A memo to ecowas heads of state

Greetings, Excellencies.

Boko Haram pixI am touched by your concern over the Boko Haram issue in Nigeria and your decision to try and help Nigeria defeat the terrorists who have made life so impossible for the residents of North-East Nigeria.

This concern has been eloquently articulated by your chairman, President John Mahama of Ghana, who has proposed that the AU should give ECOWAS the authority to set up “a multi-national force” to fight Boko Haram.

To be able to achieve this, ECOWAS has requested that the next African Union (AU) meeting in Addis Ababa must include a special session on terrorism.

This will enable West African leaders to seek authority to create the multi-national force to help combat the operations of Boko Haram. The Ghanaian President told the BBC on 17 January that the number of African countries willing to contribute troops to the force, and how many should be sent, would “depend on the discussions at the AU”.

President Mahama pointed out that already, “a consensus” had been reached in the region by “Niger, Chad, Cameroun, Nigeria and Benin” over how to combat Boko Haram. The countries of the Lake Chad Development Authority had “come together and agreed to create an international force” which was “supposed to be based in Baga in North-Eastern Nigeria” but had been “overrun recently by Boko Haram.” There was therefore an urgent need to “create a better conceptual plan” so that intervention could be “more effective.” It might take “a couple of months” to implement such a plan, President Mahama said.

However, Excellencies, your own external intelligence agencies will have briefed you on how difficult it is to assist the current Nigerian Government in this noble task of seeking to help it return the country into the safe place for ALL its citizens that it is duty-bound to ensure. The reasons for this difficulty are complex, but the principal one is that Nigeria is not lacking in either manpower or fire-power when it comes to defending itself. So the country may actually resent assistance from abroad.

The Nigerian armed forces, as you would have been told, are estimated to number as follows: Active Front-line Personnel: between 130,000 and 200,000; Active Reserve Personnel: 32,000; and Para-military forces: 300,000 (est.).

The Nigerian armed forces also have a reputation that is second to none with regard to foreign military operations. So much so that the purveyors of jargon coined a new term, “Pax Nigeriana” to describe the situation whereby Nigeria could impose peace on almost any country in Africa in whose affairs it chose to intervene. According to Wikipedia, the Nigerian Army “has demonstrated its capability to mobilise, deploy, and sustain brigade-sized forces in support of peacekeeping operations in Liberia. Smaller army forces have been previously sent on UN and ECOWAS deployments in the former Yugoslavia, Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sierra Leone.” Specifically, Nigeria sent, under the ECOMOG flag, sent troops to Liberia in 1990 and 2003; and in 1997 to Sierra Leone.

In 2004, Nigerian again sent troops to Darfur, Sudan, under UN auspices, as it did to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004. Nigerian troops again went to help Mali in 2013-14. (But significantly, Nigeria did not send troops to Cote d’Ivoire during the conflicts between that country’s rival leaders, Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo).

The question to be asked is this: if Nigeria is so powerful that it can make or break regimes in other African countries, why is it unable to defeat a local insurgency initially mounted by a ramshackle army that depended almost exclusively on the religious zeal of its followers for success?

The answer is this: perhaps when Nigerian troops go abroad, they are properly equipped; they are relatively well paid (mainly through allowances paid in dollars) and they receive relatively good care all round. But at home, they are exposed to conditions that make them suffer from neglect and low morale. Worst of all, they too — like the rest of Nigerian society — observe the massive corruption and incompetence that have been the hallmark of Nigerian administrations in recent years. They often regard the regimes under which they serve as unworthy to receive the ultimate loyalty of the combat soldier, namely, being willing to give his life to achieve the objectives of a military campaign.

In the current situation of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan, has alienated almost half of the population of his country by being perceived by the North to have reneged on an informal, understanding within his PDP, that after the presidency had been occupied by a Southerner for two terms, a Northerner would be the next President. In his defence, it must be said that President Jonathan had not served two full terms by nomination time for the 2015 elections, having succeeded to the presidency on the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua in May 2010 (that is, after Yar’Adua had eaten into hus own term by 2 years).

But while some say that Jonathan legitimately profited from the two years that were left of Yar ‘Aqua’s term, others claim that he cheated by enjoying them and still seeking to run for two full terms under his own bat. It is a controversy that will rage for years, but there is little doubt that its very existence has undercut President Jonathan authority in the eyes of many, especially ambitious politicians in the North.

This political conundrum has added its weight to the massive corruption believed by many Nigerians to be taking place under President Jonathan, and has made some Nigerians so disaffected with his regime that some of those in trusted positions are believed to be unwilling to conduct the campaign against Boko Haram as vigorously as their military oaths oblige them to do.

I suggest to you, Excellencies, that it is because of such complexities that the United States and Great Britain, for instance, find themselves unable to render as much military assistance to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram as they would normally, be only too willing to provide.

The London missions of Your Excellencies may have reported to you that there was a mini-debate in the British House of Commons in London on the Nigerian situation on 12 January 2015. I trust Your Excellencies will find time to acquaint yourselves with what the British MPs had to say.

Well, all I really want to tell you, Excellencies, is that you should do what, in the military, is known as a full appreciation of the Nigerian situation before you wade into it. You should not get involved militarily in it on the basis of emotion. Ghana did that in 1960: it went to the Congo on the basis of the emotional empathy its leader, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, felt for the Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba.

The Ghana army was under a British officer, Major-General H. T. Alexander, and many of its other senior officers were British. Technically, they were competent to lead Ghana’s troops into the Congo. But the appreciation they did before they left for the Congo must have been full of holes, in that it seemed to have ignored, or glossed over, the social atmosphere in which Ghanaian troops, under white British officers, would be interacting with Congolese Force Publique soldiers, most of whom hated their own white Belgian officers, against whom they had indeed mutinied.

Forty-three Ghanaian soldiers were killed at a camp called Port Franqui, when Congolese troops attacked them on the basis of false information fed to them by Congolese politicians who lied to them, they were acting in collaboration with the Belgians. One Ghanaian battalion had to be disbanded after it mutinied, and the mutiny undoubtedly had something to do with the alleged fraternisation of the battalion’s white officers with the Belgians.

The upshot of my message, Excellencies, is this: if you get involved in a situation in Nigeria in which some Nigerians will look upon the presence of your troops there with hostility, you will live to rue the day you decided to intervene. Be warned that you will be going into a country whose people have loyalties that are incredibly diffuse; a country whose leader is so nonchalant about national affairs that he took 40 days to make a statement about the abduction of 300 schoolgirls at Chibok!

In other words, if you must go, do candidly let President Goodluck Jonathan know that — as a Ghanaian proverb has it — “it is only when you try to climb a tree with adequate proficiency that those on the ground may feel inspired enough to push you up the tree.” Don’t go and kill the children of other people in a campaign whose basis is so difficult to sketch that even the British who, after all, created the Nigerian army, don’t want to undertake it.


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