Critical Conversations

Insurgency and Banditry in Nigeria Can Be Defeated in 6 Months

Presently, Nigeria is confronted with a plethora of security challenges ranging from the ubiquitous farmer-herder conflict to banditry, kidnappings, abductions, and revived secessionist movements. The list seems endless. For a long time now, the Nigerian  media space has been blackened with shocking reports of persistent violent  attacks nationwide.

From the north to the southeast and west, the story is not too different. Newspaper headlines provide grim and saddening reports of insurgent attacks, bandit attacks, and all sorts of criminalities every week. Despite the heroic efforts of the country’s Armed Forces in trying to stem the tide of violence, precious lives are still being lost on a daily basis.

Regrettably, the population of the country’s Armed Forces is remarkably and extremely small in relation to the country’s landmass, the expanding theatres of conflict and the citizens’ expectations regarding a military that could crush insecurity and restore peace to every part of the country. Many soldiers have paid the supreme price in the fight to defend their fatherland, and the attrition rate in the military does not drop. 

Even the President, Muhammadu Buhari has acknowledged the fact that Nigeria is facing “a state of emergency” as a result of ongoing insecurity which understates the complexity and multidimensional nature of the country’s security challenges.

To underscore Nigeria’s struggles in containing these enormous security challenges, the President in a recent virtual meeting with US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, appealed to the US government to consider relocating its African Command (AFRICOM) from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any part of Africa. The aim is to assist Nigeria and other African countries in combating worsening terrorism, banditry and other security vices. 

Various diplomatic, scholarly, and practitioner perspectives have all discussed the links between the country’s current security challenges and the need for the country to rethink the structure of her security architecture.

With insecurity concerns assuming a wider scale and the theatres of engagement expanding to various nooks and crannies of the country, the urgency for massive recruitments into the Nigerian Army has never been more pressing than it is today.

A Nigerian Army of 120,000 active personnel, and the entire Armed Forces (the army included) with far less than 200,000 active personnel is grossly inadequate to effectively combat insurgency, secession threats and insecurity in the country. This is even made worse by the fact that the military, in addition to its constitutional roles, is now primarily depended upon to carry out critical policing functions of internal security in the country.

The view for massive recruitments is shared by many military and security leaders operating around the theatres of conflict in the country. Political leaders, like the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, have also expressly canvassed this perspective.

Read Also: Nigeria at War: State of Emergency Needed

A few months ago, Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, declared that Nigeria would require about 100,000 more soldiers to win the war against Boko Haram; just Boko Haram only.

He went further to suggested that at least 50,000 of the recruits should come from Borno, irrespective of whether or not they have western education, to prosecute the ongoing war against terror.

The Governor further urged President Muhammadu Buhari and the military to revisit the strategy used in 2016/2017 when Nigerians were celebrating the demise of Boko Haram so that the insurgents would be defeated once and for all.

The Governor’s words: “Take my words, the military doesn’t have the manpower; Kindly advise the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate President to tell Mr. President to urgently approve the massive recruitment of soldiers. We need about 100,000 more to be recruited into the Nigerian Army. They should come and employ the locals whether they have western education or not.

“We need to recruit nothing less than 50,000 men from Borno; we have able-bodied men that can join the Nigerian Armed Forces on an ad-hoc basis.”

Governor Zulum added that he will always admit that the Buhari administration did so much to degrade Boko Haram when it came to power in 2015, but that the situation has now degenerated with the renewed attacks on the state.  “One important thing that we have to do is to take the fight into their enclaves. The whereabouts of Boko Haram are known to all of us. It is known to the people of Borno State; it is known to the military. But soldiers cannot go after them due to lack of manpower.”

Zulum’s comments were made months ago when the South East still had relative peace; there was no Eastern Security Network formed by the banned Independent People of Biafra (IPOB). At this time as well, banditry was still at its “infancy”, while the exponents of the Oduduwa republic were not bold enough to even hold a press conference. 

Now a lot has changed. Dissident elements, emboldened by the survival of Boko Haram/ISWAP, have stepped up subversive activities across the country. The numerous security challenges in virtually all the regions have substantially bogged down the advancement of the military.

The Northeast and Northwest have large landmass and massive ungoverned spaces, thousands of forests included. To overcome armed groups and insurgents who use those huge spaces effectively to their advantage, the military needs substantial manpower backed up by technological warfare equipment, adequate logistics, and superb intelligence gathering. 

According to Governor Zulum, the military in Borno needs “stabilisation mechanism” on the ground during a military operation. This underscores the need for critically enhanced manpower to hold a place; “without manpower, you cannot hold a place; and peace cannot reign.”

Read Also: Buhari Needs Emergency Power to tackle Insecurity

Gov Zulum’s assertions are not strange in any way. In my article titled, “Buhari Needs Emergency Powers to Tackle Insecurity,” published late last year in This Day and  The Journal, I buttressed the need to draw parallels between Nigeria’s current situation and what happened during the civil war over five decades ago.

Prosecuting the war was not without huge and frightening challenges to the Federal Government led then by General Gowon. Nigeria had gone into the Civil War in 1967 with just about 5000 soldiers in its army. By 1969 and to force the war to an end, there were massive recruitments and Nigeria had well over 250,000 men in its army. That was the foremost factor that helped the Federal troops to overrun Biafra and reclaim the country. Aerial bombardments were critical, but without the sheer number of soldiers who were everywhere in the theatre of war, Biafra would have continued to recover itself. There were federal boots in every available space within recovered territories.

The significant point that must be made and firmly established is that, in going to war, a nation’s military requires both strategic and programmatic approaches. After over ten years of engaging insurgency in the country, the Nigerian President and the National Assembly need to be brutally decisive in dealing with insecurity in the country. The onus is on them to give the Nigerian Army, the entire Armed Forces in general all that they need to crush insurgency, secession threats and insecurity.

Nigeria needs to inundate her space with a near-ubiquitous military presence to make the needful statement against the Boko Haram fighters and bandits with boots everywhere the ground.

There should be a timeline for increasing the number of recruits into the military to 400,000 well-trained active personnel. This is completely achievable within six months. But the President and the National Assembly must provide the resources. The solution to Nigeria’s security issues is not with the military; it is with the President and the National Assembly who are required to enable the Nigerian military with such critical capacity that would deal the death blow to our security challenges.

Looking at the statistics, 120,000 active personnel in the Nigerian Army for our landmass and a population of over 200 million people; that’s a joke. Pakistan, as populated as Nigeria and also battling terrorism, has a military strength of 1,204,000 personnel and 550,000 as reserves.

Examining the financials, for a country riddled with security challenges, Nigeria spends less than one percent of its GDP on defence. This is also a joke!  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank recommend at least 1.5 percent of a nation’s GDP on security for countries without major security issues. 

The shortfalls listed above have led to problems of low morale within the military. Last year, there were media reports of applications for voluntary retirement of about 356 Nigerian soldiers, which was approved by the Defence Headquarters. The retiring soldiers cited ‘loss of interest’ as the reason for their disengagement. A report also claimed that the majority of them were attached to the Northeast operations and some have served continuously for more than three years with no relief coming so that they could even spend a few months with their families. They had no option but to throw in the towel.

The lack of manpower can contribute in diverse ways to the huge trend of disenchantment of soldiers within the ranks and this will only lead to more exits from the services.

What has happened to the recent resolutions of the Senate and the House of Representatives calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency on security without further delay? Why is the National Assembly itself not taking the bull by the horn?

While it is very important to address other pressing political issues surrounding Nigeria’s security, unity and sovereignty, the fight against insecurity, insurgency, banditry, and kidnappings can be decisively won in six months if the President and the National Assembly rise to do the needful in respect of massive recruitments into the Nigerian Army, and ensure that the corollaries of such recruitments are met.

Udu Yakubu is a multidisciplinary strategist and publisher of The Journal. He can be reached at:

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