NAF’s battle for hearts and minds

The fact that there is a compassionate side of the Nigerian military towards the citizenry displayed during military operations, as reflected in various humanitarian assignments and activities embarked upon by the Air Force (such as feeding IDPs, rescuing victims, building hospitals, providing shelter and offering reassurance), is a testament to the realisation that the Nigerian government is rethinking its approach to national security. It is clear that old ways of managing security threats should now give way to new ways that integrate social, political and economic agendas in furtherance of peace, security and progress.

Over the last two decades, defence and intelligence communities in many countries have capitalised on the ability to win the battle of hearts and minds through humanitarian activities in conflict areas.  This, in turn, helps to garner public trust and support – two very crucial ingredients required to defeat adversaries.

Recently, there have been tremendous improvements in the humanitarian efforts of the military, especially the Nigerian Air Force which has not only intensified its air operations but has also scaled up its support for civilian populations in its areas of operation. In May 2016 for instance, when the Presidential Committee on Victims Support Fund boosted the humanitarian efforts of NAF, the committee said it was in recognition of the significant achievements the Air Force Emergency Hospital at the Internally Displaced Persons’ camp had recorded in Dalori, Maiduguri. As of then, NAF had provided medical care to over 30,000 IDPs through its medical outreach programmes in Abuja, Maiduguri, Yola and the health care facility in Dalori. The Dalori IDP camp accommodates the largest population of the IDPs numbering about 29,000, thus making it the most prominent in terms of humanitarian attention in the country.

In August 2016, NAF scaled up its humanitarian support for victims of Boko Haram insurgency by establishing another field hospital to cater to the health care needs of the IDPs in Bama, Borno State. Before NAF’s intervention, the Bama IDP camp was in dire need of additional medical facilities, as the only medical outfit established by UNICEF was already overstretched and lacked the requisite facilities and manpower to adequately cater to over 9,450 IDPs in the camp.  The new 35-bed NAF field hospital in Bama was inaugurated by the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kassim Shettima, who lauded the initiative, describing it as another measure by NAF to save lives aside from its fighting to protect them.

The most recent humanitarian activity embarked upon by NAF was the launching of personnel voluntary contribution to the IDPs on October 15. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, encouraged airmen to identify with the efforts by the Federal Government and other stakeholders as individuals to alleviate the plight of the IDPs. Items donated from all over NAF units, such as clothing, food items and other domestic items were collected and forwarded to the IDP camps through an NGO.

Over the past 15 months, more than 25,000 persons have accessed health care services in the NAF Emergency Hospitals in Dalori and Bama alone. Medical outreach programmes have been carried out in all the IDP camps in Abuja, Yola and Maiduguri, while about 220 patients have benefited from surgeries provided by NAF hospitals. NAF has also assisted in upgrading the hospital at Maikohi in Yola by equipping the wards and maternity. Solar-powered boreholes, tents and toilet facilities were provided for IDPs at the Dalori camp. There has also been provision of aero medical evacuation for the IDPs and others liberated by ground forces from the Boko Haram insurgents.

No doubt, the credibility of NAF in carrying out its responsibilities is of utmost importance. This credibility has been enhanced in no small measure by its humanitarian assistance to the people it protects. NAF’s communication strategy too has greatly defended its credibility. Communication has always been an integral part of policy formulation and implementation, because the overall success of any policy depends largely on how well it is communicated. The recent successes recorded by NAF are highly dependent on how the people have come to better perceive the military since May 29, 2015.

Kunle Somorin is an Abuja-based publisher

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