The recent face-off between the embattled Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno state, the Nigeria Army and some aides of President Goodluck Jonathan over whether the nation can win the war against Boko Haram is a healthy one. The face-off is healthy because the insurgents have held one of Africa’s largest armies, the Nigeria Army, hostage for more than two years, with the Nigeria Army unable to end the insurgency and allow normal life and governance to return to that part of the country.
The first salvo that led to the exchange of claims and counter-claims came from the amiable and hard-working governor, who, distraught at the large scale and routine killings of his people by the insurgents, declared that the country is at war. The governor, who has buried about 300 of his people in the last two weeks of February alone, further expressed doubt whether the nation’s army has the capacity to win the war; as they appear to be less equipped and motivated than the Boko Haram.
Governor Shettima’s outburst elicited an immediate reaction and rebuttal from the military high command in Abuja. Army spokesman reiterated the fact that the military is on top of the situation and that they are well equipped to defeat the insurgents, contrary to Shettima’s position. President Jonathan, in a media chat last week, also threatened to withdraw the troops from Borno state, if the governor believed they were inefficient.
The exchange between the governor and the army is quite healthy as the recent situation in the state and those of Yobe and Adamawa indicate a resurgence of the Boko Haram. And the way the insurgents have operated of late to the point of overrunning military facilities in the state, gives cause for concern. Many Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when the Defence headquarters set up a new division of the army to give teeth and impetus to the fight but so far, the objectives are yet to be realised.
Now the posers: what exactly is preventing the military from routing the Boko Haram? If an insurgency could hold the big Nigeria Army hostage, what would happen to the nation if there is a determined invasion by a foreign army? Are Nigerians being told the truth about what is going on in Borno state or is the country being held hostage by fifth columnists, who for one reason or the other, are interested in keeping the North-east in turmoil?
The lingering insurgency detracts from the reputation and professionalism of the Nigeria Army. Any patriotic Nigerian should be worried by the shoddy performance of the army so far. For this reason, we urge President Jonathan to consider the demand of the House of Representatives to relocate the office of the Chief of Army Staff to Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, for better coordination of the campaign. Also, Nigeria should reach out to Cameroun, Chad and Niger to form a security cordon in the North-east to contain the insurgents. The army needs to come to grips with the situation on ground.
The intervention by Doyin Okupe, President Jonathan’s Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, in defence of the army’s role in the campaign is uncalled for and borne out of sheer idleness. As a medical doctor by training, Okupe lacks the knowledge and background to understand and appreciate military strategy, doctrine and the challenges of counter-insurgency and guerrilla warfare. He would do his paymasters and a troubled nation a world of good if he restricts himself to the mundane and anti-intellectual things he is used to.