By Victor Anazonwu
One of the first and most important lessons taught in military school, and in every respectable school of strategic studies worldwide, is that force, violence or war is the least effective means of influence or social engineering. It must therefore be used sparingly and only as a last resort.
Here is why: In the words of the British politician, Neville Chamberlain, “In war, there are no winners, but everyone is a loser.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General, has been leading Nigeria in total disregard of this time-proven truism for the last 6 years.
Against the menace of Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, his response has been, “Quick! Buy more weapons. Send in more soldiers.” It doesn’t matter that this has yielded fewer tangible benefits with every passing year.
In the rest of Northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, kidnapping for ransom and mass murder of villagers have become almost daily occurrences – even with the armed forces on guard duty.
In the South West and South East, hitherto cases of tranquillity, the security forces have managed to open fresh theatres of conflict by deploying brute force in attempting to quell legitimate aspirations to reform or restructure a decrepit political system steeped in inequities.
It is fair to say that although President Buhari did not cause all of Nigeria’s current problems, he has done spectacularly little to resolve any. Instead, it would appear that his administration has a natural affinity towards conflict.
Just how the Nigerian state hopes to survive in the face of multiple theatres of conflict using an overstretched, poorly funded and under-motivated 19th-century security system is anyone’s guess.
It is either that the Commander-in-Chief was absent in military school during important lessons on the limits of force, or that he never quite understood their underlying logic.
So, what should Buhari have done in the alternative, you ask. Well, this:
First, it would have been wise to de-escalate tension in other regions and unite the rest of the country for a major offensive to wipe out the primal enemy, Boko Haram.
This would have required adroit statesmanship, trust-building measures and perhaps a few political concessions to start with.
Next, the supply and logistics chain of Boko Haram could have been broken. This would have required both a military encirclement of their enclave and a massive public enlightenment campaign in affected communities. The objective of the latter being to make the people ideologically unsuitable (indeed dangerous) for further recruitment by the Insurgents.
No Army has been known to survive the blockade of its supply lines for materials and men. Not even the dreaded German war machine that went into Russia in World War 2.
The goal is to isolate the enemy and set the process of atrophy in motion. Then, using maximum force, over the smallest possible area, for the shortest possible time, the leader must quickly migrate to less costly, more sustainable diplomatic alternatives for ending the conflict..
It is in the enlightened self-interest of the state. For no state can afford to be in a perpetual state of war, no matter how well endowed, even against a weaker adversary.
But rather than building a formidable popular alliance to finish off Boko Haram, President Buhari clearly chose the path of solo heroism. He quickly lost the trust of followers in several regions of the country by insisting on nepotism as his official policy for appointments into high public office.
To make matters worse, he showed disregard for other ethnic and religious groups in the country by failing to condemn and reign in his kinsmen, the now infamous Fulani herdsmen, who were rampaging the countryside in search of pasture for their cattle.
Famous American author and leadership expert, John Maxwell, once wrote that, “Respect is absolutely essential for lasting leadership. How do leaders earn respect? By making sound decisions, admitting their mistakes, and putting what’s best for their followers and the organization ahead of their personal agenda…But when a leader breaks trust, he forfeits his ability to lead.”
There is little or no trust in Buhari’s current leadership and conflict management strategy. Indeed, it appears that his only strategy is to keep Nigeria constantly on the boil. How else does one rationalize the president’s penchant for making new enemies? And dissipating the armed forces in other regions hitherto at peace?
This observation is feeding the conspiracy theory that vested interests are using the insurgency in Nigeria as a funnel for turning vast national resources into private pockets.
Whereas the president may not be part of such a “conspiracy”, it cannot be denied that some of his actions and inactions appear to give credence to a secret script.
The soft power components of this administration are severely in short supply. After six years in office, this much is clear: The president has neither the mindset nor the skill sets necessary for uniting a complex modern nation like Nigeria.
Perhaps he is a victim of his upbringing. Raised in a traditionally feudal community and trained as a soldier, he is probably too regimented for his own good. He needs help, but more importantly, he needs the wisdom to realize that he needs help.
President Buhari seems violently allergic to sitting down with key stakeholder groups to negotiate the way forward for Nigeria. Yet negotiation is what Nigeria needs today above all else. Not security. It is a negotiation that could lead to security, not the other way round.
Mr President seems to operate from the premise that once every opposition, rival or alternative viewpoint is subdued, peace will reign in Nigeria. He seems hardwired to believe that negotiation and compromise are for the weak. Nothing is farther from the truth.
In recent weeks, the president’s handlers have spent a growing proportion of their time alleging enemy plots to oust their boss from power. Not one of those enemies has been named, nabbed or nailed in court. Hallucination is a sign of advanced emotional or mental disturbance.
But who will tell the president that he is a victim of his own choices and basic instincts? Who will tell the boss that power does not reside in any office but in being true to the aspirations of the led? Who can change a man who has spent the last eight decades doing things in a certain way and being rewarded for it?
All conflicts eventually end on the negotiating table. At the moment, it is difficult to see any tables at all on the Nigerian landscape, not to talk of a negotiating table.