Opinion: Many troubles of the Nigerian Army – By NIRAN ADEDOKUN
that there has been no public reprimand or manifest sanctions on the top echelons of the Nigerian Army as we speak is a disheartening indication of the failure of ethics and the lack of respect that the country has for those gallant men and women adorning its military uniform. And that is not just because two soldiers who claimed to be part of the number that survived the recent horrendous Boko Haram attack on Melete, Borno State opened a can of worm that should worry us all, it is because the loss of one soldier, let alone about a number put around 200 should be a major concern to the leaders and citizens of any country that incurs such. But this is Nigeria!
Now, speaking about this video that was purportedly shot by survivors of that attack by Boko Haram, it is five days after its release and except for comments from awestruck Nigerians about revelations that the country’s army has not gone too far away from Egypt in spite of all the drama that we have seen lately, this video footage could as well pass without notice.
The over two minutes’ video raises a lot of questions which should agitate the minds of the leader of Nigeria and instigate immediate action that would instantly boost the morale of the men on the field as well as send signals that accountability remains a key objective of the current administration. But even at the moment, there has been no response to the video by either of the Federal Government or the army itself. Now, that speaks loudly to the extent of the rot that Nigeria is still grappling with.
While it is possible to say that the allegations of corruption, amplified by the expression “they are using us to make money,” and abandonment contained in the video are being investigated by the authorities, the scale of the attack and the number of causalities that trails it are enough to cause preliminary actions that could immediately change the mood of the troops and inspire confidence in a bewildered citizenry that was, until recently, rest assured that the Boko Haram insurgency had been truly technically defeated.
But until now, none of that has happened and that renders the Nigerian Army, conceivably the most mortified public institution in the country at the moment culpable. The longer the army keeps quiet about this, the more diminished it becomes in the perception of the people and that is a crying irony given that a couple of weeks back, this same army was at its jubilant best.
For a consecutive period of three days last month, men of the Nigerian Army took on members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in Abuja. They fired gunshots and kicked at men, women and youths, all of whom they alleged were armed with crude, albeit potentially lethal implements like cutlasses. At the end of the whole fiasco, scores of lives were lost.
The Nigeria Police would later inform a perplexed nation that hundreds of members of the sect had been arrested with 31 bottles of petrol bomb and other dangerous weapons smuggled into Abuja to cause mayhem and attack innocent citizens and law enforcement agents deployed to protect lives and property. They regaled the nation with a parade of the alleged culprits and promised that they were soon going to have their day in court.
Two days after, 130 members of the group were arraigned before the Magistrates’ Court in Wuse Zone 2, Abuja on charges bordering on their alleged involvement in protests that led to violent clashes with security personnel in Abuja. It was not clear whether those arraigned came from the 400 that were paraded two days earlier but nothing has been heard about the prosecution of these alleged troublemakers ever since. That is the extent to which law enforcement agencies set up for the service of the people of Nigeria so easily turn against the people, even sometimes meting out unjustifiable extrajudicial punishment on innocent citizens and gloating over it.
Unfortunately the army, which called a victory party over uneven treatments it dished on citizens, reportedly became lame in the face of real adversaries and is now forced to a meal of humble pies following the recent sad routing of the 157 Task Force by the Boko Haram insurgents.
Given the number of troops reported to have lost their lives, this one-too-many-attack should inspire deep introspection in not just the Nigerian military authorities but in everyone involved in the task of designing the country’s security architecture. This unfortunate attack on a military base, which was not the first in recent times, points to the level of physical and psychological unpreparedness of the Nigerian Army for the challenges of its operations in the North-East.
How is it possible that the insurgents were able to so overwhelm Nigerian troops such that over 100 lives were lost, for instance? The two soldiers in the released video spoke about low morale accentuated by the lack of recognition of the sacrifices made by troops in the North-East as well as the antiquated weapons they carry made that possible.
As Azuka Onwuka persuasively argued in his column in The PUNCH on Wednesday, this then raises questions about the deployment of funds allocated to the military over the years especially the $1bn that was said to have been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari specifically for the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram last year. But is the situation that troops in this region have found themselves just about arms and ammunition?
It is certainly not. Even by the testimony of the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, in a paper he delivered at the National Defence College earlier this year, the Nigerian Armed Forces are so overstretched fighting all sorts of internal uprisings like the Shiite confrontation cited earlier that it has become so thin and unable to deploy the required number of troops for essential confrontations like the Boko Haram.
Last week’s unfortunate event also suggests a worrisome failure of intelligence within the armed forces. And it is not just that Nigeria’s military was taken by surprise on this attack, it gets more curious with allegations by the South African mercenary company, Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection International (STTEP), that the intelligence it provided on Boko Haram operations in Borno State were rejected by the government. Since The Cable quoted the leader of STTEP, Eeben Barlow, to have made this allegation on Sunday, neither the government nor military authorities have offered a response. Whatever it is however, that the attack occurred, that the insurgents operated for close to one hour on the day of the attack and laid ambush for troops the day after, reflects the seeming blind state of operation as well as the lack of coordination and cooperation between the army and the air force. All of these is congregating to expose officers and men of the armed forces to avoidable danger and causing the country enormous grief.
Consider the standard of living of the average Nigerian soldier, whether he is at war or not; walk through any of the barracks occupied by men of this institution and you will be confronted by quantum of squalour that gives an idea of how much value is placed on the sanity of men and officers of the army.
Then, how does the Nigerian military deal with its wounded and dead? How does a country which rather than cater to the needs of the widow and children of its fallen soldiers allegedly force them out of their military facilities allocated to their breadwinners without providing alternatives only within weeks after the loss of their breadwinners?
In all, those who head Nigeria’s military seem to have submitted the pride of their commission to politics. While it is understandable that they submit to the authority of the democratically elected President and Commander-in-Chief, the offices they hold come with a responsibility to the country and a huge ingredient of that is the offering of honest assessment of situations at all times. The feedback that Nigerians have had from the Federal Government on the Boko Haram situation is at variance with recent events and it is a betrayal of the gallant soldiers at the war front and the entire citizenry. Punch
– Twitter: @niranadedokun