It was a former Chief of the Army Staff, Lt. General Kenneth Minimah, who introduced the battle cry acronym, ‘Never Again’, in the Boko Haram terrorism narrative in Nigeria following the reinvigorated approach of the military to the war on terror which enabled the army he commanded to bounce back from its slumber and its Special Forces fought to retake several communities captured by the Islamic group.
However, some important actors, through whose efforts the revival of the army and the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in particular laid the foundation for the new high level capacity to degrade Boko Haram, can never be wished away.
Irrespective of what some people say about the way he administered the country or the fall-outs of several of his policies during his tenure, former President Goodluck Jonathan did a yeoman’s job in reviving the pride and capacity of the Nigerian Army and NAF towards re-invention.
Also, irrespective of the challenges he may be facing, a former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd), was miles ahead of most Nigerians including those at the helm of the affairs in the country when he convinced the former president and Nigerians who cared to listen then, that the 2015 elections needed to be shifted for six weeks to enable massive dislodgement of Boko Haram from the nation’s captured territories in the North-East, so that elections could hold there.
The truth is that if not for that ‘patriotic’ action of the former NSA, who also broke so many barriers to acquire arms and ammunition from countries other than our so-called international partners and friends, Boko Haram, with the control of almost 50% of the communities and territories in the North-East, could not only have prevented elections in that zone of the country, but also emboldened to declare a caliphate.
Even after the change of baton both at the federal level and at the security services, leading to the appointments of General Gabriel Olonisakin as Chief of the Defence Staff, CDS; Lt. General Tukur Buratai as Chief of the Army Staff, COAS; Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar as Chief of the Air Staff, CAS; and Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas as Chief of the Naval Staff, CNS; Nigerians, who hitherto viewed Boko Haram as an irritant incident government and security forces should just use a sledge hammer to eliminate it once and for all, are now becoming aware the challenge is not as easy as that.
It is against that backdrop that Sunday Vanguard spotlights the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the armed forces, to degrade Boko Haram by the end of December 2015.
Before now, troops fighting the terrorists had issues. There were challenges of the lack of availability of arms and ammunition, workability and adaptability of available arms and ammunition, the quantity as well as quality of the arms and ammunition.
Also, many of the arms and related equipment paid for by the former administration of Jonathan, which were not things that could easily be picked on the shelf but had to take some time to be manufactured, had not yet arrived the country. Where some had arrived, they needed to be moved to the war front.
There were also issues of troops welfare, morale and motivation. However, in the army, the lead security service in the fight against terrorism, Buratai quickly identified these factors that will ensure that success of the military campaign to meet the Commander in Chief’s directive to end the Boko Haram insurgency by the end of the year.
Hence his move was to revisit the several court martial verdicts in which over 5,000 soldiers who committed various offences, ranging from failure to obey lawful orders, indiscipline, desertion, connivance with enemy forces, were either dismissed, sentenced to death or life imprisonment, etc.
To many soldiers in the battlefield, many of the allegations preferred against their colleagues in the battle front, which saw them arrested, tried, and sentenced, were not the making of the troops as there was real problem of inadequate arms and ammunition to fight. Logistics was poor and even vital air support from NAF as and when due was not forthcoming.
The COAS, therefore, instituted the Major General Adeniyi Oyebade panel that sat in Kaduna to take a second look at the verdicts of the court martial and reappraise the appeal of the convicted soldiers with a view to recalling those with minor offences, retraining them and equipping them to go back to the battle field and redeem their image.
At the end of the exercise, over 3,000 soldiers were pardoned and retrained. This boosted morale as troops at the war front became re-energized for combat. One thing about the military, which many may not know, is that, when it comes to fighting a common enemy, soldiers, irrespective of whether you are Ibo, Edo, Yoruba or Hausa, see themselves as brothers. Hence, when thousands of soldiers were court martialed on the Boko Haram impasse, it really dampened morale. Buratai’s pardon was, therefore, a masterstroke.
In the area of equipment, arms and ammunition, a massive turnaround helped by the arrival of the weaponry ordered by the former administration, complemented by ones recently bought, breathed a new life into the fight. In this light, Nigerian soldiers are no longer afraid to go on patrol. Soldiers no long flee when they see terrorists because they run out of ammunition. There are enough magazines and Boko Haram terrorists, knowing this, have continued to take to their heels.
Several high calibre weaponry, including the T-72 tanks and artillery guns, have arrived the country and deployed for a final push. This explains why the army, in recent times, issued clarion calls on the remaining band of terrorists to surrender or lay down their arms; because, by the time what is on ground is unleashed on the remaining suspected bunkers, hideouts and hills of the terrorists, never again would they dare to capture Nigerian territory.
Also, the take-off of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, led by a Nigerian, Major General Illya Abba, whose 8, 700 troops component has commenced deployment in all the border areas of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, has the prospects of putting a stop to cross border raids as well as remobilization by the terrorists, while breaking the line of recruitment as well as supplies for Boko Haram.
To show the resolve to make the MNJTF work, unlike the past when members of the Lake Chad Commission played politics and paid lip service to the operations of the body, Buhari, on assumption of office, ordered the release of $21million out of what Nigeria pledged to make the MNJTF operational and this has contributed, in no small measure, to the fear of remnants of the terrorist group who are said looking for ways of escape.
A frontline arm of the security forces that must claim significant credit for the successes so far recorded in the war on terror and on whose shoulders a great deal lies if the December deadline is to be achieved is the NAF. The security service has not only prevailed in the area of logistics by flying personnel, materials and equipment as well as embarking on medical evacuation flights, its surveillance flights have helped in locating camps, movement of terrorists, movement of their equipment as well as collaborators supplying logistics, fuel and foodstuff.
But, primarily, the NAF leading the battle from the air, has inflicted the most damage on Boko Haram camps, hilly hideouts, taking out many of their armoury dumps, wiping out their logistics supply vehicles and striking the terrorists if they dared to come out en-mass to perpetrate their murderous activities.
This truism was aptly captured by NAF chief, Abubakar when he said that between July and October 2015, the security service aircraft conducted a total of 1,448 sorties in support of the counter insurgency operation in the north east even as over 300 ground troops from its special forces are deployed to fight alongside the army in the field.
According to Abubakar, such air component deployed in the anti-Boko Haram operation include the F7NI supersonic fighter jet, Alpha Jet, C-130 AC, Augusta 109 LUH, Mi-35, Mi-24 gunships, Mi-17 and Supa Puma Helicopters, to carry out logistics support, reconnaissance and combat operations.
He continued, “Wherever the army is in the battle field, we give them air support, provide intelligence and clear the ground for them to operate optimally.
“There are challenges no doubt, but, God willing, we will meet the expectations of the people and the deadline given by the Commander-in-Chief as the government is giving us adequate support and encouragement.”