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Published On: Sun, Aug 24th, 2014

Of Nigerian Army and the military virtue

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Chief-of-Army-Staff-General-Kenneth-MinimahMonday Column by Charles Onunaiju

A soldier without political education is an armed bandit – Thomas Sankara

China’s Chairman Mao Zedong provided the crucibles and the core of the civic education in his treatise on “Protracted war”. According to the Chinese revolutionary leader, “The army must become one with the people so that they see it as their own army. Such an army will be invincible.” Karl Von Clausewitz, a celebrated 18th century military historian and a distinguished general in the Prussian army, posits in his classics “On war” that the strength of any army is in the possession of ‘military virtue’, which he said is beyond “the self-esteem and vanity of a standing Army, held together, merely by the glue of service regulations and a drill book…”, warning that “these things therefore have a certain value but must not be overrated”.

Clausewitz went on to elaborate the substantive content of military virtue. “An army that maintains its cohesion under the most murderous fire, that cannot be shaken by imaginary fears and resists well-found ones with all its might; that, proud of its victories, will not lose the strength to obey orders and its respect and trust for its officers even in defeat, whose physical power, like the muscles of an athlete, has been steeled by training in privations and effort. . . that is mindful of all these duties and qualities by virtue of the single powerful idea of the honour of its arms which it bears on behalf of its people. . ., such army is imbued with true military spirit”. Clausewitz study of war remain the most incisive and his observation on the objective of war is considerably valuable after more than two hundred years when he wrote that the political object of war is either to totally destroy the adversary and eliminate his existence or else to prescribe peace terms to him”.The American strategic thinker Bernard Bodie said that Clausetwiz’s text “ is not simply the greatest, but the only great book about war”.

The military virtue is both strategic to the conduct of war and in military civil relation, as Clausewitz himself observed that war is a “remarkable trinity” in which the directing policy of the government, the professional qualities of the army, and the attitude of the population all played an equally significant part.

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, an Argentina revolutionary who fought in Cuban war, resigned from its government to answer other internationalist calls, including fighting in the Congo, now Zaire along with the forces of Patrice Lumumba and in Bolivia where he was killed, underscored even more graphically the civil-military relation, when he described the military or more precisely the revolutionary guerrillas as fish, while the civilian is the water, illustrating the critical attitude of the civilian population to the military, a theme that  both Sankara, Mao and Clausewitz clearly pointed at.

Though the Nigerian armed forces originated from the British-created Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF), a repressive organ of the colonial machinery to enforce law and order,in order to maximize colonial subjugation and exploitation. After more than half a century of the end of formal colonialism these force, especially the army and the police continue to view their roles as to repress and frighten the civilian population. Even in an unusual era of brutal insurgency by nihilist forces created by years of social and economic exclusion, the Nigerian army in particular continue to demonstrate callous lack of military virtue and tramples on the civilian population with reckless impunity, using its weapons more to frighten and even murder the civilian population than for exhibiting honour to in the battle field.

Two heart-rending incidents come to mind. The cold-blooded murder of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky’s three sons and other members of his Islamic movement, numbering 33, in Zaria recently points to an army that is both paranoid and lacks confidence, undoubtedly, a deficit of military virtue. The Islamic movement otherwise known or called the Shitte movement has been around for a considerable length of time. Their members who were marching in commemoration of the al-Quds day instituted about 34 years ago, by the late Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khomeni is a traditional Shitte symbol of solidarity to the Palestinian people for the lost of Jerusalem, which houses one of Islam’s holiest site, the Alsqa mosque.

Al Quds or Jerusalem day is celebrated every year since 1980 by Shittes all over the world with a quiet and solemn procession.

According to El Zakyzaky, his movement has joined in the observation of the al-Quds day for the past 32 years. Even though this year’s al-Quds day coincided with the elaborate Israeli military’s earth-scorched operations against the Palestinians in Gaza, the procession was not particularly about it. However, the Islamic movement in Nigeria led by El-Zakyzaky is best known for discipline and even tight control by the economist turned Islamic scholar. Mr El-zakyzaky has been very outspoken in condemning the murderous activities of Boko Haram, whose garb of Islam wouldn’t have been more sullied by a more towering Islamic figure as the Shitte leader in Nigeria.

The allegation that the marching members of the Islamic movement fired first at the soldiers and even abducted their colleagues does not match the antecedents and reputation of the movement. The murder of the members of the Islamic movement of Nigeria, which included the three sons of their leader attest to the serial bungling and mishandling of the war against terror, in which prospective allies and the civilian population is routinely harassed and terrorized by the army, a situation that has greatly emboldened the terrorists and added to their audacity, evident in their recently increased nefarious activities.

The federal government has instituted an inquiry into the killing of the 33 members of the Islamic movement, but the best that can be expected is a mild rebuke of the army authorities, which would most likely blame an unknown soldier. But let it be clear that any such conclusion would further erode any vestige of military virtue remaining in the Nigerian Army.

Before the Zaria incidence and the killing of the 33 members of the Islamic movement, some soldiers in Lagos have rampaged through the streets vandalizing public property and attacking ordinary civilian passers-by, in revenge of a soldier allegedly killed by a Lagos state owned-BRT bus. When the mayhem was over, scores of passers-by were wounded and about ten of the Lagos state-owned buses were destroyed.

The Army PRO issued a statement the following day, that touts and other miscreants were responsible, exonerating the soldiers and even claiming that the soldiers helped to bring order to the chaotic situation. Yet not a single tout was arrested and handed over to police and pictures posted on the social media pointed to the fact that soldiers were both the authors and finishers of the mayhem. Lagos state government have instituted a probe, but the outcome will be dead on arrival since the rival federal government which controls the army would likely look the other way.

Already the minister of state for Defence, Mr Obanikoro, accused variously of using the army for partisan purpose has claimed that the public is shouting wolf where there is none.

Even though the threat of security breakdown is ever looming in elections in Nigeria because of the high stakes involved, the use of the army has had an unsavory outcome, as the army is accused to lean in one way or the other.

Even though, the army and other armed forces originated as part of the repressive colonial apparatus, its reputation as a national institution has been fairly intact, until the notoriously fraudulent election in 2007, in which former president Obasanjo desperately undermined the army and painted it as the mere armed wing of the ruling party.

Curiously, the army leadership has done nothing since then, to extricate the formerly respected national institution from the cesspool of partisanship. The current war on terror has further exposed the inate weakness and blurred vision of a politicized army.

However, the army still retains considerable capacity to mainstream its outlook and character as a credible national institution, by paying a well-regarded attention to its relation to the civilian population and appreciating its professionalization as strategic to its duty to the nation and not to the any existing government, let alone to any ruling party.

Charles Onunaiju is a journalist based in Abuja. 

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