opinionBy Ray Ekpu
Last week our Armed Forces fighting the Boko Haram terrorists and their comrades in arms from the deadly Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) reportedly recorded heavy casualties in Metele village in Borno State. Our 157 Task Force Battalion soldiers and local residents were killed in a surprise attack the casualty figure of which is yet to be fully revealed. However, preliminary evidence shows that more than 100 persons may have lost their lives while some arms and ammunitions may have been carted away by the terrorists. War is a very grave engagement and, in all wars, there are always casualties.
However, the Metele attack seems to be a product of the failure of intelligence on our part. Our inability to push them back before they could do serious damage to our troops, our civilians and our country calls to question our combat readiness for such surprise attacks.
This column identifies with our gallant forces who have been battling the terrorists for several years now. It gives its condolences to the families of those who have lost their loved ones in this and other battles. A war is fought on two fronts namely the war front and propaganda front, with each one complementing the other. The war at the war front is won by the adroit use of appropriate arms, men, tactics and strategies.
The war at the propaganda front must be fought with truthful information and sincerity so as to access the people’s support for and encouragement to the fighting forces. War is always supported by propaganda but not replaced by it. When the armed forces told the nation that Boko Haram terrorists had been “technically defeated” or “highly degraded”, an exercise in euphemistic sloganeering, the nation believed them. It was comfortable for us to believe because it meant that our misery was largely over or about to be brought to a closure soon. Those words came back to bite them later when Boko Haram continued to make more successful attacks on the positions of our Armed Forces. And when the Presidency sought to withdraw one billion dollars from the Excess Crude Oil Fund there was a national uproar not just about the huge amount involved or the legality of it but more importantly why. The why arose because, if according to the Armed Forces, the terrorist were decimated then there was no need for demanding such a huge expenditure any more. The opposition parties and some Governors of the Niger Delta region made a feast of the matter. That is how the ill-advised propaganda on our exaggerated achievements at the war front came to bite its author. But it must be acknowledged that every war always comes with a bit of its own extravagant propaganda which is meant largely for the consumption of those who pay for the war. The idea is to get them to continue to support the war effort until the deed is done. But such propaganda also has the potential to backfire when the truth is out.
However, the truth is that we have an ongoing war on our hands and it is our responsibility to support the Armed Forces and the Federal Government until the terrorists are completely uprooted from our soil. The truth is that when casualties are high as the Metele attack appears to be it tends to affect the morale of our fighting forces. In the aftermath of that attack some of the surviving soldiers have complained of having to face the terrorists with antiquated equipment. They have called for improvement in the quality of their armament. The impression here is probably that the arms used by the terrorists are superior to the ones used by our soldiers. If we are to defeat them we must give our soldiers superior fire power. That is correct but that is not all that is needed for us to win the war. Our intelligence gathering must be superior to theirs. It does appear that the Metele attack arose from the failure of our intelligence apparatus to detect the movement of the invading terrorists.
I have no idea how much has been sunk into this war since it broke out and how judiciously it has been used. While it may not be easy or even wise to give a kobo by kobo account of the war expenditure, the approving authorities must at least assure themselves that money disbursed is judiciously spent for the assigned purpose. This is no attempt to cast aspiration on the integrity of the war managers but only to assure us that we are not pouring water into a leaking basket while we weep from time to time as the terrorists mangle us.
But funds management is not the only issue in a war or specifically in this war. Focus management is also very crucial. The war against Boko Haram in the North East is the most important war on our hands right now and our soldiers should treat it as such. But it does appear that the Armed Forces have allowed themselves to be distracted by two relatively inconsequential issues.
One is its brawl with the members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) whose leader Ibrahim El Zakzaky the government has been keeping in a so called “Protective Custody” for some years now. Why he is considered such a big risk to the survival of our Republic beats my imagination. But keeping him in detention is a sure fire guarantee that his followers will not let the government sleep with two eyes closed. The second issue is IPOB. The IPOB has a few thousand noisy believers in an imaginary Eldorado called Biafra. There is a government in each of the five states of the territory that these fellows call Biafra. Most Igbo people who saw the calamity that the 1967-70 Biafra war brought to them have no interest in an encore.
The IPOB said there would be no governorship election in Anambra State last year but they failed. The election was held peacefully and the Governor has since been sworn in for a second term. That is an indication that the IPOB may actually be nothing but a paper tiger. Now its leader Nnamdi Kanu is in hiding somewhere in either Europe or Israel or somewhere in outer Mongolia. No one can truly say where he is even though he boasted that he would bring hell to Nigeria soon. No one is waiting for that boastful man’s hell because he is incapable of delivering anything close to hell.
Even Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a trained soldier who controlled a territory had promised that the grass would rise up and fight. The grass did not rise up. The grass didn’t fight. So why is the Army obsessed about IPOB, by going to the East to hold a so-called Python Dance, when it should focus on the real war in the North East. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that the Army achieved during the last Python Dance in the East that the mobile Police would not have achieved.
In fact, the Army brought more hostility to itself than it improved its own image. Many of the citizens were brutalized and those who were not simply told them to go to the North East where there was a war to fight. I am not a military expert but I think the Armed Forces should pay attention to ending the North East war soon by throwing their best and brightest into that encounter now. Running after civilians – cult boys, armed robbers, kidnappers – is not the business of the Army but that of the Police. The Army knows it. That is why when it arrests some civilians it hands them over to the Police.
The Army should concentrate on its principal assignment as constitutionally prescribed and leave the Police to deal with the day to day infractions by civilians. If it weans itself off these civil assignments it can devote more of its attention to ending the war in the not too distant future. The more the war drags on the higher the chances of the civil populace getting war weary. If they get war weary their support for the war will flag. Nigerians don’t want a war that goes on forever, sapping their energy, their resource, their men and women and their infrastructure. Even now we are already fatigued.
My advice to President Muhammadu Buhari is for him to throw in what needs to be thrown in so that the war can be brought to a speedy end. If he wants, as a war veteran and the COMMANDER IN Chief to micromanage the war, he is free to do so. That way there will be no Meteles to talk about in future.