Published in the Daily Trust Newspaper, August 12, 2014, written by Sanusi Abubakar
What exactly are our individual and collective responsibilities in the on-going counterinsurgency against Boko Haram?
- The dominant justification is that the military is only trained to kill, so we should not in any way earn their wrath. This nonsense was what General Emmanuel Abisoye used to justify the killing of students in Ahmadu Bello University, in the same Zaria, in 1986. We have witnessed same in several places. But is it really true that soldiers are only “trained to kill”, and that such is the approved method for the army in all situations? Could this be used to justify the brutal killings and slitting of throats shown recently on some social media clips?
- To understand this we have to go back to the history, training and doctrine of our armed forces. Since their transition from a force of the occupying British colonialists to a national outfit, our armed forces have been trained to confront external threats but not internal insurgencies. From Aba, Rafin-Gora, The Tiv Riots, Bakalori Massacre, Maitatsine, Bulunkutu, Odi and Zaki Biyam, to date, they, along with the police, have been successful because they had the advantage of massive fire power in the face of violent but weak and unorganized resistance. The accepted method was one of “kill or capture”, as it seeks to destroy the base or origins of threats. In this it had been faithful to the “doctrine” bequeathed to them by the British.
- They had experiences in peace-keeping and peace-enforcement outside the country—Congo, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Sudan and elsewhere—but not against an internal insurgency by their own citizens. These experiences, along with what they had to confront during the Civil War, convinced them of the need to reappraise their doctrine which subsequently led to the setting up, in Minna, of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) charged with doctrinal, training and combat development along with research and development.
Here we should perhaps define what exactly is meant by the term “doctrine”. Military doctrine is generally defined as what the military “believes” about the “best” way to conduct its assignments. In short, what it believes about the best way to do things. This is often spelt out in training documents and used to conduct military affairs. Though authoritative, it is nevertheless not prescriptive but simply a guide. It requires judgment in application. Thus, even by 1986, five years after the setting up of TRADOC, Abisoye knew that the army does not just “shoot to kill” in every situation, nor is it expected to do that now. Officers in command must decide, and justify, what is appropriate in each case.
- Doctrinal beliefs are not meant to be regarded as immutable laws but are interpretations of changing evidence and experiences (principally, historical, but also new technology and emerging threats). The word best implies a standard—a guide for those who conduct military affairs. And, since all wars are political, we expect the military to conduct its assignments in politically acceptable manner. The problem is that TRADOC has not really delivered on its mandate. Not just because it has been underfunded, but also because most commanders posted there saw such posting as punitive. Our political leaders have to demand that the military conducts itself in a legally responsible and accountable manner, and pay greater attention to TRADOC, and all training and doctrinal matters. In counterinsurgencies we must pay adequate attention to the need to “win hearts and minds” and cannot afford alienating the very population we seek to protect. The support of the citizenry is essential for success.
- Two years ago, the then Chief of Army Staff, General Azubuike Ihejirika, admitted that our approach to the Boko Haram insurgency had failed, adding bluntly: “We are reviewing our doctrine.” He, seen by many as not having contributed much to the solution, left without doing much. With the American-inspired creation of a new counterinsurgency outfit in Jaji recently, we hope things will improve. We may finally synthetize our historical and combat experiences into our own counterinsurgency, peace-keeping and civil engagement doctrine.
- Nothing will succeed, however, without the President insisting on accurate information. False or fictitious reports of successes or capabilities, and white-washing ugly atrocities, just would not do. Excessive use of force against non-combatants and innocent civilians must be investigated and punished. The military must work with the police and civil authorities if there is to be significant successes. Treating governors of the affected states as political enemies is already posing serious problems. This preoccupation, along with corruption and lack of accountability, does not augur well for the war effort. They erode the legitimacy of all authority.
- Next week we hope to focus on the roles of ordinary citizens the Ulama, the media as well as local and traditional institutions in this all-important, second-tier engagements critical to ending this insurgency.