Mighty Armies on Paper
By Mahmud Jega
I am not surprised that Nigerian Army’s spokesman Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu came out with [oral] guns blazing at The Economist of London, which last week published an uncomplimentary editorial on Nigeria’s government and its army. It called Nigeria “A crime scene in the centre of Africa.” Which I think is okay because Britain itself is a historic crime scene in the centre of the world, of slavery, colonial exploitation, unprovoked warfare, economic undermining of nations and subtle instigation of conflicts dressed up as fine diplomacy.
The magazine said Nigerian Army “is mighty on paper” because it has not been able to end Boko Haram insurgency in ten years or, more recently, to defeat bandits and kidnappers. Well, if that is the yardstick for determining a mighty army on paper, I think The Economist should more appropriately direct that label at the US Army.
Nigeria’s military has been battling Boko Haram for only 12 years now, with a relatively meagre budget because the national treasury is beset by other problems. In contrast, the US military spent 20 years and $6 trillion battling the Taliban in Afghanistan. What was the result? Taliban is back in power in the country even as the Americans escaped with their tails behind their backs.
The British Army wasn’t any better in that respect. In twenty years until 1992, it proved wholly unable to defeat the Provisional Irish Republican Army [IRA], the “Provos” as they were called then, or even to end what the Irish called “The Troubles” in their province. It took the signing of the Good Friday Accord in 1992 to end the British Army’s agony. Now, the British Army is several hundred years older than, its armoury a hundred times more lethal and its annual budget is several times bigger than Nigerian Army’s. In addition, IRA were lightly-armed thugs compared to Boko Haram. So which of the two armies is mightier on paper, if truth be told?
All conventional armies in this world have difficulty fighting asymmetric warfare, essentially because they are not trained for it. Guerillas also have many advantages, including lack of scrutiny of their actions by human rights organisations. The Economist said many of our soldiers are “ghosts” who exist only on the payroll.
This allegation has routinely been made with respect to some Local Government Councils and some MDAs in Nigeria. This is however the first time that anyone is making this allegation against the Army, whose troops are always seen at the numerous battle fronts fighting insurgents, bandits, militants, secessionists and other criminals. Almost everyone in Nigeria can see that the number of our troops is inadequate for our current needs, but no one ever said the number is adequate on the payroll.
The Economist also made the strange allegation that “much of [Nigerian Army’s] equipment is stolen and sold to insurgents.” It should please cross-check with MI6, the British intelligence service. Much of Boko Haram’s weapons came from Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenal, which NATO countries bombed despite pleas from the African Union [AU] to desist. What about the weapons that have destabilized other Sahelian African countries all the way from Mali to Burkina Faso to Niger Republic to Darfur, South Sudan and Somalia? Were they all sold to insurgents by rogue Nigerian soldiers?
What is true is that in the earlier phase of this conflict, Boko Haram overrun many army posts and seized their weapons, a happening which ended with the consolidation of army posts into super camps. That is not the same thing as “selling” weapons to insurgents. In any case, you Western guys withheld from us much needed equipment and material needed to end this war based on allegations that our troops abused human rights of captured insurgents.
That was another hypocrisy. Were weapons denied to the US Army in Vietnam because of the My Lai massacre, when soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment and Company B, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division of the US Army massacred 504 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in March 1968? More recently, were they denied weapons because of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq?
Nigerian Army needs assistance from friendly countries to finish off insurgents and bandits. Sniping from the sidelines with false allegations, such as The Economist did, will only prolong everyone’s agony.
Quick Intervention in 21st Century Chronicle.
Mahmud Jega writes from Abuja
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