I was so saddened by the story of Nigerian soldiers taking refuge in primary schools, 80 miles inside Cameroon last week that I decided to devote my column to it this week. Then I remembered that not too long ago, I did a piece on the Nigerian Army. I consider the issues I raised in the piece titled Gen Gusau and Africa’s best army as germane today as they were at the time. I reproduce excerpts from it: “When soldiers first came on the political scene, their leader, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, told us that “our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian politicalcalendar back by their words and deeds”.
But it didn’t take long before he and his group stood accused of all the crimes he accused our ‘enemies’ of. A casual look at the list of the victims of his ‘revolution’, both civilian and military revealed that there was no federal character in the distribution of death by the coupists. On the crimes of nepotism and tribalism therefore, they were just as guilty as their ‘enemies’ in the execution of the coup. The counter coup that followed was a logical consequence.
On the charge of political swindling and profiteering, the military regimes that followed that putsch performed no better. By the time they finally left office in 1999, nobody was complaining of ten percent bribery as Nzeokwu did in 1966. Corruption had reached a point where it was 100% bribery or direct looting of the treasury without the inconvenience of contract awards and kickbacks. With the return of democracy in 1999, it was hoped that the military would return to their barracks and thus be insulated from the maladies that afflict we ‘bloody civilians’. Sadly enough, this has not been the case. Two short examples will illustrate my point. In 2006, during Obasanjo’s presidency, an aircraft carrying eighteen of our army generals to Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State crashed at Ngokugh hills of Benue state. Ten of the generals were killed instantly; the survivors would have also perished but for the gallantry of a 12 year old boy.
With a single phone call using a GSM set he found at the crash site, the boy, alerted the world to organise a rescue mission to site. This saved eight out of 18 people on board. The boy (Detimbir) was working at his family farm located several miles from his village when the military aircraft crashed.
But instead of taking to his heels from the deafening noise and devastating scene, he summoned courage, approached the helpless victims, picked one cell phone which performed the magic.
The then Chief of Defense Staff, General Owoye Andrew Azazi, overjoyed by the courage of the young Detimbir, promised to make his dream of becoming a soldier come true by giving him unhindered admission into the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA).
The promise served as motivation to the boy who later passed his WEAC examination with seven credits including the compulsory university requirement of Mathematics and English. He also took his entrance examination to the NDA and out of the 100 candidates from his state, he was number 4. But the army ambushed and frustrated him. His guardian, Chief Emmanuel Viashima who followed him to NDA for the admission process told me of their sad experience. “At the gate, a soldier drove me and the 17 year old boy away claiming that he has high blood pressure and was about to suffer a stroke. He said the boy could not be enlisted. This he did without a single medical examination!” That was how the army shut its door against a promising soldier who demonstrated courage and patriotism.
Meanwhile, the same army has flushed its gates open to mercenaries, armed robbers and other questionable characters with dark motives. Is such an army a serious fighting force or a band of street comedians? General Azazi as Chief of Defence Staff did the right thing in promising the boy a career in the military. Sadly before he could qualify for NDA, Azazi was no longer in that office. But as noble as his act was in this case, Azazi himself did not have an exemplary record of military service. Before he came to that office, Azazi was GOC of First Division in Kaduna. Under his watch, the armory there was burgled and the massive arms and armaments from there were sold to Niger Delta militants. They were then used to kill Nigerian soldiers, abundantly. I remember that a few humble officers were tried, convicted and jailed for that offence. In a serious army, they deserved a firing squad or at least a hangman’s noose. Azazi, amazingly later emerged as National Security Adviser!
This is the security commotion General Gusau has been appointed to head as Minister of Defence. His profile is intimidating no doubt. But I am just wondering how he will perform the magic and save the army and the rest of us from Boko Haram and now the Fulani militants. The truth is that far from being the best army in Africa, the Nigerian army today is the home of treacherous, corrupt and unpatriotic men.”