Real Battle in Nigeria: Buhari versus Boko Haram

buhariAfter a clear victory in elections, Nigeria’s President-elect Muahmmadu Buhari has identified his top most priority and mission: ending the deadly mix of insurgency and terrorism as epitomised in the rise of Boko Haram and its barbaric activities.

With his party, the All Progressive Congress, elected by huge margins in the states most affected by the Boko Haram group, Gen. Buhari has the requisite popular support to take on the country’s insidious enemy.

Moreover, judging by past trends, Boko Haram cadre usually either move further North East towards Chad, while maintaining pressure on security forces within the North Eastern states or disperse towards the North West, which includes Katsina-the state Buhari belongs to and has won from.

But politics is only one part of the solution. Judging by Buhari’s record as division commander and president, the operational strategy currently employed by the Nigerian forces, is unlikely to see any major amendments. The use of air power for strafing runs and employment of foreign mercenaries has been rightly criticised by experts as counter-productive. They are also au contraire with the current global best practices of countering insurgency operations.

A prominent fear in the run up the election was the polarisation of the electorate along ethnic-religious and regional grounds – traditional fault lines in Nigeria with the poorer Muslim north and the oil-rich Christian dominated Southern states. This spectre is crystallized in a a related comment by Solo Tayo of Chatham House, who warns that, “Before the Boko Haram insurgency, the (deltaic) southern region of the Niger was the primary source of unrest; violence there may ignite if militants preferred candidates do not win. One group of former militants has threatened to wage should Goodluck Jonathan lose.”

Buhari and the Army

With the votes polled largely against rampant corruption and worsening security situation, President Buhari will be looking to capitalise on the recent military victories of his Army, albeit during his predecessor’s tenure. On the face of it, the Nigerian Army has got the militants on the run pushing them to the fringes of the country. In order to sustain the momentum, his first task will be to deal with the dangers of more mutinies happening. Seventy soldiers face the firing squad after a military court sentenced them in December last year. While there is an appeals process, the final decision lies with the President. Known to be a strict disciplinarian (to put it most mildly) it would be interesting to see what President Buhari would do on this matter. Executing those men would dampen morale of an already frustrated army, especially when there is evidence that the soldiers’ actions were provoked by avoidable deaths of their comrades in arms, as argued by Femi Falan, one of Nigeria’s leading Human Rights Lawyers, who is also handling their case.

Also, despite allocating 20% of its sizeable budget _to the military and police, there has been no noticeable change to the equipment used by the soldiersarticle-doc-1h4wn-6XTHYmGUMHSK2-851_634x422. In a BBC interview, former military adviser to the Nigerian government, Col. James Hall, suggests countries like the US and UK to no shy away from committing fighting and communication equipment.

But military support from western parties are held hostage to the ostensibly ugly human rights record of the Nigerian army, especially due to some atrocities being captured on video and circulated on the internet. Therefore, Buhari would need to address western, especially American,  concerns on this front. Perhaps the US should reconsider its application of the Leahy Amendment to Nigerian units, as  requested recently by Nigerian ambassador to US Adebowale Adefuye.

The American anti-terror effort in Nigeria is largely pushed via the Trans-Sahelian Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP), an initiative that incorporates eleven African countries, including, Nigeria.  In line with their approach to Africa, there is a desire to keep the ‘American footprint’ in Nigeria light. To compensate, the CVE (countering violent extremism), ATA (anti terror assistance), CTF (counter terror finance) and Strategic Communications are some mechanisms being utilized to improve Nigerian security capabilities at the grassroots and upwards. But the Nigerians want more-especially “(providing) counter-insurgency training for our (Nigerian) Special Forces teams, weapons and equipment, and advanced technologies for effective intelligence gathering).

Buhari and India

India enjoys a strategic partnership with Nigeria. Commercial and economic relations are growing. With India being Nigeria’s largest trade partner (bilateral trade creeping over $20 billion), this is one country in Africa India cannot ignore. Nigeria contributes around 10-12 per cent of India’s oil imports and is, therefore, critical to the country’s energy security. With Gen. Buhari declaring his agenda for national renewal, India will be looking to step up ties with the continent’s largest economy.

Due to his last stint in power from ’83 to ’85, there is little precedent as to where Gen. Buhari’s diplomatic inclinations lie. During his tenure, some Indian businesses were accused of corruption; riding on an anti corruption mandate, 10o-odd Indian companies in Nigeria should ensure their books are kosher. But prior to him taking over in a coup, he received military training in India, which could mean that the new president may be sympathetic to closer defence cooperation between the two nations, especially with regard to special forces training, that would be part of an ideal strategy to counter the Boko Haram physical threat.

The challenge posed by Boko Haram necessitates greater global cooperation. However, to deal with what is essentially a local insurgency, American and European (and Indian) efforts must be directed at bolstering Nigerian and its neighbours’ capabilities; they should not get tempted to directly jump into what is going to be a protracted conflict.

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