An Open Letter to the President on Boko Haram
Dear Mr President,
Greetings to such a one as the executive president of Nigeria, and at such a time as this. I desire and pray that the president is in good health and that his soul prospers to all the extent possible in the crucible that is the Nigerian state in 2014.
Mr president, I salute you on your efforts to contain the terrorists that have set their stall in the north-eastern periphery of the nation and are presently breathing threats and violence against the whole country. It is my earnest prayer that the deliberations and actions instituted by your government bear fruit, and that, soon. The nation yearns for peace, and I believe said desire finds resonance throughout the presidency.
Let the president take consolation in the reality that the trials besetting the country are not beyond endurance nor are they unique in humanity. Certainly, where others have suffered, struggled, and succeeded, the same outcome can, and hopefully will be obtained in Nigeria. Now though is a time to doubly redouble efforts and to remain unswerving in the task “to keep Nigeria one”; such a call being even more pertinent today than when it was first coined at the time of the Nigerian civil war.
Time is of the essence though, so I must cut to the chase.
I will like to think that the government and intelligence agencies of foreign governments such as the US, UK, Israel, and others will have been trying to get a message similar to this to the president, being as they are so much more sensitive to, and aware of the dangers of un-contained terrorist activity. It would also appear that their overtures have so far failed, and so I am writing this openly; the hope being that where others have missed, this one may get through the motley of palace guards that seek to force a gap between the president and reality.
Allow me to summarise the state of the ark:
The Nigerian army has fundamental problems
Boko Haram terrorists cannot be defeated by military means only
New thinking will be required and it will involve several dimensions
The solution is not attainable from a party, ethnic, religious, or other line/alignment
The time available to procure a lasting and sustainable solution is short
One strategic strike and Nigeria could unravel
Unusual, bold and imaginative leadership is vital
The Nigerian Army
CORRUPTION: Mr president must be alive to the fact that corruption is endemic in the Nigerian army today. It is important to accept this reality and to act to arrest it, this is foundational and the army will not survive unless that cancer is rooted out quickly. The president must find a few honest officers that can be trusted, and do what is necessary to get them into the right places to clean up the mess.
MORALE: Rank and file suffer from low morale occasioned by the lack of necessities, including such basics as boots and uniforms, as well as the expected combat kit, salaries and other entitlements, training, and merit-based promotion. The presidency may like to investigate the career of all senior officers (colonel and above) and to sift out politicians and journey-men from the professional soldiers, as these meddlers contribute to corruption, compromise morale and dilute the fight in the chests of the officer cadre.
INTELLIGENCE: A modern army relies more and more on information, and sophistication in thinking and weaponry. Fitness and bloody mindedness can not be the only requirements for entry and a career in our army, there must be a greater emphasis on education, intelligence, and strategic thinking. Many soldiers remain semi-literate, and this includes some mid-ranking officers; it is important to launch a task force to eradicate illiteracy in the army.
TIME: It is clear that the changes needed in these areas will take some time, and so, expecting the un-reconstituted Nigerian army to neautralise the terrorists in a short time is unrealistic; it is time to think out of the box, and the answer is not to be found in more money, but in better thinking and judicious use of existing resources.
It is important that the presidency understands Boko Haram and how such terror evolves and manifests. Key officers within the office of the president, as well as the president must be well versed in information and intelligence on Boko Haram as this is vital. Such information and intelligence will make it clear that contrary to what the army and Gen. Chris Olukolade may be putting out, Boko Haram will not be neutralised solely by military means, and that it is unlikely that said outcome will be secured by this Nigerian army in a short time. Having first hand knowledge also helps the president to oversee the war from a vantage point, and ensure that action aligns with his vision for outcomes and an ultimate solution.
A New Mindset
It is important to start with the fundamentals and build upwards. The president must help to retake the moral upper ground in relation to security personnel by ensuring the pay for soldiers, police, DSS and others on the frontline of our security, including all arrears of salary, entitlements and other stipulated benefits. This will be expensive, but it will never match the cost of another year of insecurity. If the burden of keeping a large security force is overbearing, the president should arrange a competent team to glean out meddlers, those near retirement and others not fit for the army in these times.
It may be expedient to create sub-groups within the security services to form a new “Special Task Forces”, or if need be to create such an amalgam as a parallel structure, specifically charged with counter-terrorism, and to give priority training and funding to those forces (STF) in order to expedite the military strategy.
Information and Intelligence about the ideology, leadership, organisation, funding and operational tactics of Boko Haram must be properly analysed and organised. As much of this information must be shared with the general public to create an awareness of Boko Haram, and with awareness the knowledge and capacity to take citizen-action where necessary.
The information and intelligence must also be leveraged to launch and sustain a major propaganda offensive against the leadership of Boko Haram and their frontline criminals, and to set them in the mind of the populace as number one enemies of the nation and all citizens. The propaganda must attack their thinking with proper Islamic thought and remove the cloak of legitimate religion that they put on. Information must be used to castigate their actions and tactics and juxtapose them against faith, morality, and even sanity. The tragedy of the abducted girls and children must be turned around as weapons of information to mobilise all citizens against the madness and folly of the terrorists.
The fault lines within the motley that is Boko Haram must be explored in order to compromise the chain of command; the loyalty of foot soldiers must be examined to see if some are willing to dialogue or break rank. Intelligence on sources of their funding must lead to quick prosecutions. Such collaborators should be tried, not for murder or other felonies, but for treason. It is also necessary to infiltrate Boko Haram and to deploy the psychology of that reality to destabilise their cohesion and operational fluency. In all of this, the role of the common Nigerian cannot be overstated; the eyes, ears and intellect of everyday Nigerians must be coopted to be in the vanguard of the war against the terrorists. Here again the established police and DSS will struggle to build the confidence and trust of most Nigerians, and it may be wise to find a section of the STF that will be the bridge to the public and to funnel feedback to a central intelligence team.
Terrorism on the scale that Boko Haram has attained may take some time to eliminate, but now is a good time to revisit the strategy on national security, and the role that non-professionals can play, especially young adults. The time is ripe to revise the focus and purpose of national youth service, and to introduce paramilitary training and service in the security forces for all, as a prerequisite to working in any capacity in Nigeria. This service will avail the country of the intellect, zeal and availability of hundreds of thousands of young people passing out of polytechnics and universities as well as those that have left school early and have attained the age of 18. The duration of the service should be according to intensity: 1 year for military service, 1.5 years for police and other security-related service, and two years for civilian roles. Irrespective of choice though, the first 6 months should be reserved for military/security training. This mindset can be applied to the civilian JTF at the present time. They should be given basic education and training and should be deployed for specific tasks, with one or more STF personnel embedded within teams of about 20 volunteers.
Pathology of a Solution
This conundrum will not be resolved while holding on to considerations or loyalties to party, ethnicity, religion, or social/economic/intellectual grouping. The best thinking and strategy will come from the spectrum of citizen-types in Nigeria today, and it is only when all such identities find resonance with the articulated plan will there be success. The war will not be won exclusively on the battle ground, and a lasting peace and long term security must be hinged on the buy-in of the vast majority of Nigerians. This calls for honesty and transparency at the highest levels of government; the mindset of leadership needs complete overhaul, and if that takes a path from paranoia through schizophrenia to conscious equivocation and then clear conviction, what needs must. No price should be too high for the peace of Nigeria as a whole, and the 160 million inhabitants that live within her borders.
Time is of the Essence
The time available to procure a lasting and sustainable solution is short! Boko Haram is presently pressing in for the overthrow of Bama, a major town, not far from Maiduguri. Psychologically and strategically, the loss of that town could have a domino effect, with several northern towns following suit in short succession, and if by some ill-luck or incompetence, a band of the terrorists succeed in a strategic strike of significance anywhere in the country, the existence of Nigeria could be put into question, and no one would be safe, most especially the educated and the well off. It is time to draw a Maginot line, and to hold it fast; Maiduguri must not be allowed to fall.
Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man
This is a time for unusually bold and imaginative leadership. In Ukraine the president has promised to do anything, even the unusual and unexpected to secure a peace. Mr president must also go out of his way to lend traction to a solution here. The president cannot do it all by himself, unlike Ukraine though, there are few that can be trusted and not many competent, so delegation must be handled with the greatest care and consideration for outcomes. This is not a time to pander to conservatives who seek to maintain the status quo and pretences of superiority, or to entertain fringe-lunatic leftists who will cede territory and power in the vain hope for accommodation of terror. The president must not be squeamish about sitting at the table with undesirables, but he must always have the end-game in mind in any and every discussion or negotiation. Expediency is key and a Machiavellian outlook may be useful in these times, for it is not the will that people judge, but the outcomes that a leader procures for their people. Mr president must be bold and courageous.
All Said and Done?
Having said all, I hope that the president will respond to this urgent message; it is an SOS, a message in a bottle, and it may be the last that is heard from this distressed ship. I am not a seer so I cannot predict 2015, what is certain though is that success in this fight against Boko Haram and terrorism will guarantee favourable mention of the president in the pantheon of Nigeria’s leaders.
On the other hand, failure also has its dividends and even more so than success, for the name of the president will be secure, but in the 13th gate of the gallery of Africa’s failed leadership, and perhaps gain even greater notoriety in the history of a country that once was, if this happens to be the last presidency of a united Nigeria. I am a messenger, and I have said that which I have to say; let those that have the power to act do as they are willed or inspired to do.
I therefore leave you as I find you, empowered but encumbered, and yet the chains and the locks are at your entire disposal, only you can decide, only you can act, and only you will be responsible. Time is now; Carpe Diem, and may God be with you; amen.
God bless Nigeria.