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Insecurity, service chiefs and mass hysteria

Posted by GPmulticoncept on July 28, 2020
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Olakunle Abimbola

“After all,” quipped the roguish Brother Jero, ”it’s the fashion these days to be a desk general!”  That was Jero’s closing wit in the play, Jero’s Metamorphosis (1973), by Prof. Wole Soyinka.

Indeed, it was the era of “desk generals” (a vicious pun on the Police desk sergeant, perhaps?) — Nigeria’s first romance with military rule; when ruling generals needed not go to war to attain that rank; yet were so contemptuous of “bloody civilians”.

With the return of democracy — 21 years and counting — and a stress on more accountability, the scorned “bloody civilians” of yore are busy having own back on the “useless generals”, in the Boko Haram North East front.

From parliamentary galleries, to street corners, to the sensation-loving conventional media, to the wild, wild social media, explosive global volcano of rumour and hate, the clobbered generals are receiving a brutal hiding.

It’s the sweet revenge of “bloody civilians”!

The poor metaphor for this ruthless tanning, of the army, are the service chiefs.  The casus belli is wide-spread insecurity.  For that, they are fit devils on the cross!  Mass hysteria never had a more justified driver!

Yet emotions, running violent and wild, could be evidence something is seriously amiss.  But who cares?

The conventional street wisdom, avid and passionate, is clear: sack the service chiefs and, open sesame, the security challenges would vanish!  How, for God’s sake, can the president be deaf to such “sure banker”, to borrow that betting lingo?

In truth, the security situation is dire.  But that doesn’t automatically equate it is worse, compared with the past.  Still, that won’t gather much traction with an emotive response — and understandably so, for man is, extremely so, a pain-avoiding animal.

It is in putting issues in correct contexts, therefore, that Philips Agbese, a security expert and human rights researcher, came good, on Yori Folarin’s This Morning (TM) show, of July 24, on TVC.

The issue was Boko Haram and sundry insecurity problems, and the clamour to sack the service chiefs.  Yori and co-host’s opening gambits appeared steering the discourse towards the regnant blame game, that always portrayed the generals, in that troubled front, as no more than glorified leaches and nitwits.

But then came in Agbese, who redirected the issues.  At the end of it all, the two hosts appeared less gung-ho to dish out blames. Though there were no immediate feed backs, viewers too must have been better informed on the complex and intricate security challenges; on which the public might not have had enough information to make definitive conclusions.

That is what the media should do in troubled times: shed more light on issues for better public understanding; rather than join the emotive orchestra, yelping and swearing, yet proffering no reasoned solution to the roaring problems.

So, how exactly did Agbese intervene?  Nothing novel.  He just did what should be a media routine (but sadly a very rare exception), of rigorously dissecting Boko Haram yesterday, today — and projecting what tomorrow might look like, if the issue were clinically analyzed.

Long and short: the solution lies less in the dramatic hiring or firing of service chiefs and allied personnel, for immediate popular but pyrrhic cheers.

Rather, it is in a systemic overhaul of a security architecture, which though has stalled Boko Haram, is faltering against its free-wheeling by-products: banditry, cattle rustling and kidnapping, especially in the North.

On Boko Haram qua Boko Haram, even Abubakar Shekau, with his most fanatical terrorists, would admit it’s well past glory days; when a hitherto ragtag terror cadre worsted Nigerian troops, grabbed territories, and hoisted, with panache, Islamist flags.

Beside grabbing territories and re-naming communities, were routine bombings (of which the United Nations Nigeria office in Abuja was a prime victim), among others: mosques, churches and motor parks; not discounting dashing suicide bombings.  Each of all these Boko Haram reserved its right to unleash, as it damn well pleased!

That all that is now history is no accident.  As Agbese pointed out, defeating that phase was the deliberate but unsung work of some military strategists.

Indeed, the terror war’s media coverage is so adversarial you could be permitted to think the Nigerian media does classic war propaganda for the terrorist enemy: sensationalize terrorists’ triumphs, downplay military gains, and on the balance, pass down the (deliberate?) hysteria that “nothing” has been done!

Indeed, that TM show made a glib reference to the Chadian late 2019 exploits against Boko Haram, that made Abukabar Shekau cry; suggesting Nigeria failed to finish off the job.

Blissfully forgotten, however, was the open secret of Nigeria’s chief of army staff (COAS) joining his troops around Yuletide 2019, and equally giving Shekau a bloody nose, with many Boko Haram commanders either slain or surrendering.

But for that timely reminder by Agbese, TM would have left an unbalanced account, even if both events were public knowledge.

Nevertheless, that was typical of the near one-sided narrative, by a clearly piqued media, solely blaming the “useless” military, “corrupt” generals and their commander-in-chief, for the unsatisfactory state of things.

That is hardly a crime in a democracy.  But it costs the troops dearly in morale; and helps prolong the terror war, which ironically the fretting people people want ended.

Still, that media attitude is symbolic of that Nigerian penchant to point fingers, instead of owning a problem and contributing own quota to solving it  — a point Agbese brilliantly made.

He challenged the respective stakeholders, in the theatres of war (communities, politicians, the media, etc) and Nigerians generally: has everyone  put in own civic contributions, to match — and back — the military’s terror war effort?  Hardly!

Besides, security or lack of it is no static matter.  Rather, insurgencies are dynamic — volatile, even — so much so that as you face down a phase, you must be a step ahead of the unseen enemy, in intelligence gathering, planning and execution.  So, you’re prone to setbacks.

But if terrorists’ gains (most of them occasional) are orchestrated, and military victories are downplayed, as routine and unimportant, you give the impression you’re stuck in a rut.  Sprinkle in media sensationalism, and the image you get is eternal Armageddon!  That is hardly fair on the efforts of the troops and their commanders.

Still, do all these indicate the security situation is satisfactory?  No.  Are they an apologia for the military and other security forces?  Definitely not!

Cold analysis: Boko Haram is morphing into banditry, kidnapping on hitherto safe major expressways, cattle-rustling that plague the rural economy, and even massacre of peaceful and defenseless  citizens.  These high crimes must never be admitted as a sick “new normal”.  So, the authorities must raise their game,

But the solution can’t be unbridled hysteria, powered by scapegoating, cresting in the orchestrated roar for the sack of service chiefs.  Sweet hysteria is no substitute for hard thinking.


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