By Sonia O’Abah
Flash-back to the Iraqi War of 2003. As the battle heightened and the United States military forces continued to inch closer to victory, the world was being treated to an elephant-size farce. Iraq’s Minister of Information, Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahhaf, was at the centre of this mind-boggling farces.
Spinning the sort of propaganda that would have made even Adolf Hitler’s notorious propagandists green with envy, Saeed would claim that his master, Saddam Hussein, was about to triumph even when the whole world could see the opposite scenario unfolding before our eyes on television. While Iraq was bowing to the invaders’ superior fire-power, Comical Ali (as he was fondly called) kept proclaiming that the USA was being pummeled from the left, right, and centre.
Fast-forward to Nigeria of 2014. In the heat of the recent onslaught by the radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram, Nigerians nay the world, was made to believe that reprieve was at hand at long last. A “ceasefire” had been signed, sealed, and delivered we were solemnly informed. There would be no more Boko Haram bombing, kidnapping and seizure of territories. In fact, so the tale goes, the Chibok schoolgirls (who have unwittingly become symbols of this unprecedented surgency) would be released in a matter of days.
What makes this narrative particularly believable is that the man at the centre of it all is no Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaaf. On the contrary, the man who broadcast that heart-warming “news” is none other than Air Marshal Alex Badeh, the chief of Defence staff of the federal Republic of Nigeria. Not someone who would put his credibility on the line as easily or cheaply as a “Comical Ali” would do.
But, alas, how tales unravel! Barely had the Defence Chief finished speaking with all the authority he could muster, than the unexpected started to happen. Boko Haram, the same group that had purportedly agreed to a ceasefire, intensified its insurgency with abandon. So much so that even Vimtim, the hometown of Air Marshal Alex Badeh, fell like a pack of cards barely a couple of days after the so-called ceasefire was announced.
And as if to leave no room for any shred of doubt, the rampaging gang unambiguously declared that it hadn’t agreed to any ceasefire with the federal government, nor would it ever agree to any such deal in future. Worse of all, this announcement was made by the same Boko Haram leader which the Nigerian military had claimed to have killed not so long ago; Abubakar Shekau.
Shekau, it would be recalled, had beed pronounced “dead” or “killed” at least once in recent months, only for the same “dead” man to later proclaim that not only was he alive but was ready to take his Jihad to another level. It would also be recalled that shortly after the over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Chibok last April, the military had announced with full authority that the ill-fated girls had been rescued. No sooner was this so-called rescue announced than it emerged that aside from the handful of students who had escaped on their own, no single captive had been freed by the military.
From the foregoing (as well as many other such claims by officialdom which soon proved to be less than reliable –including claims that certain towns had not been captured by Boko Haram when in fact the motley gang had become of the manor there) it has become increasingly obvious that the comparatively rag-tag insurgents have been having the upper hand – at least so far – in the propaganda arena.
“Basically, what those chaps (Boko Haram) have been doing is to let our security officials either contradict themselves or contradict the truth/facts on the ground,” said a military analyst who asked not to be named for security reasons. “Boko Haram would then bid their time a bit, then come out through their usual channel to not only refute or contradict officialdom’s position. In the process of doing so their credibility rating would be reinforced, leaving the military smarting from yet another misadventure.”
What has continued to puzzle not a few compatriots is that not so long ago the federal government had moved to stop such embarrassing scenarios once and for all. In the process, it was decided that henceforth all significant announcements regarding the anti-terror war would be made by the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA). The idea was to ensure that never again would the different aims of the security agencies and military establishment work at cross-purpose in terms of information dissemination.
But as poignantly demonstrated in the “ceasefire” fiasco, that painstakingly forged arrangement has not been all that effective. What went wrong? According to several sources contacted by our correspondent, the belief in the federal seat of power is that the whole mess, which has left the Armed Forces and security agencies looking rather like rag-tag outfits, is not only the work of fifth columnists, but due to the rivalry and consequent shenanigans on the part of those in sensitive positions of authority.
Putting the matter in proper perspective, one of the sources remarked: “Recall that earlier this year President Jonathan himself had famously declared that Boko Haram had infiltrated his government. Not long after that some military officers were arrested for alleged “cowardice” on the battle front (an euphemism for a more damning offence) and, in fact, they are being tried by a military tribunal right now.”
He added: “As early as last weekend, some Lagos-based papers reported that in the course of the military’s onslaught against Boko Haram in Mubi, at least one senior officer was arrested for alleged collaboration with the terrorists. Billions of naira believed to have been funneled by the insurgents was allegedlytraced to his bank account. What all the foregoing means is that the anti-terror war is being seriously undermined from within.”
To make matters wors, another source squealed, mistrust, cold war and battles of supremacy battle. For instance, the Defence Minister was widely reported in the media recently to have threatened to resign allegedly due to the “uncooperative attitude” of his colleagues.
Worried by the raging war of attrition among his Generals, President Goodluck Jonathan has reportedly finalized moves to effect a change of guard in the military and security establishment. “Aside from the Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba, the Director-General of the Department of State Security, Ita Ekpenyony and two or three others,” many of the service chiefs will either source disclosed to our reporter in confidence.