Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Herdsmen Attacks: A National Security Failure

By Abiodun Ladepo
As the National Security Adviser, you have to be grossly incompetent to not know how the Fulani herdsmen (yes, they are herdsmen and they are Fulani) conduct their raids. If you knew and just refused to do something about it, anything that would stop these mindless, gory massacres of unarmed innocent Nigerians, then you are just asinine or unpatriotic or both. And if you have laid everything out for your boss, in this case, the President, and he does not have the political cojones to do what he is required by law to do – that is, the protection of the lives and properties of Nigerians, the President has failed.

It must amaze and confound anybody with a scintilla of security awareness – how much more, national security awareness – that there are people roaming around the entire country with illegal weapons, even if they are not killing people with it. No serious security-conscious person, how much more, one with statutory responsibility and obligation to prevent such acquisition in the first place; and the confiscation of such weapons and prosecution of culprits, will sleep well at night knowing that the country is awash with such weapons. But what is even more galling is that the culprits are killing people in dozens, almost daily, and everybody who is getting paid to act is wringing their hands and praying to God to help them. Come on! 
This is not the first time I will write about terrorism and national security matters. And each time I deal with these topics, I don’t just wail. I proffer solutions…practical solutions. But each time I write, I get a couple of ignorant feedbacks from some people that I believe have vested interests in the perpetuation of these heinous crimes questioning my qualification to address such issues. It wasn’t until after Jonathan left office that we received validation about what we had suspected all along – that our military leaders were diverting funds meant for the military to personal pockets; that discipline and respect had taken flight from among the echelons – top to bottom, and that our armed forces had been reduced to little more than the Boy Scouts. We are here now. It is what it is. What should we do to solve this problem?
First, I believe that Boko Haram, as an entity, has not gone anywhere, just like Al-Qaeda never went anywhere. Just because Boko Haram is no longer making videos doesn’t mean they disarmed, disbanded and went home. Definitely, they did not surrender to anybody. So, we have to assume they are still very much around. Knowing that you have a problem and being able to identify and categorize the problem are critical first steps in solving the problem. 
 Which leads to my second point: if Boko Haram has not gone away, it most likely morphed into a marauding group or several marauding groups with loose affiliation (or no affiliation) to a central command. In other words, no command and control entity at which Nigeria and its neighbors could direct conventional firepower. If there is no known commander, no headquarters, no uniforms, no barracks, who then is Nigeria fighting? And the territory that these attackers occupy span southern Niger Republic, to most of northern Nigeria, through to central Nigeria, to the northeast (including the infamous Sambissa Forest), northwest Cameroon and southwest Chad. This is a pretty darn huge swath of land with various weather, vegetation and topography, making it almost impossible to neutralize the enemy. Most serious analysts will recognize this and begin to think of ways to solve the problem. Wringing hands and folding arms are certainly not some of the options.
General Abayomi Olonishakin, Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) and Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), with possibly Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, Chief of Air Staff (CAS) need to take a series of helicopter rides across the areas mentioned above. If they do that, here is what they would discover:
Thousands and thousands of cattle being herded in different groups all heading from places like Maradi, Zinder and Differ in southern Niger, southward to northern Nigeria. These cattle, if you look further, are coming from Mali, going through the northern plains of Burkina Faso and entering Niger through its western border. The herders have enough sense to bypass Niamey, the capital of Niger and even avoid towns like Tillaberi and Dosso so that they would not incur the wrath of the people there. They skirt the edges of other major towns and head south into Nigeria.
There is no physical barrier whatsoever preventing these cattle and their herders from crossing any of the aforementioned countries and from entering Nigeria. Where there are physical border posts, most of the cattle do not go through them. They just grazed through the non-delineated international borders. In other words, Nigeria is losing tons of revenue on import duties from those bringing into the countries hundreds of thousands of these cattle on a daily basis.
Throughout their peripatetic ambulation from Mali or Burkina Faso or Niger, these herders do not carry weapons. They carry sticks and occasionally cutlasses. Certainly, no AK-47s. Yes, they ravage people’s farms along the way but they do not encounter serious pushbacks.
And before anybody writes back to me asking how I know this, listen carefully: I know because I have personally witnessed it. I have done the tedious work of following the cattle and learning the issues. I have put my feet on the ground in these places. So, two of the simple, obvious questions that these three senior officers should be asking include: Why are the herders carrying weapons in Nigeria when they do not carry weapons in all these other countries through which they have travelled?
From where are they getting these weapons?
The answer to the first question is easy: The herders do not encounter serious resistances when they move through farms in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. And even when they enter northern Nigeria, they are tolerated. Why? Cultural affinity. There are absolutely no physical or cultural differences between the Tuaregs, the Fulanis, the Zarmas or the Hausas of Mali and those found in Southern Burkina Faso, northern Ghana, northern Togo, northern Benin and northern Nigeria. They are nomads. When you see these people with their cattle, you do not see women with them. How do you think they satisfy nature’s call? Of course, they TAKE (without resistance) young girls that they find in the villages and settlements along their routes. Some of those settlements and villages – dirt poor with nothing…with people…human beings…literally scratching dust for food, living in thatched roof huts…in hot, dry, almost-prehistoric conditions, depending solely on seasonal plants and fruits that grow in their area during the short periods of rain – are all too happy to offer their women to these men who bring goats along with their cattle. This is not fable. This is hard fact that I personally encountered in some of these areas.
The herdsmen know these routes. They’ve been through them before. In fact, they’ve probably sired one or two offspring during previous visits. The villagers are probably relatives. While they lean more towards Islam, they are not even close to being religious…certainly not staunch Muslims. They don’t settle long enough in one place to build a grand mosque. And they don’t engage in proselytization. Those who say they care more about their cattle than they do about their children are dead right. All they care about are their cattle. When a herdsman is on the move with his cattle, meandering through the bushes (and people’s farms), he is with other grown-ups or older teenagers. The only time you see children (pre-teens) with them is when they are near a settlement. So, there is no resistance at all when they come through these areas where they share the same culture with the locals. Therefore, they do not need weapons in these areas.
But the deeper south they go in Nigeria, the more resistance they encounter. Nigerian farmers are beginning to resist the nonchalant ravaging of their crops. Also, western education has spread deeper into northern Nigeria. And so has Christianity. Fewer parents now want their girls to be impregnated by an absentee man, especially parents in places south of Niger, Kaduna, Plateau, Gombe and Adamawa states where Christian and Western mores have taken hold; and where these herdsmen seem to have been trapped. These have occasioned a dearth of “easy” girls that they could just TAKE. How then do you persuade a virile herdsman who has been living in the wilderness with cows for months, and who has not had a woman for the same period, to not forcibly TAKE a vulnerable young girl?
In anticipation of these resistances in Nigeria, the herdsmen got smart; they started acquiring all sorts of weapons as soon as they entered Nigeria, including the dreaded, easily-available, low-maintenance, standard-issue-for-many-countries-military, assault rifle – the AK-47. I have seen hundreds of cattle and their herders moving in the direction mentioned above without a single weapon. It is when they enter Nigeria that they acquire weapons and willfully brandish and use them. They may be itinerant people, unsophisticated in the ways of static Nigerians; they are not stupid. They know that they have one of “their” own at the helm of affairs in Nigeria. He will not support the kind of shoot-at-sight order that was recently issued by a regional police chief in Ghana to deal with Fulani (yes, they were identified as Fulani) herdsmen that were destroying farmlands in the Ghanaian Konongo area. (By the way, since that order was issued in January this year, there have been no further destruction of farmlands. And no herdsman has been seen with a weapon more lethal than a cutlass – meaning, word got to the herdsmen in the bushes!). 
Nigeria has to deal decisively with any and all kinds of security threats. Herdsmen armed with a weapon found with cattle eating crops that don’t belong to the herdsmen must be treated like an armed robber. There is no difference in what both do. They take things that belong to others with the threat and/or the actual use of a weapon. They should be shot at sight if caught in the act. And if not caught in the act, they should be arrested and prosecuted. Believe me, once a few of them have faced the wrath of the law, the word will get to the rest in the bushes. And they will conform just like they have in Ghana.
This is not the kind of mission for which the Nigeria Police Force is equipped or trained. As much as I abhor the use of our military for internal, law enforcement issues, this is something the military can and should do. The Federal government should label these attacks as Terrorism…which is what they are…and embark on a strategic re-orientation and re-organization of the military to combat it. Our military’s current posture and organization do not mirror the potentially existential threats that we currently face. Our military’s current Tactics, Techniques and Procedures – TTPs – are archaic and should be revamped to reflect our long and short-term threats. We are not likely to be invaded by Cameroon, Chad, Niger or Benin. And we are not saber-rattling with any country that could come at us from across the Atlantic. So, why do we still have formations equipped and trained to defend against such conventional battles that aren’t likely to happen while terrorists like Boko Haram and herdsmen are running rings around our military and making mincemeats out of us? 
We need to redouble our efforts at training for guerilla warfare – for that is what is needed to fight enemies that have no easily-identifiable command and control structures, no uniformed fighters, no static locations like barracks and no heavy fighting vehicles. We need to triple our efforts at intelligence collection, collation, analysis, dissemination and actuation.
Our military should be deployed in large, overwhelming and intimidating numbers, to the vulnerable areas of our borders to support the customs and immigration personnel. They should be supported with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) otherwise known as drones, that can operate at all times of the day in identifying and tracking people, cattle and weapons illegally entering our country. These are not cheap ventures. But with our Senators (109 of them) earning roughly N1.5 billion monthly, the members of the House of Representatives too not too far behind them, and all the ungodly perks going to members of the Executives at both the Federal and State levels, somebody with strong political cojones, integrity and strength of character can find the funds to do it. And I am sure members of our military will be glad to be so engaged. Every military officer worth his/her salt will be proud to defend the territorial integrity of his/her country (with his/her life, if necessary) as long as he/she knows that others, like the country’s civilian leadership, are doing what they are supposed to do.
I threw my support behind President Buhari in 2015 with the expectation that he would protect Nigeria and Nigerians from humiliating attacks like those we are now seeing. I thought he would repair the damage done to the military by his predecessors and build on the good they have done. Sadly, after three years, it would seem like the president has taken his foot off the pedal and the military has return to the old slide. It would seem like we have run out of ideas in the national security realm. This is very sad. I would do anything to be a fly on the wall, listening to Buhari’s national security team giving advice on how to deal with these security challenges. What advice are they offering?
* Abiodun Ladepo, formerly on the staff of The Guardian, is a Nigerian patriot and he writes from Ibadan, Oyo State

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