Philip Walton rescue: Another lesson from America
Nigerian security institutions, particularly the Armed Forces should take time to imbibe remarkable lessons from the rescue operation successfully carried out the other day by the United States Special Forces on an American, Philip Walton. The operation is a proud example of efficient Armed Forces and responsive governance. Beyond that, Nigeria in the 21st century, and 60 years after independence, ought to be showing greater semblance of protecting her citizens beyond the present lack-luster level she presently displays.
Granted that the country’s level of sophistication is patently incomparable to that of the Americans, Nigerian authorities should be concerned that the nation’s security capabilities have been shrinking, to the extent that some of the criminally bizarre things happening now were virtually non-existent and hard to contemplate some years ago. The nagging question raised in this episode is: what really is the worth of a Nigerian life to government?
The U.S. example offers empirical demonstration of how much a citizen’s life should mean to a serious and responsible authority. The Nigerian Armed Forces and their handlers, therefore, should learn vital lessons in military intelligence, exceptional skills, precision and bravery.
On the eve of a presidential election in the United States, when the entire machinery of the state could have been diverted to internal security in other democracies, the U.S. SEAL Team Six conducted a night-time clean break-in to the den of dare-devil militias in the West African region. Walton, 27, was abducted on Tuesday in Massalata, a border community in Niger Republic. Barely 96 hours later, he was freed unscathed in the Boko Haram territory in Borno State. Six of the seven abductors were killed, while none of the six elite officers was hurt. President Donald Trump had approved the operation and was proud to announce “the big win” on Twitter even in the heat of election coverage.
The rescued Walton, an adventurous small-scale farmer, could have been abandoned to his fate with the 2020 presidential elections down to the wire and COVID-19 pandemic ravaging in a second wave. But an American in distress anywhere in the world means much more to the U.S. government. In the words of the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo: “The United States is committed to the safe return of all U.S. citizens taken captive. We delivered on that commitment in Nigeria. We will never abandon any American taken hostage.” That has been the U.S. tradition over the ages.
The American government has shown again that where there is a will, there is a way. And this calls to question the will of the Nigerian government to fight insurgencies decisively. Before and after Walton, hundreds of Nigerian citizens had been taken into captivity without any determined efforts at their rescue. Had government been more pro-active and responsive, most of the abductions could have been prevented. At least 112 out of 276 Chibok Schoolgirls are still missing six years after. Leah Sharibu, the Dapchi Christian girl has not returned two years after her abduction, despite the Federal Government’s several promises. Indeed, there are hundreds of Waltons that could have been freed with military intelligence, precision, and bravery, where the government and armed forces are as willing as the U.S. authorities.
Back in the days, the Nigerian Army executed such gallantry with successes and it is still not beyond a well-trained, equipped and result-oriented infantry to stampede the Boko Haram menace. But the Armed Forces’ weakness has been exposed on one-too-many occasions and in a manner unbefitting of the most populous black nation in the world. Otherwise, how come the U.S. Special Forces were able to demystify the same militias that the Nigerian Armed Forces had treated as impenetrable all these years? Why have the Nigerian Air Force and its air power proven ineffective to combat militias, free abductees and defend the country’s territory?
Indeed, the ultimate firepower lies with our Armed Forces, but successive administrations since the Civil War had paid lip service to properly equipping the Army, Air Force and the Navy to be competitive. In the last 10 years, defence has been earning a huge chunk of the national budgets but without commensurate improvement in defence armoury. Nigeria cannot keep neglecting the Armed Forces in a time of war and expect a formidable operation.
Again, the military that is statutorily saddled with preserving territorial integrity is overstretched, fighting on all fronts. The army, with a limited number of personnel, is fighting in all States – from tackling insurgencies, clashes between farmers and herders, religious and tribal conflicts, and down to civil disturbances like the #End SARS protests and the aftermath. With the Nigeria Police Force also comatose, ill-trained and unequipped, the army has been more preoccupied with the primary functions of the police. Such arrangements are aberrations in modern state security architecture.
The Federal Government and political class should urgently position Nigeria to her potentially pre-eminent locus as the leader in Africa. The Armed Forces should be competing in the nuclear space, rather than be overwhelmed by domestic affairs and getting ambushed by regional militias. It begins with understanding the primary function of the Armed Forces as different from that of the Police and allowing them to stick to their constitutional and result-oriented duties. Across the board is the imperative of proper funding to enhance human capital, training, sufficient deployment of equipment and modern gadgets across the forces. The turning of such a new leaf should begin with the 2021 Appropriation Bill and proper oversight to ensure that the Armed Forces and the police are commensurate with the investment.
That hundreds of Nigerians are still held in Boko Haram captivity is the fault of the Federal Government that has consistently failed to place priority on the lives of every Nigerian. That is contrary to the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State policy enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which President Muhammadu Buhari swore to defend. In the main, the U.S. rescue operation of their only one citizen in Nigeria demonstrates again the essence of a constitutional provision that ‘‘security and welfare of the citizens shall be the primary purpose of government.’’
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