The Nigerian Army: Mighty On Paper?

Ozodinukwe Okenwa

Ozodinukwe Okenwa


The Nigerian Armed Forces have had some glorious and inglorious past. Glorious history when General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to the late Shehu Shagari following a democratic process. Glorious moment when, following the sudden timely demise of the barbaric despot, Gen. Sani Abacha, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to Olusegun Obasanjo ‘elected’ or selected as President of the nation. Besides, our armed forces had intervened gloriously during the Liberian/Sierra Leonean civil wars and the forced exit of Yahya Jammeh from power in Banjul. Again it had taken part gloriously in peace-keeping missions in many countries outside our shores.

Inglorious past, however, when the Nigerian Army hierarchy led by Gen. Yakubu Gowon plunged Nigeria into a civil war in the late 60s that killed millions of Biafrans. The late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (then a Colonel) and Gowon still stand guilty of war crimes for which none of them had atoned for.

Inglorious moment also when coup d’etat after coup d’etat the hopes and aspirations of our founding fathers were dashed on the alter of military adventurism in our national political life. Generals Aguiyi-Ironsi, Murtala Mohammed, Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari and a host of others put their personal interests above those of the nation by killing and overthrowing and enthroning themselves. By so doing they truncated civilian rule in different epochs stifling the civic space and destroying the economy.

Today, the Nigerian Army of pride of yore has given way to an army of occupation with a retired coup plotter now the democratically-elected President! Glory belongs to the past as the military institution has been bastardised and turned into a regional force made up of mostly Hausa/Fulani high command. Esprit-de-corp is now a thing of the past as primordial ethnic, religious and regional considerations dictate who gets what and who gets promoted or demoted or retired.

Penultimate weekend a London-based Economist magazine (founded over a hundred years ago!) had published a scathing report on the Nigerian military and the war on terror. The damaging article was titled: “The Crime Scene at the Heart of Africa; Insurgency, Secessionism and Banditry Threaten Nigeria”. In it the magazine pulled punches labelling our army as one only mighty on paper! It said that the forces were filled “with corrupt Generals and unable to protect the country from the mutating violence”.

It also alleged that “ghost soldiers” abound inside the institution claiming that some of its officers sold arms to terrorists and connived with criminals to perpetuate insecurity in the country! The magazine made it clear in the controversial report that Nigeria had not been able to address its insecurity problems because military chiefs plundered much of the country’s combat resources.

The Nigerian notorious police force was not spared of the frontal attack from the British tabloid. According to them: “The police are understaffed, demoralised and poorly trained. Many supplement their low pay by robbing the public they have sworn to protect”.

The Nigerian Army, through its Spokesman, Brig-Gen Onyema Nwachukwu, had reacted angrily to the publication in a released hard-hitting strongly-worded statement. According to the military high command the report “was crafted to denigrate, demonise and destabilise the Nigerian government”. The Economist’s narrative was “false and the handiwork of dark forces”, the army had said.

Brimming with expletives and bombastic prose Gen. Nwachukwu sought to impress his bosses by exhibiting his ‘deep’ intellectual capacity. But he failed to address most of the issues the magazine raised. The Economist’s credibility and professionalism is not in doubt, so casting aspersions on the Editors of the magazine would not lower their esteem before their global reading audience.

Nigerians may not need the assistance of the Economist in London to know how unprofessional, corrupt and inefficient our armed forces are. We knew right from Babangidaism that a once powerful professional glorious efficient force had been reduced to a bunch of indisciplined, nepotic, unprofessional, money-loving, combat-detesting force, mighty on paper but underwhelming in performance.

The Nigerian army had been irredeemably politicized, tribalized and regionalised. You have mercantilistic Generals owing allegiance only to the President who do ‘business’ and smile to the bank at the expense of ethics and standard practise. Some Commanding officers had profited hugely from the generalised insecurity ravaging the entire nation looting funds meant for the purchase of weapons or pocketing the allowances and emoluments of officers.

It is a terrible situation. And the Commander-in-Chief himself is too myopic and incompetent to apply sanction or punishment for fear of repercussions. President Muhammadu Buhari is not good at taking decisions that would radically change anything going wrong in the military or anywhere else for that matter.

Yet when he came in democratically one of the first decisive witch-hunting actions he took was ordering the DSS to invade the home of the former National Security Adviser during the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, Col. Sambo Dasuki. Dasuki was subsequently arrested and detained for years accused of diverting millions of Dollars meant for procurement of arms and ammunitions.

Under Buharism the former Chief of Army Staff (now Ambassador to Benin Republic) Gen. Tukur Buratai, was once alleged to have misappropriated millions of Dollars of the national defense budget. Yet when he was given a soft-landing as COAS he was ‘promoted’ as a non-career Ambassador to Cotonou! Talk of military diplomacy, Joe Garba’s way.

Boko Haram and terrorism would never end in Nigeria with Generals doing deals with terrorists or giving false doctored reports on the performance in different theatres of operation. Unless the Buhari regime names and shames the sponsors of terrorism and those profiting from same then peace is far off.

Before the Economist published its report ‘blindsiding’ our military force the Wall Street Journal in the US had spectacularly and exclusively reported how the Nigerian Air Force personnel had paid millions of Naira to terrorists in Katsina state in exchange for the sophisticated anti-aircraft weapon they seized from the federal forces! Those who bought back the weapon were afraid that the bandits could use same effectively to bring down the presidential jet en route to Daura!

Though the Air Force hierarchy had since denied dutifully the WSJ report the truth of the matter is that Nigeria and her vacuous leadership are capable of anything, including wild propaganda, duplicity and perjury.


SOC Okenwa

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