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Boko Haram: Why Nigerian troops are losing, by ex-U.S. Marine



Boko Haram: Why Nigerian troops are losing, by ex-U.S. Marine

Mr. Otto Kreisher is a Defence Reporter/co-founder of the U.S.-based Military Reporters and Editors’ Association. He has covered the Defence beat for quite a number of years. Before becoming a reporter, he was a Marine and was also in the Navy. He was recently in Nigeria to train a crop of selected journalists. In an interview with JULIANA FRANCIS, Kreisher speaks on the Nigerian Army and the insurgency. Excerpt:


How long have you been a defence reporter?
I started in 1983. Prior to that time, I reported mostly government politics. It’s been almost 30 years now.

What were your challenges in reporting military?
The biggest challenge for me was attempt to get access to the military in order for them to tell their stories. I have argued with the military for years that they need to tell their stories. There are many people who tell me what is wrong with the military, but if the military wouldn’t tell me their own side of the stories, I wouldn’t be able to get the balance. I fought for access. The crucial fight was when we got into the battle zone. In the midst of the battle; in fact in the first battle reporters were allowed to cover, the reporters were not allowed to get there until the battle was over. Part of my argument with the military was that the only thing reporters reported about that war was the things that went wrong. Things like the fact that the soldiers didn’t have enough intelligence and didn’t communicate well with one another.
No reporter talked about the heroic exploits of the soldiers and marines that went into that war to fight. The soldiers didn’t get the story they deserved. That was part of the reason I argued for reporters to be allowed access to information. The truth is that the bad news doesn’t get better with age and bad news always ever gets out. Access has been the big challenge. The secondary challenge has been inside the news media. It was tough convincing the media house which I worked in the longest of time that military stories can still be written even in a time of peace.

According to your profile, you were in the Marine and Navy. Did you leave to become a reporter?
I enlisted into the Marine. The story is that after high school, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college. But I had a high score in the entrance exams, so I was given opportunity to try for a pilot programme. I had always wanted to be a pilot since I was a teenager. To get into the flight programme, but to do that, I had to transfer from the Marine into the Navy as naval aviation cadet. My goal was to later go back to become a Marine fighter pilot. I made it to 2/3 of the jet advance, and then I later had problem adjusting to the jet engine and also because they had too many pilots in the pipeline.

Was it after you retired that you went into journalism?
I retired from the military before I started covering the military. I had to wait to retire before I started reporting military. I didn’t want anyone to say that I was reporting favourable stories of the military because I was in the military. The same thing was my idea when I was reporting politics. I never belonged to any political party. I didn’t want to be biased. I also didn’t want anyone saying that I had good stories because I was in the military and that the military gave me access to information. There was a time I was on reserve in the Navy, but I still didn’t cover the military. Reserve was like working part time. I didn’t want anyone to criticise me.

After covering the military for long, what do you think is wrong with our military and the persistent insurgency issue?
While researching to come to Nigeria, I discovered some things about the Nigerian military. The Nigerian Army after independence had a very high reputation and this is probably because most of the soldiers back then had been trained under the British. They had been trained to lead others. Then comes the Civil War and the soldiers started training other soldiers; and then the military coups and military leadership. The military lost some of its prestige. The Nigerian Army at that time might have lost its direction.
What I had read about Boko Haram and soldiers and what I realised is that the troops don’t seem to be well led. They are not well trained and I’m not sure they are well equipped. Those combinations don’t produce good results. Soldiers going into battle need to feel that they are part of the unit. The unit needs to trust its leader. If the soldier doesn’t feel that, he wouldn’t want to fight.
There are issues of soldiers asking or feeling like they were being sent out to be killed. There are issues of welfare; whether they are being well fed and well paid. They also need to know if their families are being well taken care of. These issues have become very important. In the United States, we used to say, ‘we enlist the soldier, we retain the family.’
The United States military places high emphasis on taking care of the soldier’s family. That way the soldier can go to anywhere to fight, not worrying whether his family is being taken care of. There may be problems in Nigeria, where the ranks feel they are not being taken care of. They feel their senior officers don’t care about them; now that’s another corrosive issue that can happen to the military.

What is your reaction to the abduction of Chibok and Dapchi girls by Boko Haram members?
These abductions indicate the sort of evil people Nigeria as a country is fighting. I have often talked about necessary wars and discretional wars. This war against Boko Haram is certainly not a discretional war. When you have people as bad as Boko Haram, you just have to fight them. They are threat to the people, country and economy. They are evil that has to be stamped out.
Fighting insurgents that can hide in the jungle is always difficult, but I find it hard to believe that a competent military can’t find out or locate where Boko Haram took over 200 schoolgirls to. I mean, such a large number of girls are pretty hard to hide, even in a jungle. It’s hard to believe that the Nigerian military even had to negotiate to get some of those girls back. Negotiating with the enemy is a sign of weakness. To me as an outside, it’s hard for me to understand and also difficult to understand why the search for the girls took so long and to get those girls back. Some of them are not even yet back.

What is your advice to the Nigerian Military?
What I would say to the Nigerian military is what I would say to the U.S. military. They need to take care of the basics. The basics entail recruiting the right people and giving them the necessary trainings. It also means equipping them and caring for them correctly and giving them officers that know what they are doing, so that the soldiers can develop a trust.
“There is a different between respect and authority as a commissioned officer. If the troops don’t respect their officers, they are less willing to follow them into the warfront. Give them confident leaders and most importantly, the soldiers need to tell their stories, so that their families and tax payers know what is going on.

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  1. Pingback: Boko Haram: Why Nigerian troops are losing, by ex-U.S. Marine – Naija Curator

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