Honourable Adejoro Adeogun is a security expert and the Vice-Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence. In this interview with Nigerian cable news online, he discusses the ongoing fight against insurgency in the North-East.
Troops fighting insurgents have been lamenting inadequate weapons and welfare but military authorities have repeatedly denied this. Who do you think has been lying to Nigerians?
I cannot say anyone is lying to Nigerians because the situation in the North-East has evolved over time. Conditions on all the front lines are different too, so it would be unfair to make a generalised assumption based on a few isolated incidents. Unlike the situation reported in 2019, the activities of the military in the North-East have recorded some major successes, especially over the past three months. I am aware of the great strides made by the (Nigerian) Air Force in strafing the insurgents as well as in developing armaments locally to meet pressing needs. I am equally aware of the improved capability of the land forces and how well they have routed the Islamic State’s West Africa Province and Boko Haram fighters out of their former strongholds.
So, why is the press not dwelling on these gains rather than promoting the ill-conceived social media rants of a few misguided soldiers? As Nigerians, we must understand that the military is our military and they are engaged in fighting our war. Like a football team that needs the support of fans for inspiration, the military need armaments as well as the moral support of Nigerians to perform. If we hail them, they will deliver optimally, but if we make them a laughing stock, they will be mediocre in the fight against insurgency.
Several videos have emerged from the front line in which troops have protested over these issues. Why should the troops be denied adequate weapons and welfare?
Military operation should not be treated like a video game or an opportunity to take selfies. Every soldier is required to sign an oath of secrecy upon enlistment. So, making and disseminating videos of military operations is a direct contravention of the Official Secrets Act, which is a serious felony. Agreed, there could be challenges in the course of operations; things may not be as ideal as they should be but the military has their chain of communication and it should not be discarded because of unhindered access to social media. In any case, I think this is happening because the field commanders have failed to enforce routine rules.
What are the routine rules the field commanders should enforce?
Every military operation should be preceded by a briefing where the nature of operations, rules of engagement, mode and lines of communications are explained. It will usually require that external communication gadgets are retrieved from those engaged in such operations to prevent unauthorised disclosure of the operations, prevent distraction of the troops and protect the troop movement from being compromised through unapproved communications or monitoring of their gadgets. We all know that telephones are distractions, so a man carrying a rifle on a battlefield should not be distracted by a mobile phone. A battlefield is a place for utmost concentration and not an avenue for multi-tasking between the use of a weapon and a mobile phone. By the way, in the case of the last viral video, how are we sure that the Improvised Explosive Device that the soldiers ran into was not triggered by the mobile phones in the possession of the troops?
You have criticised soldiers for recording events with phones and not the authorities who have failed to provide the things the troops need to be effective and not be killed. How else would the authorities know the true state of things concerning the war?
There are several channels for communication available to every soldier. If the intention of making the videos is to draw the attention of the political leadership to their plight rather than in pursuit of mischief, those who made them could have discreetly sent the recordings to higher quarters without turning them into social media entertainment that undermines the rest of their colleagues. Military operations are discreet operations and such recordings reveal the positions and modus operandi of the military to the enemy. Besides, every soldier knows that the social media do not form part of the channels of communication in the military. The military is not the Boys’ Brigade. It has rules and we must discourage acts of indiscipline among our soldiers.
What if the troops had made several futile efforts to get the attention of the authorities to their plight and had no other choice but to resort to airing their grievances online?
From what the soldiers displayed in the viral video, it did not appear like they had made any previous complaints. We are discussing the military for Christ’s sake, not the Salvation Army. The military is a compartmentalised entity that operates on a need-to-know basis, so soldiers are not in a position to know anything beyond their briefs. So, making generalised statements about the entire military is completely out of place. For any soldier who has genuine issues about operations, the fit and proper chain of complaint is to his Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, company commander, unit commander of commanding officer, and not the media. Soldiers subscribe to the oath of secrecy and the Official Secrets Act, which do not allow public airing of operational issues. Ventilating grievances on social media is a no-no! All of us should condemn it because it exposes not just the military but the entire nation to ridicule. If like you suggested they need help from sources outside the military to make their voices heard, they can approach elected representatives to help them express their grievances. That way, actions that could undermine the institution of the military will be eliminated.
Is there a crime in protesting when troops are losing their colleagues at the battlefield due to some actions and/or inaction of the Defence Headquarters?
I sympathise with soldiers in the front line. Facing gun battles cannot be easy. Nonetheless, every soldier knows that public protest is akin to mutiny. That is why they should explore more discreet avenues to draw attention to operational shortfalls.
Don’t you think the military could be using the secrecy factor to mismanage the affairs of soldiers on the battlefield?
Definitely, one cannot rule out such indiscretions but we cannot solve a problem by encouraging actions that could put the entire institution in jeopardy. In any case, the recent events are learning points that the military can use to improve channels of communications between the troops and the leadership.
Has the House ever conducted an on-the-spot assessment of military activities in the North-East for first-hand information, beyond what the service chiefs tell federal lawmakers?
The House has several ways of getting first-hand information about events in the North-East. Apart from visits by the Defence committees, there are members of the National Assembly who represent these areas and are able to provide first-hand information.
So, what has the House been able to achieve with the interventions and meetings with service chiefs?
Meeting with the service chiefs give the House an opportunity to understand the challenges faced by the Armed Forces, beyond what is displayed for the consumption of the civil populace. With constant interactions, the military leadership has come to understand the need to build a robust rapprochement with the legislature. So, together we have achieved a lot. Based on parliamentary understanding of the funding challenges which have consistently undermined the operational effectiveness of the military, a new bill was brought and passed by the National Assembly to seek other avenues of raising funds to support the rebuilding of the military. On the part of the leadership of the military, they now have a better understanding of the supervisory role of the legislature, thereby enhancing better synergy. The role of the National Assembly is to provide support and legislative oversight. I can assure you that the 9th Assembly is committed to performing these roles in the interest of Nigeria.