By Madu Onuorah
Slowly, the permissiveness in the larger society is finding rooting in the Armed Forces of Nigeria. And it is going to have debilitating, devastating consequences. Already, it is bringing unprecedented embarrassment to the image of the Nigerian military and hitting its professionalism and integrity.
Recently, there have been sobering and sad reports of military personnel’s involvement in various acts of criminality and indiscipline. It isn’t just the involvement of some personnel who collude with the enemy or involve in gunrunning. It is not the usual stories of military personnel driving against traffic or fighting in public.
Now, the media is awash with soldiers, ratings and Airmen engaging in kidnapping, armed robbery and car snatching. And they are not only doing this as serving personnel, they are perpetuating these acts in military barracks and environments.
As expected, the military hierarchy is expressing worry, vowing to take drastic actions to deter its officers, men and women, whose ‘unprofessional’ conducts are smearing the image of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
Check these unsavoury developments. A soldier with the Nigerian Army, Lance Corporal Idi Mohammed, and an Airman with the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Corporal Alidu James Olathe, are under arrest for separately involving themselves in armed robbery and kidnapping activities in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
On Wednesday 18 January 2023, Lance Corporal Mohammed, who was posted on guard duty at the residence of a retired Major General in Katampe Extension Abuja, was gunned down by troops of the Army Headquarters Garrison (AHQ Gar) deployed for guard duty at the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA) College, Kurudu. His accomplice, allegedly a serving soldier, however escaped.
On Sunday 15 January 2023, Corporal Olathe, who is serving at the headquarters of NAF Directorate of Civil Military Relations (DCMR), was apprehended by AHQ Gar soldiers on guard duty at the Nigerian Army Post Housing Development Limited (PHDL) Phase 5 Estate, Kurudu, in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC). He was allegedly assisting two civilians to kidnap one Mr Emmanuel Sunday, a resident of the estate.
And Thursday, a 50-year-old Naval rating, Oyewole Femi, who is the head of a car snatching syndicate that operates in Lagos and its environs, confessed to selling most of the stolen cars to senior naval officers.
Paraded alongside three others, Oyewole, said while being paraded by the Police: “I am a serving naval officer attached to the headquarters of the Western Naval Command, Naval Base, Harbour Road, Apapa. I am the leader of a car snatching gang. I have served in the Nigerian Navy for 22 years.”
These incidents show how indiscipline have crept into the system and negatively affecting, if not destroying the very fabrics of the Nigerian military. And it has been long coming.
The first major incident of protest in the Nigerian Army that drew national attention was in July 2008 when some soldiers of the 312 Artillery Regiment Akure, which was the 15th Battalion of the Nigerian Army that served in United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), demonstrated on the streets of Akure, Ondo State over unpaid international Peacekeeping allowances.
In May 2014, there was a shooting protest by soldiers of 101 Battalion at the Maimalari Cantonment, Maiduguri, Borno State, the base of the headquarters of the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army. The shooting incident, which caused great “consternation” within military circles, was really a dent on the Nigerian Army which prides itself as a professional and disciplined fighting force.
In August 2014, wives and children of soldiers blocked the entrance of Giwa Barracks which houses the 21 Armoured Brigade of the Nigerian Army Maiduguri, to stop the deployment of their spouses and children to fight against the Boko Haram terrorists or to be deployed to a particular area of operation. They claimed that soldiers were ill-equipped to take on the Islamist militants.
All these incidents clearly showed that the level of discipline and regimentation in the Armed Forces of Nigeria has obviously been going down, and fast too. And this failure of regimentation among the soldiers stems primarily from failure to maintain standards among the superior officers as they failed in their duties to the soldiers.
These elicit concern as soldiers, known for strict obedience to lawful orders, are openly questioning such, “behaving anyhow” and indulging in criminal activities unheard of before.
There is even evidence of soldiers abandoning the Service for fear of engaging in battle against the terrorists groups and bandits. This was unheard of even in the most difficult period of Nigerian troops’ engagement in Liberia and Sierra Leone under the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). Clearly, there is a creeping decrepitude within the ranks of the military.
These are not helped by reports of inconducive working environment due to political, religious and ethnic considerations, which is leading to resignations officers and men owing to loss of interest in military service or lack of promotion.
It was such that Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Farouk Yahaya, in a letter dated December 23, 2022 and signed by Brigadier General Oladapo Oyelade which was addressed to various departments, formations of the Nigerian Army and the Ministry of Defence, said Service personnel leaving the service at will did not augur well for the Army and therefore would no longer be accepted.
Many blame the endemic indiscipline that has crept into the system to the way officers and soldiers were recruited, which is sometimes questionable. The reality is that Nigeria’s elite class are interfering with the normal recruitment process. The elite forget that Nigeria’s military is a voluntary service, a calling with its own rules and regulations, in addition to the laws governing the larger society.
What is clear is that for over 30 years now, the Nigerian military have been infested with children, wards and “unemployed relatives or constituents” of the political, economic and social elite who see enlistment into service as a status symbol or continuation of a family tradition or “job for the boys.”
There has been instances where young officers and soldiers never realized that they were enlisted to fight and if necessary die for the country. They joined, not out of personal convictions, but on recommendations. Some didn’t pass entrance examinations but got recommended into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) on the strength of their connections. And they enter to destroy the standards.
The same thing is happening with the enlistment of soldiers. They continue to do the same within the system as their godfathers influence their postings and distort the process. They get a job they are not interested in, have no passion for and are therefore not able to take the pressures and risks involved in it.
There is even the story of a former Head of State who literarily forced his son into the NDA as Cadet. Three times, the Cadet ran away and three times he was returned back to the Academy until he finally left as he couldn’t cope with the pressure of work and the discipline needed. Many children of top military officers especially during the military era flooded the NDA. Now, many of their fathers now work the telephones and visit Service Headquarters to canvass for “better and safer postings for their sons.”
In 2014, a son of a former military and civilian Governor was posted to Maiduguri to be part of the war against Boko Haram. The retired officer father went his way, approaching Army Headquarters to cancel the deployment and give his son a “better and safer appointment.” For him, the children of the elite should not fight and die for Nigeria.
But whatever happens in the military should concern every Nigerian. After all, once the Armed Forces of Nigeria is destroyed, Nigeria is gone as it is the last major institution still standing for the nation. Therefore, these acts of indiscipline and activities of criminals in its midst must stop. They must, with dignity, carry out their sworn duties of protecting the country and the people. Failure to do this, they may end up like the Iraq Army that easily dissolved at the sight of an advancing terrorist group, or the Afghanistan military that saw the Taliban and ran for cover or surrendered in unison.
It is time again for the military high command to pay greater attention to the quality of officers and soldiers being recruited. And they should face the challenge of instilling and re-instilling discipline within the ranks. The military needs to remind itself and its personnel that they are in the profession of arms, meaning that they have no fundamental human rights outside taking orders in the interest of the State and if possible dying for the State.
The old culture of soldiering, as described in the 1932 “The Edge of the Sword” book written by French General and later President, Charles De Gaulle, must be imbibed afresh by all who are in the profession of arms.
In the book, General De Gaulle stated: “Men who adopt the profession of arms submit to their own free will to a law of perpetual constraint. Of their own accord, they reject the right to live where they choose, to say what they think, to dress as they like. From the moment they become soldiers, it needs but an order to settle them in this place, to move them to that, to separate them from their families and dislocate their normal lives.
“On the world of command they must rise, march, run, and endure bad weather, go without sleep or food, be isolated in some distant post, work till they drop. They have ceased to be masters of their fate. If they drop in their tracks, if their ashes are scattered to the four winds, that is all part and parcel of their job.”
This is the beauty and the challenge of soldiering. And that explains why the State lavishes its resources to keep it in place.