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Gov Zulum’s 100,000 more soldiers

By Idowu Akinlotan

Four years ago, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, announced that over the next eight years from 2016, the Nigerian Army would expand its personnel strength by about 100,000. As he put it in January of that year, “The Army would embark on an ambitious expansion programme to address manpower needs of the force to respond appropriately to contemporary threats to national security. The Army planned to increase its personnel strength from its present 100,000 strength-force to slightly above 200,000 in the next eight years.” In 2016 alone, he said at the time, some 12,000 men would be enlisted. It is not clear how far the army has gone in their expansion plans. But it is significant that the Borno State governor Babagana Zulum is now calling for about 100,000 more men for the army.

Both in 2016 and now, the country has reeled under Boko Haram insurgency pressures to the point that the war, thought to have been won either technically or outrightly, has become largely stalemated. The government has not substantially changed its story that Boko Haram has been defeated; all that has changed is the most recent observation by Gen Buratai that Boko Haram has transmuted into a terrorist organisation, having been defeated in conventional or even guerrilla war. Few agree with Gen Buratai’s observation about Boko Haram’s transmutation. And as the Borno governor said, especially being at the front lines of the Boko Haram insurgency, the gains of the past four years have appeared to be reversed, hence his call for a revision of tactics and fundamental assumptions.

In 2016, when Gen Buratai announced the expansion plans, no one took him to task. Everyone appeared relived that the Boko Haram menace was subsiding, and that that subsidence needed to be sustained. It hardly mattered then that given Nigeria’s strategic placement in West Africa, its examination of the threat level it faced hardly called for the kind of expansion they had in mind, an expansion that was a little more than double its strength. Where did Nigeria hope to get the funds needed to sustain that kind of expansion, especially when the economy was in trouble, and was in fact contracting? The economy has not regained its strength or its lustre, and there is no indication that the country’s economic managers have been prudent or innovative in allocating its financial resources. If the expansion is to be carried out, where will the money come from?

What the Nigerian military needs is not really expansion, particularly on the scale envisioned by the country’s generals. Their expansionary ambition reminds everyone of the American civil war when President Abraham Lincoln clashed with one of his generals, George B. McClellan, who kept asking for more men to prosecute the war against Robert Lee’s Confederate Army.  Said Lincoln, “My Dear McClellan, if you don’t want to use the army I should like to borrow it for a while, provided I could see how it could be made to do something. Yours respectfully.” Lincoln was also quoted as complaining about Gen McClellan’s importunity in the following derisory terms: “If I gave McClellan all the men he asked for, they could not find room to lie down; they’d have to sleep standing up.” Before making up his mind to sack the general, Lincoln had one more snide remark to make about the request for more men. Said he: “Sending men to that army is like shovelling fleas across a barnyard — not half of them get there.”

Comparisons, said the English, are odious. But a study of the Nigerian military shows in more ways than is often acknowledged that what ails the army in these parts is obnoxious deployment cum indefensible management of resources. The staff strength of Boko Haram in its heyday was estimated to be about 5,000-6,000 men. That insurgent force has been considerably degraded, as the government has acknowledged. In addition, the government has said that the insurgents have been defeated, and that the country must now grapple with insurgents who have metamorphosed into terrorists. So, why would the army need 100,000 extra men?

What they need is better training and management, more advanced weaponry, retrieval of their men from police duties — implying that it is the police that must be expanded and equipped — and reassessment of operational tactics and strategies in the face of an asymmetrical war that is constantly morphing. Nigeria must not rush into any expansion, whether 100,000 permanent troops or, as the Borno governor said, 50,000 temporary Borno-based recruited soldiers. That mistake must not be made.

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