Nigerian Armed Forces: Celebrating lost respected heroes, despising their sullied contemporaries

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It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong

It’s once again that week of every January when fallen heroes of the Nigerian armed forces are remembered with distinct events that include special prayers, talks, parades and others to commemorate and appreciate the sacrifices rendered by the brave men for their fatherland which is not only commendable but enviable locally at home and around the globe.

The Nigerian military have indeed played several roles in the evolution of this country from actively defending the country’s sovereignty and status to enforcing peace within the West African sub region and beyond on the one hand and to fostering national healing in times of turmoil and political uncertainty albeit sometimes unnecessarily.

Serving in the military seems to a large extent every young man’s dream from pupils in the formative years to students develop interest for various and amplified reasons which have significantly changed from the late 1950s to what obtains now. Back then interest was being generated via persuasion and highly targeted campaigns and strategies to encourage men to be drafted including cadet training experience in secondary schools for potential recruits to get a feel via experiential training, ranking and similar activities as what obtains in the regular military schools. This paid off as many young men eventually transited from secondary school cadets to the defense academy where a lot of such became top military brass and more as service chiefs and heads of state including Gen. Murtala Mohammed who was once an unsmiling cadet back at Barewa College, Zaria.

The training, flamboyant and glamorous looks in uniform was and probably still is a point of striking interest in many a young man especially judging from the high number of applicants that sit for entrance examinations’ into military secondary schools and the defense academy in the last 20 years or so which is at slight variance to recruitment methods several years earlier. Successful applicants in both cases were groomed to become disciplined, responsible and courageous gallant gentlemen officers and private soldiers, traits many of them exhibited to the letter while serving in the country and at various other functions abroad. Certainly, there are a set of skills that seem to be learned best and perhaps only within a military setting including but not limited to coordination and organizational skills, decision making, iteration and strategy. Horned in these set skills Nigerian military men were able to measured level weather the storm in their intervention in running the country thereby creating confidence and appreciation in the minds of citizens in their motivation and ability to set up and to a considerable practical transformation via initiatives and programs aimed at the general well being of the country and also cooperation and regional growth and security within the sub continent and beyond where many bravely fell in the line of duty.

While the programs formatted by the military were well intentioned progressive and inspiring, along the way however, self serving disposition, arrogance and ineffective utilization and perhaps ambitious political power crumbled all the hopes and dreams. Indeed the training gained was compromised to the background with little or no emotional intelligence accentuated by heavy handed approach.

In terms of military civilian relationships especially resulting from former’s involvement in governance, the military gradually developed high level of intolerance and intolerable dispositions characterized by contempt and molestation in various forms and degrees while the ordinary civilian’s perception equally metamorphosed from esteem, respect and appreciation of the armed forces to outright fear, distrust and brazen dissatisfaction of the attitude and newly acquired disposition of soldiers in contemporary Nigeria with the trend awful as it is became a norm rather than exception. For instance while in the past, military men are given lifts as they stand by roadsides or their fares in commercial transport waived or paid for by many an appreciative passenger, the current trend seems to be the exact opposite-most of the time that is. I’ve personally witnessed where a soldier tried to bully his way for an intercity journey where a fellow passenger smoothly challenged his action while the driver who wasn’t in view when the issue started, grouchily demanded the soldier out of his car. Now, this is not supposed to happen and certainly doesn’t happen in civilized countries where servicemen are appreciated and respected by fellow civilian compatriots simply because of  what they have given and how including a healthy attitude. It’s always give and take and this instance he probably took and got what he deserved that emanated mainly from his character.

But where did things go wrong, how and when exactly did the drift start? Is it the training? Are they being encouraged to look down on civilians even when at least more than 70% of them hitherto are not from military backgrounds or families or is it the loaded arms they move with albeit unnecessarily or policy gaffes, bad laws and getting away with irrational behavior that emboldens others to do it more.

It’s certainly a mixed feeling, a mixed bag, bitter sweet remembering fallen heroes, honoring and respecting what they stood for-the values that spurred them to duty and dying thence in either while fighting internal insurgents and other miscreants, saving the country from unnecessary fragmentation and of course ensuring territorial integrity and commitment to international peace on the one hand while simultaneously acknowledging brazen mishandling  certain events and operations such that such that simple day to day interactions with other citizens are almost always unpleasant alongside extrajudicial killings, summary executions which are always unpleasant circumstances, unfortunate and needless to say preventable when simple leadership ,operational and cognitive skills are diligently applied. The recent Shiite military confrontation is a case in point especially when it’s a repeat version of the first which was only a year back but in this case involving the Chief of army staff himself and his lieutenants with of course the tacit approval of the entire military/defense hierarchy including the commander in chief of the armed forces of the subsequent events which can at best be described as overzealous, callous and superfluous persecution. When top leaders of an organization cannot come up with efficient and fluid means solving an impasse, then there is a big problem indeed. There are at least a dozen ways to employ (don’t ask me how or what because as leaders they ought to know or swiftly initiate) but inflated egos and live bullet s did not allow them think reasonably. To this incident, the President (in) famously dismissed it with a wave of the hand as a ‘military affair’ after keeping mum for days. Interestingly, the two functions of President  and that of commander in chief as embedded in the constitution based on trust, responsibility and integrity are bestowed on one man,(the first man),the same man’s heart, mind ,brain, body and table. But yet he chose to for reasons best known to him to be indifferent perhaps due to a soft spot for his primary constituency’ as they say and former comrades which was augmented by his eventual take on the issue during the Presidential media chat laden with subtle nuances suggesting bias and hiding behind committee investigations ultimately implying civilians lives and dignity is fair game. Very bad sign indeed. And past military leaders tend to think and act as such as well. Do we live with it forever and the recurring tradition it portends? Armed forces remembrance to reiterate once more are run to remember the true heroes and the bad apples among them simultaneously which will certainly  poison the minds of families that have lost loved ones via unethical and illegal summary executions, imprisonments and bullying which have reportedly led to young lads joining unpopular insurgencies. And in recent years most of those join the military are mainly motivated by meal ticket and job security especially when the process is laden with back end corruption and patronage as well as political military ambitions to become governors, sole administrators et al and of course to feel the feeling of that feeling godly and unaccountable status. When widows and orphan of fallen soldiers are crying and comforted simultaneously alongside similar aged parents, widows and orphans who in their humble homes remember lost bread winners and support pillars not because they were insurgents or terrorists but as collateral damage, assumed insurgents or victims of reckless killings especially when it happens over and over again- then that’s exactly a honorary national confusion.

So why all this rant about the military’s current attitudinal trend? Why now and what should and can be done to stifle this ugly phenomenon which is a great departure to the initial and perspective where the Nigerian soldier was respected and revered which is at variance with the current fear and contempt; honored and appreciated  rather than dismissed ,unappreciated by growing numbers of the population. One ready answer might be we are in a more civilized world in the 21st century with a civil government in place and a nation that longs for real change except if we want to be branded officially and otherwise as the most uncivilized civil, civilian led big for nothing biggest African country in the history of Africa or the universe.

It is imperative at this juncture to provide some anecdotes on the travesties inflicted by military service men on civilians and sometimes on their otherwise synergistically comrades namely the police and it’s high time the for old laws to be enforces and new once enacted by the national assembly and appended by the executive arm soonest.

Receiving slaps, battery of beatings, booting and punishments such as frog jump or rolling in gutters by military men on civilians has become a normal thing in Nigeria and the victims out of fear sheepishly comply for dear life. And all these are documented in national dailies and media forums over the internet with several graphic details and anecdotes.

A recent example is the case of Kabiru Jaafaru, 35, who embarked on a personal quest of a bicycle journey from Kaduna to Lagos to celebrate President Buhari’s electoral victory where at a military check point off Udama village was molested and slapped by men on duty. When he asked why he was slapped, he was given a prompt ‘fatherly response’ from his tormentor that he (Kabiru) disrespected him (the soldier) by not answering or responding when he was talking to him-the apparent language barrier warts and all! And when he tried to explain and show to ‘father soldier’’ a letter he was given by a traditional ruler for support on the journey he may need, the godly soldier wasted no time in shredding the paper to pieces and threatened him explicitly saying he will charge him up as a boko haram member and sensing the potential fame up he unceremoniously tugged ahead. How about this similar one where a University lecturer of Usman Danfodio University Sokoto as reported by daily trust news on June 1 2011, was slapped and manhandled simply because he tried to intervene and plead on behalf of a motor cyclist who was being ‘punished’ by a group of soldiers and was explicitly in like manner told point blank he can be shot at the spot with no consequence and labeled a book haram member. The soldier’s words…

In another incident at Kano, an air force officer took his car to a mechanic shop for repairs and came back at the appointed time but found the job unfinished accompanied by an accusation as well which led to the air force man returning with airmen who turned the place upside town and a few heavily beaten mechanics. How dare mere mortals annoy godly soldiers! Similarly at a traffic stand still a couple of years back as reported in national dailies, a man and wife received perhaps the their first slaps in many years or decades even when the driver dared to horn at the car afore, a move which embittered the man in that car who happened to be a military man even though he was in mufti and obviously off duty. But hey, this is Nigeria where civilians are potential punching bags. Right

On November 3 2015 Vanguard newspapers published a story of how a journalist and news agency of Nigeria correspondent Ijendu Iheaka was beaten to a pulp with gun butts. His offence? He perched at the extreme side of the road to allow a military convoy passage when in their minds he was expected perhaps to fly into the bush like the frog he ought to be-the choice he made them stop to assault him simply the space he gave the almighty soldiers wasn’t enough. On August 4 2013, national daily reported a story where an okada rider was commanded by soldiers at Nyanya, an Abuja suburb to lie down in sewage, drink it and frog jump to which he resisted some of the orders which led to clash between fellow okada riders and soldiers on that day.

More recently and just a couple of months before the Shiite-army faceoff, a national daily-daily trust reported on the 10 August 2015 with a graphic front page image of an incident at Marrarraba axis Nassarawa state where a suspected robber was almost stripped naked and received the beatings of his life with sticks while rolling in a sewage. On a similar front page image not long ago too daily trust displayed a motor cycle road user of being punished by a soldier (frog jumps, remember?)! Because he failed to comply with a minor rule. How about a more rather hilarious one where a taxi driver ran into a military officer’s car in front and damaged the rear bumper. On stepping out of his car, he simply auto commanded himself and frog jumped his way to the officer without waiting for instructions.Lame? In Nigeria perhaps not!

The army spokesman Col. Sani Usman Kukaskeka in the was very bitter of how daily trust reported the last incident above which was swiftly countered by the Chairman of the human rights commission Professor Chidi Odinkalu was admonished the spokesman to blame the conduct of his men and not the media. Though Col. Kukaskeka admitted wrong doing on the part of soldiers and promised action will be taken while assuring Nigerians that such events which are against the ethics and codes of conduct of the army will not happen again and amplified by the army chief himself reiterated the service of commitments to human rights and prevention of violations. They were both however at the Zaria Shiite clash and failed to stem potential crisis until it snowballed into trigger happy party with unarmed people. It can be interpreted from images they were more of commanding  and ordering the youths(whom the general officer commanding  first division of the Nigerian army Kaduna Major General Adeniyi Oyebade conveniently called hoodlums in a press conference-if hoodlums and dissidents in the president’s or C inC’s words aren’t fair game who and what is) to step off the road or else(we all know that one by now) rather than the pleading and persuasion version of the official story they cooked up and sold to the gullible public and the eventual attempted murder story too.Lame? No.-intelligent! Duty!! Rules of engagement!!!

The subsequent events that unfolded arguably revealed their bad faith from the onset and from subsequent irresponsible  arbitrary  response from the state government in part from traditional inflated ego driven knee jerk action and prejudicial indifference to the group who arguably are partly to blame for the scenario and whose victimization was celebrated by many not because it was right or fair but simply because of sect difference or prejudice from many muslims or ethnic/religious difference e.g. it’s an ‘aboki’ affair, that’s their problem and such cold remarks!

Now, the military are not law enforcement and even if they act as such in exceptional circumstances there are rules, processes and systems of guidance in place. Are there? It’s a good sign that the Minister of Defense recently declared days of impunity within the military are over and established cases will be prosecuted which is a good step which adequate momentum must be ushered on to make it a successful and actionable pledge rather than rhetoric.

A cursory observation on internet forums such as Nairaland; and commentaries such as that of the Vanguard news story, reveals amply the state of mind of fellow citizens, perceptions and relationships of the civilian military situation. While some accuse the military of incapable of fighting wars but are highly diligent in molesting fellow civilian citizens, others think the military ought to be and must be ‘respected’’. One Commenter exclusively suggests that it’s better to obey the last order of the zombie who has a gun be it slaps, frog jumps or other inhuman treatments than risking accidental discharge. Interestingly some military men chipped with one saying he isn’t paid his dues and allowances on time(as if that’s a credible excuse to molest other people) to another one writing that such punishments were meted on him too during training which he endured and did not die-his words… Yet another implied that soldiers are soldiers and the same military treatment on civilians happen in America and France too.Meaning? Perhaps if it happens in real and liberty clad democracies like the US(maybe the US and French embassies can fill us in on these allegation),it’s perhaps more than okay in a jungle or as Kanu of Biafra will call it a zoo a title we(or the government) gets angry at. But isn’t there a point on the label as bad as it sounds?

In a country where trainee soldiers explicitly reveal that when they come out of training they won’t bother dealing civilians but the police? Ha ha ha –‘Pepper’ or even  Para military service men keeping whips in their cars where on a curious enquiry you ask what’s for, they promptly reply, Oh, that one is for thrashing civilians-a common answer and trend in the past two decades at least. As a pupil in primary school in the early 80s in a command primary school at bonny camp, Lagos, then it was almost a daily occurrence to witness drivers and perhaps parents getting whipped with koboko for perceived crimes from the soldiers that are stationed at the gates and entrances just as parents were whipped or punished in the presence of their wards in line or elsewhere in town on queues at bus stops, offices or public spaces in the name of compliance. The question today is what’s changed and if it’s not the status quo what’s the measurable difference? How savage can it get before it’s tamed? To all these the late legendary musician sided a chorus tagged ‘‘my people are senseless, my people are useless, my people are indiscipline’’ x-raying the mental attitude and meaning of the actions of the then military establishments.

Again, while in secondary school, the students who were military cadets then were actually emboldened, encouraged and made to believe that they were superior, better than their class mates literally, technically and all-allies and when on duty can in fact, harass, intimidate, punish or mishandle fellow class mates or even students a notch their seniors, behave anyhow in the dining hall just because drums roll…. They wear khaki, some of them with ranks including cripple and limping cadets who for reasons understood by only them cannot give up on the near psychedelic feeling and experience of being above  mere mortals especially when those starched uniforms and boots are a great departure from cotton and polyester regular uniforms and rubber sandals to match. Even though cadet trainings are wiped out from most schools now, we can guess where the attitude came from and why it ensued which has been recycled over and over again leading to civilians getting the treatment at the slightest opportunity.

In conclusion, as the events of remembering armed forces both fallen heroes and the currently serving and the cowardly ones who hide amongst them, it is germane to inculcate new paradigms of mind and emotional enhancement characterized by stoic temperaments, integrity in our armed forces giving meaning to what an officer and a gentleman really means and of course soldiers who carry out orders without thinking .In the years to come we want to remember real men of courage, service and integrity not once that slap slap slap or when their virtuous, precious, sacred chests are looked at from a distance or even in a dream can exhibit  a pow pow pow; boom boom bang response on bloody civilians.Days and years where there is genuine mutual respect and appreciation on both sides which can be started by sensitization programs and reorientations and such initiatives from the Defense ministry sincerely and patriotically.

Long live Nigeria? No. Nada. Let a new Nigeria evolve  now on a pedestal of  real change and not the usual rhetoric where military men don’t use arms procurement scandals as excuses for non performances and where arms scandals do not have a place ever and of course where ugly trends of military travesty and behavior do not reach a tipping point or critical mass where the results are neither win win ; lose win nor win lose but something else ,a  country where functional institutions and  good implementable laws hold sway for collective growth and prosperity predicated on real patriotism, devoid of nepotism and the traditional patronage system.A nation where armed forces days and calendar of events are actively and excitedly yearned for and where most of the armed forces are regarded in high esteem as a result of professional conduct, courage and fair interactions with fellow citizens.

And because bad laws are root causes of all mishaps especially when in a democracy, the parliament which is the most senior(to the executive and judiciary) a status most are not aware of including and especially the law makers themselves who seem to be more interested in their own greed as leeches, indifferent to our collective aspirations. Any person that goes there seems to be caught by a virus-nasembli bug?

Things have to change. Underdevelopment and moon walking must seize.

Happy Armed forces week and remembrance day(s).

Mohammed Tanko

G.R.A, Zaria.


[email protected]

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