Wanted: Courageous Nigerian soldiers

…Where are the victorious peacekeepers? …It’s not about personnel, but government - Analysts …Time to show leadership – Group

In the early 80s and late 90s when the military was in power, many parents wanted their children to be soldiers because of the orderly manner the military used to go about their activities and the general aura around soldiers then.

Then, the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna was the go-to place and the dream of many school leavers, particularly those who desired to pursue a career in the military.

At that time, the news that someone has been offered admission into NDA was seen by his friends as though he was going to heaven.

Nigerian soldiers were highly respected by their counterparts and civilians alike, across Africa because of their strength, discipline and high level of professionalism.

At that time, every soldier, officer and recruit, wanted to fight in troubled zones in West Africa, the continent and foreign engagements also.

To further underscore the points, apart from Lt-Gen. Arnold Quainoo, a Ghanaian force commander of Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), Nigerian high ranking military officers have led the West African multilateral armed forces from September 1990 to late 2000.

Read Also: Bandits attack Nigeria’s Defence Academy, kill two, abduct one

The long hold on ECOMOG leadership was because of Nigeria’s tested and trusted strength, discipline and commitment.

The Liberian Civil War of 1989–96, The Sierra Leone Civil War of 1991–2002 and The Guinea-Bissau Civil War of June 7, 1998 to May 10, 1999, were among the major feats of ECOMOG led by Nigerian soldiers.

Sadly, if war breaks out in any West African country today, Nigeria will not be looked upon to lead, Nigerian soldiers will also not be willing to volunteer to fight, as ECOWAS and other African countries may have become disappointed with the way Nigeria is being out-gunned by non-state actors and, who are creating a perpetual state of unease.

Many are wondering what has happened to the once-revered Nigerian soldiers who commanded ECOMOG and led others to fight their way into the many-sided civil wars, forcibly holding the warring factions apart and restoring peace in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and in other war zones.

At present, Nigeria seems under siege by terrorists and gunmen, a sad situation worsened by the helplessness of the military, which the defenseless citizens look up to save them from frequent attacks, but are daily disappointed at the soldiers, who are also under attacks.

From kidnapping innocent school girls in Borno, burning down villages, sacking residents, and taking over more territories, the terrorists, especially Boko Haram, have truly challenged the Nigerian military, which couldn’t repeat its feats in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.

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Taking advantage of the battered soldiers and lack of political will by the government to fight them or engage foreign help, the terrorists are growing every day with deadly assaults on the Nigerian nation and her sovereignty.

Speaking on the recent attack by gunmen at NDA Kaduna, a serving soldier, who pleaded for anonymity, said that the Nigerian soldier is still the strongest in Africa, but that the morale is very low because of the poor welfare package, poor treatment experienced by families of deceased soldiers, unlikely ambush by terrorists, ethnic and religious sentiments among other challenges, have discouraged them from giving their best.

“You cannot enter any military facility and attack freely if there is no insider. We are trained to kill and to dispel any form of threat, but when we fail to do so, then there is a reason. If you address the reason, we will fight to finish,” he said.

Also speaking, Yakubu Ali, a Nigerian war veteran, insisted that the Nigerian soldier is still the best on the continent, but needs fairness in treatment and good welfare.

“I have seen war, fought war and retired from war. I was in Liberia and Guinea-Bissau before I retired to Biu in Plateau State, my home town. What we need is to make the soldiers happy, assure them of their welfare and ensure justice because you cannot send some to die and others to live and expect results. Look out what is happening in Plateau now. I cannot be wearing my uniform when my relatives are being killed in their homes and you expect me to be happy,” he said.

The retired soldier noted that the Nigerian military is capable of defeating Boko Haram, flushed out bandits and kidnappers in six months if the leadership is focused on professionalism, enforce discipline, raise morale of their men, insist and engage government on workable measures and also getting help if need be.

“Of course, the military will not regain power again, so let’s leave politics to civilians and do our professional job; we can threaten the government if it compromises on security measures like the pardon of repentant Boko Haram. The military is not safe now because these fellows have insiders and they know them better than they think,” he said.

According to Sam Onikoyi, a Nigerian historian and Commonwealth researcher based in Brussels, the problem is leadership and not the soldiers.

“There is a popular saying that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Nigeria is suffering in the hands of terrorists today because it refused to take the right action when the insecurity issue was just building. If the government had been firm on flushing out insurgence without playing politics with it, many dead, homeless and the economy would have been saved,” he said.

The security expert, who has been following political and social unrest in Africa in the last two decades, insisted that Nigerian soldiers are still very strong and reliable, but need good welfare and the right leadership devoid of ethnic and religious sentiments to deliver the expected result.

“If you hear the testimonies of some Nigerian soldiers who absconded from the war against Boko Haram in Borno State, you will understand why the terrorists seem to be having the upper hand. Nobody wants to die in the face of compromise and ambush by your own system,” he said.

For Ifewodor Ogala, a retired Navy officer, the Nigerian military is strong enough to dispel attacks on the entire West Africa, but there is an issue of trust.

Speaking further, the retired Navy officer decried that many junior ranks, who are usually the ones facing the fire and attacks from terrorists have noticed different sides and counter commands due to growing religious and ethnic sentiments, which shouldn’t find their way in the military for obvious reasons.

“Soldiers are human beings, if someone from Benue hears that his village is sacked and probably parents killed, he cannot concentrate on his primary assignment, whether it is fighting terrorists, bandits or safeguarding Aso Rock”, he said.

However, many observers think that the military is the only institution that can save the country from terrorists’ attacks; hence government should do everything to ensure professionalism is maintained, with no interference, while the military rejigs the system to ensure good welfare packages to boost an average soldier’s morale and fairness in career progression and promotion.

In conclusion, they insisted that no matter how sophisticated the jet fighter is, if the pilot is not happy, he may likely hit wrong targets or even crash the jet.

‘Powerful elements bent on islamising Nigeria’

Angered by the audacity of the bandits, the raging low-grade war in Nigeria, which appears to be defying every strategy, Kunle Olawunmi, a retired Naval officer, said some sponsors of terrorist groups were bent on turning Nigeria into a country where the Taliban would reign supreme. He aired his views during a television programme.

Olawunmi alleged that the high level of nepotism and unwillingness to deal decisively with sponsors of Boko Haram were not helping the fight.

He recalled how some Boko Haram suspects, who were arrested by the military mentioned some of their sponsors, adding that current governors and senators were among those financing terrorism in the country.

“What Buhari administration should do is to tag this group as terrorists not bandits. Those that invaded the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) just wanted to send across a message,” he said.

He pointed out that there are hardliners in this country who just want to Islamise Nigeria and they do not care how many people are killed to achieve their aim.

Ask what the intelligence agencies and all the nation’s security agencies are doing since they know these individuals, and why they have not picked them up, the retired officer said they may be looking at the body language of the Commander-in-Chief, as according to him, “there’s nothing they can do except the President gives his approval.”

He insisted that the bandits who perpetrated the attacks on NDA were conversant with the environment. He also disclosed that some Cadets had been abducted before now from the NDA and that ransom was paid to free them.

He also said that the abducted cadets said the place they were kept was not far from the premises of NDA as they were said to have narrated that they were hearing the parade going on at the complex from their captors’ den.

The retired Naval officer blamed socio-cultural issues as being responsible for some of the attacks being recorded by the bandits. He said that the porous nature of military facilities on Fridays, when the gates are thrown wide open for all manner of people to enter for Jumat prayer, must have also helped some bandits to profile the environment. He said that such level of access to all manner of people was dangerous for security.

“They had enough time to carry out surveillance as they go in and out of the NDA and other Defence premises. Every Friday during Jumat, barriers are removed for all manner of persons to move in and out in the name of prayer because of socio-cultural issues.

“From my experience of 35 years of military service; who had worked with many past heads of state, I know that there are groups of people in this country that want to see that this country is islamised,” he said.

On the danger of insecurity and the level of governance in the country at the moment, he said: “We have been set back more than 60 yrs. We are moving towards the precipice. Whoever is coming back to lead has a serious work to do. Polarisation, nepotism that I have never seen in my life are going on. This is the worst situation I have seen in my life in Nigeria.”

On the explanation that the officers who were supposed to monitor the CCTV allegedly slept off, the retired Naval officer said: “When it comes to tactical operation, the most important element is surprise. It doesn’t matter whether they slept off; whether the people were agile or not. But at the time they struck, they knew they can achieve some elements of surprise. Even if after 30 minutes of their invasion of that place; it will take a lot to respond to that kind of attack. So, there should be no blame or start looking for who to blame.”

According to him, “I conducted an attack in Niger; and Angola. No matter how fortified an environment is; no matter how foreign it is; if you can achieve the element of surprise, you can win. I know the security architecture there; even if by that time, 1a.m., they want to respond to that; I know the process; the weapons are in the armory; you need to go and open the armory where the arms are and start signing, and the bandits will not allow that to happen. They will continue to fire; they will continue to fire; they will continue to follow up and make sure that you will not respond; and any response, you are going to be caught by bullets. So, it is not about what happened at 1.a.m. it is about what has been happening for the past two years, three years when these people have been having access; unfettered access to NDA; and they have carried out their surveillance and they know the right time to strike.

“It is about what happened in two, three years back; it is not about now. Anybody that wants to investigate this issue should not look at now; he should look at what has happened in the last two years, three years, how porous the place has been and try to investigate it,” he said.

Ortom not amused by State of the Nation

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue, whose state has borne the brunt of herdsmen’s onslaught, wondered why Abuja seems to be dragging foot rather than wielding the stick that it truly has.

“Let me tell you, Mr. President has a mindset. I have spoken to him personally. His outing publicly also confirms what he told me. Mr. President believes that for peace to reign in Nigeria there must be provisions for grazing areas; and according to him; Mr. President feels that those grazing areas that were enacted, especially in the Northern state, and cattle routes, those who have encroached on them, should be relocated,” he said.

According to him, “I took this up with him; and that was why I told him that we are no longer in the 60’s because the population has outgrown the land that we have. Land is not increasing. I told him that as at today, we have over 200 million people compared to less than 40 million we had in 1950. So, there is no how we can talk about an open grazing. In my state; for instance, there is no land for open grazing, but there is land for ranching which is the global best practice. If we accept this, this problem will be over. This is why most of my colleagues; in fact, all my colleagues irrespective of their party affiliation from the south accepted that the way to go is ranching. Most of the states in the north have also accepted that ranching is the way to go.

“We recommended to Mr. President and his handlers, that just like we subscribed Agriculture and provide subsidy for fertilizer and all the same thing for herdsman because ranching can be a little but expensive compared to open grazing. We can help these our herders by ensuring that they have subsidy in terms of water we provide because their cattle take a lot of water in terms of feeds that we provide. And we can devise so many other ways, and I can assure you that.

“I am a farmer and I know the challenges that we are talking about. I have a ranch and I know the challenges accompanying this; but at the same time; I know the potential that we have. This is an another way that we can provide millions of opportunities, job and also empower our people, who for now when they cultivate rice and harvest the straw and all that are wasted. But these can be turned into feeds. This is what I use in my ranch. I have been saying that; we can do all these,” he said.

Ortom, who wondered why the President has refused to buy into what he thought could be a lasting solution, said: “I was not too surprised, but I was disappointed that after the entire country is talking about ranching, he is talking about open grazing. I think Mr. President is pushing me to believe that what they say about him that he has hidden agenda in this country is true. It is true because it is very clear that he wants to Islamise Nigeria. But he is not first Fulani president that Nigeria has had. Shagari was a Fulani president; Yar’Adua was a Fulani president. They were the best president in the country has ever had.

“Go back and check in 2015 what did he say? Human rights issues: He talked about press freedom; he talked about the economy; he talked about corruption; he talked about security. Tell me one thing that Mr. President has achieved. Well, he has achieved some level of success in some sectors, but truly; these prominent things that are of concern to Nigerians and we are all worried, tell me where Mr. President has come out to address this matter; is it corruption, we are worst in the history of this country,” he further said.

Time to show leadership – Group

Decrying the killings and terrorist attacks across the country, Enough is Enough Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation, in its latest newsletter, urged Mr. President to “Wake up and smell the coffee!”

Wondering “What is a Life Worth in Nigeria?” the group recounted that “On August 24, 2021, terrorists attacked the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) in Afaka, Kaduna State, killing 2 officers (Lt. Cdr. Wulah and Flt. Lt. CM Okoronkwo), and abducting Major Christopher Datong. According to SBM Intelligence, this is the fourth security breach of the NDA in the last three years, including an incident in late 2019 where up to 150 cows were rustled from the grounds of the NDA.”

It further said: “Remember, the NDA is located just a few metres away from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State, where 39 students were abducted by terrorists on March 11, 2021. Thankfully, all 39 students have since been released.

“On the same day that the NDA was attacked, 35 people were reportedly killed in Yelwa Zangam, a community in Jos North LGA of Plateau State.”

Rallying Nigerians, the group said: “Active citizens, where is the outrage? These problems are not going to fix themselves, except we all stay demanding. Sòrò Sókè o! Enough is Enough!”

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