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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

7 Ideas on the Boko Haram Crisis

In this post, I outline four policies and three experimental concepts that I’d implement if in an alternate universe I went to bed and woke up as Nigeria’s President and Commander-in-Chief. 

Policies


State Organs and Institutions Put on a War Footing 

Irakli Toidze’s iconic “Motherland is calling”. A Word War II propaganda poster from the Soviet Union (sovietposters.com). The poster was published in 1941, just after Germany’s invasion of the country. The motherly figure is a personification of the Soviet Union and in her arms the Soviet soldier’s oath of loyalty.
Whether we choose to believe it or not, ours is a nation at war! Therefore, I will immediately put every organ of the State – i.e. the ministries, parastatals and State institutions – on a war footing. I will defend this radical move by explaining to my compatriots that we confront an ideologically committed foe whose immediate objective is to carve out an independent state on Nigerian soil.

Despite recent tactical successes – particularly at Konduga where the military defeated several attempts by Boko Haram to retake the town – the overall strategic picture remains unchanged. The conflict is still in “fluid stalemate”. At the strategic level, the conflict is still characterised by stalemate – neither the Nigerian army nor Boko Haram is capable of comprehensively defeating the other for now. At the tactical level however, battlefield conditions remain highly fluid – limited offensives are still conducted, and population centres still change hands. An estimated 17 Local Government Areas straddling three states – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – currently lie beyond the limits of State control. 

The map of Nigerian no longer reflects realities on the ground. The constitutional implications of this fact are yet to be fully grasped. For example both section 3 (6) which declares that “there shall be 768 Local Government Areas”, and section 217 (2b) which emphasises territorial defence to be a cardinal duty of the armed forces, have been fundamentally breached. 

Call a Joint Session of the National Assembly

President Goodluck Jonathan presenting the 2013 budget at a Joint Session of the National Assembly (Today.ng)
Having put the State on a war footing, the first thing I will do is to call a Joint Session of Parliament. This war has gone on for five years now. The bedraggled terrorist band we once faced have now mutated into a formidable territorial organisation. Despite this, it is clear to me most Nigerians are yet to fully comprehend the nature and magnitude of the threat confronting our Republic. Popular assessments of the conflict are often based on rumour, conspiracy theories – in many cases supplemented by fantastic lies from the government; the recent fiasco over a “ceasefire agreement” being a case in point. 

Our national leadership – the executive and the legislative – have simply abdicated their moral and constitutional responsibilities to provide united leadership on this existential issue. In momentous times like these, it is the duty of the governing elite to step forward and provide focused leadership. Consequently, a joint session of parliament will provide me with a suitable platform to clearly define the nature of the problem confronting our nation, and to articulate with clarity what I intend to do to overcome this crisis.

Expand the Army

Nigerian troops on patrol in Borno, the epicentre of the insurgency (AFP) 
One of the first policies I will announce at the Joint Session is the expansion of the military, particularly the army. The Nigerian army is simply not large enough to defeat Boko Haram and conduct stability operations once the conventional conflict phase subsides. A simple example will suffice to illustrate the army’s comparatively small size given the task at hand. Sri-Lanka which recently won its 26 year-long civil war did so with an army of over 250,000 (as opposed to Nigeria’s army of about 80,000 - 100,000). And what is more, Borno alone is larger than the whole of Sri-Lanka by land area. 

I will therefore immediately set the Ministry of Defence the objective of generating implementable plans for a mass recruitment exercise, coupled with improved service conditions to entice graduates into joining. In the interim however, whilst plans for the mass recruitment and training are being worked out, I will insist on enforcing the principle of letting the police to do their jobs – maintaining law and order, providing security during elections, manning checkpoints at vital locations, guarding sensitive locations etc. This will free up soldiers from these duties so they can concentrate on their own Jobs­ – fighting and wining Nigeria’s war! 

Similarly, I will explore the legal and constitutional barriers to immediately stripping public officials of their excessively large security details; or at the very least, dramatically trimming these security details down to the absolute minimum required for the legitimate security needs of the official. No public official will be exempt from this thorough exercise, not even the President. These excess security agents now gathered, bristling with their shiny weapons and often overly eager to harass civilians, will instead be encouraged to direct their martial energies towards the war effort in the northeast. These individuals will be presented with a simple option: They either immediately join the newly expanding army, with its improved salary package and service condition; or surrender their weapons and enter the vast unemployment market! It is an absolute scandal that whilst the conflict zone is crying out for extra troops, calmer parts of the country are overflowing with well-armed security operatives whose only job is to provide security to many of the individuals that contributed to wrecking the country in the first place!

Create an Executive “Committee of Six” for Controlling Information


The chaotic management of information has been one very worrying feature of how the Boko Haram crisis has been handled so far. Given the pivotal importance of information management in war, I will immediately set up an executive “Committee of Six” consisting of the Minister of Defence, the Minister of the Interior, the National Security Adviser, the Director of the State Security Service, the Inspector General of Police, and the Minister of Information (as the chairman) to tightly control how State organs and institutions disseminate information about developments in the war. The operative word here is control; as opposed to distort or hide information. A tightly controlled and well executed information campaign will not only rebuild trust in the credibility of State institutions, but also shape perceptions of how developments are interpreted. I will clear out the deadwoods now occupying the positions above, and instead replace them with men and women with the intellectual capacity to conceptualise and articulate a sophisticated strategic communication campaign.

Experimental Concepts


The three concepts I will outline below are underpinned by a single strategic aim: to “deterritorialize” Boko Haram. In other words, to destroy its capacity to govern territories. As Boko Haram consolidates its hold on its territories, it will become more sophisticated in governance; and therefore more entrenched in its claimed “State”. This will make it much more difficult to dislodge. Slowing Boko Haram’s transition to stable governance, and ultimately reversing its territorial gains, is therefore an essential task that requires creative and bold solutions. The three concepts below are purely experimental which I will nevertheless hope to operationalise as soon as proper and extensive feasibility studies have been conducted.

Precision Airstrikes on “Symbols of Governance” (SoG) in captured areas

Coalition aircraft led by the US’ F-22 Raptor on their way to conduct airstrikes against “Islamic State” Group targets in Syria (rusi.org)
Ideally, Nigeria’s air force should be conducting daily intelligence-led daily air strikes on Boko Haram SoGs – e.g. its Shari’ah courts, “Emir’s” residence, Police/Hisbah stations, assembly points, and any other such strategic locations – with the aim of disrupting governance in Boko Haram controlled territories. Aside from its helicopters, which are vulnerable to Boko Haram’s anti-air weapons, Nigeria lacks precision airstrike capabilities to conduct such operations. Building such a capability will be a priority. This will be an opportunity for Nigeria’s diplomats to justify their salaries. I will fully expect them to take advantage of developments in the international arena – Russia’s and China’s increasing strategic assertiveness in international affairs – to open up new avenues for acquiring the weapons and training needed to modernise our military capabilities.

“Thunder Runs”

An infograph of US “Thunder Run” operations during the April 2003 Battle of Baghdad (BBC). The first raid on the 5th was an armoured thrust right through the city; racing all the way to the International Airport, which was then in US hands. Subsequent raids were more adventurous in probing deeper into the city.

US troops on one of their Thunder Runs to the International Airport

In April 2003 as US forces massed around Baghdad, they were faced with the prospect of a bloody urban operation to conquer Iraq’s capital city. In a bold gamble, armoured elements from the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, launched lightening thrusts deep into the city, driving along the main thoroughfares and major landmarks. The initial strategic aim was not to collapse the city’s defences after a few swift blows, but to test the city’s defences, and establish moral and psychological dominance over the defenders of the city in preparation for the coming struggle. So stunned were Baghdad’s defenders however that the entire city fell to US forces in just three days of fighting. 

Nigeria cannot obviously replicate this concept wholesale – given the qualitative difference in military capabilities – nor can it hope for a similar decisive strategic outcome – given the fact the Boko Haram’s operatives are far more ideologically committed to their cause that Saddam’s fighters ever where. But what Nigeria can do however is to conduct more limited “thunder runs” by armoured battalions against towns where Boko Haram presence is minimal. The strategic aim will be to integrate these with the precision airstrikes against Boko Haram SoGs so as to maintain constant pressure on Boko Haram fighters, particularly their conscripts who are more likely to occupy peripheral territories. 

Should such a limited, integrated, but high intensity, air-land operation be beyond the technical capacities of Nigerian forces, I will instruct the Ministry of Defence to immediately raise an experimental battalion and air squadron which, after sufficient training for a reasonable time period (about 6 months), form the nucleus of such a force. The aim will not be to immediately train the best of the best, but rather to create a reasonably effective force that can be operationally deployable within a relatively short time period. The experience of the conflict itself will hone and sharpen their technical capabilities.     

Train Special Forces for Anti-Terrorist raids into Cameroon and other Neighbouring Countries

Nigerian Army Special Forces Commandos on a training session (Beegeagle)
 Cameroon’s far north is Boko Haram’s strategic rear. Cameroon, with a small and weak army and with a collapsed state on its eastern border, lacks both the will and the capacity to reclaim its territory from Boko Haram. Under such circumstances, the principles of sovereignty will not restrain me from ordering anti-terrorist raids into Cameroon should the demands of national security and circumstances necessitate it. 

I will therefore instruct the Ministry of Defence to work out modalities for training a brigade of Special Forces for anti-terrorist raids beyond Nigeria’s borders. I will instruct my Attorney General to prepare and submit a legal defence for such an audacious move. In doing so, I will advise him/her to study the precedent set by the US, where it recently started bombing targets in Syria after having notified but without seeking the consent of the government, for its applicability to Nigeria. While Nigeria of course lacks the power to break sovereignty norms with impunity, I am however confident that where there is a compelling national security reason, and where objectives are clearly defined, limited, and well-articulated, the world will to turn a deaf ear to Cameroon’s protestations. I will instruct strategic planners at the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Defence to undertake comprehensive assessments of the likely military, political and economic reactions from Cameroon, and how these can be offset.

In war, fortune favours the Bold!



Monday, 20 October 2014

A Joint Session of Parliament Dealing with the Boko Haram Conflict

Given dramatic developments in the northeast – Boko Haram mutating into a formidable territorial force; the recent unilateral “ceasefire” agreement announced by the government – a Presidential address in Parliament dealing solely with the now five-year conflict is long overdue. 

President Goodluck Jonathan presenting the 2013 budget at a Joint Session of the National Assembly (Today.ng)
Whether we choose to believe it or not, Nigeria is at war! Terrorist insurgents have marched into the northeast intent on carving out an independent state. Despite a “State of Emergency” having been in place for 19 months – first declared in May 2013, subsequently extended in November – in the three most affected northeastern states, Boko Haram has still widened and deepened its control over large parts of the SoE states. The group now controls at least 16 towns and villages – from a map recently published by Stratfor – and as much as 25 towns and villages – according to a recent estimate by the Catholic Church organisation in Nigeria. And despite government’s vociferous insistence that a “ceasefire” has been in effect since Friday (17th October 2014), there are reports that Boko Haram has seized yet another border town over the weekend. According to the President himself, in his recent speech at the UN, 13,000 have so far been killed. And from recent estimates by NGO groups, tens of thousands more have been forced to flee into neighbouring countries as destitute refugees, and over half-a-million are now classed are internally displaced

Map showing at least 16 towns and villages in the northeast controlled by Boko Haram (Stratfor)

Despite these staggering statistics, and the reality of a full-blown insurgency in a section of the country, much confusion beclouds the cataclysm unfolding in the northeast. News on events from the conflict zone – both good and bad – often gets into the public domain in a chaotic and haphazard manner. Public discourse is often dominated by unsavoury rumours and conspiracy theories. And information released by government agencies and official channels are often contradictory, inaccurate, and unreliable. The widespread scepticism which greeted the government’s announcement of the purported “ceasefire” agreement, and the contemptuous dismissal of same by informed analysts, illustrates the general belief that the government’s information campaign is based on “shadows and bubbles”, to quote Ahmed Salkida – a respected source on Boko Haram. Most perplexing however is the fact that, with a terrorist force now capable of seizing and holding Nigerian territory, there has not been a single national address before parliament by the President to help us make sense of the immense tragedy in the northeast; and to galvanise the nation for collective action.

It is now high time that a Joint Session of the National Assembly is called so the President can address the nation frankly on the true extent of the danger to our national existence posed by the insurgency in the northeast. The purported “ceasefire” agreement, and the general confusion which surrounds it, is reason enough for a Joint Session to be called to give clarity to this consequential development. A Joint Session of the National Assembly is the only fitting platform our national leadership has for addressing the fundamental questions calling out for answers in this destructive five-year conflict. To my mind, there are at least 22 such questions in desperate need of answers.

  • What is the nature and magnitude of the threat to our national existence posed by the group known as Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad – more widely known as Boko Haram?

  • What does Government know of the leadership and support structure of the group?

  • What is the estimated size of the group?

  • What towns and cities have been “lost” to the group? And how large is the population that remains “trapped” in Boko Haram territories?

  • Can government confirm or deny the serious allegation levelled by Alexander Dan’Iyan, an analyst on the insurgency, that Boko Haram has “sleeper cells all over Nigeria”? In other words, apart from territories now physically controlled by Boko Haram, does the group have an operational or clandestine presence in any other part of the country?

  • What is the fate of the population that remains in the fallen territories? Do we accept them as irretrievably lost?

  • Can we be confident that no other city, town, village, or population centre will fall to Boko Haram?

  • If not, what is presently being done to ensure areas under acute threat are being secured?

  • What logistical provisions have been put in place to ensure a relatively efficient evacuation of threatened areas should they come under threat of capture?

  • What has the impact of the crisis been on children in the conflict zone?

  • What is government doing to ensure they don’t become a “lost generation” – and therefore a resource pool for the insurgents?

  • Why do civilians – under the guise of a Civilian JTF – have to complement the law and order functions of the military and police in the conflict zone whilst our elites walk around in safer parts of the country surrounded with heavily armed officers?

  • As ordinary Nigerians are called on to make sacrifices, can the President articulate what sacrifices our collective national leadership are doing to help with #VictoryforNigeria?

  • What are the basic features of the “ceasefire” recently announced? 

  • What is its duration? Does government view the ceasefire as short-term and tactical to facilitate negotiations for return of the Chibok girls in exchange for release of Boko Haram prisoners? Or does government view the ceasefire as long-term and strategic to facilitate a wider political settlement?

  • If the ceasefire is to facilitate a wider political settlement, what will the main features of this settlement be?

  • In light of past experience where other unilateral declarations of ceasefire by government have been answered with intensified violence by Boko Haram, what steps has government taken to ensure this current “ceasefire” sticks? 

  • And in light of allegations that the alleged Boko Haram representative, “Danladi Umar”, is a fraud, how sure can we be that this whole episode is not another case of breath-taking incompetence? Or worse: Callous political manipulation?

  • Does the ceasefire mean that Boko Haram will continue to hold Nigerian territory unmolested by military action to reclaim them?

  • What happens to the population trapped behind Boko Haram lines for the duration of the “ceasefire”? Will they be allowed freedom to leave? Will a corridor be opened for humanitarian supplies to enter and for refugees to exit?

  •  Will Nigerians be allowed freedom of movement into and out of areas presently controlled by Boko Haram?

  • Given recent reports of Boko Haram operatives seizing additional towns over the weekend, how does government define “ceasefire violation”? And what does government intend to do in response to any Boko Haram “violation” of the ceasefire?


The answers to these fundamental questions will provide the basis for a better understanding of the crisis now afflicting a part of our body-polity. This is the only country we have. This is the only political community we can call our own. The President, therefore, has a moral duty to address Nigerians before their parliamentary representatives on the nature and magnitude of the threat to our national existence.