By Amene Terhemen
It has become a consistent feature in the Nigerian news media that every week, we are treated to news of human lives decimated by Boko Haram; human casualties in such numbers that would make casualty figures in war ravaged Syria a child’s play. However, much more consistent is the government’s (or more precisely the presidency’s) continual insistence it is winning the war on terror. The government’s insistence is in spite of the many civilian and/or military casualties after each attack.
Earlier in the week, Boko Haram attacked Borno, leaving scores dead and with at least 20 young girls as captives. The governor of the state ran to the presidency. After the meeting with the president, he told journalist he had made it clear to the president that Boko Haram is better equipped and better motivated than the Nigerian military. Dr. Doyin Okupe, President Jonathan’s aide on Public Affairs took exception to this and declared that Governor Shettima is wrong and that his statement “is based purely on a civilian perception of the situation at hand” adding that “It is clear that Governor Shettima does not have the expertise to categorise or classify the effectiveness of any weapon”. Less than 24 hours after Okupe’s tough talk, Boko Haram struck again with a heavier casualty figure.
Is the FG really winning the war against terror? To determine success or failure, one needs a measurable scale. Okupe cited budgetary provisions, participation in other peace keeping operations, a subjective statement that the Nigerian military is better armed in all of Africa, but he failed woefully to give objective evidence that would show us the FG is indeed winning. Defence may have taken over a N1tr (22 percent) of 2013 budget but how was it spent? The military may have been successful in international operations but need we remind Okupe how Nigerians excel at the international arena only to come and fail at home? (It is the environment I guess). Is the Nigerian military really better armed in Africa? Would you mind telling us who did the comparative analysis of the armament of militaries of African nations?
As someone on the street, a small man without Dr. Okupe’s level of security clearance to eavesdrop on the jo-jo the military top brass normally have with the president and their Commander-in-Chief Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, I believe (as many would) the following should be the basis for judging whether FG is winning the war or not: Is there a reduction in the frequency of attacks by Boko Haram? Is there a reduction in the severity of each of these attacks when they occur? Note: I choose to use ‘when’ deliberately. Are (at least some of) the leaders and commanders of the group known, arrested, prosecuted, convicted? Does the military have intel on all or some of the masterminds and sponsors of the group? Do we have any of them in custody? How many convictions do we have against arrested members of the group?
For the truly observant, the answers to all of these five or so questions are not palatable. The frequency of attacks has reduced to a steady, almost predictable state. The severity on the other hand seems to have witnessed a steady rise and thereby effectively nullifies any gains of the reduction in frequency. If they used to attack 3 times a week with only 3 dead, but now attacks once a week with 5 dead, is the reduction in frequency meaningful? Apart from the over all head, Shekau, who else is known as leader in the group? Some may argue that info is classified; how then do we help government if we don’t know who they are looking for? No body talks of the sponsors and as for convictions, I know of only Kabiru Sokoto. Looking at these and bearing in mind that Boko Haram has easily ran down a military base, took out 5 fighter jets (decommissioned or not), leveled an entire village without resistance from the military and coupled with the fact that every claim by the military of casualties on Boko Haram’s side almost always results in claims that the casualties were in fact unarmed civilians killed and tagged Boko Haram all tend to suggest Boko Haram may be having the upper hand; not necessarily by design but (following Gov Shettima’s thinking) the unserious and insincere attitude of the presidency.
For example, if the N1tr budgeted for defence in 2013 was Dr. Okupe’s personal investment in a company, would he have accepted the performance of the military as satisfactory? We know and appreciate this is not a conventional warfare but if after six months and counting of emergency rule a lesser armed and motivated group (according to Okupe) will operate conveniently in a village for up to 2 or more hours without resistance from the authorities, then something is wrong. I agree with Dr. Okupe, our military performs excellently when on international assignments, but what is happening here? It is the same people, the same kind of assignment; it is the operating environment that differs and that environment is created by the presidency. If I remember well, by the fourth quarter of last year, it was revealed the defence third quarter allocation was still an expectation, that’s the environment.
Nigeria is a country of unknown definite population figure, but let’s assume it’s 170 million (as many believe), so 50 deaths may seem infinitesimal. But Okupe is said to be (should be or is supposed to be) a medical doctor as such he knows (or should know) that if a doctor operates several patients in a day and only one dies, an audit MUST be done to know why that patient died. While is it different with the victims of Boko Haram. Why is the federal government not asking the hard questions?
It still surprises me how Dr. Okupe can with all seriousness and honour say the Federal government is winning the war on terror? But if he insists, his statement is correct and Shettima’s wrong, then I ask of two things from him: (1) To make public the indices he is using to measure performance so we can also do our little beer parlour/okada group assessment, and (2) he should go on a one month sabbatical with his family to Borno, Adamawa or Yobe.
Amene Terhemen wrote in from Makurdi, Benue state