The general belief is that no country the world over survives the threats of insecurity without a robust and disciplined army. Nigeria is not an exception.
Barely six years after independence the Nigeria Army was dragged into politics by a group of overzealous, tribal warlords and unpatriotic young soldiers that murdered democracy on the platter of ethno-religious sentiment. Since that unfortunate development that culminated into a civil war, the army has not been same.
For patriots and those who care about the security of Nigerians; the setbacks that the army is suffering in their fight against Boko Haram must indeed be of concern. There are worries in those quarters because the defeat of the army by the insurgents has the potential to undermine the corporate existence of the country and implode the hope of the African race all over the world.
The question raised by most patriots related to the war against insurgency is: why the Nigerian Army has not won the war as expected over the years despite the huge resources committed to defeating the insurgents including foreign aids and participation of hired mercenaries? If it can be recalled, in 2012 before the war was declared by government against the insurgents, some of us that had the privilege to have interacted with leadership of the insurgents in line of duty, had warned government against engaging the beasts in a war. The Nigerian Army led by Gen. Azubuike Iherijika (then Chief of Army Staff), refused to listen but opted for the planned war. Internally, we knew the Nigeria Army was not in the best position to confront the determined beasts in their stronghold or anywhere. The declaration of war worsened the situation. As the war rages for over a decade, if one may ask, is this not the same Nigerian Army that restored peace in Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and the Gambia? What about all those medals for gallantary that the Nigerian Army won in several United Nations Peace Keeping Operations around the world? The answers to all these nagging questions should not be hanging in the air to a discerning observer and any diligent student of the history of the Nigerian Army. A brief survey of the history of the Nigerian Army will throw up some light and suffice for this discourse.
Foremost, we must understand that the Nigerian Army is not a product of the aspirations of the people of Nigeria or borne out of their yearnings. Rather, it was created by the colonial government to protect and defend colonial and neo-colonial interests. And these interests; among others, include protection of colonial master’s vice-grip on power; safeguarding sources of raw materials feeding the industries in Europe and the Americas and to ensure uninterrupted sales of finished goods in the colonial territories.
If an army has these historical antecedents; what one would have expected is a swift shift in paradigm when Nigeria got independence in 1960. But alas; this was not the case, as the respective regional leaders not only consolidated the colonial legacies but further went ahead to compound them, by introducing and invigorating clannishness in the army. These leaders were acutely conscious and realized from the very beginning that “power flows from the barrel of the gun uninterrupted” and that the size of your army will ultimately determine the nature and longevity of your stay in power. To that extent; these leaders fashioned out a conscious policy of recruiting and enlisting into the army officers’ corps of their blood relations, their children and those of politicians and their supporters as well as offspring of royalties.
The consequence of this is that Nigeria became saddled with an army populated by children of elites who do not see themselves as beholden to the Nigerian people but rather an institution totally alienated from them. The army became an instrument for propping up in power the political godfathers when it is expected to be the bastion for the defence of the nation against external aggressors.
Unfortunately, the takeover of power by the army through military coup in 1966 and the civil war that subsequently followed, rather than cure these maladies further exacerbated them as the different military heads of state embarked on a conscious policy of under developing the very military institution that brought them to power.
The policy not to modernize the Nigerian Army by the respective military heads of state was a deliberate action adopted to undermine the capacity of their colleagues to overthrow their governments. Despite the huge foreign exchange inflows from the sales of crude oil, the military heads of state of yore will neither acquire modern and sophisticated weapons to upgrade the army’s armory nor would they establish local industries to produce essential ammunitions here in Nigeria. We have the Nigerian Defence Industries Corporation (NDIC) that was formerly located in Bauchi but later transferred to Kaduna for undisclosed reason. NDIC is not doing enough.
Military training also became a rarity and when available it was a reward and privilege for the loyal officers who helped the commander-in-chief to grab power and working assiduously to perpetuate him in office. The Air force; which has become the backbone and the most decisive force in most modern armies in the advanced countries of the world, was the most neglected and hardest hit until recently.
To hold ordinary meetings, play games; recreate in the officers mess and engage in ordinary civic activities in the army were not only frowned at but became a rarity as they were seen as hatchery beds for coups by all the military heads of state. The rapport; espirit de corps; camaraderie and joy that should ordinarily exist in a standing army were abjured as military intelligence and the state security service were always on prowl to sniff out who was meeting and why the meeting. Given this situation the Nigerian Army not only became a defanged Alsatian dog but also an octopus without vertebrate.
Cornered into a very suffocating environment; the rank and file has to device other ways and means to keep busy. Nigerians can recall a onetime Police Public Relations Officer, Alozie Ogbugbuaja who described the Nigerian Army as an institution populated by effete and hedonist men and women whose past time was to engage in pepper soup and beer drinking competitions in local bars at the expense of their core mandates.
Given these circumstances; the Nigerian Army not only became alienated from their professional callings but also from the very Nigerian people they ought to protect and paid for that.
Furthermore, some intervening events were a disservice to the Nigerian Army as they helped to camouflage the rot in that institution. For example, when the army went to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia and South Sudan to restore peace in those beleaguered countries and swiftly carried out their mandates, most Nigerians thought they had solid and competent army. Tragically, it has taken the war against Boko Haram to burst the bubble and expose the Nigerian people to the sad reality and bitter truth that restoring peace in tiny impoverished countries and winning medals under the command of other nationals does not necessarily guarantee and translate into a strong force at home and ought not to be used to measure the strength of a nation’s army.
But were there no indicators that the Nigerian Army was not in a fighting shape before the war with Boko Haram was declared? There were several indicators but yet, the war was declared. But not many Nigerians paid attention to the weaknesses of the army. In fact, because of the opaque manner in which many Nigerian institutions operate, only but very few perceptive observers of the activities of the army could have seen the fault lines. One of such indicators was the performance of the army in the war against the Niger Delta militants. That war, not only brought into very bold relief the decadence and rot that had been gnawing at the very essence of the Nigerian Army, but also highlighted how corruption; cronyism and debauchery, had taken over the soul of that very strategic institution now turned a mining field. Before our very eyes, the ‘Almighty’ Nigerian Army found itself unable to suppress rag tag militia groups hurriedly cobbled together by a university dropout. Rather than do the needful, the Nigerian Army commanders were putting on the Nigerian people’s plate a plethora of excuses and mountain of lies as to why it is difficult; if not totally impossible to stop kidnapping; pipeline vandalisation; oil bunkering and to dislodge the Niger Delta militants. Just as the army is repeating same trick of deceit spiced with parochial lies in the Boko Haram case in the northeast; the terrain; lack of modern equipments; inadequate manpower and poor funding, as causes hampering the army’s effectiveness. We are always fed with concocted stories of successes while our soldiers at the theatre of war are singing a different tune. We read how the Nigeria Air Force ‘bombarded’ Boko Haram strongholds but we never saw the number of those killed or their dead bodies displayed as usual for image laundering. When two-three insurgents are killed, we are told over 150 were killed. When our soldiers are killed, we are told that they only got missing in action. Why the foolery? I suggest, with the present corruption infested Nigerian Army one doubts the defeat of Boko Haram. What is desperately needed is to put pride and deceit aside, make bold and approach Boko Haram leadership for sincere dialogue to end the madness and save our souls and our economy from further drain. Governor Babagana Umara Zulum may be the happiest person if that is done. There is no two-way about that.
So, what is the way forward or how can the Nigerian Army get out of the quagmire it found itself? Put differently, how can the army be, rescued from itself without sincere contributions from past disciplined officers that served with pride and exited honorably with unblemished records? Or is, Nigeria and its army destined to be doomed forever? The Nigerian Army is certainly not beyond redemption and the future of the Nigerian nation can be secured and guaranteed if we can be honest with ourselves and make the necessary sacrifices towards its overhaul and probe the past.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues