Gen. Ihejirika: The Silent Transformer

A lord of ancient China once asked his physician, a member of family of great healers, ”Which of you is the most skilled in the art of healing?” This physician with a reputation synonymous with medical science excellence responded, ”My elder brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name does not get out of the house. Because my elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute his name never gets out of the neighborhood. As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard all over China and among the lords.”

In his famous book, ‘The Art of War’ written over two thousand years ago, world’s mysterious military strategist and warrior-philosopher, Sun Tzu of ancient China gave credence to invincible military strategists always operated behind the scenes. Who, according to him, spend most of their time studying and understanding potential opponents’ positions of vulnerability, as well as how to socially and psychologically wear their ranks, manipulate their feelings, and above all, turn their anger and pride as their defeat weapon.

Deng Xiaoping – a warrior-statesman and veteran student of Sun Tzu – did not hesitate in applying the teachings of Sun Tzu, clearly hiding China’s ”economic and military rapid rise from the western radar,” since hiding it from them was the only way to avoid China’s rise being crushingly attacked in such an ambush style.

To go on winning all their wars, Alexander the Great was resolute in adopting and sharing the Sun Tzu strategy with his generals, who advised his generals to fully infiltrate the enemies while pretending befriending them. In other words, by hiding their strengths from the enemy they could have unequalled advantage, especially when that was accompanied with pretense of weakness before the enemy. In his coup d’oiel, Frederick the Great of Prussia fully trusted his strengths based on behind closed doors strategy, with which he was able to cause irreparable damage to all the enemies standing on his generals’ way.

Lt Gen Onyeabo Azubike Ihejirika, a well-known student of The Art of War, adopting the powerful Sun Tzu strategy of silence, is fast transforming and repositioning the Nigerian Army into a 21st century army, with the kind of combat-readiness that protects and defends Nigeria as never before. Little wonder as a frontline preacher of a general’s popularity being only among his peers, he continues to shun the media-driven celebrity blitz common in today’s Nigeria. This has enabled the General since he became Chief of Army Staff to quietly go ahead setting and fulfilling his ambitious goals for the Army.

Transforming the Army to him is like a discovery voyage with the entire Army taken along. But also a voyage that dismantles the rigid, hierarchical, and bureaucratic interpersonal culture, a culture that continues reinforcing cycles of mutual mistrust and negative competition among officers of Nigerian Army. Little wonder he constantly reminds senior officers of the Army that ranking should henceforth be seen as a useful scaffold with which to build a house but never as the house itself. It is understandable notwithstanding initial fierce oppositions his decentralisation mission-command-policy, network centrality, and responsibility delegation seem to proceed smoothly.

Without relenting in pushing this all-embracing culture at all levels of the Nigerian Army, the results are now impressively proving him right that even the lowest ranking officers have an indispensable role in the smooth functioning of an efficient, powerful, and resilient army. ”The new Army’s warm human relations,” he continues advocating, ”should never be put back into its cold storage, nor should situations essentially fluid become frozen.”

And not relenting in setting the Nigerian Army on the path of full internal democracy, the reformer-General has since created an environment where every officer enjoys seeing their views and opinions fully heard as they smoothen and fasten the process of creating a 21st century Army. That was why upon taking office, he wasted no time in touring the whole formations and barracks, listening and brainstorming with officers in a-never-seen democratic setting. ”Officers,” he fully believes, ”will only happily embrace change involving them in both its initial designing and eventual implementation.”

But does the General feel content stopping here? Not at all, with this silent reformer-General. Taking a simple look at high levels of professionalism and equipment the Army today enjoy confirms that the new combat-ready Nigerian Army is fast shifting from the defense of the state from the conventional foreign threats to now domestic terrorism. But it is this conviction that the next generations of wars among nations are going to be fought on commercial battlefields rather than on territorial battlefield that has since made repositioning the Army as a new intelligence force the focus of his leadership. Also he has since recognized that it is only an intelligently and psychologically cohesive force that would have the kind of flexibility, optimism, courage, and social readiness needed to successfully fight this commercial warfare taking, placing under the gaze of both economic intelligence and financial spying satellites.

But given that there is no way the new Army could exist without first unleashing officers’ inventiveness and innovativeness, makes the Army Chief now emphasize trainings structured to officer’s development, that broadly gauge individual independent capabilities, originality, and critical thinking. In military operations, it means having an up-to-date comprehensive systems approach. In military policy-making, it requires greater reliance on integration of overall planning, particularly long-range planning. In terms of management philosophy, it means cognisance of service delivery simply as means to an end, providing officers with the opportunity to live dignified and self-fulfilling lives.

To have these tasking paradigm changes concurrently running successfully explains why the ambitious General runs the Nigerian Army on such a simple premise: ”The only way Nigerian Army should be among the best Army this century is betting everything it does on the people whose careers are dependent on a better managed Nigerian Army. This next generation of Army professionalisation now requires second-to-none resource empowerment, life-long doing and learning culture, and freeing the creative power of the subconscious mind.

With these, the era of emphasis only on recruiting the physically best is fast being replaced with the era of recruiting the best and the brightest who could easily acquire the well-rounded technical and psychological trainings. It also requires a shift from promoting officers based on mere number of years of service to now performance-based. This means ethnic and religious favoritism and godfatherism are fast becoming a thing of the past.

The question most readers would be asking by now is, ”But who is this silent reformer-General?” Not just his extreme academic excellence, but also his second-to-none dedication to duty and patriotism continue to make General Ihejirika the envy of his peers. While as a junior officer, quiet Ihejirika could easily hide his rare talents, joining the senior ranks of the military made it clearly difficult for this military genius to find a place to hide and quietly work.

And that began to manifest as Deputy Military Secretary at the Army Headquarters Department of Military Secretary.

From then on his rare accomplishments began to make him the rarely sought-after senior officer. But it was his stellar achievements as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division in Lagos that brought him to limelight, where he led the development of the careers of future Army leaders. So impressed his seniors that the then Chief of Army Chief, General Danbazua, a leading mili

tary psychologist PhD (UK) appointed him the Chief of Standards and Evaluation at Army Headquarters, here he led the mentoring and evaluation of officers across the nation’s Army formations. Soon because of these impeccable records he was on tri-service posting to the Defense Headquarters as Chief of Defence Logistics. This star officer also caught the admiration of the president, who confidently appointed him the Chief of Army Staff, the position he currently holds.

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