Mr Emeka Nwankpa, is the Chief Media Strategist of an advocacy group, Concerned Professionals’ Congress (CPC). In this interview with EMEKA NZE, he says that President Muhammadu Buhari’s two recent successful security summits in N’djamena and Abuja and a fully recharged armed forces are enough to make 2019 very tough for Boko Haram.
With the spate of resurgent attacks by Boko Haram in the North- East, is the war against terrorism losing steam?
I do not agree that the war is losing steam. We are seeing changing dynamics of the war. Terrorism wars are asymmetrical and non-conventional. We are lucky to have a military with the heart and will to hold the country together. We have absolute confidence in the current military leadership under the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin and his service chiefs. For all their sacrifice, they deserve our support.
Don’t you think these renewed attacks by Boko Haram on our military formations in the North-East create doubts in the minds of the people?
As a nation, we may tend to worry but to our professional soldiers, there is nothing to worry about because in war, things do really happen. Our soldiers are paying the supreme price and that is why we owe them a debt of gratitude. Our condolences go to the families of five NAF fighter pilots who died in a crash recently. Our gallant military has been pounding the insurgents. As we speak, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai has been with the troops since days before Christmas. The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar is there. Two days before Christmas, the CDS was there to assess things with all the service chiefs including the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas. The Defence Minister has been there to obtain necessary briefing for the President. The military leadership is on its toes working and they are not in a panic mode because they are professional soldiers. This is commendable. The heart of the matter is that we are in a state of war and in such situations, unintended outcomes such as the casualties do happen. We owe them a debt of gratitude. But we should pause and remind ourselves where we were and where we are now and what has happened in-between. The Borno State people know that our military has done very well in the last three and half years, snatching peace for them from the jaws of Boko Haram. It could have been worse. The fight against terrorism since President Muhammadu Buhari’s came in May 2015 has been phenomenal, courtesy of the resilientservice chiefs led by the synergy-driven CDS, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin.
What then do you think is behind these resurgent attacks? What about alleged complaints of inadequate welfare, weapons, etc?
This is pure propaganda by Boko Haram and their collaborators to divide our forces. We gathered that the issues of welfare and other critical logistical needs have always been adequately handled by the authorities. Don’t forget that troops’ morale increased tremendously after the present service chiefs came on board. I am aware that the CDS specifically spear-headed a programme in conjunction with the service chiefs to ensure that troop welfare is accorded due attention in the three services. This also extends to the critical areas of giving adequate accommodation to families of soldiers at the front-lines. For example, many barracks have been constructed by the DHQ across the country. Work has almost concluded on a special barracks for the members of the Special Forces being constructed by the CDS in Bida, Niger State. It is important to emphasize that no amount of welfare, weapons and other logistics is enough for the troops. This government takes these issues very seriously.
…(cuts in) President Buhari gave a commitment to improving on the troops’ welfare programme at the summit of Heads of States and Governments of the Lake Chad Basin which he summoned recently N’djamena and Abuja?
Yes, he did when he met the troops of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in Chad at the first summit of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) which he summoned shortly after the Metele attack of November 18, 2018. To put any boot on the ground, issues of funding, personnel, welfare, weapons and other logistics are very important. The President fully appreciates these so he gave the commitment on behalf of the Chadian President, Idris Deby Itno, including President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic, and the Prime Minister of Cameroon, Philemon Yang, who represented President Paul Biya, all of who are members-countries of the LCBC.
The immediate implication of these is that the days ahead will be tough for Boko Haram. 2019 will be a very tough year for Boko Haram and its affiliates. These renewed resolutions by the Buhari-led LCBC as well as the assurances by the Ministers and Chiefs of Defence Staff of the member-countries such as Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Central African Republic and Cameroon to re-charge the counter-insurgency strategy are sufficient indications that the days of Boko Haram and its collaborators are numbered.
Do you foresee a halt to the resurgent attacks anytime soon?
The attacks are being repelled and halted already. In fact, the attacks are a response to the offensive by our military who have tied the noose round the criminals, so they are very desperate. The truth is that Boko Haram has been defeated. The remnants of Boko Haram that are trapped in the Lake Chad area around the fringes between Cameroon, Niger, Sambisa Forest and the Mandara Mountains, are the ones fighting to survive. They are fast running out of food and other critical needs. What is playing out is a survival game. Before now, attention was paid to Borno South and Central but our forces have now moved to Borno North thereby and inching closer to the Lake Chad Basin. For almost two years, Northern Borno was their free zone but now that they are under fire especially in the Lake Chad Basin, we have started to see a push-back. The latest attacks are in response to the increased pressure by the Nigerian troops. In the coming weeks, the five sub-regional leaders will launch their collective strength into the war. The expected result will be phenomenal.
How do your rate the capacity of our military to rise to these new challenges?
I maintain that our military is one of the best fighting forces in the world fully attested to by the successes of their various interventions across the country including Operation Lafiya Dole which dislodged the insurgents in the dreaded Sambisa Forest on December 22, 2016. Today, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States have been liberated by the troops. The President’s diligent selection of these competent service chiefs is the game changer. Operation Sharan Daji in the North West tackles armed banditry, the rustling of cattle and other livestock while Operation Awatse, a collaboration of the Army, Navy and Air Force in the South West region tackles militants and oil installation vandals around Arepo, Ishawo and Elepete creeks in Lagos and Ogun StatesOperation Hard Punch in Kaduna currently battling kidnapping and banditry in Birnin Gwari and Kaduna-Abuja Road complements Operation Safe Haven in the North Central Plateau State and Operation Swirl Stroke to combat deadly herdsmen, armed robbery, cattle-rustling and banditry in Nasarawa, Benue and Taraba States.
Operation Delta Safe in the Niger Delta area protects critical oil installation against oil theft, pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering and general criminality in the oil-rich region. These simultaneous military operations and Joint Task Forces in over 20 States have assisted the civil police in dealing with violent criminality.
Are these operations unduly prolonged thereby creating new problems?
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I don’t think so. Don’t forget that the primary responsibility of government is the protection of lives and property. It is a mistaken perception that the operations are unduly prolonged. Terrorism wars take at least 20 years to fight successfully. As a nation, we must support our defence forces and eliminate remnant of the terrorists. The chemistry of modern warfare drives on robust national consensus. In 2011, the Americans backed their military and security forces to take Osama Bin Laden down. Nigerians should volunteer vital, timely and credible information to security services to promote national security. Today, normalcy has returned to parts of the North East that were hit by insurgency. Night life has returned to Maiduguri and its environs. Regular commercial flights into the city have increased. Hotel accommodation in Maiduguri today is scarce which proves that the Nigerian military has significantly fast-tracked the return of peace to the region. The nation owes them a debt of gratitude. Our military had always done very well in United Nations peace-keeping operations. Our military literally took Gambia’s democracy from the precipice after the chaos that greeted its last presidential elections. Our soldiers, standing or fallen, past or present, are the true national heroes of our time.