In the aftermath of the civil war, the much expanded size of the military, around 250,000 in 1977, consumed a large part of Nigeria’s resources under military rule for little productive return.
I love Nigeria, my country of origin. I have studied its history and the cultures of its diverse people: all vibrant, gregarious, hospitable and optimistic people remarkable for their soul and mouthwatering dishes. Additionally, I have studied the history of many of its institutions intricately, including the Nigerian Military. I took a course taught by distinguished Professor Ibrahim James, who was part of the faculty at the Nigerian Defense Academy. What I learned about the history of Nigeria’s military wasn’t pretty. Its antecedents were in the colonial forces of Nigeria’s former British colonial ruler. The Nigerian Armed Forces is the progeny of the British empire’s Royal West African Frontier Force. It was a band of natives organized by the British to further the subjugation of fellow West African “natives” or the less pejorative indigenes of the territories that came to be known as Nigeria.
It is no wonder that just subsequent to Britain’s departure, the leadership of the forces that evolved to be the Nigerian Armed Forces, appeared to have their loyalty more committed to an extra-territorial entity that was clearly not Nigerian, if not exclusively to their self-aggrandizement.
My second country is the United States of America, and here the military sprung up out of revolutionary fervor contradistinctively committed to breaking all extra-territorial shackles and forms of subjugation of the Americans. Rather than the self-aggrandizement and exclusivity manifested by the archetypal Nigerian small band of warriors and soon to be insurgents, the prototype of the United States military embodied and committed to an ideal of egalitarianism (for all white men initially). And when you talk about the military defending its country and citizens, the United States Military is the epitome of this noble standard and is second to none.
Considering the backdrop of its accidental origins, the Nigerian military has never defended Nigerians from significant foreign aggressors. It once bullied a weak fellow African neighbor in the Bakassi peninsula and still capitulated in that conflict without protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity (although the capitulation was in consideration of the International Court of Justice’s judgment). The Nigerian Military orchestrated the institutionalization of corruption in Nigeria, and under its watch during its numerous misadventures into politics, Nigeria became “fantastically corrupt.”
The Nigerian military has a dishonorable history of raping, pillaging, abusing, exploiting, and dividing the Nigerian peoples. Victims of Biafra and the ongoing conflict in the Niger-Delta have cited these allegations. Because one wears a uniform that does not mean one deserves respect by default. Respect is earned from one’s actions.
The history of the Nigerian military is replete with disgraceful/dishonorable actions unworthy of soldiers/men in uniform. From Treason via coup d’etats, extra-judicial murders, embezzlement on a grand scale, grand larceny, genocide, promoting tribalism, you name every act of treachery and perfidy, and the Nigerian Military has been there. The history of the Nigerian Military does not bestow honor on its uniformed men, like that of the United States Military does – and which it has earned from its people (its record around the world as the world’s policeman is not at issue here. The objective is to assess the performance of military forces competently responsive to the needs of its citizens first). The Nigerian military is not even capable of defending Nigeria from an invasion from powers such as Russia, China, any major foreign power that counts, but it has bullied and denigrated its own people with impunity. What has been the return on the vast investments in the Nigerian Armed Forces? Things tenuous if not “nothing.”
Do you know that in its 240-year fabled history, the US military has not once committed a coup d’etat? A United States uniformed officer among civilians, is the perfect gentleman and the quintessence of meekness: He daily exemplifies his role of protecting and serving U.S. citizens and has never lorded it over them. He is quiet, can never raise his hand to strike, much less use his weapon on an American civilian he is sworn to protect. He honors the United States President as his Commander-in-Chief, whether black or white, and even if he never served in the military himself (the last four US Presidents, including the first black US President Barack Obama never did).
The American soldier respects and submits to the laws of the United States. There is nothing like that diminutive insignificant cowardly husband, who beats up his wife, whom he is meant to protect and uses her as a punching bag, but is obsequious outside because he is afraid of the boxer, martial artist, bodybuilders, real men that will kick his weak shameless derriere outside, where he is not an autocrat. The rules of engagement dictate that similarly situated principals engage themselves. Trained practitioners of violence, should not oppress defenseless citizens, whose resources are utilized to train the very soldiers, who betray and abuse them.
That is the history of a hitherto cowardly Nigerian military that deserves no respect. An instance of such cowardly acts by persons in uniform, was the deplorable use of a letter bomb to take the life of a family man who was not only a Nigerian citizen, but was also a professional conducting his legitimate business – the prominent journalist, Dele Giwa.
I have honorable friends and family members, who are members of the Nigerian Armed Forces today. Even during the era of military rule, there were honorable men serving in the Nigerian military but who were silent or silenced. I will borrow an analogy from the United States concerning the thorny issue of race. During the inception of the United States and its revolutionary wars of independence, there were some founding fathers fervently opposed to slavery. But their voices weren’t heard. During the Jim Crow era in the southern parts of the United States, some whites lost their lives fighting for equality with blacks. Honorable officers in the Nigerian military must never again allow reactionary forces that abuse a Nigerian institution made for honor and valor, to silence their voices, and scorch the conscience of the nation.
Today, the Nigerian Military has an opportunity to repair its tarnished image, in fighting the terrorist organization, Boko Haram for one, in fighting corruption within its ranks, in saying “NO” forever to military coups, in setting an example in its de-tribalization, and enforcement of gentlemanly conduct, and in exemplary service and humility towards all Nigerian citizens, irrespective of tribe or socioeconomic status. Under the leadership of a former military man himself, who had the noble goal of purging Nigeria and the military of corruption, the Nigerian government has an opportunity to institute an authoritative body of experts to investigate the atrocious antecedents of actors in the military and to remedy abuses.
Of course, there is an opportunity for pardon for acts done in the interest of national security. However, acts committed in the furtherance of self-aggrandizement should be punishable. The present time is an opportunity for the Nigerian military to extricate its uniformed persons from conflicts of interest, and from the influence of all foreign entities and powers seeking to make Nigeria an appendage of foreign national interests.
Again, honor and respect are earned from one’s actions not for the attire one wears or simply because one arbitrarily demands them. Even a former career military officer himself said:
“Professionalism has been lost… my heart bleeds to see the degradation in the proficiency of the military.”
This was the lamentation of former military dictator General Olusegun Obasanjo in his inaugural address in 1999, in his second coming after he was reborn as a democratically elected civilian President. The dirge of the ex-General came a year after the sudden death of the Nigerian Military’s worst and most perfidious product, the tyrannical military dictator, General Sani Abacha. However, history suggests that General Obasanjo himself, had been partly responsible for the rise of at least the man who “created” Abacha as his fix-it henchman in the military, General Ibrahim Babangida, the former military dictator implicated in the use of the letter bomb in the assassination of a Nigerian journalist.
General Abacha would go on to implicate decent former officers in a coup initiated and fabricated by him in order to eliminate military affiliates he deemed inimical to his perpetual and singular reign of terror and corruption. The defacto Vice President during General Obasanjo’s military rule was arguably that rare Nigerian military gentleman. And perhaps, he was that voice of reason and circumspection that could have played a not insignificant role in the discipline of the Nigerian Armed Forces as that professional fighting force all Nigerians could be proud of. Following an initial death sentence meted out by a Kangaroo Court established by the military dictator General Sani Abacha, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and his former boss, General Obasanjo were both sentenced to death for an alleged failed coup. Although their sentences were commuted to life, the distinguished officer General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua would die in prison.
The Nigerian military monster created its own ogres that ate its own products. It is time for one of its own, President Buhari, also a former military dictator—who tried to wage war generally against corruption among the citizenry—to clean up the Augean stables for good.