By Richard Murphy
In August 2015, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, had cause to commend Nigeria’s effort towards counter terrorism in the West African sub region.
He said while speaking at a Dialogue on extreme violence and other issues bedeviling Africa that though no country can tackle the threat of terrorism on its own, Nigeria’s increased cooperation with countries of the region is welcomed.
It came as a little pat on the back for Nigeria given that it had only recently then experienced a regime change and the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was putting structures to confront the challenges.
But three years down the line, Nigeria qualified for more than a pat on the back from world leaders.
United States president, Donald Trump, while speaking about Nigeria’s fight against terrorism at a joint press conference with President Buhari at the White House, in April 2018, had more to say about Nigeria in that regard.
While thanking President Muhammadu Buhari for Nigeria’s partnership and leadership role in the fight against terrorism, Trump said, “Nigeria was one of the first African nations to join the coalition to defeat ISIS, and Nigerian forces are currently leading regional efforts against ISIS in West Africa, and doing very well.”
He said, “Nigeria is also leading African nations in the fight against Boko Haram, and — another ruthless jihadist terrorist group.”
Terrorism, defined as the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims; and insurgency, a rebellion against a constituted authority when those taking part in the rebellion are not recognized as belligerents has been recorded in many parts of the globe for centuries.
The Nigerian army even when it was part of a West African Frontier Force, is not new to both as it has been involved in counter terrorism and anti-insurgency operations mostly outside Nigeria since the 60s and has given good accounts of itself wherever it is involved.
Nigeria according to verifiable documents, has contributed more than 20,000 troops to various UN missions since 1960.
What is worthy of note in all these exercises is that Nigerian troops have come out with higher reputation as disciplined and well trained force after each assignment and has been the leader in many tough military assignments.
It has been sent on UN and ECOWAS missions as far as in the former Yugoslavia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and other places .
When UN forces in Somalia were trapped and humiliated by rebel forces at the beginning of the war in Somalia, Nigerian troops led in the operation that later restored sanity, albeit temporarily to the war torn country.
The troops for that particular operation were drawn from Nigerian Army’s 231 battalion in Biu and were trained at the Nigerian Armed Forces Simulation Center in Jaji.
Nigeria through its troops has also played a prominent role in the West African sub-region through the commitment of substantial military capacity to peace keeping missions.
The reputation of the Nigerian army in counter insurgency operations was so high at a time that its expertise was being sought in all troubled spots across the globe.
This had seen the Nigerian army leading the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) force to Mali and contributing 900 of its troops to that country.
The role Nigeria played in restoring democracy to countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia has remained green in the memory of the citizens of these countries who never fail to applaud Nigeria’s role in saving their countries from unending wars and bloodshed.
In October 2004, Nigerian troops again were deployed into Darfur, Sudan to spearhead an African Union force to stop the genocide in Darfur.
Nigeria’s role as a big brother was constantly accentuated by the success of its military in every given mission.
But as the Nigerian army fought for other countries, the time came for its capacity to be tested at home.
The first was in the late 60s when the civil war broke out and the second was the taking up of arms against the Nigerian state by the Boko Haram terrorists in 2009. On both occasions, Nigerian army showed it has the capacity to reenact the feat it has achieved abroad at home.
As the largest component of the Nigerian Armed Forces responsible for land warfare operations, the NA bears the brunt of the nation’s security challenges.
It did not disappoint even with asymmetric warfare introduced by the Boko Haram and later the ISWAP terrorists. It is well known how the army was called in to intervene when the insurgency of the Boko Haram got out of hand in its early days and how the army discharged its duties effectively and arrested the sect’s leader and handed him over to another agency.
It took several years after that before the insurgents again regrouped and took up arms against the Nigerian state. But even after that, the Nigerian army has been relentless in proving its capacity to safeguard the country.
This much came to the fore with the coming of Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai as the Chief of Army Staff.
This time the focus shifted from launching counter attacks to leading offensives against the insurgents and in their turf. The operations became so successful that the terrorists could no longer launch attacks on communities as any attempt they make are preempted and dispelled.
In 2015, the Nigerian army repelled an attack by suspected Boko Haram militants in the town of Biu in the north-eastern state of Borno where the militants had entered the town firing guns very early in the morning causing many residents to flee. The army had engaged the militants in intense battle and the insurgents were killed and driven back and calm was restored to the town. There have been several other instances after that but mentioning a few remarkable ones would suffice.
In June 2019, Nigerian troops again thwarted an ISWAP attack on a military formation in the Northeast where the Boko Haram came in seven gun trucks and motorcycles and stormed the base at Goniri, Yobe State. The ambush did not succeed as dozens of the terrorists were annihilated while many of them fled with injuries.
In that encounter, five gun trucks, weapons and rounds of ammunition were recovered from the militants, while their motorcycles were destroyed. Again in December 2019, Nigerian troops fought back Boko Haram insurgents at Gonar Bukar settlement on Gashua Road on the outskirts of Damaturu, the Yobe capital. They had attempted to infiltrate Damaturu metropolis in the evening and troops engaged the insurgents and sent them fleeing.
Then in January this year there was massive shooting in Monguno, a major town in northern Borno State, as the Nigerian military repelled an attack by the terrorists.
Suspected members of the ISWAP faction of Boko Haram attempted to invade the community that now serves as a mega camp for internally displaced persons and soldiers battled for several hours to repel the attack. In March 2020 Nigerian troops also devastated Boko Haram militants in Damboa, a town 85 kilometers away from Maiduguri.
Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, who is slow in commendation was so overwhelmed that he was full of praises for the Nigerian troops. He said the troops demonstrated unprecedented gallantry when they tackled the insurgents saying 19 gun trucks were recovered from the insurgents while an unspecified large number of them were killed. “I find it compelling to salute our gallant soldiers of the Nigerian Army and Air Force, under operation Lafiya Dole for a decisive blow against Boko Haram insurgents on Wednesday morning in Damboa town,” he said.
In all, the Nigerian army has shown that it is unrivalled in the fight against insurgency and terrorism.
Murphy is a security expert and wrote this piece from Calabar