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Nigerian Army and the siege of a nation


‘The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army, the Siege of a Nation’ is the title of the autobiography of the retired Major General Mohammed Christopher Alli, a former chief of army staff.

The book chronicles the activities of army officers in Nigerian politics and society since the first military coup of 15 January 1966. This is an eyewitness account of the events of 1966, the civil war and 1984 when the military made a re-entry into Nigeria’s political arena.

The author showcases his close involvement in the administrative and intelligence matters as a member of the former Head of State, General Sani Abacha’s caucus.Thus, Alli was strategically positioned to expose several myths about military rule and the workings of Nigerian politics. This book radically alters perspectives on the options available to Nigerian military leaders of Alli’s time while in active service. Chris Alli was a much-decorated officer, who received professional training at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Warminster in the United Kingdom; in Pakistan and the National Defence College of India. In a distinguished career, he rose to the crucial position of Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

Alli saw action as a battalion commander during the Nigerian Civil War. As an officer, he held various appointments at infantry and brigade levels. Later, he became Nigeria’s Defence Attache to Zimbabwe; military governor of Plateau State, the director of Military Intelligence and the General Officer Commanding, One Mechanized Division, Nigerian Army.

The siege of a nation is a fairly big book; it has 17 chapters, 408 pages, a preface of two pages, 74 pages of photographs and six pages of indices.Although General Alli does not classify his book, in literary terms, the book only qualifies as an autobiography, and a wholesome one at that. It is a volume of reflections as a participant in the events set rolling by the coup of Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu culminating in the election of General Olusegun Obasanjo as president of Nigeria 40 years after in 1998.

Obasanjo’s administration marks a millennium of the military domination of Nigeria started by Lieutenant Frederick Lugard, the first colonial governor of amalgamated Nigeria in 1914.Since 1914, very few Commanders in Chief of Nigeria have not been either serving or retired soldiers. Thus, let Alli internalise it that events and history of one’s lifetime alone may constitute the ingredients of one’s autobiography. Such events may be legitimately told as part of an autobiography.

For his origins, Chris Alli was born on Christmas Day in 1944. Instead of being named Noel, he was named Mohammed Baba Alli. At baptism and confirmation both Christian and Catholic rights, he took the additional names of Christopher and Emmanuel.

He was born to Malam Alli Adakwo Alaburah and Mrs. Rebecca Ojumori Nanashe Abayomi.  After migrating from Lokoja, they lived in the market town of Onitsha, along the Niger River, Anambra state.

Malam Alli was a Muslim from Koton Karfi in Kabba Province of present day Kogi State of Nigeria. It is now a local government headquarters, an administrative enhancement that has not translated to any meaningful development in a modern age. Alli settled in Onitsha to earn a living and escape the drudgery of rural life and the intimidation of local superstitions, witchcraft and fetish practices which continue till today among many communities and tribes.
Chris Alli’s mother, Nanashe Rebecca Ojumori Alli, nee Abayomi was from the Ogbeun ruling house of Agbaja also in Kogi State. Her Oworo clan has a relationship with the Ebiras of Koton Karfi and the Yoruba of the middle belt. While her husband remained Muslim, she was a devout Christian, cohabitation common in the north central and South Western states of Nigeria. Malam Alli spoke Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Fulfude and his native Igalla dialect fluently. A huge proportion of Onitsha people have Igalla ancestry and origin; many of who speak Igalla fluently till today.
Chris left Metropolitan College, Onitsha in 1962 with a first division in the West African School Certificate (WAEC) but in his search for a post college placement he was unable to obtain a job at the Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. Then, his father took him back to Koton Karfi to the Ohimege its emir. But the Ohimege had no job for him other than taking him to the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello. But Sir Ahmadu sent him to his Minister of Establishments, Alhaji Mohammed Mustafa.
For six months Alli was unable to secure a job. While being tossed here and there by the minister, he secured a job personally as a laboratory assistant in Kaduna with Kirkpatrick and Partners. Later, he applied and was appointed an Archive assistant in the National Archives. However, in October 1964 he went on parade as a cadet-in-training at the Nigerian Air Force. It was with the German Training Team of Advisers. An Act of Parliament had established the Nigerian Air Force in 1963.
After an attempt to enroll in the Police by Alli had been opposed by his father, he reached a pact with his younger brother, Michael Suleiman Alli, never to confide his moves to anyone else other than Michael. That was why he concealed his enlistment in the Air Force until he got to Germany as a base operator-in training. Sadly, Michael died of cancer while studying at the Ahmadu Bello University not long after. When he wrote to inform his parents from Germany; they were overjoyed replying with a 20 pound postal order, which went missing till date but Alli received the letter.
Paradoxically, fortune smiled on Alli in 1967 when the civil war started. Tired of guard duties at the Air Force, he applied for a short service commission in the Army and was admitted. He completed the six-month officer cadet training in October 1967. Unfortunately, by 1994, of the 56 officers commissioned, only two were left, Alhaji Abdulsalami Abubakar and himself. His other course mates either died in the war or were retired or executed in the aftermath of one coup or the other.
For his ideology, Alli encapsulates his ideals as three elements. One, the guidance of a person’s life is by the Almighty God. He believes a person has no control over his destiny. Two, God endows you with intelligence, good physique, health, the five senses and the sixth sense. Finally, Alli believes God brings you up in an environment, which has considerable impact on your life. Your environment provides you the circumstances and opportunities to facilitate your growth and development.
The first 10 chapters of this volume reveal the poverty in Nigeria, the ethnic hegemonies and the induction of the armed forces into politics. The author is able to establish that the division between the government and the governed stunted Nigeria’s prosperity in terms of development. Poor leadership has led to the degradation of every organ of government particularly the judiciary.
Chapters 10 to 15 deal with political engineering to the extent that by the close of the millennium, Nigeria drew closer to disintegration than unity. The desperate ambitions of the Igbo and the Fulani to use the Armed Forces co control the nation led to the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election that was acclaimed won by Chief Moshood Abiola.

The concluding chapters focused on the consequences of the annulment of the June 12 election annulment. Alli belongs to the group of Nigerians who believe in the evolution of a new Nigeria; which will halt the crisis of confidence bedeviling the nation. I agree with him that this is the viable path to equity and fairness in Nigeria. But we need a new edition of The Siege of a Nation, first published more than a decade ago.

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