President Muhammadu Buhari has just changed the military service chiefs. The conclusion in some quarters, which we equally share, is “better late than never.” Although it will seem, as the spokesmen of the President always say, the President has his own style and hates to be stampeded into decisions, it is clear that he is actually not oblivious of the agitations of the people for this practical step that he has just taken. Such an attitude has its good and bad sides.
It may suggest a calculative and reflective leadership acumen that is not hasty in taking decisions. It may, on the other hand, border on ego and inability to perceive how good and practical decisions are to be urgently made in the interest of the populace. This could be a reflection of a poor sense of judgment and absolute lack of good counsel. While the cost is too high on life and property, it is clear that public governance requires more responsiveness and the reflexes of a good goalkeeper in ensuring that dangers that might afflict the public are averted while one listens to sound and objective counsel and not the adulatory flattery of court singers.
The public is not condemning the erstwhile military chiefs for frivolous reasons but just feel strongly that they had done their best and must have exhausted their ideas. This is based on happenings around the country and the fact that Nigeria has been at war with insurgency for years now and the war does not seem to have an end in sight. Worse still is the spread of insecurity across the country and the inability of security agents to effectively respond.
Muteness from the Presidency over these public agitations has set the populace on edge and occasional utterances from some personalities in government did not seem to placate the masses who are the victims, direct and indirect, of the terror that pervades the land. Again, it had become practically necessary to relieve the service chiefs of their posts to leave room for growth of their subordinates and eliminate frustration at the lower ladder of men and women who are mainly the implementors of security decisions.
Experiencing a situation of malicious obedience to lawful order and, at times, outright refusal to carry out same is not palatable in military circles. While welcoming the new service chiefs, their profiles seem intimidating enough to make a difference. However, they must make intelligence their major tool. They must work as a team as they have started and not engage in any undue rivalry as in the case of the old chiefs. They all have experience of the North-East and the terrain. At least, the agitation has come down now and, psychologically, people believe something is being done by the President.
While we congratulate the new chiefs, we wish them the best as we expect much from them. It does not stop there. The President must look at those factors that made the erstwhile chiefs fail in their responsibilities. Corruption in the military is not immune to presidential review and aggressive efforts to control same is mandatory. A military institution that is afflicted by corruption can never fight and win a war, no matter how insignificant. Such an institution has been bedevilled by internal war that is ravaging its capacity to conduct any successful external campaign. History is replete with such military organizations and escapades defeated by internal corruption. We have heard of many cases in which young soldiers complained of poor welfare despite huge amounts being voted for security in our budgets. We have read of many accusations levied against senior army officers who are richer than businessmen and third world politicians combined and whose sources of wealth cannot be accounted for. We have been treated to stories of how ill-equipped our soldiers were at a time that Boko Haram insurgents made mince meat of our gallant youths who volunteered their lives to defend our collectiveness.
Something is wrong somewhere in a situation where huge amounts disappear in procuring weapons that never arrive, or refurbished equipment is supplied and the money is never returned. The Yoruba say “the oracle should be kind enough to leave me unaided than worsen my plight.” And “if the snare fails in catching the game, it should return the bait.” Why would such humongous amounts disappear without traces and our soldiers left ill-equipped to confront a dangerous enemy whose supplies seem unending? A service chief was reported to have acquired mansions and duplexes in Dubai at a time but there was no report of any investigation of his sources of wealth. Where a system condones corruption in its military, it has left the masses to their fate in case of any onslaught from any source.
It is also the case that soldiers who complained of poor treatment were rather not listened to but tried for mutiny and were harshly disciplined. While discipline is key in maintaining a good military organization, there is a limit to which fear of discipline can sustain discipline in an institution being directed by an undisciplined leadership. It is not enough to maintain the stance of a lion over subordinates without controlling the avarice of their superiors. The fight against corruption can only achieve meaningful outcomes when the same thing is carried into the bodies responsible for our collective safety and security.
At a time, we read of a military chief who complained openly of his battalions of being exposed to danger in the hands of insurgents as military intelligence was being leaked and his soldiers were poorly equipped to combat their enemies. No war is fought with mere brawn but brains too and it is only sound intelligence that wins wars in this modern day and age.
The President must, therefore, look into saboteurs within the army who are exposing our young men and women to unnecessary dangers for selfish gains. It is unpalatable to realise that all carefully mapped out plans and strategies to attack strongholds of the insurgents would have been leaked before such efforts are executed. Our soldiers are then routed like a pack of inexperienced school kids who are insensible enough to challenge their superiors to a deadly fight. We are aware of the tendency of some military chiefs to turn the campaign against insurgency into trade through which they make money and they do not have the fear of God because greed has dominated their souls. Where this monster is not tamed, no amount of pseudo-discipline can sustain the army and prepare it for a successful campaign to secure Nigeria.
Recently, we learnt that more than 120 soldiers chose to resign from the army. No one can blame them. Joining the army is not a choice to commit suicide but rather defend the integrity of your fatherland with the expectation that you would live to benefit from a better and secure future. The fact of death is an incident that may occur in the process but not as a matter of suicide or conspiracy of your superiors to make your life a cheap bargain to corner illicit wealth. Patriotism is key in the development of a nation. A country whose citizens are not patriotic can never rank high in the comity of nations. Its citizens would be pariahs and its future not assured. The cankerworm threatening such a country is worse than cancer and it behoves its leadership to act urgently or abdicate their offices for others who are ready to do it.
The President must make security a priority and ensure there is unity in the armed forces. No nation fights itself and defeats external aggression at the same time. Where service chiefs are not united in their purpose, the end is near. The allegation of nepotism, favouritism and ethnicism in the army and other spheres of life should be critically looked into with a view to ensuring a strong and virile army that can return Nigeria to its old glory when the international community looked unto Nigeria to sustain sub-regional and regional peace and security in Africa and elsewhere.
We must return to the war against indiscipline campaign, this time within the armed forces. A change of baton without all these can never bring the succour we desire and loss of lives and property shall continue being the order of the day. The north-eastern part of the country, just like any other part, deserves peace and tranquility to progress and develop.
The Governor of Borno State has been a direct victim of army incompetence as substantial parts of his territories are under insurgents’ control. The man himself on many occasions has escaped death and witnessed direct fire from insurgents but was only lucky to escape, for instance, the Bama attack. A video clip went viral recently showing the governor crawling to safety while the Nigerian army could not guarantee his entry into Bama town. Service years of the just retired military chiefs should be probed to see why they failed in order to avoid failure again.
The prediction that Nigeria is bound to fail and disintegrate has not been averted as, on a daily basis, we are confronted with new evils. The reports of our army’s performances recently gave a little hope of the possibility of success. The campaign should not be left to Goebbels in government who fight wars of lips and vanquish enemies with words. This is a war Nigeria cannot afford to lose.
While I congratulate the President on recent successes, I think there is more to be done. His integrity is what is on the line. He is the Commander-in-Chief and should be seen to be actually commanding. A quiet and unspeaking Commander may be taken to endorse wrong acts of his Generals where there is no contrary indication that he does not approve of their acts. I also urge Nigerians to support the government in this effort but our loyalty can only be sustained by conscious and purposive approach to governance by our leaders. On a final note, I believe that the rule of regimentation as per non-disclosure of wrongs by the subordinates is ripe for urgent review if the system is to be efficient; similarly, non-scrutiny of the expenditure of the military and other security outfits should start becoming history. Accountability and probity are the hallmark of discipline.