Why Governor Shettima was right (I) By Mohammed Haruna

Mohd Haruna new pix 600In a preface to today’s piece last week I said I will examine this morning the lamentation by Governor Ibrahim Kashim Shettima about the military’s apparent incapability to end the Boko Haram insurgency in his North-East region and the harsh response his remarks provoked from its commander-in-chief, President Goodluck Jonathan, and from some of the president’s men.
Governor Shettima had told the State House press corps shortly after his visit to the Villa on February 17 to brief the president about the upsurge of Boko Haram insurgency in his state since January, that the military seemed too ill-equipped, undermanned and insufficiently armed to defeat Boko Haram. Aminiya, the Hausa weekly newspaper in the stable of Media Trust Ltd, publishers of Daily Trust, provided perhaps the most graphic illustration of the background to the governor’s lamentation in a table it published of alleged Boko Haram killings since January in its edition of March 7.
There were, the newspaper said, ten attacks against villages and communities in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states between January 28 against Waga Chekawa which left 30 people dead and against Jakana on March 4 in which the casualty was 11. In between were the attacks on Kauri (83 dead), Konduga (34), Izge (106), Bama (60), Buni Yadi (59 pupils of the unity school located in the town which is in Yobe State), Michika and Shuwa (28), Mainok and Maiduguri bombing (97) and Mafa (30), making a total of 538 dead within a period of less than two months. In all these killings, most notably that of the school children which took place AFTER the governor went to brief the president, the military arrived at the scenes long after the killers had taken their time to carry out their acts of barbarity.
As the governor asked rhetorically on his second visit to brief the president again on the issue, “Have we ever succeeded in thwarting any of their (Boko Haram’s) plans?They went to Konduga and did what they wanted to do; they held sway for over four hours before they left. They were in Kauri, Izge…In a nutshell, what we are being confronted with is that we are in a state of war.”
It was against this background of the civilian population’s total helplessness from alleged Boko Haram killings that Governor Shettima told the press that it was “absolutely impossible to defeat Boko Haram unless more military personnel and hardware are deployed.”
At the same time, however, the governor went on to praise the army and the police for doing their best in the circumstance. “In fairness to the officers and men of the Nigerian army and the police,” he said, “they are doing their best given the circumstance they have found themselves. But honestly Boko Haram are better armed and better motivated than our own troops.”
Quite understandably, our president and commander-in-chief our armed forces ignored Shettima’s sympathy for the troops and took strong exception to his unfavourable comparison of the military with what is widely regarded as a ragtag army of Islamic ideologues which probably number no more than a few thousand and who’s funding cannot begin to compare with the country’s nearly trillion Naira yearly armed forces and the police.
The president displayed his anger at the governor’s remarks in his first media chat this year when he described them, in effect, as ill-informed and threatened to withdraw his troops to see if the ungrateful governor can cope without them. “If we pull out the military from Borno State,” the president said, “let us see if he will be able to stay in Government House.”
For the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Africa’s most populous and most influential country, Dr. Jonathan’s reaction was rather churlish, to say the least. No one, including Shettima I am sure, says the military is underfunded. On the contrary, there are many who would argue that for a country that is at peace with its neighbours, its military is overfunded, notwithstanding the internal insurrection it is faced with.
Obviously what Shettima was echoing was the undeniable fact that despite its huge budgets, our military has not been equipped, staffed and motivated enough to eliminate an insurrection in one, albeit vast corner, of the country. The proper reaction to Shettima’s remarks therefore was not to berate the messenger. Rather it was to examine the veracity or otherwise of the message, especially since the messenger had built himself the reputation of speaking with the greatest restrain as the governor of the main theatre of the Boko Haram insurrection.
In an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope, two of the president’s men, namely Dr Doyin Okupe, the president’s spokesman on public affairs and Mr Labaran Maku, the minister of information and, until last week, the supervising minister of defence, displaced even less restrain than their principal in attacking Shettima. The governor, said Okupe, was an illiterate in military affairs, as if as a medical doctor who has been long on sabbatical he was any better knowledgeable than anyone in such affairs.
And as if to expose his own illiteracy in such matters Okupe could not even make up his mind whether what the country was faced with in the North East was war or not; “We are certainly not engaged in a conventional warfare,” he said on February 18 in his hastily convened press conference with the State House press corps in denunciation of Shettima, only to change his mind on February 28 and say “We are in a war and there is no gainsaying that fact. I am willing to admit that we are in a war situation.”
If to Okupe Shettima was an ignoramus on military affairs, to Maku the governor committed “serious indiscretion” against the military by his remarks for which he presumed to forgive the governor. “I think,” he said in handing over the Ministry of Defence to the new minister, Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed, last week, “that was serious indiscretion. And I can forgive that because may be he did not know the deeper work that was going on and is still going on in the Northeast.”
Obviously if government has been doing “deeper work” in the North East, the result has not been on the ground for anyone to see. Maku’s strange explanation of the resurgence of terror in the region was that the attacks were like the actions of a wounded and caged lion. Maku, his principal and others in government may choose to believe his simile but any sensible person knows that wounded and caged lions don’t have the luxury of taking their time and choosing which victims to attack. And the pattern of the attacks in the North-East since January clearly suggests premeditation rather than desperation.
As I’ve said, the president and his men should not have assumed, as they obviously did, that Shettima’s lamentation was in bad faith. If they had given him the benefit of their doubts they would have seen that the evidences that his remarks were true were right there under their very noses.
One such evidence was contained in an advert in the Leadership of February 21, in which one, Hassan Mungono, attempted to defend the governor’s remark. The advert quoted the Commander of the 21 Armoured Brigade, Brigadier-General Mohammed Yusuf, at the time of an attack on Benisheikh by Boko Haram not too long ago, that he troops had to withdraw from the town in the face of the superior numbers and arms of the attackers. “They came in droves,” the advert quote the brigade commander as saying, “driving 20 pick-up vans followed by light armoured tanks , all wearing military colours. We had to retreat to our base after running out of ammunition.”
Anyone thinking the brigade commander as a Muslim is a closet Boko Haram, should refer to the lead story of The Guardian of November 21 last year. “Yesterday,” said the newspaper in that story, “the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Azubuike, stressed the need for troops of the Seventh Division of the Nigerian Army in Borno to get more weapons to fight insurgents. The army, he said, has recorded some achievements but stressed the challenge of replacing ‘military arms and hardware’ lost to the insurgents in the last six months.”
Now, if this is not an admission that the army, as the lynchpin of the war against Boko Haram, is under armed and under-equipped, I don’t know what is.
Much earlier the same newspaper had carried a lead story in its July 2, 2012 edition which quoted some anonymous police officers of complaining about the neglect of staff welfare by the authorities. “We are in a war situation against faceless Boko Haram,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed police officer as saying, “but the government and police management are pretending as if nothing were happening. The force authorities are drafting Southerners to war zone without any welfare in terms of accommodation, allowances to cushion the hardship…Officers cluster in a cubicle, so-called officer’s mess, without amenities like water, accommodation, food, coupled with harsh weather. The world should know this.”

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