Growing up as a child in the 80s, schooled as a boarder and holidayed in Agodi Army Barracks, behind 2 Mechanised Division headquarters of the Nigerian Army, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, with my elder brother, life was so orderly. My elder brother was transferred in 1984 to 174 Mechanised Battalion, Ibereko Badagry, Lagos, another serene environment anybody would want to live in and raise up family then. I joined my brother in Ibereko barracks November 1985.
In my sojourn in the barracks, I learnt that life could be so orderly that you could predict a lot with accurate precision. The environment so clean with respect for seniority – a lance corporal could not look at a corporal directly on the face, the Sergeant Major could hold the Order Ranks to ransom till the desired result was produced.
The Officers were in the world of their own, where everyone knew his/her boundaries and went about their jobs with serious sense of duty.
I was so taken in with the orderliness that I made up my mind to go through the Nigeria Defence Academy. I did the exams and was called up in the 1987 Regular Course, but one thing led to another I was not able to honour the call up. However, looking back today to the disorderliness at the larger Nigerian society, I thank God I did not honour that 1987 military call up. But my barracks experience has left me always with a good sense of judgment, discipline, cleanliness and orderliness. (You know I like telling stories, but let’s come to the matter at hand).
When the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, attributed some recent operational setbacks suffered by the Nigerian Army in recent times to insufficient willingness and commitment by commanders to perform assigned tasks, as he declared open a transformational leadership workshop organised by the army for its middle-cadre officers and soldiers, it left my mouth with a sour taste and racing heart remembering knowing a little on how the Nigerian Military is run. It brought me to the belief that the Nigerian Military has been politicised as alleged by some in the past.
Another thought that came to mind was – the Nigerian military has lost its steam – this is a pathetic cry of a general without an army – the Nigerian Army that was once adjudged as Africa’s best by the United Nations due to its various exploits in UN peacekeeping activities across the world. And I concluded that the Nigerian military has lost the very soul that binds it together – selflessness, professionalism, discipline and orderliness.
However, I likened the situation to the era of Babalola Borisade as aviation minister under whose administration Nigeria witnessed series of air crashes. Recall that on October 22, 2005, 117 people died when a Bellview Airlines’ Boeing 737 plunged into the mud in Lisa village, Ogun State, shortly after take-off from Lagos airport.
Barely seven weeks after, a Sosoliso Airline DC9 crashed on landing in Port Harcourt airport, killing 106 people, half of them children on their way home for holiday.
Exactly a year and a week after (October 29, 2006), another unforgivable crash occurred, claiming the lives of about 100 people. The aviation minister saddled with the responsibility of this ministry came out boldly to tell world: “I will not resign because I do not have divine power to stop aviation disaster.”
That same period a Japanese Air Force plane collided with a Boeing 747 plane and the Japan defence minister resigned, taking the blame. Similarly, a young man flew an aircraft from Germany to Moscow and landed at the Red Square without clearance, the Russian defence minister was sacked. But Nigeria keeps managing people even when they are not performing and constituting stumbling blocks to actual progress (I am not insinuating anything, I am just trying to make sense of what I think).
This confession is a dangerous precedent that if not immediately checked can lead to chaos, and compromise the very essence of the Nigerian military and what it stands for. This is a serious indictment, not only on him but also on all the service chiefs and the military hierarchy. This shows that the army hierarchy in particular and the military in general are tired of seeing the same old wine in new wineskin.
Another big issue is – as anyone or the Presidency cared to know why the commanders are disgruntled and unwilling to perform their tasks, bringing about these various and serious operational setbacks the nation has experienced in such a short while – the human and material casualties. The military I knew then was totally different from the military of today. It is sad to say now that the present formation of the Nigerian military is a combination of confused personalities without specific direction (my humble opinion).
Buratai said further at the workshop, “It is unfortunate, but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigeria Army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks: or simply insufficient commitment to a common national/military course by those at the frontlines.
“Many of those on whom the responsibility for physical actions against the adversary squarely falls are yet to fully take ownership of our common national or service cause.
“I, therefore, believe that the transformational leadership workshops will again remind and clarify to participants what our President and Commander in Chief meant by: ‘This generation and indeed, future generations of Nigerians have no other country but Nigeria; we must remain here and salvage it together.’
“Although the President made the remark about 35 years ago, it was “still relevant today given as we see in some cases that apathy has even increased among the younger generations.
“I charge you all to lead, follow or get out of the way.’’
The fight against insurgency will never be won if there is, first no reorganisation of this crop of commanders and restoration of the soul that once bound the Army together.
However, a week after the sad confession, the army chief said the media exaggerated most of the reports, describing it as “mere propaganda.”
Refuting this now is truly unfortunate, and a sad situation at that.
OSA VICTOR OBAYAGBONA