As the entire world now knows, Nigeria last week scheduled a war. A six-week war, with specific start and end dates.
Actually, it is an old war recast differently. The enemy is well-known: Boko Haram, the ruthless enemy Nigeria has fought, and lost to, for six years. It is the militia that has embarrassed the army, seized Nigerian territory, compelled a state of emergency in three states, killed tens of thousands, and displaced hundreds of thousands in addition.
Last weekend, all of that changed, as the government and that same army announced that Boko Haram would be defeated in six weeks, beginning from yesterday.
Nigeria is enjoying increased cooperation, even assistance, from its neighbors in the region, but even then, it is unclear how the start of the war and its termination could have been determined.
According to the new scheme, such resolution of the insurgency in the northeast would free up segments of the country that are not only under Boko Haram control, but under its threat and fear. The war will be over in time for the presidential election conveniently pushed from yesterday to March 28.
It is no surprise nobody believes the plan, if it may be dignified as one. Even PDP people, in confidential conversations, are weeping into their beer over the political quicksand in which they have found themselves. It is the power-hungry members of the lootocracy who see the loss of Abuja as the end of the world.
I am a strong supporter of the Nigerian soldier who is making do with less, often at the expense of life and limb. It is the upper echelon of the army that ought to be attempting to explain how their once-respected institution has slid into infamy and disdain.
To worsen matters, the army has now forayed into politics, casting itself as errand-boys for politicians, and in the role of election security-guards. Election security, as a province of law and order, is the business of the police under the constitution.
It is the poor wisdom of inserting itself into that equation that resulted in the equally unwise decision of scheduling a six-week war. The plan suggests that the army has in mind an attempt to burn to the ground an entire parcel of Nigeria, irrespective of who may be there. The same army has been accused of staggering human rights violations in the past, and will be closely-watched by the world over the next six weeks.
People ask: what if Boko Haram is not defeated? What if the insurgency persists or spreads?
The army has not answered this concern. On the contrary, it suggests that not only would Boko Haram have been routed, the internally-displaced would have had time to return from their locations in other countries and far-flung distances in Nigeria to cast their votes in the ravaged communities and homes they fled from.
Because the army is not known to perform miracles, these issues leave it exposed and vulnerable.
Hopefully, it understands that in the war it has defined, it is also fighting itself. As it fights to reclaim Nigerian territory, it will be fighting to reclaim its own credibility.
As it fights to keep the deadline it has set for terminating the insurgency, it will be fighting for its reputation.
As it fights to ensure that the presidential election holds on March 28 and that it does not attempt to reach for power as if these were the 1960s or 1970s, this army will be examined by every move it makes, every moment it fights, and every soldier it deploys.
The prospects are poor. Among other things, it has allowed itself to be sub-tenanted to external forces, such as the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. Following his dismissal of the troops in London as “cowards”, he seemed last week to have taken up the role of army commander.
He told AFP on Monday that by March 28, "All known Boko Haram camps will be taken out…They will be dismantled…”
How did he know that for certain? “Now we are having support. We are having additional troops. We are having additional equipment coming in. We are better equipped and better placed now to take on that thing…”
President Jonathan, who spoke to the media two days later, made no such claims. He often gives the impression that his administration belongs to others. He even told his interviewers he was not consulted about the decision to postpone the election, an issue he had tabled at, and been advised by, the Council of State five days earlier.
To further illustrate how the administration and the army are divided, military spokesman General Chris Olukolade was on Twitter on Thursday denouncing some of the same forces that have come to embolden us and fortify the war effort.
All of this comes against the background of the mess in Ekiti, where the army is exposed in collusion with the PDP to rig last June’s gubernatorial election. Brigadier General A.A. Momoh, the Commander of the 32nd Artillery Brigade, is heard on the scandalous audiotape being shamelessly slapped around by PDP chieftains to muzzle the opposition and ensure a PDP victory, which the party got. Under Momoh, masked military men patrolled that election under the guise of providing security for the polls.
No, this month’s elections were not shifted because of insecurity; they were shifted to grant the PDP the room to hijack victory.
What has changed is that both the government and the military have disrobed publicly, and will enjoy neither respect nor credibility until they earn it. In “Let Us Probe Nigeria’s Defence Spending” (September 13, 2014), I pointed out that in just the past 10 years, that Ministry spent well over N260 trillion.
The NSA ought to be questioning why, with all those funds, Nigeria is declaring a war on the basis of the courage granted by foreign troops. But then, that article also revealed that the NSA has in the Jonathan Years alone received over N550 billion. As all of these funds must be probed, the desperation of some people to void the elections is really not surprising.
But Nigerians must be calm, and they must be clear about the challenge before them. They should make the six weeks hurt those who planned to use them to subvert the democratic process. I advocate a cellphone strategy for patriotic Nigerians throughout the world, towards campaigning for their aspirations.
Here is how: call at least one person daily, and have each such person call at least one other person to make sure they collect and protect their voter’s card. In the three weeks that the electoral commission continues with card distribution, the population of N160 million would have been covered over and over. The rest will take care of itself.
Make no mistake: this struggle is for the soul of Nigeria, and you are either in the race for that soul, or assisting someone who is. Anyone who is neither running nor contributing productively works against Nigeria.
If riggers like, they can spend every night of these six weeks in Ekiti-style conferences: if we are diligent and vigilant, they cannot triumph. These six weeks are an opportunity, not a death sentence; manure, not famine. They say the darkest hour is before dawn.