There is nothing like a catchy #hashtag and celebrity endorsement to get the experts and activists all a twitter (pun intended).
All of a sudden a crisis that has caused horrific casualties amongst security forces and civilians and repeatedly deliberately targeted children for 5 years is being earnestly discussed and analysed by people desperately skimming Wikipedia who could not tell you the difference between a Kanuri and a Kalabari and more to the point do not know why they need to know.
The eternal do gooders are already saying we must ‘do something’ (not quite sure what but it must be carbon neutral, family friendly, casualty free, organic, low fat and gender neutral), the political opposition in the US has decided that Boko Haram would have packed it in and gone home if only Hilary Clinton had declared it a Foreign Terrorist Organisation when she was US Secretary of State (not of course because she is a potential US Presidential candidate), the conspiracy theorists have decided it is all about OIL!, (you know that OIL! that is abundant in North Eastern Nigeria, that the evil perfidious West is not already extracting at rock bottom prices with some of the laxest environmental, regulatory and financial conditions on the planet from the Delta), Nigerian politicians and their acolytes are torn between this being all a hoax and part of an evil opposition plot to embarrass the government or an evil government plot to depose the opposition governors of the North Eastern States. The Foreign Ministries (and equipment manufacturers) of China, France, Britain, America, Israel, Canada and even Ghana (yes oh Ghana. I no fit shout abeg) have all decided to throw their resources in the ring trying to out offer each other, all the while declaiming the heinous nature of the crime, Nigeria’s human rights record, its anti gay laws and generally looking to soak up as much of the free publicity as possible. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has eventually decided that Boko Haram does not represent Islam (which is very helpful of them), the Nigerian Government has decided to tell us, (sorry I mean CNN and BBC, because even they know no one watches NTA for news) that they have been flying multiple sorties and have a battlegroup surrounding the forest, which is obviously news to local people who have been popping in and out at will, the anti war activists are the only ones strangely quiet; possibly because they are waiting for the cheque from Putin to clear for their valiant efforts arguing that a Russian annexation of Crimea was in fact a NATO plot to destabilise Russia by forcing Russia to invade Ukraine (that is actually the genuine position of the UK Stop the War Coalition- inspiring stuff).
It is hard not to be snarky and cynical about all this but it is important before we move to the next step in this article to understand that the backdrop to this evolution in the campaign not a strategic rethinking by Nigeria, nor even an increase in violence or capability by Boko Haram, it is simply a populist reaction to Nigerian Government incompetence. I am not decrying the brilliant efforts of the ordinary Nigerians both within and without the country who finally felt enough was enough and held the government to account; I have shared the pictures and hashtag and even attended protests myself. The point is to understand that every time we do share that hashtag or hold rallies which draws attention, write articles or give interviews we are giving the ‘small boy’ Shekau the greatest thrill he has received in his life.
When this reality is accepted and digested then national pride put to one side, a slightly more productive activity is to look at this situation and what each side brings to the party and how they can be utilised.
What they offered: surveillance assets, military, law enforcement and specialist personnel. These assets will include SIGINT, ELINT and imagery. Niger based Global Hawk UAV’s and MC-12 Surveillance aircraft have been tasked as well as a specialised planning cell to advise on negotiations, tactic, logistics, and operations
What they want: the long term US strategic interest is to prevent Boko Haram from becoming a bona fide Al Qaeda affiliate with the capability and inclination to attack US or international targets and interests in West Africa and potentially the US homeland, or a roaming presence causing pockets of destabilisation where ever they go and growing the strength and confidence to begin attacking Western in. The US needs a stable Nigeria as a market for its goods and services and to once again take up the slack of regional and continental peacekeeping and peace building. Nigeria’s sweet (and very easily sourced) crude keeps oil prices down and reduces US dependency on the Middle East. It is also not in US interests for Boko Haram to continuously drain Nigerian security resources, leaving the rest of the country vulnerable and creating a security vacuum that threatens the oil producing south and drains resources from the maritime security element. In the short term, the US is riding the wave of good publicity, using the opportunity to deploy its ISTAR assets in a region of the Sahel its generally unwelcome and give their 24 hour news channels something else to talk about than Hilary Clinton or MH370. Nigeria is a difficult country for the US to engage with thus this is an opportunity to circumvent the Leahy Act which prevents cooperation with militaries with human rights issues and build the military to military relationships the US uses to maintain influence.
What we should get: the US excels in gathering intelligence by technical means and this operation opens the door to the use and application of a vast array of resources. It is an unrivalled opportunity to get accurate maps of the North East (or the entire country) build our capabilities in image processing, analysis and interpretation, signals intercept and analysis, counter IED and aerial operations and gather significant intelligence on Boko Haram activities beyond our borders. Nigeria should aim to absorb as much best practice as possible, keep whatever products are generated all the while developing the necessary relationships with the relevant US ministries and armed forces deployed.
What they offered: the UK has offered a Sentinel ISTAR aircraft, SOF planning cell and a team of experts from Defence, International Development and intelligence.
What they want: in the long term the UK primarily wants to maintain the complex networks of alliances, partnerships, nods, winks and mutually beneficial influences and interests by which it has maintained its independence in Europe, built its Empire and maintained its standing even when in decline. France is the second most militarily powerful nation in the EU and has rather seamlessly taken the lead from the UK in terms of unilateral expeditionary actions. This has resulted in 3 interventions in sub Saharan Africa in the last 3 years. The UK is more content than it would appear with this arrangement providing basing, logistic and specialist assistance for these ops but no more. However it cannot allow the French greater influence in Nigeria which the UK still believes is in its sphere of influence, likewise with the US committed the UK must step up in order to prevent the French from again snapping at the heels of the ‘special relationship’ and more importantly to make sure the UK is at the table if there are any spoils to be shared. In the short term the UK would seek to ensure that the British roots and traditions of the Nigerian Army are maintained, I also believe that the UK is slightly worried about the possibility of a coup in Nigeria by a frustrated military (ala Sierra Leone or Mali) and wishes to try and maintain stability, this informs the slightly more complimentary terms by which the Nigerian military has been described in the press of recent.
What we should get: with unashamed bias I would postulate that the UK has a good pool of knowledge and experts in the Department for International Development, the Stabilisation Unit, Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and Home Office as well as military units specialising in COIN related activities for Nigeria to poach and develop its own capabilities. Nigeria’s best options involve absorbing this expertise to develop an organic Hostage rescue/ Negotiation, Stabilisation/ COIN centre of excellence and begin implementing best practice from these sources.
What they offered: unspecified surveillance equipment and the troops to man it
What they want: Canada revels in the position of being the nice North Americans, American accents, guns, vast wildernesses etc but universal health, niceness and a foreign policy that competes with Sweden in sweetness and light . Thus the positive publicity and the possibility of marketing their products informs there involvement
What we should get: additional ISTAR capability, which can fill the gaps in coverage from the other players. It also gives Nigeria a backdoor to technology the US that they cannot legally supply directly to Nigeria
What they offered: a team of HUMINT, SIGINT and ELINT experts
What they want: asking what France wants is like looking at the ala carte menu in an all you can eat buffet. France’s objectives are to protect its economic investments in Chad and Niger as well as to stabilise a very dangerous node that has developed around Central African Republic, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun and Niger. This arc of instability could destabilise 5 Francophone countries. The most insignificant of them Central African Republic has already sucked in thousands of French troops and resources.
What we should get: France has very good HUMINT resources both from its links with its former colonies security forces and from its own forces. A detachment of 13e RDP ( a specialist human intelligence unit) has been deployed in Northern Cameroun since 2013, which should be useful. An intelligence fusion centre, coordinating intelligence and routine information from Chadian, Nigerien and Camerounian military, police, customs and gendarmes, combined with French SF and other intelligence assets would contribute immensely identifying enemy safe, transit, training and staging areas across the border for follow up strikes
What they offered: satellite and intelligence assets
What they want: the Chinese now being a potential superpower and the best thing since sliced bread cannot afford to be left out and possibly concede the ground they have made against the west in terms of African relations thus they will take part in whatever way they can. It is also a good way of demonstrating that not all their satellites fall out of the sky after a few months in orbit
What we want: China is always a good nation to play off against the Western powers. They are also keen to sell just about anything to anyone. The Chinese I would suggest are the long game in all of this, once we have identified the gaps in our capabilities and our immediate needs, the Chinese will be best placed for a condition free, technology transfer deals.
What they offered: an ECOWAS intelligence sharing mechanism and an ECOWAS force for northern Nigeria
What they want: I’ve been fairly uncharitable to Ghana in some of my writings due to these offers all of which are commonsense and intelligent but they give me a vehicle to look at how Nigeria’s current travails affects her standing in the region. Having for years dominated the sub region and sub Saharan Africa, Nigeria finds itself soaring ahead in macroeconomic terms but in basic things like education, health, infrastructure and rule of law, countries like Ghana are way ahead. Nigeria finds it difficult to achieve things in Africa it previously took for granted such as votes in the AU or UN. The new found confidence of states such as Angola, Equatorial Guinea or Ghana etc would be a problem even for a stable Nigeria; however a Nigeria struggling with an insurgency and accepting the foreign help that Nigeria was often the provider of, creates a subtle shift in the pecking order. As often alluded, international affairs are very, such like a school playground or dressing room with constant manoeuvring for position, sniffing out weakness in others. Nigeria will not just need to rebuild the North East, the military and trust between the public and politicians but its international standing in the region and continent
What we should get: An ECOWAS taskforce is out of the question; however a permanent ECOWAS intelligence and information sharing network would be invaluable
What they offered: a team of counter terrorism experts
What they want: One of Israel’s biggest exports is defence and security skills and equipment. It’s a hard won and well deserved reputation and Israeli military skills have a huge following in Africa. In essence from Israel’s point of view this is a huge marketing trip and it also ties into Israel’s general strategic narrative of a never ending struggle against Islamic fundamentalism and standing with other nations in this struggle.
What we should get: it is unlikely that Israel will be offering anything they were not willing to sell or contract out before, thus again I see no special benefit to the Israeli contribution other than absorbing any skills on offer and playing them off against other powers for a better deal
Conclusion: for those who have followed this campaign and wondered at its poor messaging and management, it is currently a bittersweet (and to be honest slightly irritating) period, much like an underground music star who goes mainstream, fans feel happy for the success but look with disdain upon all who didn’t sweat it out with them in flea ridden venues.
In a few weeks media and public interest will dry up and go away. Boko Haram will not. The best we can hope for is that when the circus moves off something tangible will remain.
If it does, the credit does not reside with the celebrities, foreigners and politicians but with Ibrahim M. Abdullahi who started the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and the hundreds of Nigerian women and men who went out (and are still out) in the sun and the rain to ask for our girls, daughters of peasants from an obscure part of the country to come home.
The symbolism is obvious, when we Nigerians take ownership of this fight we will win it.