By Yemi Osinbajo
Editor’s note: The Acting President of Nigeria has urged the Nigerian military in particular and the security architecture in general to change their strategy in the ongoing internal security, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations across the country. Osinbajo is making this call in the light of the asymmetric nature of modern conflicts and difficulty of transiting from conventional to the unconventional warfare.
Below is the full speech he delivered at the graduation ceremony of course 25 of the national defence college on Friday august 4, 2017.
I am delighted to be here today for the graduation ceremony of Course 25 of the National Defence College, the training institution for the highest-ranking members of our military.
As the silver jubilee set of National Defence College graduates, you are indeed a special course. I share in your joy and excitement today, and join you to give thanks to the Almighty God who has made today possible.
I must say that I have a special affinity for this course. Last Friday, the course presented one of the best research papers I have read in a long time to me in my office titled “Terrorism and National Security the Nigerian Experience”. I am sure the faculty is as proud of this course as I am. Congratulations.
It is gratifying to note that the National Defence Course plays host not only to Nigerian officers, but also officers from across the continent, and even beyond. This is testament to the spirit of African brotherhood that our military institutions have engendered over time. We cherish this confidence that other countries have consistently reposed in our military institution, and will continue to welcome their students wholeheartedly to Nigeria.
The Fellowship of the Defence College (FDC), which you have just earned, is testament to your hard work and dedication, over the course of the last 11 months. You have been equipped with the knowledge to proffer workable strategies for addressing security and developmental challenges in your various countries.
Having come to the end of this training, and earned yourself this prestigious fellowship, you must keep in mind that learning is an ongoing activity; this is merely another foundation upon which you should rise to desire to conquer new intellectual territory and explore new professional horizons.
In recent weeks I have had cause to address several gatherings of Nigeria’s elite, ranging from political to religious and traditional leaders, and the military elite as well, like yourselves. The speeches have ranged around the same set of themes, inspired by the spirit and mood of the times: the significance of Nigeria’s unity, the false comforts of ethnic and religious prejudice, the importance of learning from history to ensure we that we do not repeat its tragic errors, and the burden of responsibility that a country’s elites carry in its journey to development.
Less than two months ago I was privileged to speak at another military graduation ceremony, this time of Senior Course 39 of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College in Jaji. On that occasion I spoke on the theme, ‘We can build a new Nigeria.’ That speech was a challenge to break from what I described as the “quickened retreat of the Nigerian elite to their ethnic and religious camps.” That rebuke I believe was a timely one, coming on the heels of a disheartening spate of ethnic agitations by youth groups from South-eastern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria.
Today I would like to focus on another hopefully timely topic: The Battle has changed. Or put more clearly.
I would like to make the argument that today we are faced with challenges of a vastly different character and complexion from even a decade ago. The nature of the battle today and I use the term in both a military and sociological sense, has changed dramatically. The breath and implications of the changes are important because armed forces personnel at your level represent not just fighting forces but also a crucial component of the intellectual elite of our nation.
And it is my respectful submission that it is only by preparing for and adapting to the times that we can fully realize all the positive potential embedded in it – and escape the negative.
Let me start with a number of recent developments that perfectly sum up the times in which we live. In recent weeks, United Kingdom and France have announced plans to prohibit the sale of new petrol and diesel-powered cars, by 2040.
Germany has the same goal, but with a deadline of 2030. Norway and Netherlands have an even closer deadline: 2025, barely a decade from now. Both Japan and China are investing heavily in the manufacture of electric cars.
Today Japan has more electric car charging stations than petrol stations. Many of these nations are also investing heavily in renewable energy sources, solar, wind and some hydro. Many countries, even oil-producing ones like Nigeria, are right now making serious plans for a post-oil planet.
For an oil producing country whose external revenues have depended largely on oil, the inevitable decline of the revenue and political importance of oil must inform our strategic plans for the future.
We simply cannot assume that Nigeria can continue to depend on oil when all around us, everyone including our big importers of oil are turning away from oil. No one could have guessed even a decade ago that the US who used to be one of the largest importers of Nigerian oil will not import even a drop of oil from Nigeria today.
The future certainly calls for a revisiting our dependence on oil and this is why the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has taken great pains and has done a fair amount of work in trying to redefine a post-oil Nigeria and we have in doing so, launched several different initiatives including a zero – oil plan, the diversification of the Nigerian economy.
From the US to South Korea, unmanned vehicles both aerial and surface are being developed at an incredible speed. UAVs unmanned and aerial vehicles are now being used to launch devastating military attacks, surveillance and other military and non-military uses.
Recently, the Republic of Rwanda began to deliver blood to hospitals using UAVs. Driverless cars on the other hand are now being developed and we are experiencing a situation where in several countries of the world, deadline and timelines are already being set for the use of driverless cars.
In fact in some economies, driverless cars are already being tested. The implications of this even for jobs are an immense work. The Indian minister of transport recently began to talk about the implications of driverless cars for jobs in India and what needed to be done to prevent a significant loss of jobs if India was to take on the technology of driverless cars.
At the same time, Artificial Intelligence is developing at an incredible pace. The so called Internet of Things, 3D printing, all of these are things that the world is quickly coming to take for granted.
A good number of the world’s most valuable and most disruptive companies did not exist a decade ago. Gone, it appears, are those days when companies needed to exist for decades, and amass large pools of physical assets before they could be taken seriously.
It does not matter where we as individuals are, or as a people in relation to these remarkable advancements, or what our feelings about them are. They happen, and they continue to happen, and we have no choice other than to adjust our realities to them. Recall that Nigeria was still struggling to catch on to the reality of telephone lines as a mass-market phenomenon, when mobile phones suddenly came on to the scene.
Fortunately for us we boldly embraced the future. Imagine how ridiculous it would have been had we insisted sentimentally paying our full dues to land line technology before considering whether or not to give the mobile revolution a try. Today anyone all across the country, even in the remotest villages now use telephones not just for calls but for various other reasons including receiving and receiving payments.
A similar rapid transformation is happening in the arena of military threats facing nations these days. These threats are among the quickest in today’s world to evolve and mutate. Consider that some of the deadliest ‘armies’ in the world today do not own a single gun, let alone artillery. By choosing to wage war in cyberspace these ‘hackers’, as they are known, are powerful enough to inflict greater damage on corporations and nation-states than any conventional military could manage within a short time.
Let’s come closer home, to an example we’re all very familiar with: Boko Haram. A few years ago they constituted a threat to Nigeria, capturing and holding territory and running their own governments, in a direct challenge to the sovereignty of Nigeria.
Today, having been militarily degraded, and rendered unable to hold Nigerian territory, they have resorted to the most cowardly acts of suicide bomb attacks using little children and kidnappings. But the point to be made is that the asymmetricity of this kind of warfare challenges conventional military strategies.
The same Boko Haram is going even further, taking advantage of the Internet to disseminate its propaganda, pushing out well-crafted videos on YouTube, somewhat like the equivalent of running their own TV station. This would have been impossible a generation ago. Let’s actually consider it. Let’s take a step back twenty years, to 1997, and imagine that a terrorist group or any other group for that matter had a propaganda video to put out.
Back then the biggest challenge of such propaganda would have been, how do we get this shown on television or convincing any conventional TV station for that matter to air the video. Today, with YouTube and Facebook, the video has already gone halfway round the world before a military press statement has even strapped its boots on.
These phenomena are so devastatingly quick that we cannot afford to use the same strategies as before. Our thinking and strategizing must be different, what we are writing must be different; the way that we are approaching these threats must be entirely different. The battle has certainly changed.
Another example worth highlighting is one currently dominating the news – regarding the influence of foreign agents in the manipulation of national affairs including national elections. This is a new and unfolding theatre of war, with which we were unfamiliar even 5 years ago.
Today, we know that on account of the reach of the internet, a young man or woman on a computer in a tiny country on the margins of the world, can, through the instrumentality of fake news, influence the perceptions of voters – and by extension the outcome of an election even in America. And in Nigeria, of course as we approach our next national elections in 2019, these are the threats we will have to contend with, even in our regular lives, we have to contend with fake news coming from different parts of the world.
There is a website in Nigeria which is very popular but it has no Nigerian roots whatsoever it is actually based in the Ukraine. But it carries Nigerian news on a regular basis and has one of the largest following of news websites in Nigeria and it is not even based here at all. It is not run by Nigerian nationals, it is run by nationals of another country, yet it is so influential here. This is the nature of the times we are faced with, the nature of the challenges we are forced to contend with.
Let me now throw this challenge to you, senior military officers, and the elite of our Armed Forces and those of the countries represented here. If militant and terrorist groups and internet hackers are constantly reinventing themselves, taking advantage of emerging technologies and reinventing the very nature of battle in the 21st century, legitimate national Armed Forces have no excuse whatsoever to not be at the cutting edge of all forms of technological warfare.
It is indeed fitting that one of the objectives of the College is “To study and analyze the role of science and technology in national security.” That study and analysis must of necessity include ‘envisioning for the future’.
You must in addition consistently redefine your roles in the national security architecture, never hesitating to step away from the legacy definitions crafted in times and circumstances long dead and irrelevant. Let me reiterate something I told the graduating class of the Command and Staff College in June. I noted, and I quote, that “the role of the military is still as critical as ever – and not just in the traditional areas of deterring threats and protecting lives and property.
The Military of the 21st century must realize that it has a role to play in supplying reinforcement to the good side in the clash of the ideas that today define the world: ideas of moderation, tolerance and sensibleness versus ideas of extremism, xenophobia, and terror.”
Militaries around the world have realized that in the fight against religious extremism, it is much easier to win the war than to win the peace. It is much easier to neutralize extremists than to neutralize the extremist ideology that both drives them and follows in their wake.
That is the critical challenge for us in the Northeast. And the critical challenge for many countries that have to deal with extremist ideology and insurgencies of the kind that we have.
How do we defeat the ideology and mindset that feeds the terror? Having made tremendous progress in winning the battle for physical territory, how do we position ourselves to win the one for psychic territory, for the hearts and minds of our people, young and old, male and female who have gone the wrong path? How do we convince our people that we truly care for them, and for their wellbeing? If we’re unable to do this we will lose them to extremists who have figured out, much faster and perhaps more efficiently than us, how to reach people and win them over.
One of our priorities right now as a Government is a comprehensive rebuilding programme for the Northeast region, starting with a pilot known as the Bama Initiative. Bama as you know is the second largest city in Borno state.
Beyond serving as a Marshall Plan of sorts, to rebuild a broken land, it is also part of our strategy to win the battle of the minds of the people. By going ahead to invest in the restoration of infrastructure – homes, schools, hospitals, government institutions and so on – we are sending a message that we care, that we want to create a better life and future for them.
The more we are able to do that the less likely it is that our Armed Forces – you, and the generations coming behind you – will be saddled with fighting the kind of brutal mindless insurgency that has occupied you in the Northeast for the better part of a decade.
The lesson therein is that in future, we must not wait until things have fallen apart before we show, as a government, as elite, that we care for our people. Going forward we must demonstrate that we have internalised the lesson that it is smarter to prevent the kind of alienation that leads to radicalisation than it is to solve the fallout from radicalisation.
And this is a lesson for us all as well and for you as senior military officers. You must prepare for the future ahead of its unfolding. You must recognize and embrace its embryonic opportunities, and anticipate and tackle its embedded threats, embedded even when they have not yet fully revealed themselves. That quality is what will set apart the winners and the losers of the 21st century.
On that note, let me again compliment all of you especially the award winners in the graduating class. What lies ahead of you is greater than everything you have accomplished till date. I wish you all a rewarding and a satisfying career, good health and success in all your endeavors.
Thank you and may God be with you always.