Successes, Challenges of Military Operations Across Nigeria in 2023 By Sumaila Ogbaje

Nigeria has been in the grip of long-running trends of security challenges that have affected no fewer than 32 out of the 36 states in the country.

The challenges of terrorism, insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, farmers-herders crisis, ethnic agitations and economic sabotage have continued to evolve in different natures and forms.

These have occupied the attention of the security forces as they battle to address the spiralling security challenges with relative successes recorded nationwide despite emerging operational challenges.

Through various operations, the military and other security agencies have stepped up efforts to make Nigeria safer for all.

The military has particularly deployed several kinetic to non-kinetic approaches to tackle the challenges, including amnesty and deradicalisation programmes for surrendered and repentant terrorists who laid down their arms in the various theatres of operations.

Though the operations were not without setbacks, a lot was achieved in restoring peace and order to several communities across the country.

For instance, in Borno, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, peace has been largely restored and communities hitherto displaced by the crisis are finding their feet and striving to take back their life.

According to Borno Governor, Babagana Zulum, more than one million people displaced by the Boko Haram crisis in the state have so far been resettled by the government.

“They now reside securely with dignity in more than 20,000 newly constructed and rehabilitated resettlement homes across their ancestral communities in various local government areas of the state.

“Additionally, we have reinstated civil authority, provided essential amenities, and established livelihoods for the returnees.

“I am pleased to report that the security situation in the state has greatly improved and will continue to improve,” Mr Zulum said while presenting the 2024 budget to the state assembly.

The governor also said the dialogue with insurgents initiated by the government had led to the surrender of over 150,000 of them and their families.

According to him, disarmament, demobilisation, deradicalisation, rehabilitation, reconciliation and reintegration remains the best way, going forward, to ending insurgency and ensuring lasting peace in troubled areas of the country.

This typifies that operational successes alone without non-kinetic interventions would only guarantee pyrrhic victory, as the root causes may remain unaddressed.

So far, as stated by Mr Zulum, the military operations in the Northeast have brought about a considerable level of stability to the region, with several communities who fled the devastation caused by the Boko Haram and Islamic States of West African Province (ISWAP) terrorists, now back to their ancestral lands.

In the North-central and the North-west, Operations Safe Haven, Whirl Stroke, Hadarin Daji and Whirl Punch have been sustained by the military with significant successes.

The land and air offensives launched by troops in 2023 had taken out several terrorists and their collaborators and helped to rescue hundreds of hostages from the criminals.

In the Niger Delta region, the joint task force Operation Delta Safe and other security operations in the region have also reduced the vandalism of oil facilities.

In the last five months, the military has uncovered and destroyed 636 illegal refining sites and intercepted 21.7 million litres of crude oil valued at N54 billion.

No fewer than 610 suspected oil thieves were nabbed within the period while 670 boats used to convey stolen crude oil and its products were impounded.

In one such interception, a 77-meter-long oil tanker, MT VINNALARIS 1 LAGOS, involved in crude oil theft with 17 crew members onboard was impounded.

They were intercepted at the EBESAN oil field about 7 nautical miles off the coast of Awoye riverine community in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State.

According to the Naval spokesman, Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, the arrest of the vessel followed credible intelligence received by the base on the illegal activities of crude oil thieves at the location.

The decisive intervention has led to an increase in Nigeria’s oil production output to about 1.7 million barrels per day in December, a sharp increase from the 1.1 million barrels daily production as of August 2023.

Also, the Director of Defence Information, Edward Buba, said while briefing journalists on 15 December 2023, that troops on the frontline had eliminated 38 terrorists and arrested 155 within a week in the North-west where bandits continue to operate with impunity.

However, these successes were not without setbacks such as the killing of soldiers in ambushes, sabotage, loss of equipment and operational errors that had resulted in the killing of innocent citizens.

In August, a total of 36 officers and soldiers were killed in an ambush, followed by a helicopter crash in Niger where three officers and 22 soldiers paid the supreme price in Zungeru general area.

According to the update provided by Mr Buba, the NAF helicopter had evacuated deceased and wounded troops when it crashed in Chukuba, Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger.

The bodies of 14 soldiers previously killed in an ambush and the seven wounded ones being evacuated, as well as two pilots and two crew members on board were involved in the crash which left no survivor.

There were also other air mishaps involving NAF jets and helicopters within the year, which include the NAF Cessna Citation CJ3, a maritime patrol aircraft that belly landed in Lagos in February.

A NAF FT-7NI trainer aircraft also crashed in Makurdi, Benue in July, while an MI-35P helicopter crash-landed in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, on 1 December 1.

However, a major operational setback was recorded on 3 December, when a drone strike carried out by the Nigerian Army on Tudun Biri village in Kaduna State, targeting what they thought was a group of bandits, mistakenly hit the village, killing at least 88 civilians and leaving more than 70 injured.

The incident generated reactions from different quarters including individuals and organisations.

The military leadership and the federal government have taken steps to control the damage and provide succour to the victims and their families.

Despite the setbacks, Mr Buba assured Nigerians that the military will not relent in defeating bandits, insurgents and other terrorists in the country.

“The armed forces is hunting down prominent terrorists’ leadership and engaging them wherever they are hiding, these operations are being conducted in accordance with the laws of armed conflict and based on intelligence.

“The ongoing operations are also based on military necessities and are distinguishing between civilians, non-combatants, and terrorists.

“The military will continue to take the fight to the terrorists and their cohorts until they are destroyed or surrender.

“The armed forces is winning the war, and having the upper hand. Ongoing operations would only be completed if the terrorists surrender or are totally defeated,” said the defence spokesman.

It is instructive to note that the conduct of the military during the off-cycle elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo, had drawn applause from the public, including election observers, for the professional manner they conducted themselves in the defence of democracy

This has not been lost on President Bola Tinubu, who told the top army echelon not to compromise in their defence of democracy and national security.

The president said during the 2023 Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference in Maiduguri, that the government would continue with the ongoing modernisation of the military with a focus on improving mobility, communication and offensive striking capabilities.

Tinubu also said he has approved N18 billion Group Life Insurance to be accessed by families of fallen heroes, as part of government commitment to the welfare of personnel and their families.

As Nigerians march into 2024, the Chief of Defence Staff, Christopher Musa, has assured a significant reduction in the security challenges in the country.

“We want to assure you that we will take these things into consideration in our deployment and we are going to enhance our capabilities going forward.

“We want every Nigerian to enjoy being in Nigeria and we want the internally displaced persons’ camps closed, we want farmers to be able to go back to their farms and communities should be able to go back to their communities so that they can live well.

“These are the efforts and the task we have ahead of us, and we assure Nigerians that they can rely and trust that the armed forces of Nigeria is here for them,” the CDS said.


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