Another day ends and night comes upon us as we lay on our comfort beds but the abducted Chibok Girls are yet to breathe the air of freedom.
It's been 101 days and counting since they've been taking away by the evil terror group Boko Haram, but within the Nigerian Army, Defence Ministry, Presidency and indeed amongst those tasked with keeping our lives and property secured it seems like it's business as usual.
It was the late afro-beat maestro cum Prophet, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who once referred to our national army as zombies, for their bullying nature and human rights abuses against the very citizens they were trained to protect. Truth is, even Fela himself would not have been shocked were he to be alive, seeing how reluctant and unwilling our 'zombie' army is, to tackle the menace of Boko Haram but are always happy and willing to help politicians protect ballot papers, intimidate the citizens and electorate during elections, arrest opposition politicians so as to stop them mobilising voters, provide security for lawmakers participating in impeachment games and burning down buses and public utilities.
The US has been training and providing intelligence support to the Army since May in an effort to rescue the over 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. As at June, the Americans using UAV drones and manned air-crafts particularly the adapted electronic surveillance aircraft the MC-12 Beechcraft King Air twin engine commercial aircraft outfitted for electronic and reconnaissance warfare against irregular force and it proved decisive in finding the girls.
The entire survey of the three north-eastern states affected by the insurgency was done using about 10 aircraft and UAVs and few hundred American personnel within a few weeks, with the data including the location of the girls shared with the Nigerian military and other foreign countries assisting us since June. The army were also given specialist soft-wares and trained in using them to analyse intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance gathered. The problem now is for the armies on the front-line and their field commanders to make use of the gathered intelligence.
So far the army are unwilling to fight having suffered so many loses both in human lives and hardware since they've been battling Boko Haram.
To be fair to them, its true when the defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade informs Nigerians that Boko Haram have booby-trapped their bases with land-mines, the terror group also uses ambushes and ruthless resistance to defend their forest bases and captured villages. Its a risky, dangerous and life consuming task going after Boko Haram in their bases and the army isn't telling lies when they say so. It's also true that lots of soldiers are deserting the army as mentioned by the Chief of Army staff, Lt. General Kenneth Minimah when they see the real horrors of fighting against the terror group, but the truth is, this is not a new phenomenon.
It was the same during the Niger-Delta insurgency where many soldiers and mobile policemen where sent on two weeks' sharp-shooting courses in Jaji, Kaduna and on getting to the war-front in the creeks saw the fierce-some nature of the militants cum criminals and many of them deserted the army with cases of some of them running to far-off military outpost in Borno state then, where they could stay anonymous not knowing ironically the same Borno would be a new war front in years to come.
While it would be a very difficult task of rescuing the girls alive, as there is the fear of failure on the part of the army commanders tasked with such duty, the fact remains that our soldiers have become 'zombies' like Fela sang about them in the 1970s. Ask the army to go illegally to Ekiti and aid the ruling party PDP to arrest opposition politicians and they would be eager to go. Instruct them to provide security to lawmakers hell-bent on winning medals in the on-going impeachment games in the country and our army would be happy to go, the same with commands to go burn down public buses and they see no harm in doing that.
However, if you were to ask the same army to go after a terror group that seeks to erode our territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Nigeria as a nation, then they suddenly develop cold feet giving multiple excuses. You wonder why the defence chiefs and field commanders would summarily not obey orders to go after Boko Haram from even the President himself, but see no issues when soldiers under their command are used to protect interests of politicians during elections or impeachment sagas by the ruling party. The same disorganisation in the defence ministry has led to the Minister of defence Aliyu Gusau long allegedly resigning from the cabinet though his resignation has been kept quiet for months so as not to dent the President's image or affect his re-election plans.
To any analytical mind its clear that the problem with our army is that of indoctrination, poor leadership, lack of training and a culture of impunity (human rights abuses). Many young men who joined the army especially during the military era were not indoctrinated properly to see the military as a force to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation only. It was seen as a chance to get into power through coups or an opportunity to make money like Generals Obasanjo, Babangida, Abacha, Yar'adua, Danjuma, Abdusalam, David-Mark etc. and the list is by no means exhaustive.
Even with the advent of democracy many soldiers still see their jobs as a chance to get into or close to political office and not to protect the nation. Its thus this poor indoctrination across the military that is making it difficult for us to see a committed fighting machine to take on and halt the Boko Haram terror group – though some other arms of the military like the Nigerian Air-force still stand commended for their professionalism- but our 'zombie' army has become a force only interested in tasks that fetches them money and its easy to accomplish. It's why they would offer themselves for the use of the ruling party PDP at elections – knowing they would get allowances of between N10,000 – 25,000 each to brutalise their fellow citizens – and make the election process unfair and definitely not free like they've been doing for years under Obasanjo and like they did in Ekiti state recently. They would also happily offer themselves for peace-keeping missions – where they get paid in dollars for mostly easy tasks - but find it difficult to defend their fatherland. The poor leadership culture from the divisions all the way down to platoon leaders and the culture of impunity of burning property and killing of innocent citizens leaving behind sorrow, tears and blood has further weakened our army.
Its against this background that its difficult to see how the proposed $1 billion dollars (N160 billion) would be effective in fighting against the Islamist insurgency in north in the face of an army reluctant to fight. The Islamic terrorists are willing for a prisoner swap to release the abducted Chibok girls, but the government is understandably slow in meeting their demands for fear of them kidnapping more women in future in order to get any captured terrorists released.
However, the same government is yet to rescue the captive girls with military force as a rescue effort might prove disastrous and all we hear is there would be positive news soon but we all know its vague promises they are making. Even if the abducted girls are eventually released through on-going secret government negotiations with Boko Haram, the root causes of the entire insurgency makes it difficult to think the terror group would be defeated afterwards.
It makes it even more pertinent for the Senate to query deeply what the government wants to do with the proposed $1billion dollar loan if in the last two years of the campaign against Boko Haram with more that $14 billion dollars spent on the army and security agencies there is no notable reduction in the activities of the terror group. The fear is that a large chunk of the loan would be used against the opposition in the run to the 2015 elections and such fears are justifiable.
The $1billion loan would not defeat Boko Haram even if effectively utilised by the government in buying equipments provided the army with all its problems are reluctant to fight. The poor leadership and training, poor indoctrination, culture of impunity and corruption cannot be fixed easily with $1 billion, as the soldiers and field commanders in the army are scared of Boko Haram's fearlessness and readiness to fight back when attacked an attitude our army isn't used too, having always bullied their fellow defenceless citizens over the years. It would be more annoying if Nigerians thus find out that the borrowed money is used in quenching the opposition rather than fighting the terrorists.
The ruling party, PDP, are carrying on like winning elections and getting into power is all that matters and its business as usual without stopping to see the signs on the wall for Nigeria. Politicians like Tony Anenih are talking unseriously of the PDP winning elections in 2019 when we haven't even gone past 2015 successfully. The country is being divided into North versus South, Christians versus Muslims all in the name of perpetuating the ruling party in office with all sorts of evil machinations being used against the opposition just to win elections and get into power but not to address the myriads of problems Nigerians are facing.
The future looks bleak and we pretending like there is no problem. When 2015 comes and the nation is split on the lines of North/South, Christian/Muslim divide it might be too late then to save the country. The predictions by the U.S that we might separate as a country by then would look ever so right, as the north already battling with an Islamist militancy may start a civil conflict over the unfairness of the 2015 elections process and results that would push the country over. In the first republic, the civil conflicts started in the South in 1965, the same as in the second republic in 1983 that led to the army intervening.
In 2015, it might be a culmination of corruption – with the $1billion if borrowed, for battling Boko Haram diverted against the opposition – and civil unrest in the North that may give the Nigerian Army the excuse to intervene. It leads to a scenario where the situation deteriorates particularly in the Southern Niger-Delta, international oil companies decide to end their operations in the oil-rich region, wide-spread anarchy grips the land and several separatists group spring up. Politicians in different disguises and suitcases of cash try escaping through the different airports and borders and are arrested by the separatists armies. There is genocidal killings, maiming, raping, dispute over landmass/boundaries and Nigerians turn their long held hatred against each other.
The gates of hell are thrown wide open and chaos pervades the land once called Nigeria. I'm not a prophet of doom but these are all possibilities. The signs are already there with the whole north/south identity card issue and threats – by some northern youths - for people to relocate back to their home states.
Its time for the President and all political gladiators in the country to step back and ask themselves if they really believe in Nigeria and still want the country to continue as one? If they do, then we need to change track and make the process leading up to the 2015 elections truly free and fair. Militarization of our democracy has to stop and the army reminded of its one and only commitment to Nigeria which is to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty not ballot boxes or politicians.
The Army is trained for warfare not for law enforcements, as the Police are trained to do that but even at that they must do it in a civil and polite way not as barbarians. When you treat Nigerians as animals, they would react that way, but when they are treated civilly and politely by the police they would act that way and behave as sane human beings. Even if the army has to be called into any state it has to be as a last resort when there is genuine break-down of law and order beyond the capability of the police not prior to an election to patrol the streets and lock it down needlessly. We need to give ourselves a chance of surviving as a country beyond 2015 and if indeed the government goes on to borrow the $1 billion then it must be used to effectively fight Boko Haram not as a guise to raise money to quell the opposition ahead of the 2015 elections otherwise we might be heading for a long and dark future.
Only us (Nigerians) can save us from ourselves, the choice is ours!
Ola’ Idowu, a Management Consultant and Researcher, writes in from the UK.