Ifedigbo Nze Sylva
As we count down to the year 2009 Armed Forces and remembrance day celebration, i wish to share some of my thoughts on the Armed Forces with my fellow country men, hoping that in some way, I would have contributed to the evolution of a stronger Nigeria Armed Foces.
At some point in my life, I wanted to be an army officer. Then, my teenage reasoning-given that from birth till then, I had known only military men to rule the country- was that, being in the military was my surest way of ruling the country. Along the line, I got to know better and graciously Gen. Abubakar handed back power to civilians.
The point here however is that So many other people joined the army in the first place just to be in power, and those group of people (a good number of which I believe are still in the army), will continue to be a threat to democracy except pragmatic steps (other than retiring the top ranking officers from time to time) are taken to professionalize the army and make it a strong pillar of democracy like we have in other developed countries of the world.
The new army chief Air Marshal Paul Dike had made strong statements in that regard especially in the wake of the celebrated beating up of a harmless lady in Lagos by naval ratings. The army must get use to obeying the civil laws of the country and all avenues through which they intimidate civilians such as the unchecked use of sirens and horse whips must be checked. A situation where the army refuses to obey a court order (as occurred recently) can not and should not be allowed to continue.
Professionalizing the military will require training and retraining. The officers must be made to undergo an intellectual and ideological re-birth such that those core values on which the military is built is re-inculcated in them. The army must be insulated from politics and one such way of doing this is to keep them busy.
On the other hand, for Nigeria to regain her place as the giant of Africa she must have a Foreign Policy that barks and bites and this is a function of the strength of her army. Julius Nyerere once invaded Idi Amins Uganda, America does it every now and then. While I am not suggesting a flagrant abuse of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other nations, we should be able to lead the rest of Africa and dictate how things should be done.
Our army should be such that can chase away coupists and re-install legitimate governments wherever there is a coup in Africa. we should be able to look other African leaders in the face and say NO to what they are doing not like in the case of Zimbabwe where we don’t even know what our Governments position is.
We must go beyond ‘Peace Keeping’; we should be able to define the tenets of the ‘peace’.
This can however only begin to happen when our own Government is legitimate and we have established within our borders a proper way of doing things like civilized people.
We must stop the “communization” of our army by placing them on Check points on the highways along side police men. This exposes them to corruption especially as seen in the now legendary collection of N20 toll fee from cars. Such a situation makes the army lose its respect and pride as Nigerians begin to see them as just another corrupt agency of Government.
The drafting of military men into our communities at the slightest provocation has led the unfortunate incidences like we had in Odi and Zaki Biam some years back. This is what I call the ‘commonization’ of our army.
Currently there is a lopsided distribution of army units especially there training schools in the country with a majority of them being located in the North. This gives the impression that the army is for the North and in reality over the years, we have had more Generals of Northern extraction than from any other part of the country.
Permit me to state here that the eastern part seems to have been the most affected as there seems to be an unwritten rule since the civil war ended to keep Igbos out of top military positions. This might be a mere speculation, but it is all the same a serious issue. When the army is populated by people of a particular region, then such a army does not truly bear a national outlook and is prone to an internal crises which is a threat to the country.
Some of the more popular military institutions located in the North are: The Nigeria Defense Academy, Nigeria college of aviation Technology, Command and Staff College, The National war (Defense) College, Nigeria military school, among others.
More so, recruitment into the army must be looked into. Currently, you must have a ‘God father’ inside the army to be able to get into the army. This is a fact. It seems as though the top ranking officers have quotas allocated to them and if my earlier argument of there being a predominance of Northern officers in the army is any thing to go by, then the fact that more northern officers will be recruited is not farfetched.
Bottom line is that, recruitment into the Nigerian army must be open (not just by public announcements) to all and the process, fair to all. We should encourage our youths to serve the Country in the army and if we are able to get to the level i discussed in point II, then, there would be enough tours of duty for them instead of just sitting around in the barracks.
Having noted all the above, I think the Nigerian army is a very big institution which has remained consistent over the years. Our achievements in the ECOMOG and various other UN Military assignments have been commended world over and I believe we can get it really right with some effort.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo