THE admission by the Chief of Defence Staff, Lucky Irabor, that fifth columnists are active in the Nigerian Armed Forces lays bare a major factor that has contributed to the prolonged war against insurgency in Nigeria. This followed the recent arrests of military personnel found variously to be informants, collaborators and arms suppliers to terrorists and kidnappers operating in various parts of the country. To win the war against terrorism and bring the 13-year-old Islamist insurgency and banditry to a close, uprooting traitors and cleansing the security agencies of betrayers should be a major plank of the strategy.
In his memo to Field and Operational Commanders, Irabor, an Army general, deplored the treachery of several military personnel arrested within a short period of time for collaborating with the enemy. Undoubtedly, he said, this was indicative of “inside action that has continued to aid the adversary, pertinently with immediate or potential impact on operations.” Citing some of the recent cases, the CDS told commanders to “sensitise personnel on the implication of collaborating with the enemy while taking appropriate actions that would forestall such incidents.”
Sadly, the military is acting late. Reports and accusations of collusion by insiders have been made public by diverse sources over the years without evidence of the authorities taking them seriously. The country is bleeding and paying dearly for this laxity and intelligence failure. Apart from the thousands of civilians that died, or got injured and the millions displaced by the Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgency in the North-East and their terrorist/bandit/Fulani herdsmen allies in the North-West and North-Central, soldiers, police officers and other security personnel are being killed.
According to the National Security Tracker run by the Council on Foreign Relations, between January 1 and May 15, this year, criminals killed 323 security agents across the country. The victims included soldiers, police officers, and personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and the Nigeria Correctional Service. For a country fighting insurgency and various forms of criminality on all fronts, the avoidable loss of its security personnel should not be allowed to continue.
Obviously, going by the innumerable ambushes of troops, the actions of traitors have led to the death of many gallant soldiers and officers betrayed by their colleagues. Examples abound; a soldier was arrested by a covert intelligence team for conniving with a confirmed terrorist informant, Babagana Kura, in Borno State. Another soldier was nabbed with 162 rounds of 7.62 mm of ammunition, 60 rounds of 7.62 mm NATO regulation ammo, and Improvised Explosive Devices materials concealed in a travelling bag.
Beyond highlighting the problem, therefore, the relevant authorities, including the Defence Headquarters, Defence Intelligence Agency, the State Security Service and Office of the National Security Adviser, must without delay take very strong, effective steps to unmask the enemies within.
In a notorious case, Abdullahi Jibrin, a weapons instructor and lance corporal in the Nigerian Army Battalion in Geidam, Yobe State, reportedly committed suicide after he was arrested for allegedly working with Boko Haram terrorists and taking part in their recent attacks on his fellow soldiers and civilians. In March 2020, the terrorists ambushed and killed about 47 soldiers, who were transporting bombs in a convoy in Gorigi, near Allargano Forest area of Borno State.
A brigadier-general, Dzarma Zurkusu, and three other officers were ambushed and killed by ISWAP fighters in November 2021 in Askira-Uba Local Government Area, Borno State. Recently too, three soldiers were arrested in Zamfara State for collaborating with terrorists. Part of the ammunition packages one of the soldiers sold to the terrorists at N100,000 each was stolen from a military base.
Insider betrayal takes a heavy toll on troops fighting insurgency. It chipped fatally away at the gains of the international coalition and Afghan troops fighting the Taliban Islamists, killing hundreds and sabotaging crucial operations. Worse, it batters troops’ morale and their willingness to fight, especially if the commanders and intelligence units cannot identify and stop the traitors. Such “green-on-blue” attacks led to the killing of 172 soldiers, and 85 wounded in 82 insider attacks in 2019 alone. The insider collaboration, coupled with other enablers, aided the Taliban in eventually overthrowing the Afghan government.
You cannot fight internal insurgency successfully if there are collaborators from within. The military has to uproot the traitors in its fold. It must overhaul its current intelligence system and introduce new strategies to identify moles and infiltrators. Technology and effective covert operations, including infiltration of enemy cells, “sting,” electronic surveillance and internet-enabled programmes are essential.
The comment by former President Goodluck Jonathan that Boko Haram had infiltrated his government should be instructive at this time; the net should seek to draw in government officials at all levels and sympathisers within the intelligence services enamoured of the perverse ideology of terrorists, or those betraying their country solely for pecuniary reasons.
Similarly, there have been allegations of traditional rulers and community heads colluding with terrorists. Zamfara has unmasked some culprits in this regard. The investigation should therefore be extensive.
The military should investigate the circumstances of Jibrin’s death and locate other members of his cell. Other security agencies too should look inwards and root out fifth columnists in their ranks, including the SSS and the police. Rather than being fixated on regime protection and harassing protesters, journalists and peaceful agitators, the SSS should reform, respond to the country’s peculiar security threats and effectively lead the fight against insecurity.
Nigeria should learn from other countries. Culprits should be swiftly prosecuted. In the United States, treason attracts death sentence or imprisonment of not less than five years with a fine of not less than $10,000. The punishment for collaborating with the enemy in the United Kingdom is life imprisonment. Nigeria must show seriousness by making harsh examples of the traitors.
Punch Editorial Board