THE marching order given to the service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari to defeat Boko Haram in three months sounds good on paper. It will create the impression that government is serious and determined in the war it is waging against terror. It will also give hope that the dark days of terror would soon be over.
But that is as far as it goes. The order, when divested of its pugnacious pretensions, will only be as good as the paper on which it is written. It cannot, strictly speaking, inspire confidence in a distraught citizenry. The beleaguered people of this country are no longer enamoured of mental flights, especially those coming from leaders in desperate search of clues on how to confront thorny issues of statehood. The people have become wary, even cynical, because those who ought to tell it to them as it is, have been building castles on air. They have been lying to the people on the true state of affairs. That is why the latest order on Boko Haram will not strike the right chord.
We are not new to errors associated with such open and reckless declarations. The recently deposed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alexander Barde, was the worst culprit of such thoughtlessness. He gave too much hope to those who imagined him serious. He was always upbeat each time he set out to declare that Boko Haram would be defeated within weeks or months. That was his pastime. He was at one with idle declarations that led to nowhere. He was told, time and time again, that his approach was not strategic. But he continued to laugh away in delirium. In the end, Boko Haram pushed him to the precipice. His high-spirited boasts burst like bubble. They had no substance. Barde, for all we can see, was the worse for it. History cannot be kind to a high-ranking security chief who trifled with issues that border on national security.
The Barde era has since ended and Buhari has decided to reorganize the security apparatus of the country in order to achieve his set objective. We cannot but wish him well in his drive to deal with Boko Haram. But he must shun the familiar path. He must avoid the grandstanding which Barde as CDS brought to bear on his job, and which, unfortunately, became his trademark. There was no need, for instance, for Buhari to tell the service chiefs openly to defeat Boko Haram in three months. That could be the strategy. It could be the plan. But it is not strategic to make a public show of it. It should not be for the consumption of the Nigerian public. Military tacticians are not known to go public on what their war plans are. They rely more on surprise than anything else.
Barde went public with his boasts. He never really had a war plan. But the insurgents took strong exception to his boastfulness and decided to teach him a lesson. They invaded his community in Adamawa State and destroyed his house. Barde had no response to the affront. Surprisingly, a Barde who had no strategy on how to defeat terror in the land found a convenient alibi in Jonathan when he left office. He said the military under his command was not funded. That was a convenient excuse. It spells treachery.
But we must leave Barde and his ways and pay more attention to issues of the moment. As a retired military officer, it is taken for granted that Buhari would adopt an approach that would work in the war against insurgency. It was one of the things that The Economist (of London) imagined, though erroneously, when it alluded to Buhari’s military background as one of the reasons why Nigerians would prefer him to Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential elections. Buhari may have won the election in spite of the wrong- headedness of the magazine’s prediction. But it will be truly disappointing if the president does not take even those elementary steps that would make those who believed in his military background to beat their chest in triumphant acclaim.
Regardless of our optimism on the imminent defeat of Boko Haram, we have cause to worry about the trial and error approach which Buhari has been relying upon in the national effort to rout the insurgents. While the campaigns lasted, Buhari came away as one with a magic wand. While the Jonathan administration struggled without much success to give Boko Haram a bloody nose, Buhari gruntled with unexplained confidence. He dropped a few words here and there and those who make much of his no-nonsense mien felt he had all the answers to all the Boko Haram puzzles.
But the situation has changed. Change has come, as APC (All Progressives Congress) enthusiasts are wont to say. Buhari is now in the saddle and terror is staring him nakedly in the face. He is now in search of clues on how to rein in the insurgents. He has moved the command and control unit of the Armed Forces to Maiduguri, the seat of terror. When this step was taken, it was as if those who came before Buhari, especially the immediate past administration, merely beat about the bush. But the move appears like a blind alley. It has led us to nowhere. Collaboration with neighboring African countries is ongoing. A multi-national joint task force is in place. But Boko Haram is still making waves. Now, it is evident that Buhari has no hidden tactic on how to defeat terror. The confidence placed on him in this regard may have been misplaced, after all.
With the failure of the strategies so far adopted by Buhari, it is evident that we need a new strategy in our quest to rout Boko Haram. Giving the service chiefs an open order to defeat Boko Haram in three months is not a strategy. It is a give-away, an infantile exposition most unbecoming of a supposed military tactician.
While waiting for Buhari to do something new in this matter, we must pause for a while to reflect on the resilience of Boko Haram. The menace, in its heyday, was an instrument of revenge. It was one of the tactics adopted by anti-Jonathan forces to weaken his presidency. But the tactic caught on and germinated into something gargantuan. Now the recruits no longer understand the language of the commanders. The insurgency has become a phenomenon, a way of life. Its practitioners are having a field day. And as William Butler Yeats, an Irish poet, would put it, the falcon can no longer hear the falconer. Things have fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold. Mere anarchy is then loosed upon the world.
This Keatsian characterization has become very true of today’s Nigeria. The terrorists are in a world of their own. They know neither master nor servant. They are on the loose, unleashing terror at will. That is why conventional warfare cannot cage them. Even when you think that you have pushed the terrorists to the borders, they strike in areas you think you have liberated.
It was in the light of the protean nature of Boko Haram that I took more than a passing interest in the offer of those who want to mediate between government and the insurgents. Their intervention may help to give terror a face. Government should court the expertise and insight of these fellows. It should be part of the new strategy that we need.