To say that the Government of Nigeria (GON) handles issues of the military of nature with either weak short-term “quick fixes” or opportunities for “melees” is not mere criticism. It is a record of innumerable failures and blunders that should not have happened in the first place. Bombing oil bunkering assets in the Niger Delta is the latest short-term military quick fix adopted to deal with oil bunkering. What are the potential likely consequences of the GON continuing to bomb in the Niger Delta in the name of eradicating oil bunkering?
As a starting point, Boko Haram began as a ‘ragtag’ army of insurgents of derisory significance that could be dealt with in similar ways to the Maitsatsine Islamic group and others. However, when Mohammed Yusuf, the founder and head of Boko Haram was captured along with eight hundred of members; the GON made sure that they were murdered in cold blood, “mad dog” style. The offences that led to his capture and execution of Yusuf was a refusal of Boko Haram members to wear crash helmets when riding on motorbikes and the tension that it caused with security officials. Boko Haram might not have become the nuisance it is today if the GON handled matters properly without a focus to use heavy-handedness as a rule of thumb for action.
The consequences of this action ensured that Western powers refused to sell further weapons to Nigeria because of the heinous human rights of the Nigerian Boko Haram massacre. This partly ensured that when Boko Haram regrouped and started its terror campaign, the Nigerian Army’s arsenal was far inferior to those of the insurgents. The GON was even forced to engage in illegal arms dealing in South Africa that led to serious embarrassments for Nigeria and President Goodluck Jonathan. The South African government actually temporarily confiscated millions of Nigerian owned US dollars intended for the arms deals.
The unwitting massacre of Yusuf surreptitiously brought Boko Haram increasing financial and military support from within and outside the country. $20,000 here, $500,000 there, a few hundred automatic assault rifles with ample ammo here, a few hundred rockets with launchers there, a few scores of night vision gear here, a few scores of “technical advice” encounters there. Boko Haram thus became a confident menace to the Nigerian society. Even the spokesmen for the GON and its principals admitted that they were outgunned and outsmarted by Boko Haram, blaming “unnamed” complicit politicians and military officials endlessly.
One of the complexities of the relationship between state violence and the “war on crime” (e.g. the drug trade or arms dealing) is that indiscriminate or inconclusive military action initiated by the state often leads to retaliation. We have seen this sort of retaliation occur in varying magnitudes for different reasons all over Nigeria. Where state force can be matched by organised crime outfits or militants, they will take their chances often with some success. Internal conflict as an early line of action solution not a defensive or offensive strategy for the GON under any circumstances.
The GON is simply creating the basis for an externally funded (with some internal backers) “war” in the Niger Delta. Predictably, the GON does not know how such a war will turn out or end. If this happens it will not be an easy war for the Nigerian military for many reasons. Firstly, the GON would not have any incentive to blow-up pipelines because of the cost to it but “bunkerer mercenaries” will expedite this incentive when they incur losses. Secondly, bunkerer mercenaries can be paid up 20 times what they are paid as members of JTF. This will encourage the very elite of the JTF to defect to work for the bunkerer mercenaries giving them many informed advantages.
Thirdly, Western powers will continue to starve Nigeria of arms with the claim that “Nigeria cannot be trusted with weapons because of its human rights record” because of the errors of the GON. However, bunkerer mercenaries will have all the sophisticated weapons to whip the Nigerian military with. The same financier of oil bunkering mercenaries who arms them very well will be the same person pulling the strings to ensure Nigeria does not get any arms supplied to its military forces at all.
Fourthly, who will Niger Deltans support in such a conflict? The bunkerer mercenary financiers who will expediently spend generously on Niger Deltans supplying them with cash, medicines, water filters to make their water safe for drinking, put them on the payroll of some sort. Or will they support the GON that has for decades refused to clean-up the oil pollution in the Nigeria Delta, refused to stop gas flaring, terrorised their lives with JTF and other deadly security outfits, and then tells them they do not qualify for development because their terrain is riverine?
All in all, it is the people of the Nigeria Delta who have mastered the art of suffering and smiling that will bear the brunt of a “bunkerer war” and the hapless military personnel who are poorly paid and if killed their families get evicted from military accommodation within 3 months plus a posthumous salary of 3 months.