When President Goodluck Jonathan claimed he had “underestimated” the Boko Haram insurgency it was the latest in a long series of things he should not have said, another public relations disaster. Underestimation of the obvious is a major signal of administrative competence. Since Jonathan is not a military person his advisers must be openly held responsible for grossly misleading the president in such a strategic and important matter. Military personnel particularly high ranking officers should know the methods and history of warfare as well strategic analysis and forecasting of enemy capabilities, numbers and accessories on a substantive level.
In most combative or competitive human activities from boxing to Kung Fu, from soccer to poker, from corporations to organised crime, from military units to police task forces, from chancing to wife/husband snatching, the most important dictum is “never underestimate the enemy”. When a Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces is guilty of underestimating the enemy he has failed his nation. This is particularly disturbing when coming from a Commander-In-Chief who on global media dismissed heinous Boko Haram terror as a “distraction” and could not address the world media or Nigerians regarding the “Baga Massacre” but made time to send immediate condolences to France regarding Charlie Hebdo murders that happened within the same week.
What is a “ragtag army” anyway? Is there really such a thing in existence? Fidel Castro used a ragtag army originally constituted of seven militants to execute the Cuban Revolution. Mao Tse-Tung used ragtag army starting with eight soldiers to conduct the Chinese Revolution. The Mexican guerrilla leader Pancho Villa embarrassed the US army under the command of General Pershing with a ragtag army. Afghanistan is famed as the “graveyard of empires” on the strength of ragtag armies. Mercenaries that have successfully overthrown and created civil wars for numerous African governments never exceed thirty in number, a rag tag figure. History is awash with armies of a ragtag nature upsetting and conquering established state military forces. So what is a ragtag army? One thing is that ragtag armies are dangerous entities to national security because they do not fear the fact that the “odds” [of state military might] are against them. When you underestimate such entities various points on a continuum of suffering are experienced by citizens, the military and the government in power.
When the ascendency of ragtag armies are underestimated so is something else; sympathetic support. For any group of insurgents, rebels, maquis to survive and be successful in their campaign they need the sympathetic support of the residents in the areas they operate. Boko Haram needs food, shelter, medicines, information, hideouts, escape routes and above all deep collaboration with ordinary residents. These residents are sympathetic to the cause of ragtag army mainly because of their own despair. North East Nigeria has the worst incidence of poverty, poor infrastructure, life expectancy, low marriage eligibility (male) and illiteracy in the country. Despair often drives people to support those who can exact revenge on the state on their behalf or who provided promises of a miraculous improvement in their way of life. President Jonathan insists these factors are not responsible for the Boko Haram insurgency. One wonders if the presidency has realised how the despair of ordinary citizens in the North East is harvesting sympathetic support for Boko Haram.
The Nigerian military personnel also live in great despair. They mostly live on slave wages and their uniforms are often in tatters, not to talk of the dismal fighting equipment they have. Their barracks are grossly dilapidated and overcrowded. If they die in battle their families only get three months’ pay and have 90 days to quit the barracks. Being a junior ranking military personnel or an NCO is one of the least desirable jobs in Nigeria but there are not many options to choose from.
Something hardly ever mentioned in the media is why the USA and UK refused to sell arms to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram. When Boko Haram was first overpowered the Nigerian security forces and were forced to surrender a war crime happened. Over 200 Boko Haram militants including their leader unarmed and lying faced down were massacred in cold blood. The video and documentary of the massacre exists till this. Whether one calls the US and UK governments hypocrites or not, they are fully justified for not selling arms to Nigeria on the grounds of using weapons acquired to commit indefensible and lowly war crimes.
I ask, where did Chad and Cameroon get their weapons and morale to fight Boko Haram? Is Nigeria no longer the “Giant of Africa”?