The Lake Chad: Bleak Reality Behind A Wall Of Propaganda

The war against the Boko Haram insurgency from the very start has been plagued by a severe lack of credible information and well formed understandings, both from the government side and from the insurgency. In the absence of credible information, analysts, so called experts, and even policy makers in the West, were forced to rely on speculations, assumptions, and tainted information to reach conclusions. The information situation only worsened as the propaganda war between the Nigerian government( and its MNJTF allies) and the insurgents took flight, until it has gotten to the point where very little information filters into the open source domain that is not a propaganda piece.

Currently the general perception of events in the Lake Chad is one of a heavily degraded, almost defeated Boko. This is a greatly distorted and completely off the mark understanding as I discussed here where I broke down the current state of the war and the various layers in it, which sometimes cause outside observers to make wrong assumptions.

This perception has been aided by government propaganda completely dominating the news space, and scarce independent information of the on the ground state of things available in the public domain. The Lake Chad governments have made it a priority to ensure that the only reportage on the Boko Haram conflict, is their propaganda. To this end they have been carrying out a campaign of intimidating those with independent access to information regarding the state of things, subverting the media with bribes, security agencies, and arrests, preventing access to researchers. They  even went as far as to subtly threaten humanitarian organizations with expulsion when they tried to draw global attention to the brewing humanitarian crisis in the region, thus forcing their silence as the aid agencies know that if they are expelled, the local governments have no capacity or even willingness to assume the enormous responsibility of providing medical and food aid to the millions of starving people affected by this conflict, many of them women and little children.

Yet behind these massive walls of government and even insurgent propaganda, the reality is bleak for the hundreds of thousands living in insurgent controlled territories, the hundreds of thousands more living in the IDP and refugee camps, and the millions of internally displaced that are not living in the camps. Despite the rosy pictures of a normal life after Boko Haram, a technically defeated Boko Haram, and even a Boko Haram engaged in internicine fighting between the two IS-alligned groups ISWAP and Jamaa’atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lid-Da’wati Wal-Jihad (news of this ‘fighting’ was rushed to the press by AFP based on interviews with government agents including the Civilian JTF which is not a very credible source for internal issues within Boko Haram), all carefully crafted propaganda put out by the Nigerian security services, gradually news is filtering out of the bleak humanitarian situation, and the security situation outside Maiduguri and its immediate environs.

The recent article by Ulf Laessing, the Reuters Bureauc Chief in Abuja, Nigeria, after his trip to Bama from Maiduguri the Borno State capital, highlights the danger posed by insurgent units active in the rural areas and bushes on both sides of  roads connecting towns supposedly liberated and fully secured by the Nigerian Army. The insecurity and danger on that road as described by Ulf Laessing, is the reality faced on many so called liberated stretches of roads in Central and Northern Borno (to a lesser extent Southern Borno), and Northern and Southeast Yobe state.

If heavily armed military convoys carrying white journalists have to drive at high speed and firing truck or armoured vehicle mounted 12.57mm machine guns into the bushes on both sides of the road out of fear of running into an insurgent ambush, non stop except to change bandoliers and feed more bullets into the barrels, then what chance do civilian traffic carrying food from rural areas to Maiduguri without the same level of military escort provided to white journalists stand? None. Yet Maiduguri must import 95% and supplies of its food needs from outside, utilising the same roads which are for the most part not as secured as the Nigerian government would want people to believe.

This was what months ago the insurgents said they wanted to create, a situation where they will control the rural areas directly or via terror flooding the government controlled towns with displaced people needing food and aid, while at the same time making the roads insecure and thus reducing the towns to dire straits as food and supplies will be in scarce supply. The insurgent strategy for an eventual capture of Maiduguri which they admit will do severe morale damage to to the other side at high costs for them, is predicated upon flooding the metropolis with displaced people from all over the region fleeing there for safety and security from the insurgency, and then starving it at a relatively inexpensive cost to them, before making a costly final assault to seize the city, as I explained months ago here.

The situation in Maiduguri is one in which a focus on the lack of the usual spectacular news headline-worthy Boko Haram bomb attacks ( in my previously mentioned article for The Kavlak Centre here I explained why the rate of terror attacks in urban areas have become scarce) has led to the ignoring of the much more strategically decisive war being fought in the countrysides and over the highways through which the city survives.

The effects of the emptying of the countrysides into Maiduguri and the general insecurity of the rural areas and roads leading to the metropolis from them, is seen in the desperate situation of the almost 5million inhabitants it now has, slightly more than triple the probably 1.5m residents it had pre-2009 Uprising. Food riots have on several occasions broken out in the metropolis, as food scarcities have hit the millions of displaced from the countrysides now resident in the city so badly, and yet the government’s response to the situation has left a lot more to be desired. People are driven to desperation, with some considering staying in Boko Haram controlled areas a better option to dying of hunger inside the relative safety of Maiduguri. Most of those who try to leave the city to go back to the insurgent controlled territories they fled from, are turned back by the Army, and in their anger and desperation at the lack of food and the lack of a government response, they have rioted.

The food riots and the reportage now in the main stream media of the dire humanitarian situation in the region, sheds light on what the current Nigerian Administration would prefer to keep in the dark, as it contradicts the rosy picture of a technical defeat and a war that has ended that the government has been trying to sell since 2015.

What we have are several insurgent organizations waging a quiet war which they want to draw out for as long as possible to force the government to give up the countrysides and settle for holding the towns and heavily fortifying them and make them difficult for the insurgents to capture while they i.e the insurgents will have freedom of mobility and operations in the rural areas, and be able to harass the roads connecting linking the towns with themselves and the rural areas, while emptying as much of the rural populations as possible into the fortified and presumed safe urban settlements, that would then be strained by the increased demand placed on resources that are getting scarce and scarcer due to the insecure roads.

So far this is playing out albeit too slowly for most observers to recognize all of it as part of one thought out plan (people ‘watching’ this conflict tend to focus on the dots, instead of the connection between them). The Nigerian and Nigerien and Cameroonians are in varying degrees doing what the insurgents are banking on that they will do, towns like Bama, Kolofata, Marwa/Maroua and Maiduguri are heavily garrisoned and fortified to be safe zones and garrison centres, rural populations then empty out of their areas fleeing Boko Haram terror for the relative safety of such areas, the Army and security services are then stretched thin maintaining the huge apparatus necessary to maintain the fortified state of the towns and also prevent infiltration by Boko Haram elements disguising as displaced persons, in addition to also dealing with other non-Boko Haram related security challenges across the rest of the country (Niger has to secure its northern territories against terrorist incursions from Libya and Mali, maintain the heavy security clamp it has on the neck of the supporters of the political opposition, Nigeria has to fight cattle-rustling, maintain stability in Plateau State, keep the peace in North Central Nigeria, fight Niger Delta militants, in addition to providing the police with support in many states across the country), this reduces the number of soldiers available to do other things.

Thus the numerous roads ‘opened’ are left vulnerable to harassment by the insurgents and supply convoys need heavy military escort to avoid being ambushed by the insurgents. This leads to less and less supplies reaching the ever increasing swarm of humanity in the safe areas, tensions rise, food riots break out, more soldiers are needed to maintain order, the circle goes on and on until the breaking point is reached where the government has to decide which towns it can afford to lose, so it can consolidate in more strategic urban settlements.

How Does The Government Beat This?

The first step is to admit that there is a huge problem, and stop with the pathetic attempts to bury everything it considers embarrassing under a huge wall of propaganda. Disinformation is allowed as a legitimate tactic of war, but burying the true state of things so they don’t embarrass you, while your citizens suffer is criminal. The government has to admit that there is a major problem in the humanitarian situation inn the region, then it must proceed to the second step, which is to seek help.

Help can be found from organizations such as the International Committee Of The Red Cross or ICRC and Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF. These tewo organizations have been at the fore front of providing assistance to displaced people and victims of this conflict. They  understand the humanitarian situation far better than the local governments and are in the best position to run a well funded programme of assistance to the people of the region. The ICRC for example in a period in 2015 fed over 500,000 displaced people, and has so far registered over 2.5m displaced persons. The MSF in many cases is the only medical help available to millions of IDPs in Northeast Nigeria. They are the only medical support found in Banki Camp in Borno State right on the Cameroon border, in an area held by the Nigerian Army and cut off from the rest of the country, the only assumed safe way to reach it even for all but the most heavily armed convoys is via helicopter, and MSF does that flying in aid from the Cameroonian side of the the border. MSF runs a hospital in Maimusari area of Maiduguri that provides medical consultation to the thousands of IDPs in that area, there is no usable government medical facility around and the IDPs don’t trust the government doctors.

Getting  MSF and the ICRC to help is easy, all the government has to do is give them free rein, put aside its political and bureaucratic considerations, and give them funding even if done discreetly so they can reach more people with food and medicines. A good way to start would be to stop trying to make them to take on military escorts when they go out into the field, and waive those 100,000 euros (N41million) customs duty fees tying down much needed humanitarian aid brought in by MSF meant for IDPs in Northeast Nigeria,  at Onne Port in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Allowing these aid agencies to coordinate the humanitarian effort, will ensure that the IDPs get the food and other assistance that they require, and tensions over food scarcity will simmer down, and the cholera outbreak (now that the rains are coming) that most of the humanitarian community working in the region is afraid will hit the IDP camps and IDP population outside the camp because of a lack of drinking water, shelter, medicines combined with malnutrition, is averted. This at the end means, extra soldiers to maintain order because of angry hungry IDPs rioting over food, or seeking to return back to the hell of Boko Haram because they find the safe zones even worse, will be freed up for more essential duties.

Ultimately, all these depends on the government connecting the dots, realising that it is fighting a thinking enemy, and developing a strategy that out-thinks that enemy.

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6 thoughts on “The Lake Chad: Bleak Reality Behind A Wall Of Propaganda

  1. Oga
    Excellent piece as ever but let me play devils advocate and come at this from a different angle.
    I concur with your conclusions about BH holding the countryside leaving the MNJTF and NA with limited control of the roads and population centre.
    However I will give several responses
    1) This is normal for every insurgency, in Colombia, Afghanistan, wherever, the insurgents will dominate the difficult terrain like forests or swamps. In urban conflicts like Baghdad or Belfast they dominated the slums.
    Combatting this threat is a massively expensive undertaking (which I will touch on later) even during the civil war when the Federal Army took towns, the Biafrans regularly ambushed their supply lines and denied them the hinterland
    2) Even if BH plans to besiege the cities and then launch a frontal assault possibly with infiltrators we ignore several factors, BH is subject to the same famine they have caused, likewise they have hundreds if not thousands of abductee slaves and children of these slaves to feed as well, they are no longer attracting thousands of recruits or abducting thousands to replace losses like before
    3) In the same vein Nigerian units are not being overrun and abandoning equipment like before, what they cannot capture they must buy
    4) With the civilian population gone there is no one to extort, no farm produce, fish, fuel smuggling reduced, fertiliser restricted so their financial options are limited to support the campaign. Daesh is struggling itself and is unlikely to extend much funds
    5) So the long and short is that they can at best create a stalemate and hope to drag the war out till Nigerian forces are exhausted and they can resurrect
    6) The solution is already actually in hand. The only way to cleanse the rural areas is to go in there and fight the enemy on their own terms pursuing them until they die, surrender or leave the fight. The 2 most successful examples I can think of off the top of my head were the Sri Lankans SF and SIOT Teams and the SADF in Namibia, specifically the Koevet. The last action of the last admin was to get 72 MF Bn trained by STTEP in exactly those tactics of relentless pursuit. There is no reason why we should or could not be using these troops to start chasing BH around, particularly when dry season hits or at least trying to expand the force.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My Oga at the top,

      Your number five point captures exactly the crux of what they have over the years thought along the lines of: drag out this war for as long as possible and exhaust the government on all planes; military, political etc; until the government decides that the area is not worth the stress or it is no longer tenable politically and economically for the government to keep expending resources there, then the government withdraws, and they i.e the insurgents take over one village, hamlet, town etc at a time… Strategic patience one would say, is at the core of their strategy to win.

      Your number six point is one we must examine fully.. The core of any successful counter insurgency/counter guerrilla campaign, especially one like this, is good intelligence, relentless pursuit, taking the fight to the enemy wherever he is. Like you pointed out, this was successful in Sri Lanka, and largely successful in Namibia (although that was a bit complicated with the Angolan issue), I dare add that in Vietnam, it was militarily successful within Vietnam but political decisions negated whatever benefits it brought to the table.

      The 72nd SF Battalion and also 145 Battalion were trained in the tactics necessary for relentless pursuit and taking the fight relentlessly to the enemy, however, much of that training as I am sure you are aware has been lost due to the Nigerian Factor. Good officers who had been in theatre for quite a bit and had learnt firsthand in addition to what they were later taught by the foreign military advisors, have been retired due to internal Army politics and external Nigerian political considerations. The selection process for the SF battalions has been diluted, and so has the quality of personnel within them, I am also sure you are aware of this (and Oga Beegeagle too). Couple this with the situation regarding CAS aircraft, attack aircraft and even medevac aircraft. You are also aware of the deep fundamental structural problems plaguing the intelligence community, good hands are frustrated because of nepotism and politics, exceptionalism is discouraged and mediocrity is celebrated, threat perception is totally lacking, regime security trumps national security, brunt work intelligence gathering is neglected unless it is to spy on political and bureaucratic opponents, SIGINT, GEOINT, ELINT neglected etc . All these have created a situation where the Nigerian State as one body knows, understands, is aware of nothing. It reacts instead of being proactive..

      Relentless pursuit which we both agree is key, and a carefully applied decapitation strategy require accurate intelligence, and a grounded understanding of the nature of the threat before deciding exactly how these hyperaggressive strategies will be applied. We severely lack intelligence capabilities across all spectrums, and this you also know. So how then do we pursue a strategy of taking the fight to the enemy and gradually chipping away at his strategic strength, when we dont know the enemy, cannot differentiate him from the civilian military age males we have killed on multiple occasions because they were in enemy controlled territory (were tens of thousands of people live), and we do not know the enemy’s inner workings? Heck, we dont even know how the enemy organizations are structured.

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      1. Great discussion in the comment section here. I am eagerly waiting for a response from Oga peccavi.

        Oga Fulan, from your comment, there appears to be subtle insinuations that you are not entirely satisfied with the performance of the current regime? Also, are u suggesting that the much publicized fallout among key leaders of the insurgency is not as severe as reported or does it just not have a significant impact on the operational dynamics of the insurgents?

        Personally, from my much less informed point of view, I have mixed feelings regarding the current state of the conflict in the northeast. On the one hand, I am somewhat relieved that the general tide appears to have turned against the insurgents, on the other, I am greatly concerned that once again we are the verge of “Nigerianizing” this problem. That is, effectively suppressing the immediate challenge with overwhelming force, while lazily refusing to holistically assess and address the larger strategic issues.
        I think we need to examine the catastrophe of the Northeast from a security and socioeconomic perspective and make wide spread radical changes that will serve to mitigate any future issues of this sort.

        We all watched in horror the dismal performance of our national armed forces a little over a year ago, and how a rag tag militia routed them from town to town. In little over a year, our armed forces had been completely demystified and our nation arguably brought to her lowest point since she emerged as a independent entity called Nigeria.
        The immediate response within the military high command was to blame the introduction of degree academic work into the curriculum of the Nigerian Defense Academy. They claimed that degree academic work had made the officers soft. The immediate past commandant of NDA, General Idris, went further to unilaterally alter the standard curriculum in the academy by increasing what he called “military training” and reducing academic work. Mind you, what they call military training is nothing more than frog jump and sitting on head for hours on end. General Idris then ordered that the academic curriculum should be completed within an impossible time frame. How such myopic and outright stupid thinking can be coming from men we call officers in the nigerian armed forces is truly beyond me.
        Till this day, there has not been a proper assessment and examination of the failings of our armed forces in the early stages of the war. Trust us, in less than a decade, we will completely forget events of the recent past until it reoccurs.

        Examining the socioeconomic challenges is a much more complex and complicated endeavor. If history is anything to go by, I can authoritatively state that Nigeria does not do “complex” or “complicated” when it comes to addressing Her issues, only shallow and myopic. I was truly optimistic after the events that led to the exit of president Jonathan, but as it stands today, it appears to be just more of the same nonsense. God save our soul

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oga Owi,

        You practically said a lot of what i have been saying off line and to a lesser extent online.

        The orientation of our national system is faulty, and thus our national security system too has no choice but to be crippled at the fundamentals. The spooks and soldiers and the Generals and Directors are but a reflection of the society, as are the politicians to whom they answer.

        The day our society begins to really analyse and dissect its mistakes professionally and then go about correcting them, again with the best and highest professional standards, is the day our country will stop being so porous in its national security architecture.

        This is the 21st Century and imagine a General officer saying the above intellectually crippled statement that academics is what has made our officers weak, and the solution to a failure of leadership and a system of rot and mediocrity is to do what is tantamounts to more push ups.

        I have met many many many Colonels, Majors, Lt Colonels, brilliant, intelligent strategists that the Red Army Stavka and even the Wehrmacht would have been proud of. None of them made Brigadier-General. Instead the people who couldn’t perform when they went to US and Pakistan for specialized courses whether in Armour and Artillery, the people who were always bottom of the class, the ones who failed Tactics 101 in at Jaji are the ones we find strutting aroiund in the shoes of Generals that they are not fit to wear in any working country.

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  2. Oga
    No vex, na waka about dey cause me to delay my response.
    To be honest I have very little understanding of Nigerian politicians or leadership an that lack of understanding worsens the more you look around the world and see how countries with none of our resources look after themselves and their people whilst in Nigeria human beings can happily tell you they took N20m to pray for election without seeing the problem.
    So I will avoid those questions and focus on the ones that I can address without excess hypertension.
    Yes relentless pursuit is key to destroying the enemy but to defeat the long term strategy of exhausting the Nigerian forces can only be defeated with a 4 prong strategy to my mind
    1) Military: the relentless pursuit and domination of the key terrain- The Mandara Mountains, Lake Chad, Forests across the North etc by well armed, highly mobile forces
    2) Police: the population needs to be protected and the only way to do this is police, increasing the Federal Police and taking the current vigilantes as auxiliaries
    3) Economic: the economy must be revived, preferably by reinvigorating agriculture and maybe developing an agric processing industry
    4) Social/ religious: religion and politics must be separated and regulated
    Operationally though the immediate situation in the Lake Chad area is at what I would consider a strategic stalemate. Nigerian and Allied forces have the initiative however they have not got the forces or resources to deliver a knock out blow and unfortunately as you point out resources are not infinite, Nigeria faces multiple military problems and multiple security problems that sucks up our outnumbered, badly trained and badly equipped security forces and as long as enough equipped and motivated BH remains the problem remains

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  3. Stez

    Stez

    quite an interesting piece and the follow up discussions. I find it quite intriguing that the military propaganda machinery is somewhat effective and even so, albeit coincidental that the insurgents propaganda machinery has suddenly taking a reactionary position. Could this be all part of the insurgents grand strategy of giving the false illusion of victory? Unlike back in the days that they respond to almost every military pronouncements and take responsibility for certain actions.

    A lot has happened within the past few weeks in the theater. Suddenly the insurgents perhaps taking advantage of the end of the rain season to make quick gains, have been on the offensive. For several months there have been no coordinated attacks on a full battalion, unfortunately, there have been about 2 or 3 in the past weeks. keen observers have left with several questions like:

    could it be that the estrange factions have reconciled ?
    was there a deal in the release of the 21 chibok girls that gave the insurgents an upper hand?
    was there a change of strategy that has resulted in this new wave or it was all part of the strategy?

    once again, thanks for your great piece.

    Like

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