Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai recently engaged in the military art of deflection on the matter of the failure of the Army to end the Boko Haram siege on North East Nigeria and related challenges. Buratai invited Nigerians to the academic exercise of differentiating between insurgency and terrorism as well as national defence and national security. His summation is that the responsibility for internal security belongs to the Nigerian Police Force and not the Nigerian Army.
Buratai then left Nigerians with a depressing message. We should not expect terrorism to end soon, even as the Army has defeated the insurgency. More pointedly, he notified Lagosians of the presence and threat of Boko Haram in the nation’s commercial capital and home to 20million people. The Chief of Army Staff frightened rather than reassured citizens.
We took up the Buratai challenge on behalf of our readers. We checked definitions and examples. National defence, according to a dictionary, is “a military or defence advantage over any foreign nation or group of nations”. National defence is also “a defence posture capable of successfully resisting hostile or destructive action from within or without, overt or covert”.
National security is often used interchangeably with national defence. It is the security and defence of a nation, including its citizens, economy, and institutions. Government has primary responsibility for national security. According to Wikipedia, “Originally conceived as protection against military attack, national security is now widely understood to include also non-military dimensions, including the security from terrorism, minimisation of crime, economic security, energy security, environmental security, food security, cyber-security etc. Similarly, national security risks include, in addition to the actions of other nation states, action by violent non-state actors.”
Nigeria faces severe security challenges from the “violent action of non-state actors” such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). The government under which Buratai serves has requested and received additional funds supposedly to tackle the menace. It was the centre point of their campaigns in 2015 and 2019.
General Burati commands an Army that undermines its men. The Nigerian Army recently released 1, 400 captured Boko Haram terrorists with the claim that they have repented, and the Army has rehabilitated them. The action dampened the morale of the fighting men, in addition to several issues around their welfare.
While the Army Chief splits hairs between the role of the Army and that of the Nigerian Police, ISWAP is growing in influence in the North East. Reports indicate that the group is steadily entrenching itself in the area with actions that the communities consider more beneficial than what the Nigerian state offers them. ISWAP, according to the International Crisis Group, has established “symbiotic relationships” with the communities around the Lake Chad region.
The Crisis Group report noted, “The group treats local Muslim civilians better than its parent organisation did, better than its rival faction, Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), does now, and in some ways better than the Nigerian state and army have done since the insurgency began in 2009. It digs wells, polices cattle rustling, provides a modicum of health care and sometimes disciplines its own personnel whom it judges to have unacceptably abused civilians. In the communities it controls, its taxation is generally accepted by civilians, who credit it for creating an environment where they can do business and compare its governance favourably to that of the Nigerian state.”
Both terrorism and insurgency are forms of asymmetric warfare that deploy terror to achieve political objectives. Across the world, many nation states continue to date to battle terrorism without any of their security chiefs raising their arms in defeat or claiming that the nation can do nothing about it.
We call on the nation’s security chiefs to come together, strategize better and defeat these groups they had earlier assured Nigerians were ragtag and lacking the capacity to overcome our forces. Security requires a combination of actions and strategies beyond those of the army that Buratai leads. The Federal Government should do more, including relieving tired officers of their command positions so they do not undermine national confidence with their rationalisations.