Thursday, 29 November 2018




Have you ever asked yourself what Nigeria's counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy is? In my interactions with soldiers, government officials, victims, and aid workers involved in the Boko Haram war, there is a simple retort: "that information should be classified". Bloody civilians are not privy to such information.
No insurgency in the history of the 20th and 21st century has ever been won this way. Not one.
From my understanding of the war, Nigeria's broad COIN is to outkill Boko Haram. This is simplistic use of brute force. Military spendings from 2011 to 2015 shows that Nigeria spent $16.382 billion on defence, but made little progress against Boko Haram. In fact, when military spendings were plotted against number of Boko Haram inflicted death, I found that the more we spent, the more deaths we recorded. The more we spent, the more Boko Haram progressed.

Boko Haram's ideology may not be too clear, or may be seen as "a mishmash of opportunism" as Cameron Duodu suggest, but we cannot deny the fact that there is an ideology and  you can't kill an ideology with simple military force; for every terrorist killed, more fuel is added to the insurgent's ideology tank for revenge. Or how do you kill the terrorism that looks down the barrel of your gun and sees paradise.
Until we have a strategy that includes force and counter-ideology, we would continue to lose money, arms, gallant soldiers, and the war itself.

Of all the irregular warfares in the two centuries under review, the closest to the Boko Haram war, in my opinion, is the Malayan War of 1948 to 1960. This same war has been adjudged by many scholars and military experts as the classic counterinsurgency success for the British government, and a template, by which many other counterinsurgencies are executed or/and judged.

This war lasted 12 years! In the first two years, the British army was doing exactly what the Nigerian army has been doing with Boko Haram in the past nine years — exerting military force, and attempting to outkill insurgents.

Like Boko Haram, the Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA) had a better understanding of the geography and extreme temperatures, and used it as a complimentary weapon against the army; they had the sympathy of the population; and the necessary disappearance and operational agility.

MRLA avoided open battle but preferred ambushes, and fled along known jungle trails whenever engaged. This made it extremely difficult for the British forces to ascertain whether the enemy had been eliminated or simply melted away to return at a later date.

Same case as Boko Haram: A soldier who was raised in southern Nigeria is sent to Kagoro, Kala Balge, or Sambisa to fight insurgents who were raised in the region. Insurgents who know every nook and cranny of these forests, they use the terrain — which is the soldier's blind spot — as a weapon. They lay an ambush, and kill soldiers for fun.

During the Malayan war, security forces conducted sweeps, destroying residences from which insurgents were perceived to have received some sort of support, and due to distrust, the British army often shot innocent civilians they found running away — so is the case with the Nigerian army. This made the people more sympathetic to the insurgents and made intel gathering next to impossible.

After two years of defeat, Field Marshal Montgomery wrote in 1951, a clear plan of action and a fit-for-purpose man to execute the plan was needed for victory in the Malayan war: "We must have a plan. Secondly, we must have a man. When we have a plan and a man, we shall succeed: not otherwise".

After losing in our early years, Nigeria in 2014 also hatched a plan; the National Counter Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST), which was updated in 2016. Are you hearing this for the first time? I thought so too.

NACTEST as a COIN plan is ambiguous; has no designated lead ministry or agency, has no clear-cut coordination plan. The strategy as a whole is domiciled under the office of the national security adviser (NSA), who has no statutory role, rather than just advising the president. He does not have the power to fully implement the strategy as Templer did with British COIN in Malaya. The NSA has simply asked all ministries to open counterterrorism desks. Desks!
Time and chance will not permit me to discuss the French and American COIN in details, but there are immense lessons, highlighting the fact that Nigeria cannot defeat Boko Haram this way. 

To defeat a rag-tag fighting force like Boko Haram or ISWAP, we need to go back to 1994 and listen to UNDP: "The battle of peace has to be fought on two fronts. The first is the security front where victory spells out freedom from fear. The second is the economic and social front where victory means freedom from want".

Nigeria needs civil-military operations that ensure we win the sympathy of the population, an understanding of the fighting terrain, economic liberty for those who are potential Boko Haram recruits, and then some sheer military force. This cannot be achieved in a hurry, the earlier, the better

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