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Nigeria has no army only soldiers

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By Joseph Rotimi (13-07-2015)

Ever since the so-called Royal West African Frontier Force metamorphosed into the Nigerian 'Army', its objectives have virtually remained unchanged. Its objectives are the protection of those in power by the oppression of those governed. The Nigerian Army consists of soldiers organized along political lines to favour a particular region and its penchant for dictating the power equation in Nigeria. If one examines our 'army' and its antecedents, the only difference between them and civilians is the uniform and a gun. The Nigerian Army; apart from being ill equipped, underpaid, and inadequate in numbers also suffer from deep-seated corruption and indiscipline among the officer corps.

The blows began to land on the army through its lope-sided recruitment exercises decades ago. The recruitments favoured the northern part of the country. Once the north realized that real power flows from the barrel of guns northern young men with aristocratic ties and those with potential were recruited into the army.  Gradually, these young men were used to saturate the strategic areas of command. These men never forgot their benefactors and understood the fact that the leadership of the country and their unique positions need to be secured in perpetuity.  The first military coup in Nigeria gave the necessary excuse the north needed to consolidate its stranglehold on the country's socio-political development or retrogression, depending on which side you are on. The counter coup and the subsequent civil war served to vilify the South East and fully co-opt the South West as partners in northern domination of Nigeria. The officers on the winning side of the Nigerian civil war have been in power or have been complicit in who attains power since the end of the civil war.  Common to all these officers is their training; they were trained in western military traditions of defence and general soldiering but curiously lacking professionalism. It appears as if implicit in their training was the order to go and maintain the status quo and keep Nigeria down for exploitation. Thomas Sankara, a soldier himself, said "… a soldier without any political or ideological training is a potential criminal". In fact, at a point in Nigeria, the only reason young men go into the military was not because of some nationalistic fervor but to snag the juiciest post either within the military or as a reward for coups.

With the death of professionalism in the military, it is not much of a stretch to imagine that the formation of an integrated and well trained army will be difficult. The Biafrans lost the civil war because they failed to integrate the disparate interests within their ranks and did not secure enough support both before and during the war. The Biafrans had some precious moments that could have turned the tide of the war or at least force real negotiations but failed to capitalize on them. Since the civil war, the Nigerian Army has been virtually idle except for peacekeeping duties and of course, the occasional localised uprisings that enable them use brute force on civilians. The Boko Haram issue and to some extent the Niger Delta militants exposed the military to be just a bunch of soldiers for hire without coordination. For example, in an area under military emergency, Boko Haram, who look more like a bunch of wayward beggars with AK47s ran roughshod in North Eastern Nigeria and other parts of the north while our 'Army' betrayed each other and ran for cover, resulting in killings and abductions. This anathema has been going on for six full years with no end in sight. Boko Haram is an external exploitation of an internal disequilibrium stemming from our unique history of less than stellar attempt at nationhood.

The politicization of the Nigerian Military and destruction of professionalism has largely produced soldiers of fortune rather than a national army that is ready to defend the country. Today, the incumbent president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is another northern militician in a long line of former officers that 'fought' the civil war. For nearly two months of incumbency, he has been playing the political game close to his chest but especially close to northern interests. He has made some key appointments that appear to favour the north.  But there is no real cabinet in place, no ministerial appointments, while Boko Haram attacks across the nation have increased, probably due to an ill-advised decision to remove strategic military checkpoints across the country.  A number of Boko Haram members were recently released while others are to be incarcerated in the south of the country for unknown reasons. The latter move is understandably causing uneasiness in the South East because of the human and economic losses their kinsmen have suffered through Boko Haram attacks in the north.

Buhari is currently playing up international acceptance and statesmanship, getting invitation for photo-ops ostensibly to find solutions to terrorism. He has moved the so-called central command near the theatre of war in the northeast. But because the service chiefs clearly understand they might not be in service  for long, the coordination of the fight against Boko Haram is in the doldrums. The US and other European nations might offer to help but at what cost? We may reach an agreement to establish AFRICOM bases in Nigeria, but who benefits in the long run.

There is no way Boko Haram or any other terrorist organization for that matter can survive for this long, and attack the country with such brazen impunity if we had a national, patriotic and professional army. The same disease affecting the army affects all other components of our security apparatus. The death and destruction terrorism has brought on Nigeria has upended our pretext of nationhood. And the manipulation of the military to impose political power on the rest of the country by the north has helped produce soldiers not an army.

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