Contrary to claims by the Federal Government that it has boosted the morale of troops on the frontlines of the battle against Boko Haram, The Economist magazine says President Muhammadu Buhari was yet to impact meaningfully on the confidence of the military.
The influential magazine based in the UK said the audacious attacks of Boko Haram on the village of Dalori, barely 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital exposes the underbelly of an ill-motivated and barely equipped military.
Buhari, a retired Major General, had promised to tackle the insurgency and terrorists’ attacks within the first two months of his regime.
Reporting on the Dalori attack, the Economist said: “The first is that it seems to have been so well organised. One security expert with links to Nigeria’s intelligence services says that more than a hundred militants may have been involved in the raid. And it was brutal, even by the bloody standards already set by the jihadists. Locals reported hearing children screaming as they were incinerated in their burning homes.
“The army’s response, by contrast, was particularly feeble. The jihadists have taken to using hit-and-run tactics—raiding rural settlements for food, money and human chattel—since they were rebuffed in their efforts to take and hold territory in early in 2015. Defending scattered villages against such attacks is difficult. But Dalori—which is located 5km (3 miles) from Maiduguri, a state capital and the military’s headquarters—was an audacious choice of target. It seems likely that the militants drove there from their remote hideouts over roads patrolled by soldiers and vigilantes. Yet they were not stopped. In
Maiduguri townspeople said they could see houses burning. Yet soldiers based in Maiduguri allowed Boko Haram to pillage Dalori for hours before driving them out.”
It further added that “complaints about ammunition shortages, despite efforts to equip the soldiers better, could explain the slow response. So too could poor communications and inadequate training.
“They don’t attack. They just wait for something terrible to happen,” the security professional says. Another point of concern is the army’s alleged involvement in war crimes and abuses of human rights—hardly the sorts of things likely to engender trust among local villagers whose support is needed.
Such worries were brought to a head when the government recently reinstated Ahmadu Mohammed, a major-general accused by Amnesty International, an international human rights pressure group, of involvement in the deaths of more than 8,000 detainees held by the security services.
He retired in 2014 for unrelated reasons, but his return, without an inquiry, shows a “monumental failure of the government to stamp out impunity,” Amnesty said.
Nigeria’s forces are in an unenviable position. They face an uprising in the south-east, militants in the oil-producing Niger delta and sectarian clashes in the centre. Meanwhile, falling oil prices are putting pressure on military spending, says John Campbell, former American ambassador to Nigeria. A regional response could help, but soldiers belonging to a “multinational joint task force”—to which Nigeria has allocated millions of dollars—barely communicate with one another. Mr Buhari thinks that Boko Haram is “technically defeated” because it holds little in the way of land. Yet it has been weakened in the past, only to regroup. Without a more proactive response from the army, it will do so again.