By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Last week, the Nigerian military sentenced 54 soldiers to death on charges of mutiny, cowardice and assault charges. The fear of fighting Boko Haram remains severe within Nigeria’s police and military units.
After Boko Haram’s April kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls in Chibok went viral all over the world, the military and police seemed cowardly and hesitant. They delayed an operation to enter into jihadist territory in their early rescue attempts. All of their efforts failed, and the window of opportunity to rescue the girls was most likely lost for good.
Nigeria canceled an exercise where U.S. Marines would train a 650-man Nigerian Army battalion to go after the specific terrorists responsible for abducting the 300 schoolgirls and Dec. 14, killed 35 and abducted 185 civilians. It is unclear as to why a refusal to sell cobra helicopters might have had something to do with helping the Nigerians defeat and punish their enemy that now declares itself a caliphate and modeling ISIL. They blame Washington for not delivering more military aid, but then they do not accept the aid that Washington offers.
U.S. officials stated the cancellation of training Nigeria’s battalion will not affect the bilateral security agreement or other joint training programs. But refusing proper foreign military assistance and taking the right timely actions has been a typical failing of Nigerian politics and a timid security effort.
More of a problem is fleeing the fight. The latest enforced punishment for mutiny is meant to act as a deterrent and to remind Nigerians in arms of the state that they risk death in either case, with jihadists or the refusal to fight them. Such harsh measures are, in fact, a last resort of the state but it is unclear if they will work at all and from the developed world, they appear a bit harsh. Why not let the fighters fight and the cowards run? Morale is already extremely low among Nigeria’s soldiers and executions don’t raise them much.
Instead of executing their soldiers for not wanting to go to war, they might also screen them better and continue using the tactics that work. Special forces, vigilantes and hunters have retaken four villages recently. These are Nigerians that have a will and a cause to fight the jihadists but they are often too brutal and lack discipline required of a modern soldier. The model of rounding up impassioned volunteers or supporting self-orchestrating vigilantes and training elite teams may be a better policy at fighting jihadists than the firing squad penalty for uniform personnel; especially since the epidemic of cowardice is so widespread among the Nigerian security forces.
The insurgency in northeast Nigeria has gone on for five years at the cost of displacing more than 1.6 million people, more than 5,000 lives and thousands of women and children forced into slavery and forced into radically retroactive Islamist conversion. There has been a renewed extension for the state of emergency since 2011.
There are scores of abuses that continually go on unchecked and have become routine within the military, according to Amnesty International’s Director for Africa Research and Advocacy: “Beatings with whips and gun butts, machetes, batons, sticks.” There are extrajudicial detainments, torture and executions have also been reported by other sources; especially among vigilante or militia groups which have been known to go on killing sprees. Unfortunately, the Nigerians seem forced to rely on them in desperation and disappointment from their own soldiers. This is consistent with a 2008 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report.
Amnesty International also said that as many as 10,000 people have been detained already including minors. None of this behavior or lack of discipline inspires a positive morale or a righteous cause within their security forces; especially if their commanders are turning a blind eye to mounting abuses. It is also questionable how much positive intelligence is gained as it is effectively not helping to quell the onslaught of the jihadists.
More than 250 ethnic groups, a sectarian divide conflict, conspiracy theories, terrorism are part of a wider uprising. With a Muslim north and a Christian south and a religious split almost 50-50 with a slightly larger Muslim population the conflict prevails. Only 9 out of 36 states are under Sharia law, but not the entire north. In the northeast, there is a substantial Christian population which is under the terrorist attack by Boko Haram. They are a large part of a longer conflict often referred to as the Sharia Insurgency.
Other factors: Nigeria has tripled its population since 1971 from some 50 to 150 million people. It continues to increase rapidly, expecting a national population of 500 to 1 billion by 2100.
To complicate matters further, the civilian government is in peril as well. Late last month, the police fired tear gas into parliament when the Speaker of the House Aminu Tambuwal defected from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition party All Progressives Congress (APC). The debate was on whether to extend the state of emergency set by President Goodluck Jonathon. Police prevented Speaker Tambuwal from entering Parliament and early they had retracted their armed guards to protect him.
Amid the deep wounding political rivalries, corruption and lack of unity in Nigeria, the country faces a web of political uncertainty and growing instability that is then infused directly into and felt directly by its security forces.