The multi-national force established by Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger has not been able to defeat Boko Haram
For years, Nigeria has been caught in the web of terrorism. Regrettably, the nation’s military, which has won many accolades at the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and at the regional level, has not been able to restore peace especially to the North-East where the terror groups operate.
Book Haram launched a full-scale attacks on Nigeria following the killing/death of its commander, Mohammed Yusuf, in a controversial circumstance. The dreaded Boko Haram which was regarded as a ragtag army of youths has continued to give the Nigerian military as well as the military of some neighbouring nations a serious headache, killing scores of troops and carting away their weapons on some occasions.
Although the insurgents have also had many casualties, their ability to recruit more fighters, resilience, arms cache and capability to get intelligence reports, which they often deploy in attacking the soldiers, have been worrisome despite many claims that they have been technically defeated.
The terrorists became very emboldened before the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), came to power in 2015 to the extent that the United Nations Office in Abuja was bombed while the Police headquarters was also bombarded, among other places.
However, the devious attacks were not limited to Nigeria as the terror group also carried out attacks in Chad, Niger and Cameroon. These deadly attacks and the push by the insurgents to establish their government in these countries accounted for the reorganisation of the Multi-National Joint Task Force in 2015.
This was why the headquarters of the regional force was moved from Baga, Borno State, to N’Djamena, Chad Republic, and their mandate was to end the Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin.
Despite the reorganisation, the terrorists have continued to carry out attacks especially on military bases just to show that their alleged ‘technical defeat’ as claimed by the Federal Government was a ruse.
In March, Boko Haram inflicted a heavy blow on the Nigerian military by killing about 47 troops in a deadly ambush while the troops were moving around Alagarno in Yobe State.
The insurgents also killed 92 Chadian troops when they carried out an attack on a base in Bohoma, Chad. The attack is still being regarded as the worst military loss in the history of Chad.
Infuriated by the heavy defeat, the Chadian President, Idriss Deby, vowed that Chadian troops would deal with the insurgents. A few days after and in a surprise move, he actualised the threat as his troops launched a full-scale attack on the stronghold of Boko Haram killing hundreds of them and taking control of their arms store.
However, after the onslaught, the president who is a retired military officer, was quoted by Aljazeera as saying that Chad would no longer be part of any regional force in the Lake Chad region and the Sahel.
He said, “Our troops have died for Lake Chad and the Sahel. From today, no Chadian soldier will take part in a military mission outside Chad. Chad is alone in shouldering all the burden of the war against Boko Haram.” But the Nigerian military downplayed the statement, saying Chad had not pulled out of the regional force.
Nonetheless, investigations by our correspondents revealed that rivalry, lack of commitment and underfunding of the regional force were some of the reasons the MNJTF had not been able to defeat the insurgents completely.
Military sources noted that some of these reasons were also responsible for the inability of the Nigerian armed forces to end the Boko Haram terrorism within the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa since 2009.
A top military source in Borno, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said chief among the reasons for the slowdown over the years was an unwritten rivalry and controversy over funding among the countries, with Nigeria and Chad in the forefront.
The source said, “When the MNJTF was in Baga, Borno State, between 2009 and 2015, Nigeria provided much of the funding and supplied the most troops with little or no contributions from the three other countries. Nigeria still does. But then, the Boko Haram struck Baga and ruined the MNJTF headquarters in one of the most devastating attacks of that year on our troops.
“There was suspicion that the attack on Baga came because of unspoken bitterness from the other countries. So, the headquarters was moved to Chad in 2015. Yet, it was agreed that a Nigerian officer would be the Force Commander, a Cameroonian as a Deputy Commander and a Chadian as the Chief of Staff. Again, the Commander position was not rotational and this is another problem.
“It is difficult, even if I become the commander, to get the allegiance of the Chadian troops, where the MNJTF is headquartered, to commit more to the MNJTF than to their nation. They will naturally owe allegiance first to their army chief and the President than to a Nigerian commander. Chad just feels they are not in charge and that in a way affects the military cooperation.”
Despite operating from Chad and being a regional force, the choice of who becomes the MNJTF commander has always been done almost solely by the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff (currently Lt Gen Tukur Buratai), whom military sources believe should not be making such decision without the input of other army chiefs in the joint military force.
In the latest appointment in November 2019, Buratai in a press release named Maj Gen Ibrahim Yusuf as the MNJTF commander, replacing Maj Gen Chikeze Ude, the hitherto head of the force.
“This kind of choice of the MNJTF leadership is very faulty, if you ask me. The four countries have Chiefs of Defence Staff and at worst, the Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff is supposed to make such appointment and seek approval from the other three countries’ heads of military to show they are in the decision making channel,” a captain in the Nigerian Army explained.
It was not surprising therefore when Chad, in the first week of April 2020, hinted that it might no longer be taking part in any regional force. Although the announcement looked unclear as it houses the MNJTF, the Chadian president lamented that the country’s troops had died in droves for Lake Chad and the Sahel and they might no longer be taking part in a military mission outside his country.
Analysts believe that the message was subtly targeted at Nigeria to show that Chad wanted some more leverage in the force, than for its troops to await orders from Nigerian commanders.
It was learnt that Niger Republic and Cameroon were not in contention for such prominence in the MNJTF with their troops not being able to stop the terrorists from coming into their respective territories, most times after escaping heat from Nigeria and Chad.
“The funding of the MNJTF has therefore been a major challenge, with most resources lopsided and coming from Nigeria and Chad, which again limits the penetration of the regional force into the two other countries,” a top military source in Abuja said.
On April 10, 2020, the operations of the MNJTF were reviewed at the Ministry of Defence building in Abuja, but only the Ministers of Defence from Nigeria and Chad, Maj Gen Bashir Magashi (retd.), and Mahamat Salah, respectively were at that meeting where tactical decisions were taken.
The Chadian defence minister had come to Abuja to review the MNJTF. He came in company with the Chief of Staff to the Chadian President, the Chadian Ambassador to Nigeria and the Chadian Director of Military Cooperation.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram has managed to keep its fangs alive in the Lake Chad region, partly due to the emergence of its deadlier faction, the Islamic State West African Province, and the recruitment and indoctrination of thousands of youths across the four countries to fight in the sect under the guise of religious and ideological war.
On April 27, the MNJTF itself raised the alarm that it had obtained information regarding a plot by the insurgents to carry out an “aggressive recruitment in the coming weeks.” It said the forced recruitment was expected to target young and adult males. However, the sect’s backup plan was to kidnap unwilling targets.
The MNJTF Chief of Military Public Information, Col Timothy Antigha, therefore urged youths in the North-Eastern states of Nigeria, Lake Province of Chad, Diffa Region of Niger and Extreme North Region of Cameroon to be vigilant and shun all promises of opportunities for quick money and misguided teachings about jihad.
On the whole, military sources agree that the MNJTF needs to first win the confidence and trust of its four member countries and their armed forces before tangible successes can be recorded against the Boko Haram and its affiliates.
A former Director-General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, identified poor funding, poor equipment and logistical problems as some of the factors incapacitating the MNJTF.
Akinterinwa said the MNJTF was established in the 1990s for economic reasons but its mandate was changed to security when it was reorganised.
He said, “You know the countries funding the MNJTF but you don’t know the financiers of the Boko Haram. I will like to remind you of what late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya said and what a former President of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings, also said and you will know why the task will be very difficult for any joint task force whether national or multinational.
“Gaddafi made it abundantly clear that Nigeria could not have peace unless the country was divided into Muslim North and Christian South. Now the Boko Haram wants to establish an Islamic State particularly in the North.
“In this case, the powerful Muslim states appear to be funding them, aiding and abetting them. Nobody is talking about which countries are involved but accusing finger is pointing at Iran for supporting the Shiite; accusing fingers are pointing at Saudi Arabia and other countries. But the issue is that Boko Haram cannot have the kind of sophisticated weapons they are using if they are not being supplied from outside the country.
“In this case, when you have an opposition like Boko Haram that is heavily funded and equipped fighting against the MNJTF that is poorly equipped, how can they succeed?
“Also, some Nigerians went to protest at the French Embassy in Abuja accusing France of aiding and abetting Boko Haram. Jerry Rawling said the solution to Nigeria problems was to kick out all new-colonialist leaders in Nigeria. When you look at this also, you will see that it is very difficult for the joint task force because there may be colonial support for Boko Haram as well. This is a fundamental issue.
“Multi-national joint task force means the troops there are from different countries with different cultures. They do not use the same type of weapons and their military training and doctrines are not the same. Yet they are brought together under one commander who is expected to harmonise their activities. In terms of signal and strategies, they may not be the same. There is logistical problem and above all who is the leader? “
A former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, said in February at the first public lecture in honour of the late founder of Oodu’a Peoples Congress, Dr Fredrick Fasehun, that Nigeria had not been able to defeat Boko Haram because the terror group was getting support from outside. He, however, did not reveal where the external support for the jihadists was coming from.
But, a fellow of the International Institute of Professional Security, Mr Jackson Ojo, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, said despite the fact that the terror group’s activities affected Nigeria more than the other three nations in the region, Nigeria had been lackadaisical in its approach to the force.
Ojo said, “There is a lot of unserious mess on the side of Nigeria despite the fact the counrty can be regarded as the epicentre of Boko Haram activities. Apart from this, I believe there are many saboteurs in Nigeria and even in the military. Boko Haram has a lot of sympathisers even among those in government. Some are sympathetic to the group based on ethnic, religious or just emotional sympathy.
“Boko Haram fighters do not fly to their bases, they come through our land borders with their supplies and security agents are supposed to be there. Nigeria has not queried that. These are some of the signs that we are not very serious about it. Our Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai, just relocated to the North-East after the Chadian troops led by their President had routed the Boko Haram in an offensive battle.”
Proffering solution to the challenges, Akinterinwa said the MNJTF should re-strategise to end the insurgency. He explained that the troops of all the countries in the regional force should fix a particular day and a particular time of the day and encircle the whole area where “the Boko Haram fighters are and advance.”
He said with this, they would be able to neutralise the insurgents and there would be no need for the Joint Task Force to continue to play preventive role.
Culled from PUNCH