By Ochereome Nnanna
THE Nigerian Army, the flagship of the Nigerian Armed Forces, is one national institution that has totally and successfully re-branded itself. Depending on the defence and military needs of a nation, one branch of the armed forces or the other takes the driver’s seat. In Great Britain, it is the Royal Navy that occupies this enviable position.
Most of the scions of the royal family, particularly future kings, traditionally are trained in the Navy. The US Marine Corps (USMC) appears to play a similar role for the world’s number one military and economic power, the United States of America.
Here in Nigeria, prominence has traditionally belonged to the Army. It was the first to evolve, followed by the Navy. The Air Force was an indigenous effort created after our independence. The Nigerian Army was turned into a political force when the retreating colonialists and their indigenous allies realised that for their post-colonial interests to be guaranteed it was risky to leave matters totally at the mercy of the unpredictable vagaries of party politics and politicians.
Promising young men were conscripted from secondary schools in the North and enrolled in the Army.
The Army was also used by the ruling party to quell riots and opposition in parts of the country. It was not long before ambitious elements in the Army decided to seize power directly when rivalries among politicians went out of hand in the middle 1960s.
Thus began 33 years of army dominance of the political affairs of this country broken only by four years of a temporary return of power to civilians (1979 to 1983). By 1999 when the military handed over to civilians after a democratic general election, the Army had become thoroughly discredited as a political force.
The military government led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar was in such a hurry to cede power to civilians that Decree No 24 that promulgated the1999 Constitution into law could not be unveiled until May 5, 1999, 24 days to go! Since then, even the military itself seemed to come to the realisation that it was no longer welcome to intrude in our political process under any guise.
Many events in the past 11 post-military years could have provided the military with a handy excuse to return to power. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s dismissal of nearly 100 military officers shortly after being sworn-in in 1999 could not have been contemplated in the 1970s up to middle 1990s. There could have been a regionally-motivated pre-emptive strike from the Army and a military intervention.
Certainly, the events surrounding the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s ailment, mysterious return to the country and the transfer of power to President Goodluck Jonathan were tailor-made for military intervention. To the surprise and delight of Nigerians, the military kept faith with their constitutional obligations, thus strengthening the faith of Nigerians in the political stability of their country.
Today, the Nigerian Armed Forces led by the Army, are doing an excellent job of defending the country from internal collapse. This is a country besieged by internecine communal ferment in its Plateau region, religious extremism in its North Eastern flank, militancy in its oil-producing regions and kidnapping and violent crimes in Southern and Eastern areas.
The 82 Division of the Nigerian Army is easily the busiest of all its jurisdictions. With its headquarters in Enugu, the 82 Div covers the entire South East, South-South and parts of the eastern flanks of the Middle Belt.
Instructively, its current core theatres of operation where it is valiantly engaged in reining in violent crimes against the state are in the South-South and South-East, where the current Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Goodluck Jonathan and Chief of Army Staff, Major General Onyeabo Ihejirika, respectively, hail from.
It is interesting to note that Major General Sarki Yakin Bello, the former Commandant of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) whose valiant campaigns encouraged the militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to embrace the amnesty programme, has now been moved up to take charge of the 82 Div, thus ceding direct command duties in the creeks against resurgent militants led by John Togo to Major General Charles Omoregie. The Chief of Army Staff, Ihejirika, recently formed a new brigade inside the 82 Div.
The Army is opening up new military posts in this operational area to ensure full military coverage to arrest kidnapping, violent crimes and militancy, which had outgrown the capacity of the regular Police to handle. In fact, at the recently concluded Abia State Economic Summit at Umuahia, the representative of General Bello, Brigadier General Andrew Audu, maintained that “the military has come to stay” for as long as it would take to flush out armed criminals in the two zones.
Those who think that simply because their “son” is the president of Nigeria or the chief of the army he would condone criminal irresponsibility from among them are seriously mistaken. Perhaps, not many Ijaws would have believed that President Jonathan would summon the political will to stamp out resurgent militancy in his home state and Niger Delta, neither should anyone entertain the hope that Ihejirika would hesitate to flatten any village in his native Abia State where kidnappers are allowed to take shelter.
This imperative of putting Nigeria’s interest first also led former President Obasanjo to remove the teeth from the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) when they terrorised other Nigerians in the South West.
However, much as we commend the military, we believe that their efforts are only palliative. The underlying factors that led to these criminal behaviours – especially extreme unemployment occasioned by corruption and mis-governance – must be addressed. Military is no law enforcement agency. It is the defender of the nation.