Last week, the story broke that Chadian forces were operating inside Nigeria against the Boko Haram insurgency. And they seemed to be making a lightning success of their operation because by last Thursday, they had taken Malam Fatori, after two days of fighting.
Last Sunday, these forces were in control of Gamboru Ngala as well as Abadam; and were fighting a major battle to take Damasak. Cameroonian forces also joined the fight and were reported to have taken the border town of Banki and pushing towards Kala-Balge. By Tuesday this week, reports emerged that the French Airforce, which has bases in Chad, was overflying Nigerian territory and providing intelligence to their Chadian and Cameroonian allies.
Agency pictures also appeared showing rows of armoured vehicles and assault helicopters of the Chadian Army being used in operations in Cameroun and in Nigeria. It took a while for officialdom to own up that these forces were operating within Nigeria, with Mike Omeri finally saying they were here within the context of the Multinational security project; and there were no reports that the Chadian forces were fleeing from Boko Haram or abandoning weapons.
The second leg of these developments originated from South Africa, when it emerged there, that mercenaries numbering about 100 (but described as private military experts) were on their way to Nigeria to help in the fight against Boko Haram. South Africa’s Defense Minister warned these alleged mercenaries of consequences, if they travelled to fight in Nigeria without government imprimatur or as part of a government deployment:
“There are consequences when somebody leaves the country and provides any form of military assistance that is not part of the government’s deployment.”
The story emanating from South Africa said these men were former members of the old, apartheid-era South African Defense Force. These were ex-military men used to fight ANC guerillas by the racist regime, in the days of the struggle against apartheid. Even the African Union last week also decide to raise a 7, 500 man force to help tackle the Boko Haram menace, which has rightly become seen as a danger to the entire region and Africa.
At 1400HRS GMT on Tuesday this week, the BBC broadcast a special programme on the state of Nigeria’s Armed forces, and some of the participants in the programme included the National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana. The NSA agreed that the Army’s capacity had deteriorated over the years, as a result of a combination of factors, some of which were directly related to the years of military dictatorship.
The programme also had an expert who reminded how our army used to be one of the best-equipped and trained in Africa. In the final analysis, according to the programme, the army today suffers from low morale; the high level of corruption with an annual defense budget of about $6.5b, but which doesn’t deliver on the needs of the troops. There is also a problem of training of the forces and armament. It was a very instructive programme in every sense.
And my takeaway (apologies to Lagos Governor BRF) is that there is the need for the political will to confront the enumerated weaknesses in order to re-build Nigeria’s Armed Forces. I think one of the problems of the past few years, was the refusal of the government to accept that Boko Haram was not a conspiratorial design by its Northern enemies. It is therefore a tragic irony that Nigeria, that used to dominate its neighbourhood, is now having to depend on Chadian and Cameroonian forces and even South African mercenaries.
A security sector reform is an imperative; not as designed by imperialist countries and institutions, but home grown, and with the strategic focus of rebuilding armed forces that can effectively defend our country and enhance our position as Africa’s largest economy. Military power must be commensurate with our economic and geopolitical aspirations. The deployment of foreign troops to fight Boko Haram is an indication of how weak we are at the moment. We must rebuild our armed forces fast to face whatever challenge appears in future!