IN the trenches, the war on terror is going very roughly for Nigeria. In the minds of a beleaguered citizenry, Nigeria’s leaders are making things even worse. This should not be so and the government must rein in its officials before they hand the insurgents a propaganda victory.
The shoddy manner in which state officials have handled matters so far, especially information management, leaves much to be desired even as the Goodluck Jonathan administration has demonstrated palpable incapacitation and not a few of its officials have advertised monumental individual irresponsibility.
The public profile and recent utterances of the incumbent Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, for instance, are unbecoming of a high-ranking security officer. A day after he was elevated to the position of the Defence chief, he vowed that the insurgent group, Boko Haram, would be routed in no time but nearly six months since he made that statement, the insurgent group has wreaked more havoc on the country. The Chibok tragedy and international embarrassment in which over 200 school girls were abducted represents the climax of Boko Haram’s audacity and superior strategy and its consequent embarrassment to the pride of Nigeria’s security forces.
Nevertheless, the consequence of the Chibok incident, that is, the international intervention in terms of offer of assistance to free the girls, made obvious the imperative of a coordinated intelligence and information management involving the country’s armed forces and the police. Despite a reasonable effort in this direction with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) as its hub, a discordant note still plays from the presidency and other agencies of government in terms of unguarded utterances, leading the Nigerian people to wonder who really is in charge of affairs.
The height of such unguarded statements by government officials was one the other day by the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Barde, who blatantly claimed that the security forces knew where the Chibok girls were being kept by the Boko Haram insurgent group. This flippancy certainly calls to question the presence of strategic thinking and panache within the operational architecture of the security formations in the country. Even if the information were true, should it be for public consumption? And in that manner? Would that statement not have further jeopardised the safety of the abducted innocent girls? Making such information public is certainly a big gaffe that betrays ignorance about what the responsibility of a chief of defence staff should be in the scheme of things. The CDS is not a commander. He is a staff officer to the president and coordinates the components of the armed forces. Even if need arises to boycott the current information clearing house on the ground, the appropriate spokesperson should be the commander leading the forces in the area of operation.
Air Marshal Badeh’s gaffe has brought the country to further ridicule as a people unable to get their act together despite the huge resources and manpower that Nigeria enjoys. Apart from underlining the low quality of leadership in the country today, it simply reinforces the cynicism of outsiders about Nigeria’s capability even in matters of keeping a sealed lip on intelligence matters. It can only be to Nigeria’s utter shame that the United State’s State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, contradicted the CDS’ statement to the extent that her country did not have “independent information from the United States to support that statement. We, as a matter of policy and for the girls’ safety and wellbeing, would not discuss publicly this sort of information regardless.” Air Marshal Badeh’s statement expectedly rankled the presidency which noted that the CDS’s claim on the missing schoolgirls was unnecessary and could practically hamper the ongoing efforts to rescue the girls.
While the point is to be made that even the volume of information made available from foreign intelligence has so far not established the exact location of the girls, the crux of the matter here is order and coordination. Even in routine security operations, there is always the need for discipline, secrecy, scrutiny and coordination before information dissemination. This brings to the fore the matter of the absence of a definitive commander for the operation against the insurgents which this newspaper has repeatedly drawn attention to as an anomaly as well as a hindrance to the war.
This should be corrected. The current war on the insurgency calls for tactics and a high sense of responsibility, not marketplace chatter. It makes a lot of sense under the prevailing circumstances to stick to a clearinghouse arrangement in the dissemination of information to the public if the war on terror, now hard enough in the trenches, would not be lost in the minds of Nigerians.
– This Best Outside Opinion was culled from The Guardian