I sometimes wonder why people willingly join the army. It is one thing to be conscripted; but quite another to join without the threat of force. One has to be brave, nationalistic, patriotic and selfless to voluntarily join an organization whose activities may lead to permanent injuries, or, ultimately, to death. Sooner or later, we’ll all die, but military service quickens the odd. Consider what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and other hotspots around the world where the chances of being maimed or killed or wounded psychologically are real and high; yet, young men and women, in throve, are volunteering for military service. I will never understand the action of these young men and women.
From the safety of my room I listen to the news and read about casualties from the Gulf War. Some images make me recoil in pain and sorrow and anger. The images of young men and women losing their limbs and bodyparts and their functionalities make my eyes well with tear. I see mothers and fathers and wives and the children of those killed and I can’t help but feel their pain and anguish and loss. War is horrible. There is nothing noble about wars. Herodotus it was who opined that in peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers buries their sons. How sad. How painful.Yet, year after years our young sons and daughters volunteer to join the military. Why do they do it? I may never know. I may never understand the mindset of people who volunteer to undertake such undertakings.
The valiant, the patriotic and the nationalistic abound — not just in the armed forces of the United States of America — but also in great number within the Nigerian Armed Forces. One cannot think of the men and women of the Nigerian military and not think of heroes. This is my thesis: in spite of its chequered past, the Nigerians Armed Forces is a noble institution mostly made up of heroes and selfless individuals.
Many may disagree with me, but the Nigerian Armed Forces is full of heroes: men and women who gave their lives for the service of our country so that people like me may live and prosper. Even before independence, members of the Nigerian military have been laying down their lives for the country. They also gave their time and convenience so we may have one united and indivisible nation. I also doff my hat and express my gratitude to all those who lost their lives fighting for the BIAFRAN ARMY. It was a cause they deeply believed in. At the very least, one could believably say that the Biafran Soldiers fought for their motherland and for liberty.
In the years since independence, the Nigerian Army has been to countless peacekeeping operations. They do so in furtherance of our national security concerns. Whatever we may think of our military, they have been there when we needed them. Except for an unusual period in its history, I have never considered the Nigerian army to be anything but professional. As a little boy growing up in Lagos, I spent some time at Dordan Barracks, where I saw men who were ready, and indeed sacrificed their lives for Nigeria.
Yes, a few higher-ups compromised the integrity of the services. And indeed, a few officers subordinated their authority to the Emirs and Obas and others civilian gods. And for a while, corruption and discrimination and clientelism were the order of the day. We had officers who soiled their boots and uniforms in blatant pursuit of wealth and power and life’s excesses. But believe me: the aforesaid were the exception, not the rule. The Nigerian Military is a bona fide organization whose men and women excelled at home and abroad and wherever duty and country may order them.
The Nigerian army is young compared to most other democracies around the world; and even if one were to compare it to the developing countries of Latin America, our military has performed far better. Think of Chile, Nicaragua, Brazil, and a host of other countries in that hemisphere and of how brutal, repressive, and malevolent they were. I make no apologies or offer any sort of justification for the acts and pronouncements of the Nigerian military because, repression and wanton brutality is abominable no matter where it is committed; still, our military has a lot to be proud of.
The Nigerian military, in my opinion, is not exactly inimical to democracy — the problem has been how some “head-of-state” and some senior officers conducted themselves while in power. It was a period when the populace prayed for a savior, but got a serpent in return; military generals assume power espousing grand ideas, but the citizenry got monsters in return. This was a period when the masses opened their hearts and extended their arms to a group of generals that rode into town promising to get rid of corruption, institutional laziness and other social ills and malfeasances, but in return they were rewarded with high-rolling rogues.
I will not begrudge anyone who desires to apportion blame on the military. Please do. But to do so one must also remember that the Nigerian Military did not act alone, selfishly and in isolation. They had friends and partners and hanger-on in and within the civilian population. In other words, the rotten stems in the military sprouted mostly because of the nature of the populace and civilian elites.
We need not fear an institution that guarantees our safety and security from external aggression; we need not despise an institution that — not too long ago — brought tranquility and calm to a society that was in turmoil. In spite of their pontiffism civilians can not claim to be paragons of constitutionalism more so since successive civilian administration since 1979 have been complete disasters.
How does it feel to be shot at? How does it feel laying in the gutter or shrapnel-filled trench dodging the enemy’s bullets and mortals? How does it feel to fly into the enemy’s airspace and being shot at with missiles? How does it feel to be confined to a “tiny space” for months and months in warships and submarines charting uncharted waters? The feeling must not be nice. It must not be nice to know that at any given moment, one may lose ones life or that there might be hundreds of causalities on any given day. To know that one may become less of a man as a result of battlefield injuries must be psychologically devastating. These are the kind of thinking and feeling that makes mere mortals poop and pee in their pants.
But year after year, the brave men and women of the Nigerian Military sacrifice their time and their lives so people like you and me may live. How do we repay such debt? How is such gratitude expressed? Until we know how to repay them and have the right word to express our gratitude — let’s just solemnly bow and say “Thank You!” to our heroes…for their bravery and courage and sacrifice.