Disquieting Times For The Nigerian Military

July 10, 2008
7 mins read

In the summer of 2006, I went on a reporting assignment in Darfur. Together with Kabiru Yusuf, Media Trust’s Chairman, I became the first Nigerian journalist to travel widely in the war zones of both North and south Darfur. The story has been told elsewhere. But one of the most long-lasting impressions that I carried away from the visit to Darfur was related to the professionalism of the Nigerian Army.


During our in El-Fasher, capital of North Darfur, we received a briefing from Nigerian officers  whose use of the computer the mastery of their brief and general comportment helped to reinforce the professional bearing of the officers and men of our Armed Forces. The then commander of the AU forces in Darfur, a Nigerian, General lhikere, bad told us after: dinner in his residence that the Nigerian Army might not disquiet have all the requisite equipment for its missions, but there is DO gainsay ing the fact that ours is a very innovative army that was very proud of  its regimental traditions.


We took a helicopter trip to South Darfur and its capital, Nyala, which was the location of a Nigerian contingent led by a young colonel Kwara State, Raji The camp was very clean, very orderly and in the offices was lots of computers and the ambience was one that we were made welcome in.


As part of our visit. we joined the AU opera forces with its preponderance of Nigerian officers and men on a Route Assessment Patrol in South Darfur. The army displayed the initiative which its commander had spoken about when the two armoured cars in our convoy,  rather like the peace process in Darfur itself, got s1lJck in the mud somewhere in the Countryside of Darfur.


Barely able to muster any amount of equipment and relying on the ingenuity of the men the army pulled out those armored cars as we watched took pictures, did a few interviews and the other soldiers secured the entire area. We left Darfur truly satisfied with the professional abilities of our fighting men and were in no doubts tba1 a well-equipped and properly motivated Nigerian Anny will he one of the best fighting forces anywhere! I have also had the privilege of seeing our troops participate in peace-keeping operations


in Ivory Coast with the same remarkable professionalism. It is against the backdrop of these favourable impressions outside our shores that have become very worried about the really disquieting events of recent times in the Nigerian Armed Forces.


Last Friday, it was reported tba1 200 men of the 323 Artillery Last Friday, it was reported tba1 200 men of the 323 Artillery payment of their allowances following their participation in a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia. The story of the protest is related to the alleged illegal deductions of money by officers from those  allowances. 1be men made bonfire on the streets, disrupted traffic and business life.


They threatened to deal ruthlessly with their commanding officer, Lt. Col Gabriel Umelo. They added that contrary to the position of Ministry of Defence that they have been paid, their officers were alleged to be doing business with their money. What makes the Akure rampage disturbing is that it is not the first in recent times.


Early this year, it was reported that disgruntled soldiers at the of the Rukuba Barracks in Jos, Plateau State, bad booed the Chief of Army Staff. General Yusuf Luka, over the non-implementation of a government-approved salary scale for officers and men for which Nl00 billion had been set aside. At the Ojo Cantonment in Lagos, there was an alarming breakdown of order when the former Director of Administration and Finance, Generals O. Lartey’s speech was disrupted by the men.


Similarly, early this year, a group of serving majors wrote a petition to President Umaru Yar’adua to complain about “thieving Generals” who stole salaries and allowances.


While a lot of what happens within the armed forces might still be far away from public scrutiny, quite a few of the incredible acts of corruption have become known in the past few years, especially during the Obasanjo regime. There is the well-known rumor of a previousCOAS/CDS who was alleged to have kept money meant for pensions in a fixed deposit; he was creaming off interests while army pensioners were dying or became destitute.


In May ‘2007,the Nigerian Defence Adviser in India, a naval captain, was caught at the New Delhi airport attempting to travel with twomillion dollars cash. There are cases of officers who became allegedly sucked into the smuggling of petroleum products in the Niger Delta while  some officers were caught after selling arms and ammunitions for a long time to the militants in the Niger Delta!


I held a discussion with a serving officer in one of the services last weekend in Kaduna; he confirmed to me that the breakdown in discipline has become a serious issue in the armed forces. The officer told me that have been numerous cases of junior officers talking rudely at their seniors; a situation he believed was directly related to acts of corruption which now pervades the armed forces.


Corruption, in the words of that officer, threatens everything that is good about the Nigerian armed forces. In my interactions with men and officers of our armed forces over the years, there is no doubt that they have always valorized their regimental traditions and esprit corps. In fact, our armed forces pride themselves on a very rich regimental tradition, and so serious is this that they uphold it very proudly in ever theatre of operation.


A number of factors must be at the base of the gradual and disquieting breakdown of recent times. The armed forces as an institution can hardly be immune from the general disorder in society; this is even so, because it was in power for a very long time in our national life, and as the years of military dictatorship lasted, the rot bad set in at the very heart of the military institution itself. It was the hallmark of that rottenness that they had led Nigeria to become a rogue state by the end of the Abacha regime.


The Obasanjo era was supposed to facilitate the institution of democratic reforms, which would affect the operations of the armed forces as well. But recent revelations about the venal and criminal nature  of the Obasanjo regime itself ensured that there was so much corruption and hypocrisy into which fed the deep-seated corruption in the armed forces, The Obasanjo regime became the shield for all manners of crime and corrupt practices, including those we are witnessing from !he militaIy.lt is this background which bas led to the exasperations which in turn are threatening discipline and the regimental tradition.


Nigeria faces a very serious problem if the ruling elite do not stem the tide of corruption, especially within the armed forces. The armed forces represent the repressive state apparatus; if it breaks down, it signals the end of the Nigerian stale as we know it! It is a very scary scenario to have men of military regiments go on the streets on rampage while also threatening” to deal ruthlessly” with their officers. Expectedly, in the Akure case this week, a high-powered delegation led by GOC of the Army’s 2nd Division has gone to investigate the issue. We can expect the court martial of the “ringleaders”, but can that be enough to arrest the tide of discontent which threatens discipline, cohesion and order within the armed forces?


The Nigerian armed forces have a very professional core, from what I know of its operations. I became even more fascinated with it abilities in different theatres of operation outside of Nigeria where our officers and men conduct themselves in the best martial traditions. It will be a great disservice to Out armed forces and our country if petty and major acts of corruption will be allowed to sap morale and erode the regimental the tradition and discipline expected within the armed forces.


Our armed forces must be re-equipped to meet the challenges of the twentieth century and no time should we do that than now when the ruling elite says it is committed to growing the economy to become one of the largest in the world by 2020. Well motivated armed forces able to defend will be aborted if corruption destroys the institution!


 Venus and Serena: Victory at “Wiliamsdon

Last Saturday; the African-American siblings, Venus and Serena Williams, met in the final of this year’s Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship.lt was the third time that the sisters were meeting in the final of the world’s most famous tennis event. Between them, they have won the event a total of six times before their meeting on Saturday. In beating her younger sister, Serena, for the first time, Venus was winning the title for the fifth time!


The fact that two African-American sisters were there on centre court slugging it out in a game that was for a long time dominated by white, middle class types, spoke volumes about the determination of their father, Richard Williams, who brought them up in an inner city block, but with the belief that they would become champions of the world. The sisters fulfilled the ambitions of their parents. They also went on to flower as very well-rounded, young ladies. with all kind of interests. The Williams sisters are an example of a determination to succeed and are especially a role model for the girl-child anywhere. But especially in our setting.


I am a father of four children and three of them are girls. They love to study and do so exceedingly well in school, but they also love to swim; they attend ballet classes; are learning Islam and Arabic; they want to play musical instruments; have all kinds of professional interest and they really love to travel!


In the twenty-first century, we must open up the vistas of all round development to the girl-child, because she has to be able to make contributions to the advancement of society while also flowering in every talent she is endowed with. That is what the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, have done; they triumphed over the hardship of their background to become exemplary professional sports personalities. That should inspire every parent who has a daughter!


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