As the world stands in solidarity with disenfranchised Nigerians over the abduction of our girls at Chibok by the Islamist, Boko Haram, and as the circumstances surrounding the failure of our armed forces to rescue them continue to unfold, it has become timely to ask; where were our men and women in the armed forces when those girls were abducted?
Indeed, where were our generals, admirals, and marshals? The insistence by Amnesty International that Nigeria’s military had over 4 hours advance notice of Boko Haram’s planned assault on Chibok, and could not deploy its men to secure the city is beyond phantasmagoria and is damaging to their reputation, to say the least. If the rest of the world offered to assist thousands of our men and women who pick up their checks on the supposition that their preoccupation is to defend our territorial integrity, they should hide their faces in shame for their failure to secure Chibok against Boko Haram’s assault and for exposing our national security to foreign scrutiny.
I do not object to having foreign assistance to help resolve the current embarrassment and bring our girls home. Every reasonable human being knows it is the right thing to do and I pray that the girls come home safe to their families and loved ones. Nevertheless, from an intellectual perspective, I would think that we need an explanation from the Nigerian Armed Forces for their irresponsible and inexcusable dereliction of responsibility. If I may ask, how can they justify our continuing investment in them if we cannot trust them to protect the little town of Chibok, not to mention defending the nation?
Nigerian Armed Forces have been deployed in various parts of Africa on peacekeeping assignments and the reports we often get are that they distinguished themselves at each mission. I am beginning to feel that all those accolades were propaganda orchestrated by our military to launder their image and conceal their ineptitude and unprofessionalism from the public while our cowed politicians continued to allocate unjustifiable billions of Naira to them. Otherwise, why would they fail to rescue Chibok girls abducted by a rag tag fundamentalist Islamic group who trained neither at Sandhurst nor at any of the elite military schools around the world where Nigeria’s military men and women are regulars? They bungled their assignment as part of ECOMOG contingent deployed by ECOWAS to stabilize Liberia, and exposed the then President Samuel Doe to capture, torture and death in the hands of Yomie Johnson and his band of renegades.
My position is that it is unreasonable to continue to waste taxpayer’s money on a military establishment that is synonymous with failure. At the resolution of this madness, we must push for the reformation of what we now characterize as the Nigerian Armed Forces because they do not serve any purpose.
Since political independence in 1960, Nigeria has experienced seven successfully military coups, not to mention the unsuccessful ones that we may never know about. It therefore suggests that for all the investments our country has made in its armed forces, what they have shown till date is their dexterity and expertise in the art of organizing successful coup d’états, intimidate and kill “bloody civilians” and defy the laws of the land. For the most part, the history of the Nigerian Armed Forces is an excursion into how one military junta overthrew and displaced another as they shared the spoils of corruption. History is my witness that throughout the period of military rule, Nigeria experienced unprecedented economic stagnation, increased morbidity, high maternal and infant mortality rate, lack of healthcare facilities, unemployment, destruction of social institutions and traditional values, devaluation of our education, unbridled corruption and the emergence of new millionaire class of retired military officers. In recent times, they have constituted a critical mass of powerful politicians and leaders of commerce and industries. Apart from the intermittent demand to contribute to peacekeeping operations in the warring parts of Africa, our armed forces have been essentially idle.
The point I am making is that our generals, admirals, marshals and their officers are men and women trained in the theories of warfare and military intelligence who will readily abandon their posts when challenged in real combat because they lack practical training and military courage. Else, how does one explicate the continuing threat of Boko Haram composed of mostly Almajiris and Fulani cattlemen harassing the armed forces of the biggest economy in African and the most populous black nation on earth? How does one explicate that our armed forces took flight and abandoned their armored cars and guns when these religious thugs confronted them? Does it not seem highly probable that motor park touts could as well vacate our armed forces if they had access to the antiquated MAC 4s that were used during WWII? If our armed forces cannot subdue Almajiri insurgence, by necessary inference, they may not hold their ground in the face of external aggression. It will be safe to conclude that a country like Gabon, Cameroun, Niger or Chad, none of which approximates the size of any state in Nigeria can overrun our country effortlessness while we cool off in our cubicles in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu or Kaduna with our inflated narcissistic confidence that we have one of the strongest military in Africa. If the antecedent of the former officers of the armed forces is any guide, enlistment in the military provides the fastest way to the spotlight and the opportunity to accumulate illegal wealth for taking unnecessary courses from any and every military school in the world and sitting on your ass drinking beer, violating young girls, and breaking marriages. For one thing, you are sure that you will never be deployed to any combat throughout your professional career.
Another area that our armed forces acquired expertise in is in the area of intimidating defenseless citizens with guns procured with our tax money. Recently in Borno State, the military killed over 30 defenseless civilians. The same armed forces that killed the civilians are now inundating us with excuses that they lack equipment to combat Boko Haram. The fact is that our military is exposed to the same contagious corruption that has ravaged the Nigerian psyche. Their chiefs divert funds meant to procure modern arms and supplies to private bank accounts in Nigeria and overseas and retire to become formidable politicians wealthy enough to fund expensive Nigeria’s political campaigns. One of them was reported to have boasted that he did not know what to do with over $500m. The roll call of our past military chiefs who retired to become millionaires is impressive: Badamasi Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, David Mark, Theophilus Danjuma, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Buba Marwa, Sani Abacha (even in death) etc. Some of them retired to the government houses as governors or senators, and owners of oil blocks. I will not be surprised if they are ultimately implicated in the Boko Haram insurgence.
I agree that President Jonathan has been anything but an effective leader and a fair game for armchair critics who have been critical of his administration. A time like this calls for purposeful leadership and a clarion call to citizens to demonstrate patriotism and coalesce behind their president to challenge acts of terror precipitated by Boko Haram. However, that kind of leadership that is inspirational and commands respect and nationalistic feeling is lacking in him. President Jonathan does not have to possess the oratory of Winston Churchill nor the elocution of Martin Luther King Jr., and I do not expect him as Commander-in-Chief to pick up a gun to go after Boko Haram when he has already deployed the professionals, the armed forces, and the least he can do is to provide decisive leadership.
Where then is our sovereignty as a nation? In any case, it is fine; at least the world will see that our leaders, civilians and military, are talking drums, loudmouths and pretenders. In addition, it will be clear that our armed forces are composed of the theoretical and federal character generals, admirals, and marshals who were promoted not because of their brevity in combat, but because of their connection with the seat of power.
Nwike (S) Ojukwu is Doctor of Laws candidate, The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.