By Abdulsalam Mahmud
Let me use this opportunity to patriotically share my thoughts on the lingering war on terror, accusations and blame game, together with the politicization of security issues in the face of real military war efforts against banditry in the North West, terrorism in the North East, and other sundry crimes across the country.
Recall that it is just over 10 years since the Nigerian security agencies, especially the military started the fight against insurgency and the murderous activities of both Boko Haram and ISWAP sect members.
But Nigerians will surely remember from where we are coming from insofar as the counter-insurgency operation is concerned. I don’t think Nigerians are oblivious of how in 2013, 2014 and early 2015 troops fought against Boko Haram terrorists with dampened morale, poor equipment and weak motivation. The fighting spirit and the will to fight by the troops was simply non-existent.
Not many Nigerians have vivid images of how gallant Nigerian officers, soldiers and other security agencies were then simply eliminated by the dreaded terrorists, owing to lack of war equipment such as armoured and artillery tanks, UAVs, troops carrying vehicles, and assorted ammunition, among other force multipliers of war.
Many citizens, who are not even from the North-East can mention, with a pin-point accuracy, the number of Local Government Areas (LGAs) and towns captured by the sect.
In addition to the epicentres of the insurgency, (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States), Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Kogi and Sokoto States among others, were not spared prior to 2015. Public gatherings became a monster and an anathema that many innocent Nigerians dreaded. Mosques, Churches, Schools, Markets and football viewing centres were gradually becoming no-go areas.
The security situation was highly volatile, unpredictable, terribly tensed and highly dangerous to the extent that people became suspicious of each other, even in churches and mosques. The looming disaster, crisis and challenges of insecurities were just too obvious to be forgotten so soon.
It was then that we heard of soldiers who frequently retreated and flee for their lives whenever they come after terrorists’ attacks.
Amidst the above pathetic state, things began to change for good upon the assumption of office of President Muhammadu Buhari, and the subsequent appointment of the Service Chiefs, with Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai as Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
Among other manifest achievements recorded in the fight against insurgents, is the new-found high morale and gallantry exhibited by troops of the Nigerian Army in the North East Theatre of Operation. Troops’ capacity and will to fight was gradually restored.
Sambisa Forest, which hitherto was the enclave and den of Boko Haram terrorists, was dominated by the troops. Many towns and Local Government Areas in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, that were overran by the insurgents were liberated. Thousands of kidnapped persons have been freed and reunited with their families, while several displaced persons have since relocated to their ancestral towns and villages.
It is pertinent to state that the heads of military services, especially that of the Army has through various initiatives and programmes boosted the morale, fighting spirit, efficiency, and responsiveness of troops. The troops became more confident, responsive and professional in their prosecution of the anti-terrorism war.
Sophisticated firearms, weapons and other military kits such as uniforms, boots, bullet proof jackets, and helmets were also procured and supplied to the troops, even as Lt. Gen. Buratai, on several occasions visited the North East to oversee and review the conduct of the operation, build troops’ confidence and uplift the fighting spirit of the soldiers.
Lt. Gen. TY Buratai, as a deliberate and consistent policy, also approved funds for the training and re-training of personnel of the Nigerian Army both locally and internationally, as part of building their capacity for tackling not only insurgency, but also other emerging security challenges in the country.
Similarly, troops’ allowances and welfare in general, received a great attention immediately Buratai assumed office. This has further build their confidence, and fighting capacity.
It is therefore interesting to state that General Buratai’s knack for capacity, effectiveness and professionalism in leadership is mostly seen in his choice and appointments of seasoned Army officers as commanders and head of various operations in the North East and other parts of the country, with positive results. His regular monitoring and dynamic assessment of the battle situation, and taking proactive initiatives and actions are simply commendable. These have clearly impacted positively in the war against terrorism in Nigeria.
Though it is unfortunate and disheartening that between January and February 2020, some setbacks were recorded particarly in Borno State, Nigerians still have the right to raise concerns. But they must not completely fail to recognize and appreciate the blatant successes recorded in the struggle to end insurgency. The concerted and selfless efforts of all security agencies in checkmating terrorism need not to be so easily forgotten or dismissed. It is no secret by now that hardly a day passes without losing a soldier or security personnel in the North East Theatre of Operation.
It is also not in the best interest of the counter terrorism operations to realize that some critics have been on the prowl with unjustified criticisms, while also sponsoring vile publications and spiteful campaigns against the leadership of the Armed Forces, with the aim to discredit the tangible achievements of the government and her security agencies.
While the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, for example, may have witnessed unfortunate security threats in recent times, it is discouraging and unhealthy for anyone to conclude that there is a total resurgence of terrorism in the North East, when no case of similar attack was recorded on the same highway between 2015 and 2019.
Retrospection is always important in any circumstance. Hence, it is imperative to remind the nation that the very few agitating for the removal of the Service Chiefs are apparently not in tune with the prevailing security situation. They are not knowledgeable in the crisis and challenges of terrorism, and how to solve it.
Indeed, the call for the sacking of the Service Chiefs, will somehow reverse some of the obvious operational gains achieved so far. It will slow down the tempo of the operation, and the relative stability enjoined within the military, which have contributed to the huge successes recorded in the counter-insurgency war.
Meanwhile, there is need for Nigerians to lend their unavowed support to the military’s counter-terrorism operations, which are aimed at ending the menace of Boko Haram.
While the troops gallantly, fiercely and selflessly continue to engage the insurgents in the battlefield, constructive criticisms from well meaning Nigerians need to be encouraged. The military and other security agencies, on their own part, must also welcome honest criticisms from the general public. It is only by so doing, that the war against insurgency can be won through a collective effort, but definitely, not by individual sacrifice.
Mahmud is a Defence Correspondent with PRNigeria, and writes from Abuja. He can be reached via: [email protected]