Insurgency: Nigeria’s $1 Trillion War

Insurgency: Nigeria’s $1 Trillion War

Thursday, August 21, 2014 1:17 pm

by Osuolale Alalade

The recent request of the Federal Government for another US$1 billion to prosecute its war against the Boko Haram may be the normative and instinctive response of institutions that are caught in unusual circumstances. In Nigeria, where every problem is conveniently conceived of as a resource issue, it is a standard operating principle to throw more money at all problems. We just saw that logic at play in the outcome of the recent national conference. The logic in that case was simply that you could equilibrate Nigeria’s evolved structural malformations by a further fragmentation and sharing resources to many more local centres of political decision making to even out the distribution of the federal oil largesse.

This solution enables every provincial political scumbag to fulfil his or her aspiration to become a governor and effectively a patriarchal baron dispensing largesse at the local level. The Nigerian institutional antennae and radar are focused on money, whatever the challenge. In the frustrating war against Boko Haram, both the federal government and the entirety of the national security apparatus, indeed Nigeria as a state, are trapped in a quagmire. More money is not the solution.

For cold comfort, Nigeria is not the only country facing the challenge of revolutionary forces or murderous rebellious chaos elements, depending on which side of the aisle one sits. Whether perceived as revolutionary forces or chaos elements, these are relatively small groups of blind adherents to some political ideology or some fundamental religious credo that ‘successfully’ confront and may even upset huge armies in what is now termed as asymmetric wars. Although some date the modern history of asymmetric warfare back to the Boer wars in South Africa, the United States against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the United States and NATO forces versus the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pakistani state against the Taliban, as well as Somalia, Kenya and the African Union against the Al Shabaab in Somalia are contemporary examples. The confrontations of the Palestinians with Israeli may also be cited as what some also categorise as fourth generational warfare. And every one of these countries caught in the throes of this relatively new kind ofwarfare has come to realise that more and more money, even if required, has not been the determinant element in the prosecution of the war.

In a classic scenario, these ferocious small forces have often metamorphosed from often modest beginnings and mobilised by fundamentalist religious theology, Islamic or Christian, to which they are passionately committed that they violently seek to entrench in areas under their control. For these groups, coercion, preferably gruesome death, is the ultimate weapon for the propagation of the faith. In their confrontations with armies, the strategies employed by the terrorist side may not necessarily be military in form.It is terror inflicted on both the uniformed enemy and the civilian population that drives home the seriousness of the mission for which they are ready or indoctrinated to die.

It is important to observe that in all cases, the engagementsthat are elicited are not structured as conventional rebellions. This new kind of unlimited war has become the dominant form of conflict in the last decade or so mostly in third world theaters.In almost all cases, the covert and overt coordination of international effort from interested parties on both sides has been required to advance the cause of and also to contain the non-state armed movements that are involved in asymmetric warfare. This is because every one of these conflicts is also located within a certain sub regional and the larger international geo-strategic context.

Asymmetric wars are being waged by the The Islamic State also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against the Iraqi state and partly in Syria. In Somalia, Nigeria is also involved in the horrendous fire fight against the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM) Sarakat ash-Shabâb al-Mujâhidîn, more commonly known as al-Shabaab, meaning “The Youth”, or “The Youngsters”. In the last decade or so, in northern Uganda and South Sudan as well as along the borders of Congo Kinshasa there is the elusive Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), also known as the Lord’s Resistance Movement. In Nigeria, it is the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, or “people committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram.

The defining trait of these groups is their operational resilience, their resoluteness and impermeability of sentimental pleadings from their enemies that they only despise. Unlike rebellions and quasi-revolutionary movements that often decay, especially in Africa, those mobilised on theocratic foundations often fight to the last man standing. It is also of note, even if ironically, that these violent movements, whether in Iraq, Pakistan, Uganda, Somalia or Nigeria, also recruit, abduct and indoctrinate women and girls to do battle. This completes their defiance of orthodoxy in all realms.

Asymmetric warfare is, paradoxically, described as conflicts where opposing protagonists have far unequal military resources, and the so-called weaker fluid insurgent uses unconventional weapons and tactics. The unconventional tactics integrate every conceivable form of atrocity; as terrorism, rape of men and women alike, abduction and conscription and use of child soldiers who are indoctrinated, as default instruments of conflict. Executions of captured enemies and mass slaughter of innocent civilians, often tagged as unbelievers or apostates, are frequently undertaken. These imply that abductions, for which the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) became notorious and now heightened by Boko Haram, are important to replenish the combatant forces and also to build the human infrastructure and logistics of the insurgency. Importantly, they are also to express contempt for the target society that they aim to destroy. Given the history of the stout resistance of the Chibok community to the penetration of Islam all around its locale, the humiliation of that target community is a plausible explanation for the unusual cruelty meted to that community by Boko Haram. They alsoexploit the vulnerabilities of the enemy, including probing opportunities offered by the spatial distribution of enemy population, exploitation of local affinities, deployment gaps and infrastructural deficiencies in the opposing army. The enemy, the apostate, is then defined as anyone, including women, children and civilianswhodoes not profess the fundamentalist credo of the mad terrorists. Perceived as the “weaker” combatants, they use strategy to offset deficiencies relative to the larger conventional army in quantity or quality of military assets.

Asymmetric wars, like conventional guerrilla warfare, are thus not structured. The revolutionary protagonists or chaos elements, often extremely passionate about the irreligious or political cause, are not constrained by any protocols and rules that mediate their determination to destroy the subsisting social order that it seeks to overthrow. Importantly, in its military tactics, it avoids frontal engagements associated with conventional warfare. The Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions usually referred to as the international humanitarian law, or as the law of war or the law of armed conflict that are designed to limit the effects of armed conflict for humanitarian reasons are not adhered to by the combatants.

This puts the conventional and larger armies at risk and at a disadvantage. A problem with large armies, such as the Nigerian forces against Boko Haram, caught in this situation is that conventional armies are weaned on a certain training and doctrine as well ascommand hierarchy that all flow from institutional projections of the next war. These projections derive from long term threat assessments around which a national defence policy is codified. Their professional tenets compel deployment of the troops in combat whether they believe in the cause of the state or government or not. In intra-state conflicts, the loyalty of the totality of the forces is not guaranteed.

Loyal to the cause or not, they have to engage often highly motivated and highly responsive risk-acceptant mobile enemies with a constructively fluid and adaptive command structure. All these are in the context of a certain political environment that may not elicit full and undivided loyalty of troops. The internal structures and procedures of a conventional military are relatively rigid and slow to respond to rapidly evolving exigencies. As a result of the institutional and procedural lags, regular armies, whether elite forces of Euro-America or the NATO, start engagements in asymmetric wars seriously disadvantaged with highly motivated and effectively organised irregular bands who often know the terrain better. They are a terror to the very best elite military formations.
Beyond the military dimension, a crucial element in the emergence of and any engagement with asymmetric forces is the political context. It is key such that some commentators refuse to acknowledge Boko Haram as a cause in itself, but see it only as an effect. The Boko Haram phenomenon is defined as a symptom of decades of failed government and elite delinquency finally ripening into social chaos. The political context; the national, intermestic, sub-regional and global of the conflict, is a major factor in the evolution of a violent religious movement, such as a Maitatsine group, into a credible armed force, exemplified by the Boko Haram, that has developed the capacity to meaningfully engage the national army or the force, including externally mobilised allies, underwriting the extant social order.

Accordingly, radically transforming the prevailing socio-political environment, and the immediate material conditions of the locale,that have fuelled the rise of any insurgency is critical to curtailing the longevity of an asymmetric war. Positive changes in the political context would impact whether the motivating revolutionary fervour can be replicated in newly indoctrinated abducteesin the medium to long term or whether the insurgency would fizzle out over time. It is important that rapid positive changes in socio-political environment de-validate the propaganda of the leaders of the insurgency. The transformation of the political environment is therefore a critical factor in projecting the trajectory of the conflict and in overcoming the challenge of insurgency.
Although all wars, inter-state and intra-state, are ultimately political, they are more so when they pit disaffected constituencies within the same country against each other. Invariably, contemporary asymmetric wars are intra state and may generate as much animosity or may be much more politically charged than inter-state wars. This may result from the immediate stakes in the war and the accretions of grudges among the population before the war. The blood-curdling executions of young boys by ISIL in Iraq comes to mind.

These entrenched animosities that are often barely hidden in peace time pose problems on many fronts, especially regarding sustaining the integrity and credibility of crucial intelligencethat would inform or direct the prosecution of an internal conflict. This challenge is highlighted by a United States Secretary of State for Defence when he observed that because all intelligence services work for the government in power, they are expected to toe the official line.This is even more relevant in nominally democratic environments as in Nigeria.
The integrity of the structures of the intelligence mechanisms that are deployed to filter the impulses gathered from the field becomes critical in intra state conflict. This exists as a potential scenario in Nigeria where the intelligence services have historically been dominated by one section of the country that has pretended to appropriate ownership of the Nigeria. The conventional axiom underpinning the construction of intelligence mechanisms in Nigeria seem to be that the longevity of Nigeria can only be entrusted to the North. The validity of this assumption has come under rigorous scrutiny given some of the information filtering from arrests and court marshals.

In the challenge of Boko Haram, the complexities of an asymmetric war and the stark realities that define ournational political life and processes are major challenges to overcome if Nigeria is to outlive the tragic consequences of the war imposed by Boko Haram. Boko Haram as a phenomenon has its many facets. The three most important elements are its Islamic fundamentalist character, its proven operational resilience and its concomitant political objectives to Islamise Nigeria.

The main driver of its war is the agenda to Islamise the entirety of the Nigerian federation or, in the alternative, to carve out an Islamic hegemonic space for its envisaged 7th century way of life. In this, the Boko Haram is following the footsteps of the Lord’s Resistance Army that planned to rule Uganda with the ten biblical commandments, the Taliban that sought to fuse the secular and the ecclesiastical in a theocratic Afghanistan and lately of the ISIL that is holding sway in northern Iraq determined to create the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. In terms of modalities of prosecuting the war, it is arguable which of either the ISIL or Boko Haram is more bloodthirsty and heartless.

In more serious and sophisticated climes, the emergence of such a mindlessly bloodthirsty organisation like Boko Haram should have been considered an inimitable watershed moment to begin a rigorous internal debate on how to shore up the legitimacy of the Nigerian state as presently constructed. With a significant proportion of constituents peacefully challenging the legitimacy of the republic, the focus of a national conversation should have been a thorough interrogation of the very construction of this federation of 160 million people.

This is because in the past, such irredentist agitation had been largely perceived to be the past time of political renegades from the South of the country. The situation has evolved such that the leading Muslim northern elite, the historical political hegemons and religious caliphs, are being de-validated as representatives of the essences of an emerging minority of a fundamentalistIslamist north. Thetraditional northern elite are being swept away, including through physical elimination, by the tide of this political evolution in their backyards.
Beyond the threat of the loss of free money in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the northern elite recognise that they cannot survive in a new republic whose contours are drawn by Boko Haram, even if these dangerous forces only exist along the margins of the devolved northern state. In more sombre appreciation of the evolution of the situation, southern Nigeria has become a hostage to well-founded fears of the northern elite. A reconfigured Nigeria that accommodates the peculiarities of each of the major constituents and defangs Boko Haram should be in the interests of the old northern oligarchy.

That is the real challenge of Nigeria rising above the war imposed by Boko Haram. The cheapest price to pay for this immense dividend is mere attitudinal reorientation on the part of all. The conduct of the war by the Nigerian military must understand this political objective as a preeminent consideration or even a critical influence on its campaign in the North East. It must conduct a clean war that is sensitive to the delicate texture of contemporary political realities and also advances the ethos of a potentially new Nigeria.

Meanwhile, some critical stakeholders long vested in the future of the country would not be drawn to the methods of Boko Haram. They remain amenable to a pacific discourse on the way forward. At the bottom of Boko Haram is the perception of a wide ideational and value dissonance that cannot be bridged. The fact of that systemic value dissonance cannot be willed away. It would continue to haunt Nigeria, even in the unlikely scenario of a total military defeat of Boko Haram but some constructive restructuring can be undertaken to mitigate the threat this poses.

The realistic objective and solution is to attend to the structural concerns that have created the enabling environment for Boko Haram to emerge or thrive. Although currently shrouded in some mystery, there have been indications of the deep implications of prominent political actors in mainstream national political life with Boko Haram. Also, the situation is such that political actors at the highest levels of national life have tended to myopically exploit this national tragedy to score partisan political points or to grandstand.

This does not reflect well on the character of the political class as a whole and constitute a clear disrespect for the victims, who look up to a credible national leadership, not limited to the ruling party, to provide serious bipartisan impetus to overcome what is potentially a mortal threat to the Nigerian state. To compound this failure is the utter lack of vision exhibited by the concluding National Conference that went with a conservative business as usual mind set at a time of national emergency.In the face of this daunting challenge, the outcome of the national conference is an embarrassment to the quality of minds represented at the confab.

In the final analysis, throwing more money as we are wont to would not make Boko Haram to disappear. Neither would begging it do the trick. The likes of Boko Haram are impervious to such emotions. Even a one trillion exclusive budget to the military would not solve the problem. The military, from the perspective of a bloody civilian, should revisit its doctrine and concept of operations that must now be aligned to meet the challenges posed by an internal asymmetric conflict for which the Nigerian Army was not designed.

Nigeria must diversify and refine its intelligence gathering platforms, including a restructuring of the mechanisms for generating and analysing intelligence gathered. A reevaluation of our foreign and security policy and operations, and critically the personnel in all ramifications, are imperative given the unsalutary domestic realities that have been embarrassingly exposed by the advent of Boko Haram. Finally, our bleeding collision with Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad has reiterated the need for a more robust intermestic and regional security and diplomatic engagement. These are not issues of US$1 trillion.

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