The Presence of Foreign Troops in Africa’s Largest Economy is Comforting And Yet Humiliating; It Also Sets A Bad Precedent
Sooner or later a house of cards built on a rotten foundation would show its deficiencies, and much sooner the builder would be called upon to give account of his moral turpitude, and ineptitude. The presence of foreign troops and private mercenaries on Nigerian soil for the sole purpose of rescuing the country from the ravages of a band of nebulous militants should give every Nigerian with a pulse an elevated blood pressure. For a very important reason it calls into question the current government’s ability to discharge its most sacred obligation to its citizenry, which is to protect lives and material welfare of those whose affairs it governs. One indisputable truth is that Boko Haram preceded the government of President Jonathan; another is that President Jonathan had six years to disinfect the country of Boko Haram but elected to wish and pray them out of existence, never mind that the biblical days of direct heavenly interventions are long gone. As a consequence a rag-tag of disaffected militants took roots in Northeastern Nigeria, and unleashed unspeakable havoc on the innocents.
Another undisputed fact is that the once mighty Nigerian military that prided itself on its ability to project military power to different conflict zones in Africa has been brought to heels is a sad commentary on how the country’s resources have been badly mismanaged. Despite increases in the military’s annual budget, some military personnel spend their meager salary (when they are paid) on uniforms, and are sent to fight the militants with guns that would embarrass a WWII veteran. The idea that mercenaries, and troops from some of the poorest countries on the African continent (Chad, Niger, and Cameroon) would be obliged to rescue Nigeria from Boko Haram would have been laughable in President Obasanjo’s tenure in office.
But with these realities come troubling questions. Why did the military of the largest economy on the African continent fail so miserably? If foreign fighters and mercenaries operate openly and freely within the territorial competence of Nigeria, who provides the necessary checks and balances required to protect Nigerian civilians from possible abuses by these ‘benevolent guests?’ Put differently, while Nigerians should be grateful for the assistance being provided by the regional joint task force, would the cure eventually mutate into a more serious disease that reeks greater havoc in the aftermath of Boko Haram? And if this unfortunate scenario were to materialize, who is to stop them given the apparent impotence of the Nigerian military?
These questions aside, it is worth the pains to ponder why it took so long for President Jonathan to actively seek help from foreign actors in the war against Boko Haram with full knowledge of the limitations of his military. Pundits on this matter have pointed to politics and utter ineptitude as possible explanatory vectors, and argued that if President Jonathan had shown the same sense of urgency a year ago he now displays with the presidential election only days away, the country would have been a much safer place. This conjecture is both plausible and troubling, for if the new found will and urgency to defeat Boko Haram are propelled by political expediency, and given that President Jonathan had six years to address this matter, then his whole essence as a leader and a moral being are everlastingly called into question.
But Mr. Jonathan cannot bear the entire blame for inaction, and lack of care for the welfare of Nigerians before many of them became victims of Boko Haram. Past Nigerian administrators that negotiated terms with terrorists that operated in Southern Nigeria bear significant responsibility for what the country now endures. By negotiating and paying-off terrorists to stop being criminals, past administrators rewarded terrorists and kidnappers for bad behavior, and this, in all probabilities, made Boko Haram possible. African States as a collectivity, and Western powers that have first hand experience of the evils of terrorism are not without blame for allowing Boko Haram to fester. For all its pretenses on war against terror, the United States refused to offer direct assistance and immediate relief to President Jonathan on the grounds that his security forces were negligent and abusive of the human rights of the founder of Boko Haram when he was captured and executed. It mindlessly stretches rational thought in contemplation that the United States would refuse assistance to a clearly weakened state in its battle against terrorists on the grounds of human rights while holding Muslims prisoners for years in Guantanamo Bay without charges or trial. If America had offered needed assistance early in the war effort, the current crises would have been remarkably different with a better outcome. The American government apparently forgot that Boko Haram would make no distinction between Nigerians and Americans in its brutality.
In the final analysis, however, Boko Haram is, and remains a Nigerian problem with regional and international implications, and as such it is a problem that must be solved by Nigerian initiatives. That Nigeria has failed so miserably to contain and solve the Boko Haram question is largely attributable to a bankrupt administration riddled with bureaucratic corruption and ineptitude. But there is hope, and all is not lost; and come March 28 one can only hope that Nigerian electors would choose pragmatism over ethnic and religious sensibilities, and sweep away the incumbent gang of administrators that cannot shot straight. The only question that now matters is how big a broom should Nigerians take to the polls.