By Philip Agbese
President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to extend the tenure of the military chiefs has been drawing accolades across the country – never mind the few poorly informed criticisms. The explanation that the extension was after the President “carefully reviewed the on-going military operations across the nation and the efforts of the Chief of Defence staff and the Service chiefs in the counter insurgency operations in the North East coupled with the security situation of the Niger Delta region” is highly plausible and acceptable.
Taken against the background of the $1 billion approved for the counter-insurgency efforts, the decision to keep the service chiefs in charge is commendable considering that they have the grasp of the ongoing operations against the terrorists. But these two developments call for Nigeria to move to the next logical phase, equipping the Nigerian Armed Forces to be able to totally wipe out terrorists from within the country’s borders.
It is pertinent that we do not collectively lose track that the lack of or total absence of the requisite military hardware was blamed by the previous administration for the way Boko Haram was able to rapidly mutate into one of the world’s most evil group. Tracking the national budget in the couple of years that the present administration has been in charge does not show that there has been significant outlay for procuring the weapons and equipment needed for the counter-insurgency war. It has been soldiers’ brawn against Boko Haram terrorists in most instances even though it is unpalatable to admit that psychopathic criminals are sometimes better equipped than our gallant forces.
Nothing has therefore changed. If anything, things have become direr as the equipment in the possession of the military have further aged by over two years since the last reckoning, wear and tear have set in and they are also behind time by an additional two years. The Armed Forces of Nigeria are reportedly fighting with less that 30 per cent of the needed inventory.
On the other hand, Boko Haram terrorists seem to have a steady flow of arms, first from the caches of weapons that flowed out of Libya after it tail-spun into chaos. The terror group also get supplies from ISIL in the Maghreb since it is affiliated with the larger body. Thirdly, there have been reports of third parties – closet rouge nations – that air-drop supplies to Boko Haram. It has taken sheer sacrifice, akin to practicing subsistence farming in an era of mechanized farming, for the military to keep up the campaign against insurgency. Had the Nigerian soldier access to the kind of gadgetry his western counterparts have the requiem for Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, would have long gone silent.
Instead, the military has been compelled to making Stone Age efforts. Such efforts included retrofitting mothballed military gears using indigenous skills; this can only work up till a point before the hardware in question completely gives way since they are built to have defined lifespan in addition to being subjected to usage that exceeds the manufacture expectation. There is also the unsavoury report that troop often go into combat without the needed quantity of equipment, which leaves them vulnerable when they come under attack. That Nigeria was able to degrade Boko Haram thus comes down to sheer luck, perseverance and charismatic commanders that were able to motivate their soldiers to achieve the near impossible.
But even luck, like outdated military hardware, runs its course and reality kicks in. Any further delay in reequipping the Armed Forces of Nigeria will be disastrous to the country. Nigeria cannot afford to enter 2018 without placing orders for the military equipment needed for the phase the counter-insurgency war has entered. Beyond placing orders, it is needful to pay any required premium to accelerate delivery; it is either that or Nigeria’s military could wait for years for orders to get delivered, which obviously would be too late. An additional safeguard is to prioritize and rush through orders that could be procured off the self while the ones that require customization could be delivered in phases. Of course, one must point out that any requirement that can be delivered locally must be sourced locally since those would be beyond the reach of sanctions and embargoes.
Additionally, due care must be taken to ensure that we do not simply go to help another country attain a spring cleaning of their warehouses since technology has advanced to a point were ordinances from ten years ago could possibly be outdated. Whatever we are getting should not be aged to the point where they begin to break down or expire even before we have properly taken delivery of them.
Judging by the criticisms that some people attempted over the $1 billion fund, it is necessary for the government to educate those interested in tracking budget ahead of time. First, that for strategic and security reasons, defence budget is not something that is scrutinized in a market square; it is pointless to announce the equipment in the inventory to the enemy in the name of budget tracking. Secondly, war gadgets are not in the same league as trinkets and home theatre sets, they cost money. For comparison, a single grenade for a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) launcher cost in excess of $500. Even more interesting is that it is not re-usable once fired.
It is most uncharitable that the same people that partake in looting billions of dollars in the name of military procurement are today projecting their kleptocratic tendencies onto others and completely fail to realize that while their thefts were discovered after the facts the amounts set aside for fighting terrorism was properly declared even before the funds were released. The prescription to such people is that they must not allow their past sins stand in the way of doing the right thing for the country by properly equipping those that we are sending to do battle. The legacy they left us in which terrorists were sometimes better armed than the military is not one that must be allowed to endure.
Although defeated, Boko Haram, if the trend with ISIL in Iraq and Syria is anything to go by, would require years of mop up operations as the seriously demented ones among the terrorists will continually attempt to regroup. This scenario is something calls for retooling the military to take on a contemporary challenge with modern weapons. Soldiers have to be kitted and equipped with hardware that make them more effective. For instance, troops on reconnaissance are often targets for the terrorists even though the same mission could have been easily achieved with drones and robots, commercially available in some instances.
Playing politics with the lives of military personnel would not work and even if it works it is shameful. The nit-picking that has become the pastime of some self-appointed transparency activists must be allowed to derail our focus. The focus should remain on judicious utilization, availability and purposes not the current positions based on political leanings as if terrorists are members of any particular political party. What is required at this point in time is for our Armed Forces to be appropriately equipped as demanded by the task before them and equip them is what we must do as opposed to grandstanding.
Agbese is a Scholar at the Middlesex University, London. [firstname.lastname@example.org].