By Madu Onuorah (Abuja Bureau Chief)
Last week, members of the National Peace Committee on the 2015 elections led by former Head of State, Gen AbdulsalamiAbubakar met with the leadership of the Nigerian military at Defence Headquarters Abuja. Their mission was first to express appreciation to the military for the “excellent work done” towards provision of security during the March 28 presidential and National Assembly elections.
More importantly, the committee came to congratulate them for liberating parts of the North East from the insurgents. According to Gen Abubakar, “we congratulate you for what you are doing to liberate our country from the Boko Haram.
The Nigerian military made their mark any time they serve in the United Nations. So, I am not surprised that the military has been able to safeguard the country. Certainly, in any country, civilians look up to the military, especially in times of crisis, to do this. And you have been able to do this creditably.
This committee doffs its hats to all of you. And I am very proud to have been part of this military. We wish you well, God’s protection and may the Armed Forces of Nigeria grow from strength to strength.” This accolade has been rare for the military.
Suddenly, Nigeria’s once vaunted military became the butt of derision. It was such that when National Security Adviser, Col SamboDasuki, in defending the deferment of the elections, said the military would crush the Boko Haram insurgency that has bedevilled the country for the past six years, in six weeks, it was like a joke.
“All known Boko Haram camps would be taken out by March 28. The situation would surely be conducive enough for elections,” he had added. US-based Time magazine, in its Feb. 10, 2015 edition had this verdict: “Nigeria’s military has so far proved incapable of containing Boko Haram, and there is little to indicate that anything has changed… That Nigeria’s army needs help dealing with what even its own leaders call a rag-tag militia is a sobering indictment of an institution that was once considered the powerhouse of African peacekeeping.In 2003 the Nigerian army helped defeat the forces of Liberia’s bloodthirsty warlord Charles Taylor. Now it can’t even locate 219 schoolgirls from Chibok that were kidnapped by Boko Haram in April.
What happened?” And officials at the headquarters of United States Africa Command, Stuttgart, Germany offered its own damning assessment, saying they are “in tatters. Ounce for ounce, Boko Haram is equal to if not better than the Nigerian military.”
The Governor of Borno State, AlhajiKashimShettima on February 2014 added his own bombshell that “Boko Haram are better armed and are better motivated than our own troops.
Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram.” Indeed the insurgents killed more than 10,000 last year alone, leaving about 1.5 million people classified as internally displaced.
Militarily, the Boko Haram insurgents were routing the Nigerian Army from their positions and barracks in the three Northern Eastern States under state of emergency – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. For example, just before the February 14 presidential elections were rescheduled to March 28, Boko Haram was in control of 20 of the 27 Local government Areas of Borno State.
Only Maiduguri, Jere, Konduga, Bayo, Kwayakusah and Biu were under the control of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These seven were flying the Nigerian national colours. All others were flying Boko Haram flags.
Even in matters of the security, all the other seven Local Government Areas under Nigerian control were under constant threat from the sect. For Adamawa, Boko Haram took over five local governments in the state.
They include Madagali, Michika, Mubi North, Mubi South and Maiha. In neighbouringYobe State, Gujba and Gulani Local Government areas were captured by the insurgents in July 2014 and remained under their control for nine months until they were cleared last month.
As of November 30, 2014, Adamawa State had become home to camps housing an estimated 400,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) fleeing violence from Boko Haram in locations such as Mubi, Madagali, AskiraUba, Bama, and Gwoza, in the states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe.
Another 100,000 internally persons are estimated to be living in households outside the camps, and with friends or relatives. Some Nigerians who had earlier fled to Cameroon have now been repatriated. Yet another estimate placed the number of internally displaced persons around Yola at 400,000.The attack and capture of Gwozasignalled a change in strategy for Boko Haram as on 24 August 2014, it announced that Gwoza was now part of an Islamic Caliphate.
Meanwhile, in order not to cause panic among the citizens, the military continued to deny Boko Haram’s territorial gains. Because of the mindless violence of the group, soldiers refused orders to advance on them, others chose to run in the face of battle while others fled across the border into Cameroon, they were promptly repatriated.
Things came to a head last May with shooting protest by some soldiers of 101 Battalion at the Maimalari Cantonment, Maiduguri, Borno State, headquarters of the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army.
The 7th Infantry Division was established in August 2013 since the Joint Task Force (JTF) battling the insurgent in the North-East was an ad hoc arrangement.
The massive deployment of men and material through the establishment of the 7th Division of the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri was intended to stem the tide of attacks by insurgents in the North East as their presence was intended to make the insurgents think twice before launching any attack in the zone. But they were wrong.
Instead of fighting, some of the troops were protesting being sent to the epicentre of the war to confront Boko Haram. The shooting incident, which caused great “consternation” within military circles, was a great dent on the Nigerian Army which prides itself as a professional and disciplined fighting force.
On Sunday 6 July 2014, Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Kenneth Minimah, at the inter-denominational church service held at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church, Mogadishu Cantonment, Abuja admitted: “We are going through troubled times, but they will soon come to an end, and we shall be glad at the end.
I promise you it will come to an end and we will be victorious. The war against terrorism is a collective effort of all Nigerians and I appeal to all Nigerians to join hands in fighting this new war of terrorism.”
But the situation degenerated further in August 2014 when about 300 angry wives and 500 children of soldiers blockaded the Giwa Barracks, which houses the 21 Armoured Brigade of the Nigerian Army Maiduguri, to stop the deployment of their spouses and parents to fight against the Boko Haram insurgents.
For the protesting spouses and children, Boko Haram insurgents were better equipped than the soldiers sent to fight them as the soldiers told stories of the insurgents’ use of semi-automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and even armoured personnel carriers.
Indeed, this was an alarming creeping decrepitude within the ranks of the military. To compound matters, Army personnel abandoned the Service for fear of engaging in battle while those on the frontlines run at the sound of Boko Haram guns.
The Nigerian Army Headquarters, alarmed at personnel running away from battle against the Boko Haram, ordered a wave of Court Martials with some of the troops tried for acts of cowardice, indiscipline, desertion or mutiny. The Army said the soldiers disobeyed direct order from their superior officers to take part in an operation.
The soldiers however said they only asked for support equipment before embarking on the operation. And the verdicts have been coming in droves. In December, 54 soldiers of the 111 Special Forces battalion attached to the 7 Division Maiduguri were sentenced to death for mutiny.
The soldiers were accused of disobeying a direct order from superior officers to take part in an operation aimed at dislodging Boko Haram terrorists from Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State.
Twelve other soldiers had previously been sentenced to death by firing squad for shooting at a car conveying their General Officer Commanding, Maj Gen Ahmed Mohammed.
Barely a week after, on December 24, a military Court Martial that sat in Abuja sentenced four soldiers to death by firing squad for alleged mutiny. And on December 23, another batch of 118 soldiers was transported from Maiduguri to face charges in Abuja. They were accused of offences less than mutiny.
Towards the end of last year, the Army dismissed another batch of 203 soldiers for mutiny and other offences. In January this year, the Army dismissed 227 soldiers over their refusal to fight Boko Haram when the insurgents attacked and overrun Mubi in October last year.
Four other soldiers were dismissed at the headquarters of the Nigerian Army Records in Lokoja over similar offences. Then, last month, after two adjournments, the first set of senior Nigerian Army officers to be put on trial for offences related to the military’s campaign in the North East were arraigned when the Nigerian Army opened the trial of 22 of its officers, including a Brigadier-General.
They were accused of mutiny. The accused officers include one Brigadier-General, J.O Komolafe, and 14 Colonels: A. Laguda, V. Ebhaleme, V.O Ita, I.B Maina, I.A Aboi, I.M Kabir, M.H Abubakar, A.A Egbejule, N.N Orok, C.A Magaji, A.O Agwu, A.J.S Gulani, O.O Obolo and A.M Adetuyi. Others are Major M.M Idris; Captains M. Adamu, O.A Adenaike, M. Gidado, M.M Clark, S. Raymond; and one Second Lieutenant – S.O Olowa. Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Kenneth Minimah credits the wave of Court Martials for turning the tide against the Boko Haram.
He told journalists after the visit of members of the Gen AbdulsalamiAbubakar-led National Peace Committee on the 2015 elections last week to Defence Headquarters that what Nigerians do not know is that “What you do not know too is that the battle (against Boko Haram) had been turned before the equipment arrived. Why? Because the average officer realized now that if he runs, he would be court martialed. The soldier knows that if he runs away he will be dismissed.
“It is the soldier that fights not the equipment. If I had set up the Court Martials as soon as I came, we wouldn’t have lost all those territories because at one point they would have realized it that they had to stand and fight. So, everybody was prepared to stand and fight and die because if you run back there is nothing for you.
And the fact that they stood and fought, the Boko Haram was surprised. They (Boko Haram) turned and ran and said these people, they are not Nigerians.
This is because before, when they come and fire, everybody runs away. Now, people were standing to fight back. And in the sustained fire fight of two hours, three hours they say no, we don’t understand these people. They (Boko Haram) now run away. That’s how the turning point started. “Look, in Konduga I, Konduga II and Konduga III fire fights, we held the town.
When the other fellow, the other MrShekau, I don’t know the number he is, he was killed, it was the old equipment that were used. And it was the soldiers themselves that said, no way, we are not running anywhere, that when you run back, that ‘mad man’ (Gen Minimah) is waiting for you. He will court martial you.
He will dismiss you. He will jail you. They remained there and fought. “And that was when the ice broke that these people they are not invincible. Since then, the thing picked up.
The equipment arrived just six weeks ago. How can it become fashionable that soldiers are running? They were even running, soldiers telling civilians in Mubi, ‘Boko Haram dey come’, Boko Haram dey come.’ They were running.
And now, you want me to listen to some person who says did I set up the court martial?” With the fighting mojo restored to the rank and file of the Army, two other major game-changing factors also helped turned the tide of the battle.
They include the regional agreement with the countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the new stockpile of sophisticated weapons like surveillance systems, battle tanks with mine sweeping capabilities, attack helicopters with night vision technology.
With the regional cooperation, the renewed fighting spirit of the soldiers and influx of new weapons, all Boko Haram camps except Sambisa Forest have been destroyed. Sambisa Forest is a major fortress of Boko Haram terrorists and their last major remaining camp.
Indications are that the Nigerian Army and their Nigerian Air Force counterparts are amassing troops and weapons to liberate the forest soon.
Gen Minimahstated that “militarily, they (Boko Haram) are defeated.” What remains, he noted, are palliative programmes of the federal, state and local governments. For him, challenges of armed groups, thieves, armed robbers or people who go about to steal, burn markets and loot may continue for a while.
On his projection of where the war against Boko Haram will be in the next six months, Minimah stated: “In the next six months, I am sure that Nigerians would have forgotten that Boko Haram reigned and terrorized a region of the country. I believe so.”
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