On my first day at the Nigeria Military School, as my father dropped me off, he said to me, ”Well son, you have chosen to be a property of Nigeria, I wish you luck.” Then he patted my head and bade me good bye as I went on to be documented along with other boys. My father is not given to showing emotions, but when I think back to that day, several times along my journey serving my country in the Nigerian military, and also dropping of my children in school for the first time, I appreciate the generosity and sacrifice my parents made in releasing me to follow my dream of serving my country as a soldier.
I recall that as life continued in the Military School, one of my instructors, Major A. T. Angaye of blessed memory often recounted stories of his life as a journalist before he joined the Army. He narrated how he admired the oratory of the late Biafran leader, Colonel Odimegwu Ojukwu as he covered the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s. His testimonies so inspired me that I began writing articles in the Junior Leader Magazine and Press Club outlets of the school as I looked forward to the time when I would be able to communicate my love for my country and the military to a larger audience.
This is 35 years, since my father made the destiny defining decision to send me to the Nigerian Military School, Zaria. Today, I feel privileged and deeply honoured to be recognized for an award by the AD King Foundation and to be speaking to this esteemed audience.
The Nigerian Army has given me every opportunity to pursue my dream along with my career as a soldier. Apart from affording me a university education, I was trained here in the United States Defence Information School (DINFOS), Indianapolis, an experience that shaped my dream of becoming a military information communicator.
Among other principles inculcated in us at DINFOS, I noted the emphasis on the essence of transparency in managing public information for the military. From my training on communications from the Nigerian Military School, DINFOS and other institutions around the world that I have been privileged to attend, I have derived and held on to the principles of information dissemination which must always be anchored on the vital elements of security, accuracy, policy and propriety. I have also found out that this approach remains invaluable and adaptable for a business, a school or a political campaign as it is for military campaigns.
My instructor in DINFOS, Captain Sawyer narrated the biblical story of how God was the first employer of the Public Relations or information officer or spokesperson whom he identified as Aaron and assigned him to communicate or act as spokesperson for Moses who had the leadership responsibility but was limited by communication challenges. Another Instructor in DINFOS, Professor (Mrs.) Hall also observed that while most professions of today’s world including medicine, law, and others may not be relevant in heaven because there would be no sickness, lawlessness, violence and other vices there, the need for communication would however remain indispensable eternally. Such remarks have remained inspiring in my pursuit of the exciting undertaking of managing information especially for the military.
Today, the world is faced with an elusive unrelenting enemy. Acts of terrorism inspired by extreme teaching have been carried out in countries as far apart and different as Thailand, Canada, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Russia, Israel, Iraq and the United States. The pedigree and history of extremist religion inspired terrorism organisations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda has become globally acknowledged. This ugly strain of criminality is threatening lives, peace and freedom around the world. As these terror groups continue to wage a war against democracy and freedom, they have relied on an effective weapon of war, which is more effective than guns and bombs; the weapon of fear. They have also realised and utilized the effectiveness of mass media in spreading their message of hate knowing that fear is best propagated through falsehood.
Fear has both short and long term devastating effect on individuals and nations. Fear and violence possess the capacity to destroy societies and civilizations. Criminals often rely on instilling fear in order to destabilize a trusted system and it is the major tool for terrorism and terrorists activities. The anxiety generated by fear destabilizes socio-economic and political life of any society. This would naturally pave the way for the achievement of their evil intentions.
The United States Department of Defence defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Within this definition, there are three key elements—violence, fear, and intimidation—and each element produces fear in its victims and the larger society. The strategy of terrorists is to commit acts of violence that draws the attention of the local populace, the government, and the world to their cause. They plan their attack to obtain the greatest publicity, choosing targets that symbolize what they oppose. The effectiveness of a terrorist act lies not in the act itself, but in the public’s or government’s reaction to it. These are the hallmark of the Boko Haram terrorists insurgency in Nigeria.
Although the phenomenon has been with us since the 80s especially during the Maitatsine religious uprising in Kano, Northern Nigeria, it assumed monstrous proportion with the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency which is currently ravaging the North eastern parts of Nigeria. This is why the work I do is more sensitive and important than most people would like to acknowledge. It is my job to diffuse the fear planted through the falsehood propagated by terrorists, and give hope and assurance of safety by using the only anti-missile for fear; the truth.
My attempt here is to examine the Boko Haram sect which has been prosecuting the terror campaign against Nigeria, its activities, the reaction of some sections of the international community and how the government of Nigeria is responding to the threat posed by the group without losing our pride in the comity of nations.
BOKO HARAM: A BACKGROUND
Although it prefers to be known formally as Ahlul Sunna Li Daawa Wal Jihad, it is popularly known as Boko Haram. This Sunni jihadist group advocates the Islamisation of law and society, the overthrow of Nigeria’s democratic government, and the creation of an Islamic state based on its own interpretation of Sharia law. Boko Haram supports a version of Islam that makes it forbidden (haram) for Muslims to participate in any social or political activity associated with Western society, such as voting in elections or receiving a secular education. The name “Boko Haram”, which can be translated from the local Hausa language into “Western education is sin,” makes clear the group’s denunciation of Western civilization and values.
The Hausa-speaking residents in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where the group has a significant number of disciples, dubbed it so, in the course of time. The media also adapted it for obvious reasons of brevity and understanding. Writing in the BBC News Magazine Monitor, Kabir Mohammed offers some useful insight into how the phrase “Boko Haram evolved. The word is derived from Arabic and it means forbidden, sinful or prohibited.
Kabir further observed that the word’s evolution is interwoven in anti-colonialism sentiments of people of the Northern Nigeria. In 1903 the Sokoto caliphate,which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon, fell under British control. The imposition of a non-Islamic education system generated some anger among the Muslims. The term “ilimin boko” was used to describe the kind of schooling the colonialists had brought. Literally “ilimi” is education (an “n” is added when it appears as part of a phrase). So ”ilimin boko” is fake education. They considered the education as fake because it was imposed on the Muslim society by foreigners and the foreigners involved were Westerners. The term or reference to “Western education” is therefore in a pejorative sense. Over time the phrase ilimin boko became shortened to just boko.
THE TERRORISTS INSURGENCY
Ironically, it is worth noting that Boko Haram does not reject completely the Western and modern world as it has successfully employed the use of mobile phones, video cameras, DVDs, and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and video sharing sites like YouTube and LiveLeak, to promote its campaign of terror. Even its choice arms and ammunition are products of western civilization.
The ideology of Boko Haram remains a threat not just to Nigeria and Nigerians but to all free nations and citizens of the world. In 2013, Human Rights Watch estimated that more than 3,000 people had been killed in the Boko Haram terrorists campaign. Its targets have included: civilians, political leaders, government buildings, police barracks, military establishment and personnel, newspaper offices, village markets, schools, churches and mosques. This has made Boko Haram one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world.
State of Emergency. In containing this insurgency, the Federal Government was constrained to declare a State of Emergency on 14 May 2013 in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa States in the North Eastern parts of the country, where the activities of terrorists were most prevalent. Gradually, this translated to a declaration of war. The results of the measure were the substantial containment of the activities of the terrorists within the first few months of the military campaign. Law and order as well as socio-economic activities which had been disrupted was swiftly restored in the affected communities along with a measure of relative peace. The Federal Government of Nigeria was encouraged to consolidate the gains by extending the State of Emergency period as demanded by the constitution.
Abduction of School Girls: A Watershed. The reported kidnap of over 270 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, a village in Southern Borno, in April 2014, and the subsequent global campaign for government to step up efforts towards their release marked a turning point in the sect’s terrorist activities. The foreign media have latched onto this angle of the story as a result of the dramatic nature of the kidnappings and exposed the activities of the sect to a wider global audience. At the same time the Nigerian government has come under intense scrutiny and criticisms for its seeming failure to restore normalcy to the region and rescue the school girls.
This turn of events has unfortunately promoted a number of activities that tend to undermine or diminish the impact of military offensive on the terrorists. The media began to promote reports that tended to celebrate the terrorists while denigrating or questioning virtually every effort or explanation by the military. Cashing in on this development also some activists, the media and politicians promoted stories or occurrences that tended to ridicule the military and the government. Perhaps, as they were engrossed in the excitement of this trends and the political mileage it secured for them, the campaigners were oblivious of the fact that their activities only served to ridicule our nation and dampen the spirit and commitment of our allies. Indeed, it has also continued to have very damaging effect on the morale and commitment of our troops.
While boosting the confidence of the terrorists who now engage in more daring attacks on troops and communities, the mindless and inciting criticism has continued to undermine the discipline, commitment, bravery, and sense of patriotism for which the Nigerian military was highly reputable and respected. The military leadership now contends with the burden of refuting unfounded allegations aimed at questioning its authority to command the troops while it has to ensure that discipline which is the indispensable virtue of the military is upheld; it grapples with curtailing tendencies such as negligence, instigated mutiny, cowardice, desertions and all forms of indiscipline that has surfaced in the military. Those who are orchestrating these campaigns are said to be seeking temporary political gains which observers have linked to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria.
National Pride/Image at Stake. It is also apparent that this tendency has also prompted the remarks that publicly expressed doubt in the nation’s security system and her ability to solve national security challenges. The United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs, Linda Thomas Greenfield put it bluntly in her remarks at a meeting of the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission on Regional Security held at Abuja recently. After narrating the efforts of her government in collaborating with Nigeria in the counter-terrorism campaign, she observed some setbacks in the operations and declared;
“This is a sober reality check for all of us. We are past time for denial and pride. The reputation of Nigeria’s military is at stake. But more importantly, Nigeria’s and its children’s future is in jeopardy. Failure is not an option”.
This charge is not only thought-provoking, it also captures the desperation of the situation and moves us to reexamine our stance on the war against terror. As we wage a war against evil elements that seek to destroy our nation, can we afford to forget our national pride as she counseled?
The media in Nigeria seem to subscribe to the idea that reporting war should be at the expense and detriment of the nation’s image or collective destiny. The sacrifices being made by security agencies to protect the rest of the society from terrorists is often downplayed while occasional lapses are over-dramatized with all manner of sensationalism. It appears that responsible reporting is a favour which the military or government hardly ever deserve. Naturally, the foreign media have latched into this disdain for objective reportage in the coverage of military operations in this war against terrorism and proceeded to globalize the unfounded assault on the nation’s military and image.
The terrorists have also mastered the psychology of the international community and they create phantom stories that feed into pre-conceived notions about the military institution. The fact that their actions violate human rights of hundreds of thousands of people including thousands of children they kidnap, rape and convert to child soldiers using them as human shields in battle with Nigerian soldiers, is now well known. Yet, each time the terrorists try to project the noble state institutions that is fighting them as human rights violators most times using nameless and faceless collaborators, the reports are widely publicised. Unfortunately some sections of the media in my country and the global press have either swallowed the bait or decided to ignore the facts and pursue partisan a agenda.
It is unfortunate that the Nigerian military is often accused of all kinds of allegations including ineptitude, propaganda, high-handedness and gross human rights violation. Even prior to the major onslaught on terrorists, the media and some activists had used the incident in “Baga” to scandalize the Nigerian military based on a spurious report alleging the the killing of hundreds of innocent citizens in Baga settlement in Borno state. Accordingly, the decision in some western countries to deny or deprive the Nigerian military of crucial intelligence and weaponry in the fight against terror has been attributed to these allegations even when no concrete evidence has ever been provided to support these claims of human rights abuses to date. Ironically, human rights abuses by the terrorists in their rampage against Nigerians is placed on the back burner and hardly ever considered as a vital issue in this war against terrorism.
Following the increased global scrutiny that the Chibok kidnappings has attracted to Nigeria as the Boko Haram terrorists insurgency rages on in the north eastern parts of the country, our security apparatus are challenged like never before in the fight to restore normalcy and balance to the social political and economic landscape on the one hand; and to restore our pride and dignity as a nation capable of taking care of its domestic problems no matter the dimension it might have taken on the other hand.
In reporting on this war against terrorism, the Western media frames its reportage along a pre-conceived negative stereotype of African nations as corrupt and incapable of handling their own affairs. As a result, our country and our men and women in uniform are unfairly casted in the worst light. Trying to change this frame even in the face of irrefutable evidence remains daunting. The totality of the foregoing scenario has challenged the information management apparatus of the military and government. This is to be expected as every Nigerian with a sense of pride is worried by the crisis of confidence that the nation is facing on the international scene.
At a timelike this, adherence to our principles of information dissemination, observing the factors that promote transparency are even more relevant. This is when my team and I become even more committed to observing the elements of security, accuracy, policy, and propriety in communication. We do this with due pride in the gallantry of the brave men and women of the military and security forces of Nigeria on the frontlines. We tell the truth because we know that this war is not only of tanks and guns; it is a battle between good and evil. This terrorism is an assault on our people’s peace and freedom and only good and truth can overcome this evil.
NIGERIA’S NATIONAL PROSPECTS AND PRIDE
Nigeria gained political independence from the British in 1960 after over 6 decades of British imperialism. The British ruled what is today’s Nigeria, as two distinct entities known then as northern and southern Nigeria until 1914 when the Southern and Northern protectorates were amalgamated. Although Nigeria’s centenary celebration once again reminded us of the fault lines that have dogged the nation since 1914, the atmosphere of uncertainty brought about by the Boko Haram terrorists insurgency, as it continues to sow the seeds of sectarianism and religious schism in the country, remains a challenge that the nation is poised to handle.
It is noteworthy that we have survived a civil war, social and political unrests, and several religious upheavals in the last 100 years of our existence as a nation. Having survived the first century of nationhood despite these unfortunate experiences that have shaken the very foundation of our country, we can only look forward with a sense of pride to the next hundred years with renewed hope, vigour and certainty that this period would herald even greater prospect for Nigeria and her people. Nigeria has come a long way and our achievements inspire national pride in every true citizen of the country. Terrorism cannot kill our dreams and our national aspirations.
Irrespective of these acts of terrorism that tend to deal serious blows on Nigeria’s national pride, Nigeria remains a unique and distinctively blessed country in the African continent. As the largest black nation in the world, it is estimated that one out of every five black person is a Nigeria. It has the largest population in Africa as some estimates put our population at 170 million. It is the largest democracy in Africa, the largest producer of crude oil on the continent. Nigeria is unarguably the continent’s largest economy with the largest Gross Domestic Producto on the African continent. Our economy is growing at an annual rate of 7%. We have a national target of maintaining the momentum and becoming one of the 20 largest economies of the world in a decade. We receive the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa. Our movie industry is the largest in Africa and the third largest in the world.
NIGERIA IN THE CONTEXT OF GLOBAL TRENDS
Perhaps, Nigeria would be given a chance if consideration is given to the history and experience of other nations. It has been asserted that but for her capacity, given the events that have shaken the country in the last 50 years, Nigeria would have collapsed by now. How many countries at least in Africa can withstand what Nigeria experienced in the last two years under the assault of well-funded and globally connected terrorists like Boko Haram and still survive?
In Iguala, Mexico about 43 students were kidnapped from school by police officers under command of a city leader who, apparently, also moonlights as an organised crime leader. This incident is the continuing narrative of a nation under the siege of drug and organised crime cartels and in which tens of thousands of people have been brutally murdered, yet the international media has not beamed it search light on Mexico and its dysfunction as much as it did on Nigeria during the wake of the Chibok school kidnappings. Have the American military campaigns in the Middle East especially, in Iraq and Syria, faced the same level of media scrutiny that Nigeria is facing? With coalition, money and military resources so far deployed to fighting the Islamic State (ISIS), western powers are yet to dislodge ISIS from Iraq and Syria. Irrespective of its large intelligence resources, the “lone wolf” phenomenon is on the increase in Western countries as exemplified in the Canadian Parliament attack and the “axe attack” in NewYork recently.
Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the critical promise of “degrading and defeating” ISIS is presently being rephrased as a long drawn war that would take years to accomplished as against the initial narrative that suggested that American military might and its coalition partners would rout the terrorist group within days. But this has not materialised. The ISIS fighters have adapted to American air strikes and as it seems are ready for a long drawn war with Western forces in attempts to sustain their self declared caliphate.
The lessons the international community can draw from the Nigerian situation include the fact that fighting a terrorist organisation whether ISIS or Boko Haram is an intricate operation. There is no magic bullet. In fact there are parallels to be drawn between Boko Haram and ISIS, in their religious bigotry, brutality, and territorial ambition.
Although peculiar, the problem we are grappling with today has been long in the making but the malaise presented by the fallout of terrorism is not unique to Nigeria. The Nigeria government has never assumed that this is a problem with only a military solution. All sectors of the nation have a role to play in bringing this monster to an end. The Goodluck Jonathan administration has tried to address the problem of insurgency with a multi-prong approach: education, infrastructural development, agriculture, safe school initiative along with the deployment of security operatives, amongst others.
On why Nigeria has, allowed the problem to fester for this long or why has the country failed despite its oil wealth to adequately equip it military to be able to provide internal security and to fend off external aggression, I think the answer is obvious. Like our well-respected Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said at a forum a few days ago, the question has to do with competing needs. Do you invest in military hardware or do you provide bread and butter for your hungry citizens? I think the choices are not easy for any government to make.
All I have done along with others in the ongoing counterterrorism dissemination of military information is to work for peace and progress to prevail in my country, Nigeria and to show the world how far the Nigerian Armed Forces have subordinated themselves to civil control.
In this humble task I have always looked at the security of our troops and the masses in the three North East states of the country, the propriety of using unrestricted military information against propaganda, and as the federal government’s policies on internal military operations as well as the accuracy of the information the military puts out to elicit public support for the military campaign in parts of the country. In doing that, I never for once stopped to consider whether I die or live but, like Socrates, that Greek philosopher who always asked himself when he acted, ‘Did I do the right thing or the wrong, perform the deed of a good man or a bad man?’, I always ask myself, ‘Am I really doing it in accordance with best practices in military affairs?’
Although, I have always known that the Bald Eagle, that policeman of the world is watching us, I never knew that an organization as noble and lofty as the AD King Foundation is also watching, albeit, ‘with keen interest and following line by line, precept by precept’ our method of information dissemination, and even getting ready to honour me with Award for Excellence in Defence Information Dissemination. All I have done so far is for God and Country. I dare say that with this undeserved award I resolve to do more to save my dear country the agony of information mishandling in the insurgency and the human-induced cataclysm sweeping the North East states.
I have never consciously disseminated propaganda in the course of the struggle with the terrorists in our country neither have I tried to sway public opinion or even persuade the Nigerian people to back the military campaign in that troubled region using inordinate or unrestrained appeals. Rather, I have tried to present the facts of the campaign as faithfully as possible within the limits of knowledge and reason leaving a twinge of hope for our people and well-wishers of our nation.
I do not pretend to be a man of unearthly behaviours, one who has no tragic flaws, but where it is in the national interests and matters of professional conduct I endeavour to allow the universal military ethos to be my guide.
Notwithstanding, my job has been made easy by the ongoing military transformation in Nigeria. Apart from radical improvements in the troops and equipment deployments, there is a significant shift in attitudes wherein the military hierarchies allow military information managers to disseminate information about the military actions in the North East towards fostering greater good of the greatest number of the Nigerian people.
We have since decided that it is not enough to cater to the military whims alone. We must also serve the people’s needs. Hence, for humanity’s sake we have decided that the best that we can do in the prevailing circumstance should be to disseminate a balanced blend of firm and people-focused pieces of information from the military to give reasonable hope to the troops and, satisfaction to both the Nigerian and international audiences. Infact, we are aware that disseminating information that promotes the military cause alone could be counterproductive as mere publicity of the operation in the North East states.
However, well-intentioned information dissemination should not be done in a way that evokes fear in the general public and turn the security forces into a big brother. The hard fact as it appears now is that a very vocal number of people in our home audiences want the military spokesman to admit that Boko Haram has superior firepower. But that is ridiculous and untrue. It is utterly baseless and conspiratorial because the fact remains that the Nigerian military is not fighting a conventional warfare as the insurgents fight sporadically and melt back to the social system.
What then is the objective of those who insist on this narrative? Apparently, the intention is both clear and suggestive: to portray Nigeria as a failed state. The purpose also is to tell the world that democratic governance is not workable in Nigeria. Ultimately, the intention is to ridicule our armed forces and make them seem incapable of safeguarding the sovereignty of the Nigerian state. It is equally pertinent to ask: What is this rebellion and conspiracy aiming for? I dare say again that it is all towards presenting Nigeria as relapsing into a savage military dictatorship that ought to be sanctioned and derided as a big-for-nothing Africa giant. Nigeria and, indeed, the whole of Africa have had their fare shares of political debacles, but we need and cherish political stability wherein every Nigerian citizen – irrespective of tribe, religion, gender, age, political affiliation, and social status can live in peace and democracy. The style we have adopted in the dissemination of information so far seeks to foster world conversation about Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
If national pride is a positive disposition that the public has towards its country, Nigerians certainly have a sense of national pride resulting from their national identity which has been shaped by the unique societal and historical circumstance that brought about the Nigerian nation. The current spate of insurgency cannot diminish our national pride; it is only a setback in our national evolution. This crisis would not break us but rather would make us stronger and better prepared for the challenges of the rest of the 21st century.
I thank AD King Foundation for recognizing our modest contribution to winning the fight against terror in Nigeria. This recognition is not only humbling but reassuring at a time when we face our steepest challenges in preserving the unity of one of the greatest countries on the surface of the earth. There is no mistaking the fact that Nigerians love their country and will not allow the enemy a foothold in any part whether its name is Boko Haram or any other. The ideology of hate and terrorism will have no place in Nigeria. This is the purpose to which the Nigerian military has committed itself in the face of all odds.
One is inspired by the words of renowned teacher, author, and the champion of purpose, Dr. Myles Monroe who said, “The greatest tragedy of life is not death, but a life lived without purpose”.
Indeed, with the present circumstances, there could be no better purpose than defending our country, her people and civilization. With God and all good people around the world who believe in freedom, justice, and democracy on our side, we will defeat terror, terrorism and all their allies.
Major General Chris Olukolade delivered this while receiving the prestigious Alfred Daniel King Foundation award as a distinguished Military Information Expert, in Atlanta Georgia, United States of America