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Appreciating the Nigerian Military

By Chidirim Ndeche and Njideka Agbo 20 May 2018   |   10:00 am

At its height, the Boko Haram insurgency not only threatens to decimate Nigeria as we know it; it also seeks to bring large swathes of land under the absolute control of a bloodthirsty sect.

Photo:Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

Boko Haram declared a caliphate that spanned 11 local councils in states such as Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and reigned with an absolute impunity over about 1.7 million people in those councils, according to the 2006 population figures.

Insecurity was profound in the Northeast, infrastructure destroyed, farmlands were deserted, markets became desolated, schools were constantly violated and large-scale humanitarian crisis that still bites very hard today planted itself in the region.

But that despicable part of the Nigerian history is fading away, giving room to a rising hope. And the country has its military—often maligned, yet celebrated—to thank for that.

Brutal attacks on soft and military targets are becoming infrequent. Markets and roads are opening up to new possibilities. Schools are welcoming back students, and smiles are returning to faces that have shed too many tears for the loss of loved ones.

With the military’s recently launched mission, Operation Last Hold, it is hoped that the task of totally decimating the insurgents will be achieved.

A Nigerian soldier awaits instructions during Flintlock 2016, a U.S.-led international training exercise with African militaries in Thies, Senegal, February 11, 2016. Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui / Reuters

Arise O compatriots, Nigeria calls obey

Combating the scourge of the Abubakar Shekau-led insurgency was not the first time the Nigerian military was called upon to protect the territorial integrity of the country.

On May 30, 1967, Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared Biafra an independent state. The secession aimed to pull the entire southeastern Nigeria out of the country after a series of persecution of the people from the area occurred.
Weeks later, a civil war broke out. The military, under the command of a military government, was saddled with the responsibility of making sure that Nigeria remained indivisible.

Two and a half years later, Nigeria remained one. But the Nigerian military came out of the war with a bruised nose and its image took a bashing over allegations of war crimes.

Years later, in 1983, thousands of Chadian soldiers invaded parts of Borno State and seized 19 islands around Lake Chad. Hours later, six villages in the state reportedly fell to the marauding Chadian troops.

A Nigerian soldier practices marksmanship during Flintlock 2016, a U.S.-led international training exercise with African militaries in Thies, Senegal, February 11, 2016. Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui / Reuters

A stunned Nigeria quickly reacted by sending in the Nigerian Army’s Third Division, then led by General Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s current president. The Nigerian troops routed the invaders and chased them out of the Nigerian territories.

To serve our fatherland

Beyond these, the Nigerian military has been integral to the maintenance of the internal security in different states and have been drafted, at different times, to quell internal uprisings and strifes. In some instances, they have been staples of different special security outfits set up by different states.

The Nigerian military is far from being a local champion with limited influence. As the country continues to play the role of a big brother within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and elsewhere in Africa, the military has lent its helping hands to the cause of protecting the territorial sanctities of countries like Mali, Liberia, Sierra Leone and, lately, The Gambia.

However, the military has also found its way into other aspects of society outside combat, which they were uniquely trained for. They have helped organise medical outreaches and vocational training, and built roads and bridges, especially in places ravaged by Boko Haram insurgency.

Members of the Nigerian Armed Forces Sniper Unit stand in their ghillie suits at the African Land Forces Summit (ALFS) military demonstration held at General Ao Azazi barracks in Gwagwalada on April 17, 2018. Photo: AFP / Stefan Heunis

As seen in recent times, the seven Division Nigerian Army, in conjunction with Kaduna-based NGO Mallam Garba Foundation, has trained and empowered 116 widows and spouses of Nigerian Army personnel of Maimalari Cantonment in skill acquisition and empowerment programmes.

During the period of Operation Last Hold, the Nigerian Army Medical Corps has worked towards deploying medical resources to those in need. It also conducted sanitation exercises and sensitisation workshops with civilians and various community and religious leaders.

The Nigerian Army also established a Media Operation Centre in Monguno, Borno State, with the aim of keeping the general public abreast with the activities of the Nigerian Army in relation to their operations.

To combat the housing problem faced by the Nigerian military, Nigerian Army engineers plan to assist in building new homes for returnees (who fled their houses at the height of the insurgency) at their various towns and assist the Ministry of Agriculture to clear land for planting during the planting season.

FILE PHOTO: Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, March 18, 2015. Poto: Emmanuel Braun / Reuters

As part of Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) activities, there is an ongoing renovation of a primary health care facility and construction of solar power water project at Ibi local government area in Taraba State.

The Nigerian Army is also making sedulous efforts to enable internally displaced persons to return to a life of normalcy. This includes ensuring their safe return to their original places of abode, particularly in the Lake Chad areas, and the restoration of fishing, farming and other economic activities.

The labour of the heroes past

After years of active service to their country, some Nigerian military ex-servicemen retired into Nigerian Legion, through which they still render valuable services to their communities.

This much the governor of Lagos State Akinwunmi Ambode acknowledged at the launch of the 2018 emblem and appeal fund in commemoration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration December 20, 2017.

“We have taken it as a policy that all our public primary and secondary schools will now be secured by the Nigerian Legion. We keep the safety and security of our children in their hands,” Ambode said.

Photo: Nigerian Army

The Legion is a Statutory Body established initially by Act of Parliament of 1964 to cater for the welfare of ex-servicemen, foster comradeship among them and bring about the unity of all those who have served in the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force or any Auxiliary forces.

The Legion builds and maintains hostels for old and ill ex-servicemen. It also establishes and operates in various aspects in the federation, from agro-based industries and transport services to commercial, profit-making ventures.

The criticisms

In spite of its achievements in and outside the country, the Nigerian military is not without faults, with some of them bordering on claims of violations of human rights.

Its incursion into politics has been blamed for more than a few of the developmental problems Nigeria grapples with today.

The Guardian, in its editorial of August 2, 2016, explains that: “military intervention in Nigeria’s politics as well as the overthrow of federalism and enthronement of unitary system of governance not only arrested Nigeria’s progress; that traumatic experience 50 years ago continues to haunt the nation’s life and threatens her future growth.

“Therefore, even after 17 years of unbroken civilian rule, Nigeria is yet to find its feet as a federation as vestiges of militarism still hold the country to ransom.”

Some of the 24 armoured vehicles donated by the United States to the Nigerian military at the Nigerian Army 9th Brigade Parade Ground in Lagos, on January 7, 2016. Photo: STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images

Just as it faced allegations of violations of human rights during the Civil War, the military, in recent times, has had to defend the way it is prosecuting the war against Boko Haram insurgency, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) secessionists and the fight against the activities of suspected herdsmen.

In a new report published in January, Amnesty International (AI) said that on December 4, Nigerian Air Force planes fired “warning” rockets on villages in the northeastern state of Adamawa as nomadic herdsmen clashed with farmers.

“Launching air raids is not a legitimate law enforcement method by anyone’s standard,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria. The right monitor has also accused the military of similar crimes in other reports.

But the Defence Headquarters said in February that “AI has made it a routine duty to continue generating tension among the citizens by releasing unconfirmed reports, unsubstantiated claims and figures relating to military counter-insurgency operations and wanton killings by unknown groups or persons.”

As the World marks the 2018 military appreciation month, and regardless of its missteps, there is no doubt that the Nigerian military has been invaluable to the country. Its service to the oneness of its existence, the unity of its people and protection of its territory are indeed what the country should be grateful for.

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