THE SATURDAY ESSAY:
In 2021, May 15 to be precise, this article was written and as of today, in 2023, the context of what was shared then is very true and still happening.
A few months ago the leaders of the Southern Kaduna Peoples expressed their anger at the double standard maintained by the Military under the Buhari administration. Several attacks from Fulani militia against their people go on without arrest or prosecution from the military but whenever a cow is lost the military will immediately invade their place to arrest and harass their people. Several hundreds have been killed in this area and till today no arrest has been made. It is the victims who are arrested whenever a cow is lost and beaten. What an army!
Gov. Ortom has corroborated this in his own Benue State where he accused the Buhari administration and the security agents of injustice.
Recently the whole nation was shocked when a former militant, Tompolo alerted us that for 9 years our crude has been stolen through illegal connections running into billions of dollars. In a nation that has a “Nigerian” Army including the Navy and Air Force? These are just two recent cases that confirm the truth in this essay.
This essay has been written since October 2021 and I am not changing anything. Read and judge for yourself.
In this essay, the author argues that what we have is a Nigerian Army but what we need is a Nigerian People’s Army
There is one thing about a lie: you can repeat it a thousand times and it would still not be the truth. And there is one quality about the truth: the whole world can deny it and rubbish it as long as they wish and it would not cease from being the truth. I think it was Winston Churchill who once said that no matter how long you ply the wrong road it won't become the right one. And I think it was also Martin Luther who said that you don't have to defend the truth, you only need to declare it; truth will defend itself and will survive any lie.
Against this backdrop, I want to explode one of the popular lies and myths that undergirds this nation. It is important because I won’t be an honest man as a servant of God and also an intellectual if I didn’t. The fact that no one has said it really matters little. We cannot build a foundation of nationhood on quicksand.
In this, as in all my articles I welcome exchanges. In point of fact, I challenge all Nigerians from the military, the universities, seminaries, and research institutes to take me up and challenge me on this. I am happy that most of our generals are still alive, Olusegun Obasanjo, Theophilus Danjuma, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Oladipo Diya, etc. Since what I am saying this morning particularly concerns them I challenge them to take me up in debate or impeach my thesis or my proposition. It is allowed.
There is a general, widespread, – yet mistaken impression – that there is a Nigerian Army, that we have a Nigerian Army, among the common run of Nigerians and the nation. It is my proposition this morning that we do not. If by Nigerian Army we mean a Nigerian People’s Army, if by Nigerian Army we mean – and rightly so – an army devoted solely and practically to the lives, welfare, security, and sustenance of Nigerian Peoples of whatever ethnic background; if by Nigerian Army we mean an army that is subordinated to the will, choices, and desires of Nigerian Peoples, if by Nigerian Army we mean an army that sees Nigerians as lords and masters and superiors not slaves, servants, minions or poor civilians the same way the Chinese People’s Army sees the Chinese as superiors, the same way the Israeli Defense Force sees a Jew as the reason for its existence, the same way the United States Army sees the average American as its employer – sorry we do not have a Nigerian Army in that sense.
I challenge anyone even among the generals to debate this. No, we do not have a Nigerian Army if by Nigerian Army we mean a Nigerian People’s Army. There is a difference between the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian People’s Army. Happy and fortunate are the nation and people who know the difference. Yes, we have a body statutorily called the Nigerian Army, an outgrowth of the British Colonial West African Frontier Force with Nigerians of various ethnic groups as members and with various sectors like the Navy, Air Force, Infantry, etc. I do not deny this. What I deny is that this Army is a Nigerian People’s Army – both by its actions, antecedents, behavioral practices, culture, actions, etc.
It is my purpose in the following investigation to show and establish this thesis.
CASE STUDIES AND CONTRASTS
1. On July 3 – 4, 1976 hundreds of Israeli commandoes from the Israeli Defence Force ( the official name of the Israeli Army) in four military planes and Hercules stormed Entebbe Airport, Uganda, in an operation that was rare even in military history rescued Jewish hostages and took them to safety, killing several of Idi Amin’s soldiers and losing only 1 officer in the process.
Now this is not the real issue in itself. What most people do not know is that some of those people Israeli soldiers took that risk for were not even citizens of Israel, but they were Jews. And as Jews, the IDF is committed to their rescue and defense because it is an ISRAELI DEFENCE FORCE, an army committed to the defense of Jews and Israeli people not just territory.
2. In 1981 Israeli commandoes again flew hundreds of kilometers and stormed Tunis to exterminate one notorious terrorist, Abu Nidal ( Abu Jihad) of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for the death of 11 Jewish athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. IDF considers it its duty and an obligation to avenge the blood of any Jewish soul anywhere no matter how long.
3. In 2020 American marines backed by drones and logistics stormed the Northeastern part of Nigeria to rescue one American missionary and his son and in the process killed all the Fulani captors without losing a single soldier. Imagine the distance from their base to here and yet they did it to save one American soul who was not resident in America.
I will cite just some cases in recent memory.
1. In 2014 more than 250 female students were abducted from Chibok, Borno State and today a large percentage of them are still in captivity. I want every one of us to think about how long it will take and with what facilities, the number of buses to transport 276 girls, teenagers within an unleveled terrain, and difficult topography. Yet our army has no clue, insight, or logistics to stop this, arrest the captors, or release the captives.
2. About two years ago police detectives from the Inspector General of Police went to Taraba State to arrest a wanted kingpin of kidnappers named Wadume. Despite the fact they were carrying Identification Tags as policemen on duty and the suspect was in handcuffs and they declared that they were on official duty soldiers of the Nigerian Army still shot them and released the criminal in handcuffs. This is not the worry. Today those soldiers are still in service and had not been charged or tried.
3. Some months ago a video trended on social media that was ominous. Fresh female recruits of the Armed Forces made a video where they expressed their minds about their new jobs.
And what did they say? They were warning how they would deal with civilians, flog anyone who crossed their paths, and other threats with clear forebodings. This is their wish and desire and intention of joining the Army…
The Israeli soldier is thinking of how to free his/ her citizens, and the American soldier and Chinese soldier are planning how to secure the lives of their civilians… But, wait, the Nigerian soldier is thinking of how to deal with civilians, how to establish the hegemony of the army and a uniform over the very people who paid the tax that made his/ her uniform possible.
We have a big problem on our hands. The Army needs complete retraining and reorientation. I shall come to this before concluding this essay.
1. ANNULMENT OF JUNE 12, 1993 ELECTION
On the morning of Saturday, June 12, 1993, Nigerians trooped out in their numbers and went to vote for one of the candidates of the two military-allowed parties. By the next day, it was clear where the pendulum was swinging. M.K.O Abiola was going to win. Even in the North, he won. Even in most army barracks, he won the election.
Then a group of army officers in the upper echelon decided that they did not want a candidate who had already won a free and fair election. The short and long story of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) headed by Ibrahim Babangida with contemptuous cynicism and aristocratic arrogance annulled the result of the election, a move that stunned the whole world.
Now this is the issue. The Nigerian Armed Forces and their officers arrogated to. themselves the power to annul the will of Nigerian Peoples, a coterie of few officers, soldiers of fortune, attempted to write off and erase by a stroke of a pen the collective aspirations and desires of Nigerian peoples expressed through the ballot. An army that would do that cannot be called a Nigerian Army or Nigerian People’s Army because a Nigerian People’s Army won’t erase the will of the Nigerian People. That was the best evidence to establish my thesis.
I ask you to reflect and think: which army in the world would do this to their own people? Would IDF do that to Jews in Israel? Would the United States Army countermand the will of Americans? You saw when Donald Trump wanted to use the army for his purpose to override the will of Americans in the last elections and the response of the commander.
Now this is not the point alone.
What happened thereafter?
Someone would argue that it was not the Nigerian Army that did it but the leaders, the generals. That argument made matters worse, it even defeat the point it was meant to serve. If it was the officers or generals alone who annulled the election what was the position of their subordinates? On whose side were they? Their generals or the Nigerian people?
The sad thing is the Army represented by its common run of soldiers and officers stood by their generals to uphold the annulment against the Nigerian people.
Instead, they came out to shoot demonstrators and protestors fighting for the truth and calling for the de-annulment. Except for one or two officers who resigned or retired on grounds of conscience and principles, nothing happened. Things went on. Later the same Army imposed one of its worst and most corruptive generals as a leader and backed him with force and vigor while keeping the authentic winner elected by the people in chains. Either there is no nation called Nigeria or it is a banana republic or there is no Nigerian Army. A Nigerian Army is supposed to stand by a Nigerian people, all things being equal. The past is proof that is not so.
I state all these openly and I ask anyone to disprove me if these facts are not so. I am writing this now when all the dramatis personae are still living and when most of these generals are still alive. Tomorrow it will become history so if what I say here is not true let them speak and challenge it.
2. ANYTHING GOES
“We became an army of anything goes…”
– Gen. Salihu Ibrahim
Don’t try Ebira people, they can be very stubborn and bold. That was demonstrated at the passing out of General Salihu Ibrahim, then Chief of Army Staff under Sani Abacha. At his passing out or retirement he gave a speech which should pass into the archive as a monument for truth-telling. That day this Ebira man shocked his colleagues by telling them he is in fact happy to leave the army because the army has become, in his words, “an army of anything goes..”
Then he began to itemize the flaws. Soldiers prefer political appointments rather than military postings that would help their professional and career development. Our army had seen money, they have tasted power and no one was willing to remain in barracks commanding soldiers when you could be commanding millions. It got so bad under Babangida that generals would be courting and showing respect for junior officers because the junior officers as governors and military administrators had the power to make rich which a GOC does not have.
3. CORRUPTION IN THE ARMY
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo tactically made allusion to wanton corruption in the army even as early as his day as a civil servant. He was the Finance Minister during the War. He said that throughout the Civil War, no military sector or command returned any money to the Federal purse from salaries sent to them. Then he asked, does it mean no Nigerian soldier died in the war? If they did what happened to their salaries? Why were they not returned to the covers of government?
Corruption in the army is deep and grounded. Has anyone ever audited Ministry of Defense Accounts?
Jonathan took $ 1 billion to buy arms for our soldiers to fight Boko Haram a few months before the elections. What happened to the arms or the money? Buhari has taken the same amount twice to buy arms for the same army. Yet the new Army boss said he did not find any arms before the National Assembly.
We are in trouble.
There used to be a Defense Industry Corporation that manufactures weapons. What happened to it? It now manufactures furniture and upholstery. If you think it is funny I am not joking. Now why was it grounded? A senator has supplied the answer in the newspaper of this morning. Producing weapons in Nigeria does not afford the opportunity for our generals to steal as it would have been when weapons have to be imported with dollars earmarked.
Today all our former generals are billionaires and multi-billionaires. Obasanjo, Babangida, Danjuma, Abdulsalami Abubakar, David Mark etc. Even Mr. Integrity cannot be extricated from the Group. So the big question: If these men were all their life in the army and never did any other work where did they get their stupendous wealth from?
General Sharon of Israel, one of the most remarkable soldiers of modern times still had to go back to the farm after retirement. Colin Powell and Sharkspov relied on pensions and royalties from their biographies after an unblemished career and after distinguishing themselves in the battlefield of the Gulf. So where did our own generals get their money, their millions and billions? I challenge them to tell the world.
The late Chief Falegan told of how under Abacha soldiers would come to CBN with trailers to pack minted money. ( Source: Obadaih Mailafia column)
So where is the loyalty when the leading voices of an institution do not even believe in probity and due process? Abacha loot is still been returned to Nigeria as we speak and this is a general in the army. You need to worry about an institution that has produced such a man and helped him to rise to the very apogee of its leadership. You need to worry about an institution that has produced and helped an Obasanjo with his arrogance and contempt for the people to rise to the top; a Babangidda with his deceit and Maradona tactics and corruption to reach the top and an Abacha with his greed to make it to the top; that has allowed Muhammadu Buhari with his nepotism, ethnic irredentism, and religious bigotry to make it to the very top…
Whether you see it or not whether you say so or not an institution that has allowed these men to prosper as to curse a whole nation with their wiles and leaven cannot be upright or innocent. Whether you hate me or not I must tell you that is the truth. That is what Salihu Ibrahim was trying to say to Nigeria but we are not a perceptive people. Corruption seems to mean very little to the army, Nigerian Army, and its leadership.
Under Goodluck Jonathan’s government, we were losing 450,000 barrels per day to thieves and smugglers on land and high sea. At the same time, we were also paying militants under that archetypal waster millions to protect the pipelines and prevent thieves. Now the question is this. A barrel of crude oil is not a pin or cocaine that people hide in their private parts. How could this large amount of materials and assets be lost in a nation where there is an army, navy, and air force on land and sea? What is their work? Everywhere in the Niger Delta especially in Rivers State, you see military checkpoints, yet these humongous sums and materials are smuggled out of the country in a nation that has an Army and Customs in what ECONOMIST of London calls “industry-scale robbery”.
NEUTRALITY AND IMPARTIALITY
At the Convocation of the Taraba State University, Theophilus Danjuma, a general and former Army Chief declared to his stunned audience that if they wished to survive they should make their personal arrangements for self-defense because the army is no longer neutral. If you rely on the army declared the Chief, “you will die one by one.” Recent events now show convincingly that Danjuma was right on target. T.Y. Danjuma is not a frivolous person; if he warns about a matter be sure he has his facts. In the 1980’s he warned that the next war will be a Religious War when he observed the way the same Muslim fundamentalists were burning churches and wreaking havoc in the North. Are we not getting closer now to that danger under Buhari?
Danjuma is right and he has now been proved right.
1. Recently some soldiers of the Nigerian Army accompanied some Fulanis to communities in Ogun State to deal with the natives and even the traditional rulers because they asked the Fulanis to leave after violating the ethical code of good behavior. This incident was recorded on video and reported by Sahara Reporters, the online medium.
Why should it be the business of the Nigerian Army to take sides on civil matters? Is it the Nigerian Army or the Army of the Fulanis?
2. Recently a South East governor expressed deep reservations and helplessness publicly. He phoned the Commander of the Army division in the state to tell him of the information reaching him that Fulani militants were massing to commit atrocities in the state. But the army officer told him that he could not take orders from him, he should talk to the President and Commander in Chief. He then phoned the President and was put on hold for hours without being able to reach him until the Fulanis had committed their atrocities. To his greatest surprise, the same officer who claimed he could not mobilize without orders from Abuja was now mobilizing as soon as the Fulani militants finished, not to arrest them but to stop the people from retaliating. This is from the mouth of a governor himself.
Is that a neutral army? Can we call that a Nigerian Army or the Nigerian People’s Army?
3. Selective enforcement of law
Soldiers have been known to confiscate weapons from people in Benue, Southern Kaduna while the people who daily maim them have their own weapons. Their arrows, knives, and swords were taken from them while the murderers who wreak havoc kept their own. What kind of army does that in the world? Can that be called a Nigerian Army?
4. The Killing of “Gana”, the Militant
A Benue militant warlord who was going to surrender in response to the Amnesty of the State government declared by Governor Ortom and jointly approved by the Security Council of the State which includes the military was still waylaid by soldiers and killed between Gboko and Makurdi.
Sometimes the soldiers of the Nigerian Army behave as if they are above the law as if they are the law. Yet leaders of the Myetti Allah Association that threaten an entire state, a federating unit are left untouched and unmolested. Would Gana have been killed that way if he were a Fulani? Our army is not neutral and if it is not neutral with all ethnic nationalities then it cannot be a Nigerian Army, a Nigerian People’s Army. There is no way.
A foreign journalist years ago expressed his shock after interviewing several residents of Southern Kaduna. They all told him why they no longer trust the army.
In one town there were soldiers guarding the place ( or perhaps guarding the people from retaliating?). The soldiers told the people to hide somewhere from the rampaging herdsmen who were coming.
To their shock and surprise when the militants came they went nowhere and attacked no other place save the very place soldiers told them to hide. The coincidence was too confounding.
NIGERIAN ARMY OR NIGERIAN PEOPLE’S ARMY?
Nigeria is a federation of several ethnic nationalities and disparate groups. What we need and the best for us is a Nigerian People’s Army, an army that is not only drawn from different ethnic groups, it is also subordinated to the whims, feelings, and sensitivity of the different peoples of the federating units. That is not what we have now. To be honest to the fact we do not have a Nigerian Army in the sense of being a Nigerian People’s Army. I will be very blunt here. What we have and have had is a Danjuma Army, Murtala Army, Babangida Army, Abacha Army, Buhari Army… but not a Nigerian Army or a Nigerian People’s Army.
Once you understand this then nothing about the actions of the army will shock you, nothing in their history, their coups and counter-coups, Civil War, etc will shock you. Failing to understand this, however, you will miss the big picture.
This is why the Army can annul an election, rig elections, engage in corruption, etc. The Army can be good and bad depending on who is presently calling the shot. If a good man is there then the army follows him and is good and if a bad man is there then it becomes bad. A Fulani man is presently in charge so the Army too serves the purpose of the Fulani. When a ruthless man like Abacha was in charge then the army too was ruthless. As its leader goes so goes the Nigerian army. This is what Gen. Salihu Ibrahim meant by an ” army of anything goes”
Like the Legionnaires of the old Roman empire that was more loyal to their generals than to Rome the Nigerian army is more like that in the light of the several cases I have mentioned here and several I still could have mentioned. This is one of the causes of the defeat of the Roman Army before the Gothic Army of King Alaric at the Battle of 410 A.D. and the eventual fall of the Roman Empire.
"Those who forget the past are. condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana.
People are asking for restructuring for Nigeria to move forward. They want a new Constitution etc. The number one thing to restructure if Nigeria will move forward is the institution called the “Nigerian Army”. Until this is done no other restructuring will work or be allowed to work.
More than 90% of the problems this nation has today have their origins in the military or in its personnel both directly and indirectly. The “Sharia” Constitution that is the root of most tensions was given to us by the military.
Muhammadu Buhari, our current nemesis was a product of the military.
Olusegun Obasanjo who imposed Yar’Adua on us and Goodluck Jonathan to fight us is a product of the military after we refused to accede to his Third Term in office.
Babangida who annulled an election, the freest election conducted by a black community, and his fellow colleagues who aided him were all from this institution.
What of Abacha?
So the biggest trouble we have is the military.
Abdulsalami Abubakar was only there for about a year and what did he do to our External Reserves? Read the Kolade Report? Read the Okigbo Report and what happened to our Gulf Oil windfall, ($12.8b).
The politicians have now taken this template and fashioned it to another level.
So begin the restructuring with the military.
In essence, we have been ruled by the military except for the régime of Tafawa Balewa.
Shehu Shagari was installed by the military and favored by the military. Days before the election we had been told that “the best candidate need not win the election” as if the military had a crystal ball to know how the people would vote. The rigging and manipulation characterizing that election to ensure that NPN won are well known, especially in the North. The announcement of Shagari as a winner even when he did not technically meet the requirements of the law instead of proceeding to the Electoral College as provided by law had the imprimatur of the .military and Danjuma in one of his interviews in the 1980’s admitted this much. They wanted Shagari and Shagari “won”.
Abiola wasn't favored and he didn't get there even when he won.
Both Yar’Adua and Jonathan were picked by Obasanjo so they were still chosen by the grace of the military. Obasanjo and Buhari are army generals meaning they are still on the reserve list of the military.
What does this sum to? Only Tafawa Balewa has ruled Nigeria as a civilian without any input or help from the military or a military personage. Even he too and his party were helped by the Colonial Army. Shonekan was there as an interlude in favor of the military.
So this is the source of the trouble. Let the restructuring begin from here for it to work. Else we shall continue to have the Federal Republic of Nigerian Army ( apologies to Chris Alli).
I believe every nation has its prophet, a person chosen by God whose life, circumstances, and message encapsulates the best and easier way for that nation to reach the top. Happy is that nation that recognizes its own prophet. For America it was Jonathan Edwards; for Britain, it was John Wesley, for Germany it was Martin Luther… What if France had accepted John Calvin? It would have been spared the horror of a pogrom and a bloody Revolution!
Nigeria too has a prophet, a man sent to her by God but few realize it. His name is Joseph Ayo Babalola.
Why am I saying this? It is this.
In one of his visions, he said he saw a woman carrying a baby at her back upside down, the legs pointing upwards toward her head, and the head of the baby pointing downward. He was amazed and stared at the lady. Then he heard the Voice of God telling him to move near and pay attention. He saw as this child began to kick her mother with her legs, kicking her head. The lady then enters into real trouble and confusion. He was watching and the terrible child carried upside down kicked her mother to death. Then the vision was taken away from him. Afraid and troubled, he began to pray about what the meaning could be. In his own interpretation, the woman is the church and the child is modernism.
And that is also correct.
However, a revelation or a.message from God always has parallels and multidimensional meanings and layers. meanings. Of recent, I began to think about this vision again as it relates to Nigeria. In my own interpretation, that woman could be Nigeria and the child carried upside down that is kicking his mother until it enters into confusion could mean the Army, in the light of this exposition…
More than 90% of the problems we have today have their roots in the army, its personnel, officers, and men. Even the Civil War was essentially caused by their officer’s failure to resolve their disputes. Some of the biggest rogues we have heard in public office have been from this sector. This is not to deny or ignore their professional accomplishment, contributions, and some very altruistic services to this nation and even the world; and this is not to say that all soldiers are bad or corrupt.
No, but it is now clear that the army that we have today with all the facts stated in this essay is still a far cry from a People’s Army.
At the end of this Crisis or Conflict, we should all attempt to restructure the army and make it a truly Nigerian People’s Army that cannot be hijacked by anyone or for any purposes other than Nigerian. A Nigerian Army as we now know it is not the same as the Nigerian People’s Army. What we need is a Nigerian People’s Army, an army that is fair, balanced unbiased, impartial and absolutely neutral, and detribalized. An army that cannot be corrupted or compromised.
I am not sure that is what we now have.
Let the debate begin.
This piece was first published on May 15, 2021
Moses Oludele Idowu writes from Nigeria.
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