By Salisu Suleiman
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar led Nigerian Airforce is finally attempting to punch its weight in the counter-terrorism war; God be praised. His branch of the military service has been the weak link in the security infrastructure and a chain, as they say, is only as strong as its weakest link.
The Nigerian Navy, since the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari has proven itself in the Niger-Delta, where working closely with the Army, it has taught militants that sabotaging economic assets is not a pastime to relish in. Even when the military operations against Boko Haram are mostly affairs in the dry Sahara Desert, the Navy ensured lake Chad is not of any benefit for the terrorists with the constant destruction of any vessel they attempt to deploy on the lake.
The Department of State Services (DSS) has done a fair share of the job by constantly dismantling cell after cell of Boko Haram, in most cases before they are able to launch attacks on the innocent population. The Department’s strategy starved the terrorists of the financing they had hitherto gotten from raiding commercial banks to fund their operations while making such heists appear like the regular criminal robbery.
The balance of the fight, a larger chunk, occur on ground battles with insurgents, who often have to be chased for several kilometers or repelled in the many surprise ambushes that are now their staple. In spite of the reported obstacles and challenges to the war, troops continue to give their best. The can-do spirit in the Army is such that Private Samuel Ernest, a soldier recuperating from his battle injuries, expressed his eagerness to return to the war front, even though he was barely getting back on crutches.
Then the Airforce. The Airforce has not done much to assert its role in the counter-terrorism war under the present government. But for fairness, one would have accused the wings in the skies of flapping for the terrorists by not doing enough to decimate them from high up where the ultimate advantage lies. Each time troops have been ambushed on ground is a signpost to the failure of the Airforce to maintain eyes in the sky and coordinate with its sister services. Every time terrorists strike in a town and flee into the neighboring countries or the dessert it exposes the failing of the Airforce in trailing them and relaying their positions to those on the ground to do something about it.
One would have thought that by now, working with the other services especially the intelligence arm, the Airforce would have chanced upon the terrorists making one of those their propaganda video so that it can blast them to the hereafter same way Russian Airforce has likely pulverized Daesh (Islamic State) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an Airstrike.
What one has instead seen is an Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar who thought, of all times, the festive Sallah season is the best time to ply the populace with tall tales and bogus directives. First came his chest beating as to how the Airforce foiled an attempt by Boko Haram to breach the peaceful Eid-el Kabir celebration in Borno. He apparently did that by bombarding them – same thing he has not achieved in his two years of piloting the affairs of that service. It possibly did not occur to him that if he had lived up to billing in previous time the task of getting rid of these terrorists would have been 99 percent achieved by now.
Next was the ridiculous directive for Sambisa Forest to be “completely” cleared. Again, a perfunctory perusal of the archives would remind the Chief of Air Staff that the 2017 Nigerian Army Small Arms Championship (NASAC) held inside Sambisa Forest in the wake of the flushing out of the insurgents. Had the Airforce been on hand on the scale that Nigerian expected the missing air support would have ensured that those that regrouped are trailed down to the last of their bolt holes before they had the time to recover and begin their current round of nonsense.
Such statement, which the Air Chief has not done anything to refute, clarify or rephrase, is an aberration coming from him. Has anything changed about his inventory of aircrafts that will he use to clear Sambisa Forest? Since as civilians we know Abubakar to be the lord of the skies, is he by chance converting the Air Force into performing ground roles? Is he envisaging a scorch-earth operation that will yield a disproportionately high civilian casualty? Will his hype make terrorists drop dead and why the hype in the first place? What is he targeting?
The Chief of Air Staff once pandered to celebrity protesters in such fashion when he flew Oby Ezekwesili and her band across the Sambisa Forest area. The trip turned out to be a pointless waste of taxpayers’ money with the only benefit being that it helps defined those that constitute Air Marshal Abubakar’s audience – jobbers that are desperate to roll with government.
Such desperate publicity stunt from an organization like the Air Force would do Nigeria and the entire country no good as it will amount to playing God on the war against insurgency. When a man who should be making eyes available in the skies decides to rather engage in talkfests then the terrorists know they have not much to fear even when driving convoys of 50 Hilux Pickups across open terrains. They know that no matter sabre rattling Air Marshal Abubakar engages in he does not have boots on ground to take them on where it matters most.
Air Marshal Abubakar has to be told in clear terms to concentrate and fight in the air. If he had performed his role effectively in the air by now Boko Haram could have been history. It is understandable that the military as a unified entity is communicating with Nigerians and the world to give perspective to the counter-insurgency war and curtail Boko Haram’s propaganda. But prancing around the place as if the air force is the entire military is in the region of an overkill, his noise it too much noise.
As opposed to assuming the position of Nigeria’s military imprimatur, Air Marshal Abubakar should work on improving his service’s capabilities and clear all its challenges. This should include finding a way to accelerate the air coverage he has not provided in the initial two years he has been in office; he must pick up his slack so that the burden would be lighter on the other services and by extension bring about greater efficiency. In addition, he has to of necessity check in with fellow military chiefs to confirm where his input is needed as opposed to making beeline solo runs to the detriment of the war efforts.
Suleiman is a freelance journalist writing from Yola, Adamawa State.