Nigeria’s military collapsing as fight against Boko Haram fails

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By GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs

Nigeria’s junior army officers and enlisted ranks fighting in the north of the country were, by early December 2018, preparing to revolt. Corruption, incompetence, and lies of political generals — up to and including President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army major-general — had already led to one recent act of despair by troops in the war zone. It was prosecuted as mutiny.

Boko Haram fighters. / AFP

Another mutiny — this time more serious — was brewing as 2018 came to a close, and as young officers and enlisted men, all volunteers, echoed the thoughts of one soldier who said: “We are dying so that the generals can get rich off defense funds.”

One retired two-star, forced out of service for attempting to suppress corruption, told Defense & Foreign Affairs: “Frankly, the anger and despair is justifiably so deep that many of the troops are ready to kill any officer of the rank of colonel and above, and then to kill any politician they see. Not because they want to seize power, but because they see their own lives being thrown away. They see the greed and incompetence and arrogance of officials who continue throw young soldiers, without support or adequate weapons, into combat against the Boko Haram terrorists, who have somehow acquired weapons which are superior to those the troops have.”

Nigerian Army troops are being lost in significant numbers, almost daily, with entire units being reduced to almost nothing. And now fighting has erupted in Sokoto state in Nigeria’s north-west.

A Nigerian Army officer, speaking to Punch newspaper in an interview published on Dec. 2, 2018, noted: “Many of us, officers, are afraid because the soldiers can revolt anytime from now. You will recall that some soldiers of the 21 Brigade in Sambisa Forest last year went on the rampage, revolting against their superiors. Such rebellion only happens when the officers lose the trust of their men. The soldiers have been complaining about lack of weapons and welfare but their demands are being ignored. Always remember that whenever there is an attack, if 40 soldiers are killed, only two officers will be affected. This is because the soldiers are the ones at the battlefront.”

“If they feel they are being led to their death, they will rather revolt and save themselves rather than die. As it is, we are fearful of what may happen. We don’t want a Bangladeshi Rifle Revolt in Nigeria like it happened in 2009 in Bangladesh where soldiers killed 57 officers.”

A major-general told Punch that apart from the lack of weapons, the military was losing the anti- insurgency war due to two principal reasons: [poor or no] strategy and lack of synergy among the service chiefs, and that there was disunity among the service chiefs which was affecting the fight against Boko Haram and splinter groups.

The general added, “The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. (Abayomi) Olonishakin, has no control over the service chiefs. He summons meetings and the service chiefs don’t come.”

“The indiscipline has reached a level that the service chiefs now bypass the CDS and the Minister of Defence and write letters directly to the President. The service chiefs even attended Mr President’s [election] campaign launch recently.

This is not the military I (have) spent 33 years serving. You don’t break the chain of command.”

The senior military officer said the service chiefs had become lords unto themselves and were not open to alternative views. He added: “On several occasions during our security meetings, if you bring up an alternative view, you become an easy target for those in power. These service chiefs have stayed for too long and are now bereft of new ideas.”

“From the order we were given, Boko Haram is not supposed to occupy an inch of Nigeria’s territory. The strategy … was to spread our men thinly across the border so that we can boast that no territory is under Boko Haram. What we should have done is to allow Boko Haram have a particular territory which we can identify and then we would unite our men on one front and form a wall. We would then attack the insurgents head on. Our men are just being killed because they are thinly spread.”

Also, a Nigerian Army colonel told Punch that the United States Africa Command had not been giving Nigeria the much needed Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR).

He noted: “In the past, AFRICOM would provide us with intelligence and then the Nigerian Air Force would bomb terrorists’ strongholds. However, this arrangement seems not to be working anymore. What AFRICOM has been doing is to boost security in Niger Republic in order to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on uranium.”

“It may seem they do not trust Nigeria with intelligence anymore.”

Indeed, the Nigerian Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which has little to no active collection capability, also lacks the capacity to transmit actionable intelligence to operational units. As a result of persistent intelligence mis-handling, US- AFRICOM and other foreign agencies ceased passing on satellite and UAV-derived intelligence. Now, isolated Nigerian Army units just wait to be ambushed.

And now Boko Haram has morphed, or split, with groups coming into the area identifying with the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). ISWAP was able to take three new armored vehicles abandoned in late November 2018 by 205 members of 119 Task Force Battalion, which had only just taken delivery of the vehicles in Kangarwa by the Theater Command. They also lost 7,200 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 5,000 rounds of light machine gun ammunition, and 40 mortar rounds. It was difficult to blame the troops; their commanding officer was in hospital and they were effectively leaderless. They had also seen their companions attached to 157 Task Force Battalion had been surprised and overwhelmed a week or so before in nearby Metele, Borno State, and more than 100 of them were killed, including battalion commander, Lt.-Col. Sakaba.

That group, in Metele, had only an hour’s warning that a Boko Haram attack was incoming. One survivor said: “Most of our people dropped their arms and pulled off this dirty uniform … the bodies of our troops [were] littered everywhere, but we watched the news and heard Army Headquarters saying troops repelled the attack.”

“The Army Chief and other generals only sit in Abuja and lie to Nigerians, whereas soldiers are being killed on a daily basis. We lack manpower but nobody is telling the President the truth. The President should demand the whereabouts of all the soldiers deployed to Operation Last Hold to fight Boko Haram under Maj.-Gen. Abbah Dikko [who has now been replaced; see below]. The answer is, all of them have been crushed by Boko Haram and their new weapons are what the Boko Haram is using to attack us.”

The Nigerian Army on Nov. 12, appointed a new commander to lead the fight against Boko Haram jihadists from Maiduguri, in Borno state, in the north-east. Maj.-Gen. Benson Akinroluyo replaced Maj.-Gen. Abba Dikko as head of Operation Lafiya Dole (“Peace by Force”). Maj.-Gen. Akinroluyo became the fifth commander in two years to head the fight against the Islamist insurgents.

Maj.-Gen. Dikko had only been appointed in July 2018. Since then there had been at least nine attacks on military bases, most of them in the northern part of Borno state, near the shores of Lake Chad. Most were blamed on, or claimed by, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), an ISIS-backed faction of Boko Haram, whose recent activities have prompted speculation the group had been taken over by hardliners.

The conflict had claimed more than 27,000 lives from 2009 to 2018, with nearly two-million people displaced.