Boko Haram Strikes Again Highlighting Nigeria's Military Flaws

June 10, 2014 - 4:34 PM

Yesterday, Boko Haram, Nigeria's Islamist insurgency, kidnapped another 20 girls in Northern Nigeria - an area President Goodluck Jonathan promised would see increased protection by the military (via WSJ):

The village of Garkin Fulani was preparing for its weekly market early Monday when Boko Haram fighters pulled up in a tractor trailer and began pulling young girls into the truck, said Adu Ibrahim, the area's chairman for a vigilante group called the Civilian Joint Task Force.

The village straddles the same dirt road that leads to Chibok, a small and remote town where Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in April. The area is the heartland of the insurgency, which has flourished over the past five years despite government efforts to suppress it.

The attack was the latest reminder of how vulnerable the northeastern corner of Nigeria has become, despite President Goodluck Jonathan's declarations of war against Boko Haram. The country's military was nowhere to be seen during the hours long raid, said a member of the state government there.

Instead, the job of preventing more kidnappings has fallen to a group of vigilantes who say they have been left with only hunting rifles, fashioned from car parts and scraps of wood, to go up against the rocket launchers and heavy machine guns of Boko Haram.

So, what's going on here?  Why are civilians assuming the responsibility protecting their fellow citizens from these incursions by Boko Haram? And, that's a stretch given how poorly they're equipped.

Michela Wrong explained in Foreign Policy last week why Africa's militaries are "so disappointingly bad."

Well, first, the area of the search for the missing Nigerian girls is beyond vast; we're talking about an area that five times the size of Switzerland.

Second, Nigeria's reputation for its officials being highly susceptible to avarice and corruption are well known.  In the case of the military, Wrong wrote, "the Nigerian media were recounting how unpaid allowances, miserly rations, and Spartan living conditions were undermining morale among soldiers -- who complained militants went into battle far better equipped than they."

In all, corruption, low morale, and logistical obstacles are at the main reasons why the Nigerian military is ineffective against Boko Haram:

At one barracks in Maiduguri, a flashpoint for Boko Haram attacks, soldiers mutinied twice in May alone, with recruits on one occasion opening fire on a major general's car.

Observers say soldiers manning road blocks often lack radios that would allow them to communicate with colleagues, and the JTF lack the capacity to air lift forces to conflict zones, dooming troops to days of travel to even reach Nigeria's northeast.

"We spend billions of pounds a year on the Nigerian army, but you have to bribe the armory to get a round for your AK47," Nigerian blogger Kayode Ogundamisi told an audience at London's Frontline club this week.

"Corruption, let's be frank, is at the core of this issue."

So, will Nigeria get her daughters back soon? Tragically, we shouldn't hold our breaths.