During my national youth service, I came upon Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, from a friend. He had a photocopied version of the book and after going through it, I made a copy for myself. I had since had various versions of the book, in digital as well as paperback forms. Nigerians fight too many wars in their lives, so I’m not going to teach you how to fight a war. The wars we contend with daily, the war against diseases, insecurity, laziness, hunger, unemployment, despondency, victimization, corruption, theft, lies, darkness, materialism, clueless leadership, and all sorts are enough to keep one busy and educated on the art of war. So, I’m only making reference to Sun Tzu for allegorical purpose while exploring an aspect of our security management in Nigeria.
One of the intriguing portions of Sun Tzu’s book is the introduction. In the introduction, the book documents how Sun Tzu was recruited by Ho Lu, the King of Wu, to be the general of his army. Reading this portion highlights the importance of recruitment for any assignment that is considered worthwhile, especially recruitment into leadership positions. A general has his job cut out for him. I will not bore you about the details of what is documented in the book, but when you reflect on the lesson inherent in that portion of the book, you will come to appreciate the fact that when people are recruited into critical positions of leadership based on merit, chances are that they will perform more meritoriously. I have decided to provide you with a link to a free copy of the book (here). As you read the book further, you will also come across another portion where Sun Tzu declared that when you know yourself and know your enemy you can fight a thousand battles without losing. I like that.
A general is known by his strategy, how resilient and successful his strategies are in quelling the oppositions he faces in the course of his daily engagements. The questions, therefore, that we as Nigerians need to answer in the face of this reality are manifold: Given the plethora of security challenges plaguing our country, what kind of general do we have? Are we clothing the presidency with the title of Commander-in-Chief to mock our sensibilities? How should we recruit a C-in-C in Nigeria and what strategic endowment is he expected to possess? I’m wondering which general will sit in a palace peacefully while there is an expansionist bid against his territory by insurgents? Put more directly, which general will be so fearful to visit the battle front and witness firsthand the plunder and pillage of his depleting ranks?
I am yet to hear that the present Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces has visited the battle fronts. Neither have I even heard that the so-called Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum who is, by positional allusion, the putative Commander-in-Chief of the “North” has visited the hotspots? What kind of generals do we have in Nigeria? Are the generals’ ears so insulated to the rhythm of bullets? Of course, I do know that should they attempt to visit, they would have the best of military arsenal to support their movement, decked in goliath’s attire. But would the C-in-C trust the intelligence of the security forces enough to let them coordinate his movement? I have a feeling that the present President does not trust the intelligence of the security apparatuses, no matter how thick the bullet-proof vest he wears is. There is so much information leakage among top government functionaries to warrant them being educated on the criticality of information management.
In considering Sun Tzu’s second point I noted earlier, I wonder how much of the enemies of the state our military forces know. There has been a lot of hype about the presidency knowing the people behind the insurgency in the country. That is quite a simplistic award of intelligence. The corollary to that would be, isn’t “knowing” a verb and shouldn’t it, therefore, consist in action? Well, perhaps, it is the act of not acting that is the derivative of the knowledge. If the presidency knows the perpetrators of the acts of insurgency so well, why haven’t the war been won? I’m adopting Sun Tzu’s spectacles here, alluding that he who knows himself and knows his enemies can fight a thousand battles without losing. So, I want to follow my fellow citizens and believe that the federal government knows the insurgents very well. After all, hasn’t the presidency, through its various media engagements, noted that it knows the sponsors? What this implies is that the other leg of knowing – in the idea of Sun Tzu – is lacking; that is, the federal government does not know itself.
One disturbing point to note in our governance approach is the security strategy of fighting insurgency through the media. Not only are the media releases by the government distorted and unbelievable, they are, many times, not necessary. I note with concern government agencies going into details to narrate security operations which led to arrest of an insurgent or a kidnapper. I note the conflicting reports on many incidents by different security agencies. The desire to be noticed often distorts the ability to be objective, for an individual; more so for a government. Fighting insurgency through the media is ineffectual and a shameful indictment of our strategic thinking. But in a country where those who have a duty to protect others cannot protect themselves, it is not out of place to notice a drowning man struggling to hold on to a floating straw.
The presidency recently revealed that over seventy percent of planned acts of insurgency in the country have been botched. I like the theatrical way we generate statistics in this country, but I will leave that matter to an opportune time. A look at our security governance in the country reveals the contradictions in our leadership mentality. It is a case of us being promised cake, when all we need is bread, being promised three-course meal three times a day, when all we need is a single course meal, being promised power when all we need is electric light. It is a situation of being promised transformation, when all we need is a functional means of transportation, being promised bottled water, when all we need is pipe-borne water. As I’m pondering all that we need in the face of the promises we have been made, Sun Tzu disturbs my meditational peace with his whispering: “The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds.”