with these smaller countries. Even Cameroon that has not given as much commitment as Chad and Niger has been helpful in the deployment of its air assets and by supporting the offensive of our troops with the requisite surveillance and some of the military hardware that we lack.
However, the question that is begging for answer is: Why is Chad suddenly becoming aggressive in the war against Boko Haram and making Nigeria look weak? There are many theories but two will suffice for now. One, the Chadian authorities, having studied the internal political dynamics in Nigeria, may have decided to show the world that it is they, and not our military, that is responsible for the reverses of Boko Haram in recent weeks. To that extent, the small country has been able to project its power to the detriment of Nigeria such that the media now credit every breakthrough in the war against Boko Haram to the Chadian military. Two, it is not inconceivable that Chad may also want to contest with us those Nigerian territories within the precincts of the Chad basin that it has always coveted not only because of its oil potentials but also because of the dwindling water reservoir.
When a nation is faced with the kind of external threat that Boko Haram poses to our country, the people are usually united but the reality of our situation is that Nigeria is perhaps more divided today than at any period except during the civil war. The authorities in Chad are well aware of that fact just as they know that the morale within the rank and file of the Nigerian military is not very high, to put the situation mildly. It is also an open secret that the relationship with our traditional allies, United States and Britain, is no longer cordial. On the other hand, Chad, Niger and Cameroun are Francophone countries and their ties with France are as strong as ever.
While Nigerians are still fighting themselves rather than our common enemy, our neighbours recognise the imperative of unity of purpose in pursuit of national goals. In January, for instance, thousands of people rallied in the capital of Chad in solidarity with their troops. Prime Minister Kalzeube Pahimi Deubet, who led the demonstrators as they marched from city hall in N’Djamena said, “Today’s march is a strong signal, a warning to Boko Haram and above all a march for peace to protect our vital interests, to protect our economy, to protect Chad’s security.” Ouchar Tourguidi, head of the main party in parliament, described the rally as “important for boosting morale of our troops who are going to the front.”
A few days later in February (last month), thousands of Cameroonians also staged a peaceful march in Yaounde, essentially to sensitise their people about the threat posed by Boko Haram and to draw support for their military as well as the citizens that were at the mercy of the insurgents. “It was important to tell Cameroonians that we are at war and a part of the country is suffering,” said Gubai Gatama, a newspaper editor who added that “about 150,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.”
Last month also, no fewer than 35,000 citizens of Niger took part in a demonstration led by President Mahamadou Issoufou, Prime Minister Brigi Rafini and other government officials. The march ended in a mass rally in front of the parliament building. “Boko Haram attacked us and you don’t attack Niger with impunity. Today’s support for the armed forces must be permanent,” President Mahamadou Issoufou told the cheering crowds. “If Allah wills it, Niger will be Boko Haram’s tomb,” he declared, stressing that “Nobody attacks Niger with impunity and Boko Haram learned that to its cost on February 6.”
In recent weeks, the political authorities in Cameroun, Niger and Chad have publicly acknowledged the threat Boko Haram poses to their countries as well as the need to rally the people behind their troops but we have not seen any demonstration of that on our shores even when the real tragedy of the insurgency is felt more in Nigeria. What compounds our situation is the politics of the 2015 elections that are being fought as if there will be no tomorrow by both the party in power and the opposition.
Yet, whatever may be our political persuasion, there is need for us to demonstrate an open, clear and firm support for our troops not only for them to fight and win against Boko Haram but also to serve as a warning to our neighbours that we are untied behind those we send to war. For that to happen, however, especially given the season that we are in, it is equally important for the military authorities to understand that dabbling into partisan politics through any guise or form will not only compromise their institutional integrity, it has the potentials for sowing seeds of discord--along Nigeria’s delicate fault-lines--that may be difficult to manage after the votes are in.
Whatever may be the justifications, that Nigeria's renewed onslaught on Boko Haram had to coincide with the emergence of a multinational force of our hitherto small and weak neighbours rankles. I consider it even more tragic that it was the Chadian military that embedded CNN reporters to tour the liberated areas in North Eastern Nigeria while our defence authorities fended off Nigerian journalists!
However, now that our military, aided by troops from Chad and Niger, are winning some strategic battles against Boko Haram, it is important that they be given the necessary wherewithal to win the war. Even at that, what should not be lost on our authorities is that when a supposedly strong power allows itself to descend to a level where it needs the combined contingent forces of its supposedly weak neighbours to shore up its defenses, then there is the temptation that the more ambitious neighbours may want to fill a power vacuum.
Since I started this piece with Paul Collier’s book, “Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places”, it is appropriate I also end with the enduring lesson therein. Collier makes dire predictions about how ballots could easily lead to bullets, especially in developing countries with weak institutions and where there is a clear absence of accountability in governance, a category to which Nigeria belongs. But the message of the day is simple: whether the incumbent is re-elected or another man is voted in come March 28, there is need for the restoration of the Nigerian state by rebuilding the dilapidated national defence and security capabilities of our country. This must be accompanied by a new diplomatic initiative in our immediate international neighborhood that quickly re-establishes Nigeria’s supremacy and pre-eminence not only within the sub-region but on the continent.
•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
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