Tunde Leye: Bring Back Our Military

There are two things that a nation uses to exert its influence. One is its economy encompassing their population, the purchasing power of this population and their productive output. The second is their military might. In the world, your voice cannot count if you do not take your economy and military seriously. Within the African continent and especially the West African sub-region, Nigeria is expected to be immensely influential. Sadly, this seems to be the case. A bit of history to get a sense of context.

On December 30, 1993, the then military Head of State of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha, ordered the Nigerian army to send troops to the Bakassi region which was then part of Nigeria, after the inhabitants of the region reported being harassed by Cameroonian gendarmes. Paul Biya, the long serving president of Cameroon resorted to calling on his colonial masters, the French for military aid. The reports have it that the French began to mass troops and heavy and equipment along the Cameroon-Nigerian border in preparing to “aid” their ex-colony.

When Sani Abacha reported its concerns of French deployment at the front, Paul Biya could not deny the report. Rather, in a weak attempt to cover face, Paul Biya said that the French are not at the front and in reserve and that Cameroon reserved the right to call up its French allies to the front at any time it felt threatened. This shows the strength of Nigeria at gathering valid intelligence at this time (never mind that it was ruthlessly turned on its own citizens). Eventually, the Cameroonian president had to come and meet the Nigerian Head of State in Maiduguri to stop the conflict from escalating into a full-blown war with terms favorable to Nigeria.

This should tell us the state of our armed forces twenty one years ago. They were such a force to reckon with that rather than confront them, the Cameroonians had to resort to calling in the French. And in spite of French involvement, we were strong enough to come to the negotiating tables on our own terms, in our own territory.

It is therefore with sadness that I read reports and monitored Boko Haram’s victories in the North East. These are not mere guerilla hit and run type attacks. They are not even ambush attacks. Rather they are coordinated direct engagements with our military with clear strategic direction and tactical coordination with the intent of overpowering them, taking and holding territory. And they have succeeded in doing just that in the last few weeks.

When one reviews the reports of the attempted counterattacks by our military where we hear that tanks are breaking down or transport vehicles are running out of fuel, inadequate logistics and supply lines to troops, absence of air support to ground troops and our troops being repelled in firefights with Boko Haram, we see how far our army has fallen from the 1993 heights. Last week, after Boko Haram released a video showing Nigerian soldiers fleeing from an attack and the capture of a large cache of military supplies, reports of 480 soldiers fleeing to Cameroon surfaced. The army high command responded to this by releasing a statement that this was a “tactical maneuver”. Shortly after this, 300 more soldiers joined the first set in this rather hard to understand maneuver. This is in line with the recent types of responses the army gives to issues. Rather than address the real issues, denials are issued and threats to the soldiers and the people. But the issues keep escalating and newer, more serious symptoms are piling up. This desertion for example is a direct progression from the refusal to fight without adequate equipment statement of last two weeks. It says a lot that Shekau was more concerned about the poorly armed Civilian JTF in his last video than our military.

The decades long systemic corruption that has eaten deep into every fabric of Nigerian life is finally coming to a head in the military. No one can explain where the vast sums spent on security and the military have gone to. And rather than address the problem with closer scrutiny and the seriousness it deserves, the president has done the typical Nigerian thing – thrown money at it. But the money will disappear into the abyss the funds released over the years have disappeared to, as the increased spending ($14B between 2010 and 2014, more than the GDP of 30 of the 50 African countries) of the last few years with this dismal result has shown. It is ironic that Cameroon which merely 20years ago had to call in France to aid them against our military has now become a destination for our deserting soldiers to flee. But can one blame these soldiers? I said in my Monday piece that the soldiers are not refusing to fight. They are simply requesting better arms and logistics to fight with. It seems they do not see this forthcoming and have decided to desert rather than die.

Some of us have screamed repeatedly about the danger we are putting ourselves into. A colonel is currently undergoing court-martial proceedings for the defeat in Gwoza which is reported to have happened because of faulty equipment and in spite of the gallant fight him and his men put up. If middle ranking officers who have operational command and face the enemy without adequate supplies and support which they know funds are released for find themselves being punished for the defeats during these operations, they may end up being pushed all the way to the wall. And if some idealists emerge amongst them or influence them, or they get desperate enough, we might create another January 1966 where politicians were oblivious to or chose to ignore rumblings in the army until it became too late. Our best modern example, as I have repeatedly pointed out is Mali.

Our president’s men repeatedly say in his defense that he did not create the problems that the military currently faces and that it is the result of decades of systemic rot. And that he is doing his best. My response is that he signed up for this job. And none of those his predecessors had to deal with a virulent Islamic insurgency which has repeatedly struck within the Federal Capital and which now holds Nigerian territory as its own. None of them had to face the first loss of Nigerian territory since the civil war. Therefore, he needs to face this problem squarely and solve it. He needs to bring back our military.

Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.


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