When on May 20, I read the news that the US is about to supply the Nigeria military with drones, I was quite elated. I have always wondered why the military has not used drones more effectively to track down insurgents, even as they travel in conspicuous convoys to attack military outposts and kidnap schoolchildren. Here at last, I thought, was the technology that would put the insurgents and bandits out of business for good.
But then I decided to do a little research on the availability of drones to the Nigerian military over the years, and just like that my elation dissipated. I concluded, in fact, that the drone debacle very well encapsulates the failure to defeat Boko Haram.
As far back as 2006, Nigeria purchased an unknown number of Israel’s Aerostar drones at an estimated cost of $15 million to $17 million each. They were to be used to track down Niger Delta insurgents in their mangrove forest hideaways. “But they never flew,” Reuters reported in May 2014, citing an executive at the Israeli firm that supplied the drones.
The story was in connection with the military’s inability to locate the kidnapped Chibok girls. “To the best of our knowledge, these systems aren’t operational,” Reuters quotes the Israeli as saying. “They (the drones) are probably parked in a yard somewhere.”
Fast-forward to recent years and guess who has greater drone capability: Boko Haram.“After a decade of devastating war with Boko Haram extremists, they are now better armed than ever and have more sophisticated drones than the demoralised Nigerian military,” the New York Times reported in September 2019.
In effect, Boko Haram no longer needs informants in our midst. They can monitor Nigerian troop movement from the sky and strike when they deem fit. Any wonder the military withdrew from remote outposts into the safety of “super camps,” in effect conceding those territories to Boko Haram.
There is some good news though. The US pledge to supply drones to Nigeria is only one of them. Last November the Nigerian Air Force reportedly took delivery of two Wing Loong II drones from China. According to AfricaChinaProject.com, the drones are “among China’s most sophisticated unmanned combat aerial vehicles, and can remain airborne between 26 and 31 hours.”
Then in February, Africa Intelligence and other information outlets reported that Nigeria has negotiated the purchase of six Chinese CH-4 combat drones. When the yet-to-be determined number of American drones is added to the armory, the Nigerian military may regain superiority over Boko Haram in drones warfare.
And then there is the pending delivery of 12 Super Tucano jet fighters from the US. Though the jets made by Brazil’s Embraer company look like World War II-era fighters, they are reputed to be highly effective in counter-insurgency operations. Six of the jets are due for delivery in mid-July and the rest later this year.
Added to the recent purchase of attack helicopters, these acquisitions should enable the Nigerian military to turn the tide again against Boko Haram and the bandits. But for how long? These are sophisticated machineries that require vigilant maintenance. That is something that has long been the Achilles heels in Nigeria’s development. In public affairs, we are so good at purchasing and so bad at maintaining. And quite often, corruption is to blame.
Maybe this time round it would be different, a matter of national survival and individual pride. Boko Haram and the bandits have gravely unsettled this country. Nigerians want their country back.
Malami and spare parts
Alas, another obstacle to restoring peace in Nigeria is the tension within the country itself. And nothing better illustrates that tension than the current furor over the decision of Southern governors to ban open grazing. This is a practice that any enlightened person knows is out of place in a modern country. Even if it weren’t, it has caused so much bloodshed and threat to the existence of the country that it has to be reconsidered.
Yet the ban has elicited opposition from some notable people, including the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami and, of course, the leaders of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. MACBAN’s opposition is, of course, to be expected. Even that of the president is not surprising. He has never hidden his loyalties. What is unsettling is the attorney general’s attempt to reify the political positions with an untenable legal argument.
The AG’s argument is essentially that governors have no power to ban open grazing. Never mind that the constitution vests in state governments the power to oversee land use. To make matters worse, the AG goes further to make an incredulous analogy. The ban of open grazing is comparable to northern governors banning sales of spare parts, which is dominated by southerners, the AG argued. Seriously?
As a partisan political argument, it is lame. As a legal opinion of the country’s top law enforcement officer, it is disquieting. It must have caused Malami’s colleagues in the legal profession to cringe. At a minimum, they deserve an apology.
It is quite reassuring still that some northern politicians beg to disagree with the attorney general. The position of the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje is especially refreshing. “We have to take some drastic measures otherwise we are just scratching the problem on the back,” Ganduje said at a recent address on open grazing. “The movement (of herders) by trekking from the northern part of this country to the southern part of this country must be stopped if we want peace.” Ganduje added that people shouldn’t be guided by sentiments, but by the reality that traditional herding needs to transition to modern commercial practices.
I must confess that until now, I had thought of Ganduje as the governor who dethroned Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Emir of Kano, for speaking inconvenient truths. Now, I am more likely to remember him as the politician who expresses a more judicious view than the country’s attorney general.
“Abishola” heads to Nigeria
In politics, trouble never ceases. So, you have to excuse me for this abrupt turn to the lighter side. The US situation comedy “Bob Hearts Abishola” has been renewed for a third season. The romantic comedy which depicts a Nigerian immigrant nurse and her white American suitor just ended a COVID-19-shortened second season. Even before the formal announcement, it was evident that the programme would be renewed.
The second season’s finale on May 17 ended with “Abishola” (Folake Olowofoyeku) calling off a hastily arranged wedding after learning that her ex-husband in Nigeria wouldn’t allow their visiting son to attend. In the final scene, “Abishola,” her American fiancé and her US-based family were in flight to Nigeria, apparently to get the boy back. It is improbable that the producers would end the programme with such an intriguing cliff hanger.
Moreover, the programme’s average viewership of 5.54 million per episode also pointed to a renewal. So, we can expect at least one more season of this comedy that draws humour from the interface of Nigerian and American cultures. The third season will begin later this year, and only then will we know what further surprises producer Chuck Lorre and his colleagues have up their sleeves.
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