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The Economist And Its Misadventure On The Nigerian Army

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By Philip Agbese

I read the London-based Economist magazine’s editorial, the crime scene at the heart of Africa, and I ended having mixed feelings about Nigeria. The title of the editorial was well cast to elicit a wide readership. That was brilliant. It ran historical about Nigeria with flashes of the civil war. In the usual manner, it dwelled on historical disjoint regarding the remote and immediate causes of the war. This is a topic for another day.
The editorial board of the magazine sanctioned such publication without recourse to the sensibilities of its readership. It went on a foray of invectives that could be used in blogs and startup news mediums. This was what the Economist did, and it is somewhat indicative that editorial competence has eluded the organization.

My grouse with the editorial was the gross misrepresentation of facts regarding the prosecution of the war against insurgency in Nigeria and other forms of criminalities. “The Nigerian Army is mighty on paper. But many of its soldiers are ghosts” it stated. How could one possibly explain this statement? Was it a statement of fact or the usual attempt at jabbing the successes recorded in North-East Nigeria and other parts of the country?
What was the source of information? A product of detailed field research or outright insinuations and illogical conclusions? I will go with the latter because the Economist got it wrong in all ramifications. A visit to the theatre of operations in North-East Nigeria would help a great deal in understanding that the publication of the Economist relied on outdated data that dates back to 2009 when the Boko Haram group began its violent campaign in Nigeria.

I also need to add that the Economist must be educated to know that in the year 2016, while Lt Gen T.Y Buratai, now Ambassador of Nigeria to Benin Republic, held sway as the chief of army staff, the Nigerian Army gained ascendency over the Boko Haram group, that led to their dislodgement from Sambisa Forest. So much so, that it was common knowledge that the activities of Boko were restricted to the fringes of the Lake Chad basin region.

What about the super camp strategy introduced in 2019, that involved taking the fight to the enemies in their hideouts after dislodging them from their operational headquarters in Sambisa Forest. Again, the successes recorded were outstanding. But the Economist was not aware of these feats because its editors were probably holed up in their comfort zones in London.

This is 12 years after, and a medium as respectable as the Economist magazine is caught pants down. The conclusion is this: either the editorial was in return for a plate of porridge or a deliberate attempt to boost readership on its platform. Whichever motive was responsible, it remains that the Economist magazine is only mighty in name but meagerly in editorial content.

The death of Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi, known factional leaders of Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa Province, ought to have sent a message to the editorial team at the Economist. Did they deliberately ignore or they were not privy to the recent happenings in North-East Nigeria?
Let me digress a little. The real crime scene was at the editorial boardroom of the Economist magazine, where the publication of such misinformation about the Nigerian Army was okayed without due diligence. It, therefore, indicates that the tendency for readers to be misinformed by the Economist is high. Or could it be that the Economist has joined forces with the global network of terrorism promoters by promoting news stories that give terror gangs psychological advantages?

Back to the crux. The Nigerian Army remains a highly professional force, whose impact in Nigeria on addressing the myriads of security challenges has been noteworthy. The fact remains that the Nigerian Army has been extensively involved in Internal Security Operations across the country.
The editors at the Economist must come to terms that the Nigerian Army’s role in internal security operations does not only have robust precedence; it has now become a national security imperative. And why is this so?

The Army’s readiness and availability suffices in this regard. Therefore, as The Economist put it, I am not convinced that “ghost” soldiers could attain such a feat.
I also wonder how it eluded the editors at the Economist, the political undertone to the security challenges in Nigeria. I would suggest that they lay hold of the profile of the Chief of Army Staff in Nigeria. After that, I believe they would have a rethink with regards to the term “ghost soldiers.”
For the records, Lt. Gen. Farouk Yahaya was the commander of the counter-insurgency operations in North-East Nigeria before he was appointed Chief of Army Staff. And the records are in the public domain for their perusal. I am tempted to believe that the editors at the Economist are intolerant about Nigeria as a country for reasons best known to them. This intolerance they have recently transferred to the operations of the Nigerian Army.

For the records, almost 6000 insurgent commanders and foot soldiers have recently surrendered due to improved counter-insurgency operations in North-East Nigeria. And many more exploits that are in the public domain that the Economist elected to ignore.
My takeaway from the editorial is that the Economist was economical in their analysis. It smacks of mischief and a deliberate attempt to misinform and create a crisis of confidence within the Nigerian Army. But did they succeed? The answer is no. and were there lessons to be learnt?

There are indeed lessons to be learnt in the sense that readers should be circumspect with content from the supposed mighty news mediums such as The Economist. Most of them have lost editorial standards. The staying power is the name and not the content, as evident in the analysis in “the crime scene in the heart of Africa”.
“The crime scene in the heart of Africa” is fiction. The Nigerian Army is not mighty on paper; it is a professional force with verifiable exploits in counter-insurgency and internal security operations. I would have availed more details about the achievements of the Nigerian Army in recent times. However, I will leave that for the army authorities.

This piece is not a structured response but an opinion from a concerned citizen who is conversant with the operations of the Nigerian Army and its numerous contributions to peace and stability. And I say in unequivocal terms that there are no “ghost soldiers” in the Nigerian Army. The Economist must do well to recant their stance.

Agbese is a human rights law researcher at the Middlesex University London.

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