Nigeria & The Lamentations For A Cobra Gunship

Nigeria & The Lamentations For A Cobra Gunship

Monday, December 8, 2014 3:55 pm

By Osuolale Alalade

The United States will not sell Cobra attack gunships to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram. In facing this reality check, Nigeria is moping about a lost love that never was with Yankee town and screaming as if the world, or specifically the United States, owes it a living. For a start, Yankee town does no love tango with any other, not the least with a hamlet, except of course with only one partner – the Brits, who are themselves the masters of the dance steps. There are many more of those tests in the offing for Nigeria and they are mostly self-induced. We’ll reserve those for another day. For now let us concentrate on the nature of the state system and its dominant ground rules or protocols as they impact the weak and the strong. The global states system and their components were not forged out of love. Serious countries take this premise as cardinal to their continued existence. Ask Georgians, Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, the Balkans, the Scandinavians among many others, including Japan and China, who have the capacity to and distil lessons from the bloody conjunctions of local and European history to inform the management of their national challenges. Nigeria is not solo on this route.

Secondly, internally, sovereignty, despite all the attempts of moralists in their constructivist reinterpretations to infuse a humane attribute to it, is largely a function of the capacity of the state to pacify its territory. This is euphemism to blunt the bloody implications of the full weight of the coercive capacity of the state. The subject of our fictive sovereignty is a pertinent context to this conversation. States vary on different dimensions of their most important common attribute-sovereignty. On Westphalian sovereignty, which refers to political organization based on the exclusion of external actors from authority structures within a given territory, the dependence of many states, especially post-colonial African states, on external aid and technical expertise and the relatively weak bargaining profiles of many of the new states vis-a-vis other elite state actors in the global inter-state system compromises their Westphalian sovereignty. In the area of domestic sovereignty, which relates to the formal organization of political authority within the state and the ability of public authorities to exercise effective control within the borders of their own politythe pervasive prevalence of conflict in post-colonial political entities in Africa and challenges to the power of the central authority clearly reflect a lack of effective control over the national territory by claimants to sovereign powers of the state. In most Third World states there are competing loci of authority; these are usually not necessarily weaker than the state in terms of coercive capacity but they can also be equal to or stronger than the state in terms of political legitimacy in the sentiments of large segments of the states’ populations. I dread to think that this scenario may somehow apply to Nigeria. A state unable to deliver sovereign service throughout its territory has lost a critical and determinant dimension of its legitimacy. Nigerians, by now,oughtto know why.

Thirdly, the survival of each state is purely its own internal affairs. But, if it fails to protect itself, other states have a right to feed on its carcass. So, the continued longevity of no state in the system is guaranteed. In fact, other states in the classic rule of games that nations play can work to undermine any member state if their interests are so advanced. Finally, the Boko Haram nightmare brings home to all the fictive character of our sovereignty. We are only sovereign to the extent that our state can independently muster the means to protect territory and pacify its peoples. But Nigeria does not think strategically and has a short memory. This institutional national amnesia compounds its tendency to organise national life haphazardly with no abiding principles–no unquestioning axioms–whether in relation to domestic affairs or in our more delicate engagement with larger universe of states and nations. That is why we are moaning so loudly with no sense of shame over a simple tactical decision of the United States to deny us of Cobra attack gunships.

By contrast, needless to say, the United States, as with all major actors in the states system, is an intensely deliberative society and state. Ideas do not reign there. Ideas rule every facet of national life. So thinking and the outcome of thought processes are highly revered, prized and valued. They form the collation of jousting interpretive ideational pivots in the ever expanding national encyclopaedia. A very long memory results from this national attribute and informs strategy and policy play at all levels. Tactical decisions, such as refusing this time to sell the Cobra attack or to limit the level and depth of US engagement in the Boko Haram struggle, are made to advance the strategic ends sought. The provision of important but non lethal logistical assets to Nigeria is part of the game. The United States plays by the rules that govern the games that nations play. Morality has no place in this scheme. Above all, the leading actors of the inter-state system do not play lovey-dovey with national foreign and security policy.It is on these axioms that it can be conjectured that there is a good reason to suggest that the West Africa desk at both the Departments of State and Defence in Washington would be eager to enrol Nigeria in course Managing Strategic Interaction 101 on terrorism in the Sahel and Boko Haram. It has nothing to do with the sentimental effusions of loving or hating Nigeria or even seeking Nigeria’s break up. For very good strategic reasons, the USA cannot afford to see Nigeria break up.

From the dominant perspectives of most of the West, especially the United States, the rise of global Islamic militancy implies that a united and strong Nigeria is desired as a bulwark against the danger of the takeover of Sahelo Sahara by forces of radical Islam.

The lesson from Talibanic Afghanistan is not lost on them. The United States is very much aware that Boko Haram and al Shabab are local expressions or even the long tentacles of aglobal al-Qeada and similar movements and that it needs allies in the sub-region in the long term to contain the global spread of the menace of political and Islamic radicalism. Southern Nigeria, in broad terms, has imbibed values and has appropriated the world view of the West. As de facto cloned proxies, southern Nigeria is a potential natural ally that would be required to contain radical Islamism in Nigeria. A united Nigeria facilitates this by keeping the volatile North under check in the same federation with the South. So, in a sense, Southern Nigeria in a united federal Nigeria is a hostage to the strategic interests of the United States and the West. This must be good news to the ruling elite in the North who have lost their sleep over the consequences of their irresponsible leadership of the region that has left the children of the talakawa as cannon fodder for its radicalised margins. This is why the interpretation of the Boko Haram by the United States is focused on the so-called neglect of the North by the federal government. As we all know the fault is not with the federal government and the economic dimension to Boko Haram is not even one half of the full story.

Paradoxically, France’s preoccupying interest is in ensuring that this Nigeria, if it manages to remain united, remains a prostrate wobbly state without the capacity to challenge France as the first power in Africa. So, in this complex permutation France really has nothing to lose. But better still for France if Nigeria breaks up, but not a disaster if we stay together but yoked by the North. So France has Nigeria where it wants it to be. But not the United States. A strong Nigeria with the capacity to counter-balance the hegemonic power of France leaves the sub-region open to all influences, including the United States, China, India, etc for meaningful strategic options, including economic exploitation. Other key consideration for elite powers in this regard would be the sheer weight of the humanitarian challenge that the break-up of Nigeria would pose. Despite this desired maintenance of the strategic status quo, the United States can however grind Nigeria’s nose on the anvil for the latter to draw whatever lessons it can that would induce more efficient collaboration in the future. That’s learning to read the game and adjusting accordingly.

On this assumption, the refusal to sell Cobra attack gunship may be interpreted as a tactical move. The United States is very much aware of what game it is up to with Nigeria. As recently as June 2012, Gen. Carter F. Ham, the top American military commander of the Africa Command (AFRICOM), noted that al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa was operating terrorist training camps in northern Mali and providing arms, explosives and financing to a militant Islamist organization in northern Nigeria. He added that the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was riding the crest of the momentum gained since seizing control of the northern part of the impoverished Mali by increasing recruiting across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Europe. General Ham also said that members of Boko Haram had traveled to training camps in northern Mali and have most likely received financing and explosives from the Qaeda franchise.

The United States had long prepared for this eventuality and had created a United States Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM) that is responsible for all U.S. military operations, exercises, and security cooperation on the African continent, its island nations, and surrounding waters. AFRICOM began initial operations on 1 October, 2007 and officially became an independent command on 1 October, 2008. U.S. Africa Command is located at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart-Moehringen, Germany. Its subordinate commands, United States Army in Africa (USARAF) United States Naval Forces in Africa (NAVAF) United States Air Forces in Africa (AFAFRIAC) are based in Italy. U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa (MARFORAF) is located in Stuttgart, Germany. To enhance efficiency and operational effectiveness, AFRICOM has for some time been seeking a home base in Africa.This is where Nigeria comes in. Since 2008, the AFRICOM has sought to locate its headquarters to West Africa. Nigeria, one of the favored potential AFRICOM base, not only turned down that offer, but campaigned effectively to ensure that countries like Liberia, with strong historic ties to the United States, had to think twice about offending Nigerian sensibilities by accepting to host AFRICOM. It is uncertain why AFRICOM has yet to begin building this home base.

Indeed, Nigeria, given our fractious internal dynamics was right in our refusal to host the AFRICOM. The perception also lingers that AFRICOM’s primary project is to transform the militaries of the continent into dependencies and pawns of U.S. foreign policy. The role of AFRICOM in Libya was also controversial. But Nigeria did nothing after that momentous decision to deny AFRICOM a berth in the largest black nation in the world. It detracted significantly from the organisation’s claim of working in collaboration with Africa or at least some key constituents of Africa. As usual we went to sleep after the decision. Our military continues to produce generals who retire to the political stratosphere. A career in the military has become a launching pad to other things, including making money. It does not appear to be an end in itself. So, the residue of our military machinery is inefficient and wasteful as well as operationally challenged. Its talents are hemorrhaging as freshly minted smooth generals do not mature to reach their full promise to the service of the nation.

From the unusually high combat-related losses of personnel and assets that have been made public so far, the Nigeria Air Force would seem to have challenges in dominating the aerial combat theater against Boko Haram. It suggests that training has been put on the back burner for some time. We thus gave the United States, a good excuse to latch on to in its refusal to offer higher caliber assets necessary to dominate the air space.

But the key point of the United States to Nigeria, one may hazard, is that we cannot cherry-pick the substantive contents of our strategic interaction in a very skewed relationship. This is exactly the point of the game. Nigeria does not have social, economic and political bargaining chips in a chess board game with the United States to deny its superordinate/superior interlocutor the offer of strategic collaboration and then run back to the same United States as when it deems fit as its roof is on fire. It is not a love game. In the face of the dramatic impact of exploration of shale on the global oil market, the declining value of oil as a strategic asset complicates the problems for us. Only Israel has that kind of leverage to cherry-pick with the United States. The strategic framework of the interaction between the United States and Pakistan offers some instructions here. The United States is keenly aware that the Pakistani society is not its best friends, but if it is to assure its supply routes to its forces in Afghanistan, Washington must play bum-bum (you rub your backsides, but don’t hug or kiss) with Islamabad. Pakistan needs the United States in the face of the challenges posed by problems with India on Kashmir. Also, the Taliban must be completely neutralised in the SWAT valley and Pakistan must retain its strategic relevance in Afghanistan to bolster perceptions of its status as a relevant power. But again, as a fallback to its national asset, Pakistan has a budding arms industry and trains most of its officers and civil scientists working on the strategic front at home. It has great institutions of higher learning. These, just like India, are completed by a vast network of highly skilled Indians in the diaspora who would pack bags and head home in a national emergency. These are relevant factors. Games that nations play are not angelic.

The rise of radical political Islam in Africa has thrust the whole continent from the margins into the mainstream of global strategic currents and the turbulence of its history. The solution proposed is that African states must, in the long term, aspire to build continent-wide strategic platforms for action on matters on which there is continental convergence of interests. A smart Nigeria weighing its options must realise that the optimal configuration for it is in playing a leadership role in an African strategic platform that is engineered to pool together the political and economic and scientific leverages of its members. In the short term, this is not going to be easy, because that means weaning Africa off the United States and France. It means that in the immediate dire straits, we get whatever we can from the US and supplement with what we can scavenge from our residual presences in China, South Africa, Russia etc. Russia, like Nigeria, has significant economic challenges with the tumbling price of oil. Russia would forgive our trespass in putting our loud mouth into the affair of an ultra-racist Ukraine. Silence sometimes is actually golden. In its current climate of strenuous efforts by western Europe to destroy it, Russia would sell arms yanfuyanfu because the rubble is falling down. The Naira is in no better shape, but we can buy arms to secure our continued existence and shore up whatever is left of our national honour. Not one country can prosecute a serious war efficiently in economic terms. It is worth it if this is what is required to effectively drive the mad mullahs of Boko Haram to the hell fire they came from. But, don’t count on any state, including the United States, to do your bidding, just because Boko Haram is massacring our people. The system does not work that way. There is no love affair between states

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