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Olukolade on the military’s weaponry and winning the Boko Haram war

Olukolade on the military’s weaponry and winning the Boko Haram war
August 17
15:31 2014

Major-General Chris Olukolade, the director of defence information, has the difficult job of coordinating information relating to the Nigerian military at a time the country is experiencing its most trying phase of insecurity.  He speaks with ‘Fisayo Soyombo, editor of TheCable, on why it is unfair for the public to think that the military is incapable of overcoming Boko Haram, and what the Nigerian elite and the media can do to help the military’s efforts to end terrorism.

 

Having travelled to Chibok myself and seen how Nigerian soldiers are staking their lives to contain the insurgency in the northeast, my number-one interest is how these soldiers can be empowered to win this fight? What exactly does the military need to do a good job?

What we need best this time is the understanding of the general public, particularly the elites, who from all indications, appear to understand but they have contributed to distracting the military and also distracting the public from paying attention to support the efforts or encourage those who are involved in managing this issue directly. I believe that with that level of understanding, the issue will be better managed.

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The public believes that the Nigerian Military is under-armed. The belief is that the insurgents have more sophisticated weapons. Is it really true? Is the military truly in dire need of arms reinforcement?

That will be relative, in the sense that when you talk of weapons, the military is trained to use weapons conventionally. Terrorists don’t have any conventional guidance for use of weapons. That may give impression to somebody outside to think this translates to better arms. Have you taken time to study the armoury of the Nigerian military vis-à-vis the armoury of the terrorists? Until you are able to do this comparison, it is not the best to be as conclusive as you’ve seen people do now.

Yes, no outfit, military outfit, anywhere in the world, has all it requires at a time to prosecute an operation. None! And for the fact that, this is being prosecuted by the Nigerian military, it will keep maximising the use of what it has at the moment to achieve the required result. It is not to say that there is no effort to incrementally improve on what is available to manage the situation, taking care of the issues of wear and tear of the existing equipment and the disposition to maintenance. All of these are receiving attention and we believe they continually, and on implemental basis, improve our capacity to manage the issue. That is not to say that we are that incapacitated as it has been presented in many circles.

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There is the widely-held belief that the military always underplays attacks by the insurgents and always exaggerates its own successes over Boko Haram. Many times, the military announces the killing of insurgents without any accompanying proof.

It is not as if the joy is about killing or displaying bodies that have been killed. We are not killing for the glee or the joy of it. We are not killing to entertain anybody. As much as possible, we don’t even want to be referring to figures. But from all indications, there are people who want to use figures to fault us. What do you enjoy in a situation when we give you pictures of corpses? Even for your ethics, I don’t think it is decent to be giving pictures of dead bodies for display to the public. There is no glee in there. The tendency is that people who disbelieve us are those who rather would wish that we were losing the battle; and that’s why they don’t even believe we can achieve the level of success we are achieving.

They would rather be hearing that we are being defeated. We would not be the one telling a story that is not true about our situation. But we think we have an obligation to let the public and Nigerians know how our efforts are yielding results or what the outcomes of our efforts are.

For people to think that it means we are underplaying our casualties, we will release the figures at the appropriate time, of our own casualties. But we don’t have any need or any use to exaggerate our successes.

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Chris Olukolade 4There was a time when the country’s terrorism challenge was restricted to the Federal Capital Territory and the northeastern states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa. But as we’ve recently had Boko Haram attacks in states such as Plateau and Kaduna, a section of the public considers this an indication that the insurgents are advancing. Maybe you want to convince us to reason otherwise.

Well, I think you should pay attention to the scope of the entire operation. We have explained a number of times, again and again. It is good to understand the background and circumstance of the operation. We went on the offensive because we wanted to clear the balance. In the course of the offensive, they were rooted out from where they want to have and they have gone on rampage everywhere. It is now our business to still contain them and be sure that efforts are done properly and truly to contain them.

Terrorism, globally, manifests in certain patterns and that pattern is to cost irritation by striking where they are least expected and that is what calls for the vigilance of everybody, not to take anything for granted, because they want to embarrass the system, they want to embarrass the citizens by striking where they are least expected. And that calls for – like I said – vigilance that can stop that from being achieved.

As you say, they are expanding their scope, the military is also expanding its scope of catching up with them – along with other security agencies. If you pay attention to the operations in Bauchi state for instance, Balmo forest, where they were even hiding weapons underground. These were recent discoveries and they are results to catch up with them, in order to abort their tendencies to spread their operations.

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There are a number of touching stories about soldiers killed by Boko Haram. How is the military alleviating the sufferings of their families?

Well, that is a decision by the authorities that are relevant to this. We, in the military, have an existing approach apart from the gratuity. We have two lines of insurance for ever soldier. There is the insurance that covers the various services. There is also the insurance from the defence headquarters. So two levels of insurance take care of any soldier.

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The Nigerian media has been branded by the military and the government as not helping this war against terrorism. What exactly can the media do to help the military’s bid to restore calm to terrorism-torn states?

The media can help us by understanding us and not helping the terrorists to play up the tension. Terrorists enjoy the situation where you facilitate their actions by creating more fear, more panic. Most of the information they send out is meant to cause panic; they are not real. My appeal to the media is to rather resort to taking our information into reckoning when they report situations and try to balance their stories by not believing hook, line and sinker what the terrorists send out there. We will be available to ensure that we give information that is proper.

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