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A nation and its armed forces

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COAS Lt Gen Tukur Yusufu Buratai

So much indignation has greeted a comment attributed recently to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai expressing dissatisfaction with the performance of his troops in the war against insurgents.  He was reported in various media to have said, ‘it is unfortunate, but the truth is that every setback the Nigerian Army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks or simply insufficient commitment to a common national and military  course by those at the frontlines’. 

This coming from the head of the army, most opinions have, understandably, been condemnatory as self-indicting of Buratai’s leadership capability on the one hand, and fighting spirit of the men in the trenches on the other. 

However, it comes as a relief to Nigerians in general, but in particular the forces in the theatre of war, that the COAS has subsequently disclaimed the statement after so many hours of shaping perception. ‘Let me categorically say that I never said in my remarks that the troops lacked commitment. It was completely wrong and I want to believe that somehow, I was quoted out of context…’ This is gratifying.  

But beyond the denial, the larger questions thrown up and which this nation must address are first, the extent of commitment of the Nigerians and the Nigerian State to its armed forces on the one hand and on the other hand, the role and responsibilities of the armed forces to the country.

Second, Nigerians must weigh with open mindedness, the performance of the armed forces in the confrontation with Boko Haram insurgency.

Doubtless, the armed forces are established as a constitutional organ to protect the state from aggression from wherever it emanates. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) in Section 217 sets up the armed forces ‘‘for the purpose of (a) defending Nigeria from external aggression; (b) maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea, or air; (c) suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order…; (d) performing such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.’’ The responsibility laid upon the nation’s armed forces also includes ultimate sacrifice of life if need be so that, in the words of American general Douglas MacArthur, ‘‘the nation may live and fulfill its destiny.’’ 

In view of this uncommon expectation, Section 217 (2) expects ‘‘The Federation…subject to an Act of the National Assembly,’’ to ‘‘equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of fulfilling its assignments.’’ 

For the past decade that the Boko Haram has manifested and taken its tolls on every area of national life, the military forces have been in the frontline to confront them, sometimes with inferior equipment, other times with inadequate resources.

Once in a while, troops have been forced to breach discipline and at a high risk to career, protest against their sorry plight that includes delayed or even unpaid monetary entitlements. Sordid details have emerged of how funds meant to prosecute the war against the insurgents were either misapplied or stolen by men in high places.

In the same vein, fears have been expressed a number of times that fifth columnists might have been at work to sabotage the state effort to restore peace to the affected areas. Similarly, foreigners have been cited as active participants in not only the Boko Harm insurgency, but widespread acts of criminality across the country.

Occasionally, huge sums have been reportedly appropriated to procure arms that should give our men on the frontline a credible edge over the enemy. In truth, the Boko Haram challenge may have been substantially degraded, but certainly not to a level that allows Nigerians a reasonable peace of mind. 

It is a given that the state and its citizens should expect that the armed forces live up to their assigned role as instrument of coercive power to keep them safe. It is also expected that both the state and the people must provide the resources needed to enable the forces to succeed. The point must be made, however, that resources mean more than money and material. 

Nigerians need to know whether there are indeed enough personnel to confront the challenges that this country of nearly 200 million people spread across nearly a million square kilometers of land faces at this time.

Government, as the parent body of the armed forces must interrogate the training adequacy and response-capability of its armed forces in this age of fast changing security architecture. 

The combat power of nation’s armed forces consists of a number of elements that include leadership, intelligence, mission command and firepower. But all the best equipment in the world will not fight and win a war: men do.

Indeed, history shows that poorly armed but better motivated troops defeat better equipped but unwilling armies. The least that the state and the citizens can do is to boost the morale of the troops who fight that they may be safe from evil men. 

The point cannot be made enough: there is no other agency in the public service, nor indeed any other profession in the polity from which the State expects the ultimate price.  If we put our young men and women in harm’s way and who may, in the course of duty lose their lives, we must do absolutely nothing, in words or deeds, to dampen their fighting spirit and their capacity to get the job done.

Meanwhile, the Army Chief too should always speak clearly whenever there are occasions to do so. He should not at any time speak nebulously in the narrative of blame game in town, even if things go wrong. There is power in the words leaders use about their followers and workforce. And in the world of work, one of the most impactful words to any workforce is “well done.” And it won’t be different for men and women who are in operations to fight terrorism. They too need to be told “well done” even in a crisis situation. That is how the word of a leader can minister grace to and motivate the people and even troops in the eye of the storm.


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