The Nigerian military is facing two major battle grounds in their war against Boko Haram: the battle of firepower which they wage in the trenches and the battle of narratives they are confronting in the media.
In the trenches are where the troops engage the Boko Haram combatants fire for fire (from ground and air) and in the media is where the military are confronted with an attritional battle of narratives waged by Boko Haram propaganda machinery aided by fifth columnists and other unpatriotic elements who erroneously believe that by rubbishing the military they are getting at the federal government. In these two formidable battle frontlines, the war is indeed raging.
The thing about these two battlegrounds is that none can be ignored or taken for granted as each reinforces the other. While the Nigerian military, expectedly, has the upper hand in fire power and has consistently pounded the adversaries whose biggest strength is hitting of soft targets, the same cannot be said in the battle of narratives where the terrorists have proven to be very adept.
The Boko Haram propaganda machinery is definitely well-oiled and grinding. They know that in war, truth is the first casualty, and so, they are ever ready to murder the truth. Proficient in the manipulation and deployment of social media possibilities for its messaging and claims of invincibility, the terrorists also found a natural ally and partner in the hordes of very unpatriotic elements and agent provocateurs who are not only willing to buy into Boko Haram propaganda, no matter how incredulous but desperate to orchestrate them, using the instrumentality of the media, especially the social media.
But of course the Boko Haram terrorists cannot do without media publicity. Publicity, we have been told, is the oxygen of terrorism and the media is the most effective means of publicity. It therefore does not come to anyone as a surprise that Boko Haram can go to any length to dominate the narratives via the media. What is rather surprising is that some people are yet to see through this well-known gimmick which the violent group deploys. More curious is the fact that some folks are prepared to believe the propaganda efforts of the terrorists, hook, line and sinker and even go to the extent of using such fabrications and outright lies dished by the group to paint a picture of their invincibility. We have seen this happen over and over again but none was as brazen and mendacious as the now busted claim by the terrorist group that it shot down the Nigerian Air Force fighter jet.
On the night of Wednesday, 31 March, 2021, the Nigerian Air Force announced the missing of its Alpha jet which it said lost radar contact. The jet fighter according to the press statement issued by the Director, Public Relations and Information, Commodore Edward Gabkwet, was on interdiction mission in support of the ground troops against Boko Haram terrorists when it suddenly disappeared.
The statement also told Nigerians that a search party had been raised to locate the missing air craft and its 2-man crew. The NAF Spokesman never hid anything about the missing aircraft from Nigerians and indeed providing periodic updates on the efforts to locate it.
The already bewildered nation was however thrown into outright trepidation 48 hours later when a faction of Boko Haram terrorists released a video in which it claimed responsibility for the downing of the Alpha jet. It was too much of shocking news and serious concerns were genuinely raised by Nigerians as to whether the terrorists have now acquired the capability to shoot down air crafts. That will be unthinkable. The fears were palpable but justifiable considering the savagery and ruthlessness of the Boko Haram insurgents and what they can do to even civil air crafts if they possess such capability. Alas it was all propaganda!
Of course the epic propaganda did not last long as it was quickly debunked with clear evidence to the contrary, not only by the NAF spokesman but by a number of independent experts and security analysts from far and near who put a lie to the claims by the group. Just like in many occasions in the past when they manipulated the social media to misrepresent the fact and deceive Nigerians, this particular case has shown discerning members of the public that Boko Haram are mainly thriving on propaganda.
The truth of that missing Alpha jet is that it was never shot down by Boko Haram terrorists. They don’t have the capacity and that is as simple as that. All they did in that contrived clip was to video shop the downing of a Syrian Air Force aircraft and claimed it was the video of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Alpha-Jet fighter aircraft that went missing!
It didn’t take experts much time to prove that anti-aircraft weapons which they possess cannot drop an alpha jet and that it must be a technical failure arising from poor visibility and bad weather that led to the crashing. According to the experts, not even MANPADS – Man portable air defense system- will bring down that NAF 475. The jet is a smart aircraft and the control system it uses is different from normal airplanes. The jet can do 360 degrees within seconds to dodge any missile. In fact, is any round of missiles is a second close, it could still swerve to dodge.
In fact, Hugo Kaaman, a Sweden-based counter-terrorism expert and independent open-source researcher with focus on the use of Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, SVBIEDs, pointedly accused Boko Haram terrorists of taking a clip from a 2012 incident in Syria to claim responsibility for the NAF missing jet. In a tweet with video evidence, he said: “Boko Haram just released a video claiming it shows a NAF jet shot down by the group. Looking at the video, it appears as if the jet explodes mid-air. However, this is not true. BH took a 2012 video showing a SyAAF helicopter exploding mid-air over Idlib and superimposed it.
“Just to be clear, the jet really crashed. It’s unclear whether this was due to hostile fire or technical issues. The wreckage can be seen in the same Boko Haram video. This video merely highlights Boko Haram’s fake footage of the shootdown itself”. The researcher provided video evidence with comparison showing the section depicting a Syaaf helicopter exploding mid-air after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Idlib city in Syria in late 2012 with the fake video of Boko in March 2021.
The lesson from this incident is that Nigerians must see through the propaganda enterprise of this blood-thirsty group and always take them with a pinch of salt.
*Chidi Omeje is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Nigeria Security Digest