Corruption in the military
As custodians of the mandate to defend the nation’s territorial integrity, the military carries on its shoulders enormous responsibilities, which have ramification for the existence of the nation. The men of the nation’s armed forces are the avatars of freedom, the people of courage and character who have signed to put their lives on the line so that millions of fellow citizens can enjoy a stable and secure national space.
The men in uniform, who bear arms and pledge their lives to the cause of protecting the nation from external aggression and internal insurrection, occupy a place of prominence in the national order, because the critical task of stabilising the national space, falls within their purview.
A safe and secure territory is one of the fundamental possessions of a stable state. Even peoples who dream of having their own countries as inspired by the realities of self-determination nurse those dreams in connection with the existence of a territorial space.
It is for this reason that those who defend the national space are selected on the basis of their strength, courage and discipline. The military is therefore construed as the best of the nation, defending the rest of the nation. Although, it is not these same pristine assumptions that birthed the Nigerian military, given its colonial antecedents, the nation has been in the process of shaping the military for its survival.
The colonial antecedents of the Nigerian military would be gleaned in its origins as a coercive force for the suppression of the interest of the locals, and the promotion of the mercantile considerations of the metropole.
However, when Nigeria gained independence in 1960, the military was one of the instrument with which it projected its aspiration as the global defender of the black race. Nigeria’s well-stated manifest destiny, as enunciated by Nnamdi Azikiwe and affirmed in the foreign policy of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, implied that it was enthusiastic about using the military to enhance the young nation’s profile in the international community.
This is why in places like Burma and Congo, in the period immediately following independence; the Nigerian trait of energetic engagement, grit and daring resonated in the international community. Where several great powers were reluctant to put boots on the ground in the interest of global peace and security, Nigeria, the divinely ordained leader of the black race, repudiated the timid talk of international diplomacy to put bodies and boots on the ground.
Even after an idealistic band of misguided majors struck to topple the government of Balewa in 1966, and the subsequent plunging of the nation into a civil war, the Nigerian military continued to grab global accolades across the world. It was the military that produced leaders such as, Yakubu Gowon and Murtala Mohammed, quality minds who helped position Nigeria on the global stage at a turbulent time. Gowon’s astute diplomacy helped establish the Economic Community of West African States in the push to cultivate good neighbours, especially, with the reality that Nigeria was ringed on all sides by French-speaking West African neighbours.
Even after Gowon was sent packing, the patriotic Murtala Mohammed showed a lot of gusto and idealism, as he stood toe to toe in tackling Western powers over the questions of apartheid and the denigration of the black man. All this time, the Nigerian military, in spite of its penchant for producing coup plotters and other elements too eager to undermine the democratic ethos, still managed to give the country quality minds that were fired by the ideals of nationalism, and the manifest destiny of the world’s most populous black nation.
After Olusegun Obasanjo took the reins in 1978 in the aftermath of the assassination of Mohammed, he returned power back to the politicians. That gesture in favour of democracy notwithstanding, the military still lurked in the shadows. As the bumbling politicians began to desecrate the political space, the generals again emerged from the shadows, ostensibly to restore order. Muhammadu Buhari, whose strong arm tactics have been widely criticised attempted to restore some order through an iron-fisted approach.
Buhari grabbed a lax nation by the scruff of its neck, as he moved decisively to restore discipline. On his watch, the military became the enforcer of the regime, and defined new mode of civic ethics. Although, the flogging and frog jumping of erring citizens did not sit well with the globally accepted norms of human rights, Buhari was able to frighten the nation towards considering the path of acceptable civic ethos.
All these times, the military managed to retain some modicum of decency. Nigerians still possessed some measure of admiration for its military despite its largely disastrous intervention in the political space. Curiously, however, the myth and perception in Nigeria is that the advent of the regime of Ibrahim Babangida coincided with the erosion of professionalism in the military, and the subsequent burgeoning of corruption. Under Babangida, the military developed an attitude for primitive accumulation.
Interestingly, the national lore is filled with anecdotes of how under Babangida, military officers became so stupendously wealthy, and now a scramble to join the armed forces became so attractive, even for people who did not have the inherent qualities of soldiering. The controversy over the Gulf oil windfall, which allegedly disappeared during the regime, lent some credence to notions that the nation’s vast oil wealth became too tempting to be resisted by the men in uniform. In connivance with their civilian collaborators, they grabbed whatever they could from the national coffers filled with the proceeds of oil money. They drove flashy cars and built choice houses, and became role models for coming generations. This reality corrupted the pristine traditions of the military to the point that the motivation for joining the armed forces was no longer about love of country.
Things had degenerated so much that love of lucre and the capacity to peddle influence became the overriding consideration for those who struggled to be a part of the gravy train provided by a presence in the armed forces. By the time General Sani Abacha, who shoved aside the interim contraption led by Ernest Shonekan came on board; he had been sufficiently indoctrinated and taught the art of mindless grabbing of the nation’s resources. Abacha’s mindless looting and stashing of national resources in far-flung parts of the globe was not just about an individual stealing. It was about the sociology of an armed force that had been scrumptiously taught that national resources had become booty for those privileged enough to wear the uniform.
It was therefore not surprising that when the nation returned to democratic rule in 1999, the military top brass continued to exhibit a gluttonous appetite for national resources. The scandalous details currently emerging about how monies meant for the purchase of arms to defend the nation’s territorial integrity, ended up in the pockets of top shots in the military, would only astound those who never followed the planting and nurturing of the virus of acute corruption in the military. The result of those long years of nurturing the monster of graft in the armed forces, is that Nigeria, which bailed several countries out with the might of its military, became impotent in the face of challenges like Boko Haram. The cost of the institutionalisation of corruption in the military is the number of innocent military and non-military lives that have been cut short on account of the corruption of the defenders of the nation.
As the ongoing inquest into how the defenders of the nation became its attackers on account of their participation in graft unravels more details, Nigerians must push to total cleansing. This cleansing would not be complete with an attempt to come to terms with the fate of every Nigerian who lost his or her life to the insurgency and other national security crisis. Soldiers who died because they had no weapons to fight must be remembered and compensated. Civilians who were killed or maimed on account of the incapacity of the military when insurgents came calling must not be forgotten.
Above all, whatever ever is recovered from the current onslaught against looters has to be used for projects, which would ingrain the memory of these times in the minds of Nigerians. That will clearly communicate to generations unborn that corruption is a scourge, which must never be countenanced.