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The Nigerian Defence Academy – A Pioneer Cadet’s Memoir (2)

By Paul Osakpamwan Ogbebor


Paul Ogbebor wrote, among other things, of his battle to gain admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy-‘The Great Quest.’

“Thus, I was admitted on January 20, 1964 into the institution where I began my military career and life ambition. Although we the new intake cadets resumed training in January 1964, the institution was only officially inaugurated in March 1964. Thus by dint of history, destiny, divinity or whatever you may call it, I became one of the founding and pioneering cadet intakes into the Nigerian Defence Academy, notably called NDA Course I with admission number 40.” He opens today with his admission success story and concludes this two-part book serial with: The Nigerian Armed Forces, Repositioning For A New Status, Nigerian Adoption of the Indian Experiment and The January, 1966 among others.

My Admission into NDA

After the initial training in Nigeria, my counterparts who included the late Major Okhuarobo went to Canada and the late Major Igbinosa went to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in the United Kingdom to train and were commissioned. While I waited for resumption – the Nigerian Government had decided to take a very bold step to establish its own military institution that would locally produce officers in Nigeria for the Nigerian] Army, Navy and the Air Force. Such historic milestone gave birth to an establishment called the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) also situated in Kaduna.

Thus, I was admitted on January 20, 1964 into the institution where I began my military career and life ambition. Although we the new intake cadets resumed training in January 1964, the institution was only officially inaugurated in March 1964. Thus by dint of history, destiny, divinity or whatever you may call it, I became one of the founding and pioneering cadet intakes into the Nigerian Defence Academy, notably called NDA Course I with admission number 40.

The Armed Forces of Nigeria

By the Berlin conference agreement of 1884, the whole of Africa was partitioned and shared among some powerful expansionist European nations. Great Britain’s share included the landmass that is now called Nigeria. This came into being in 1861 when Beecroft took over Lagos after an armed expedition from Fernado Po. In turn, all other kingdoms and their kings like Nana of Itsekiri, Jaja of Opopo, Oba Ovonramwen of Benin, the Etsu Nupe, Usman Danfodio, the Sultan of Sokoto, the Alafin of Oyo, etc. were subdued and their kingdoms annexed to form the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria. The North and South were eventually amalgamated in 1914 to give birth to the political and geographical entity of Nigeria as a nation.

The subduing of the various monarchs of region to give up their economic, cultural, spiritual and physical powers in order to accept foreign political powers and colonial rule was an up-hill task, achievable only through the use of organized cohesive force. This phenomenon crystallized into the need for maintaining a standing Army to enforce the successful colonization and amalgamation of the new nation. For the realization of such a mission, the British Government organized a quasi task force in Nigeria made up of armed troops that were just strong enough to enforce the King of England’s authority, presence and be able to subdue any belligerency.

It promoted trade missions under the name of United African Company with organized and maintained administrative echelon, under the headship of Lord Fredrick Lugard. His role was to run the bureaucracy for policy implementation and above all, protect the team of Christian evangelists whose primary task included influencing the values of the natives in order to make them malleable enough for easy governance at minimum force and cost.

With the increasing awareness and exposure from the 1st and 2nd World Wars and above all, Western education, there were soaring and restive demands for a better standard of living and participatory governance. The result was several reforms culminating in the attainment of self-rule in 1956 and Independence in 1960.

By the new status, Nigeria automatically qualified and became a member of the United Nations Organization in the same year of Independence. The country progressed to achieve a republican status in 1963 and also became a founding member of the Organization of African Unity that was equally founded in 1963.

Repositioning for a New Status

Nigeria’s new status as an independent nation meant new demands on her political, economic, social, cultural, and above all, security handlings. Prior to Independence as earlier noted, the Nigerian Army was created to meet the colonial masters’ needs, which was why the training and tradition were hundred percent British in content and orientation. To ensure and maintain such status quo, all the key positions were held by British citizens. Although the basic military training was done in Nigeria, the institution was completely modeled after the British pattern and manned by British military personnel while only two to three vacancies were created in British institutions to train Nigerians as officers.

Vice President Namadi Sambo (7th right) and other dignitaries at a recent passing out parade of NDA cadets.Photo credit: NDA

For Nigeria to meet her new security responsibility, she needed larger military forces that could sufficiently police and defend her vast territory. Thus, the Army was enlarged from the only existing one and a half Infantry Brigades inherited from the British in 1963 to one Infantry Division, In addition, the Nigerian Marine Service was restructured and equipped to form the Nigerian Navy, which has the role of securing the about 1,000 kilometre length of Nigeria’s coastal waters. Also a modern Air Force was in 1963 established with the role of protecting Nigeria’s vast Air space of about Nine Hundred and thirty thousand square kilometres in surface area.

The efficiency of any armed force depends mainly on the quality of its training institutions and the calibre of the officers. The British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is amongst the oldest military institutions in the world for the training of officers.

Truly, it was a privilege to have Nigerians train there. But the maximum vacancies of five in a course intake of two years duration were grossly insufficient for her new Armed Forces. Notable peculiarity was that, the British military institution was largely tailored to the British requirements and orientation only. It was to allow elbowroom for other nations that a department had to be created in 1875 at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for the education and training of foreigners; especially to meet the needs of the Royal Indian Army. Such arrangement enabled a large cadre of Indian military manpower to be trained under an Indian setting.

Another peculiarity of the historic British Military Academy is that since Great Britain has a very long history of secondary and tertiary education facilities, the military institutions had enough reserves of highly educated and qualified citizens to draw from in its selection and recruitment of officer cadets; meaning that further academic education had never been the focus in the British Military institutions and in the training curriculum of British officers.

Whereas, up to the seventies, secondary and tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria were few and the preserve of the privileged or extra ordinarily talented ones; which means that the few adequately and suitably available educated Nigerians were in high demand in other sectors or endeavours. For a Nigerian to fully benefit from the British military officers training, he must have had the opportunity for continuous higher educational studies. This made the British military institutions most inadequate for Nigeria’s requirements.

The book

In a bid to produce enough officers to fill the vacancies created by departing British officers who were serving in the Nigerian Army, Nigerians were sent to be trained as officers in the United States of America, India, Canada, Pakistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Australia etc. The development brought the huge problems of un-unified training standards and compromised quality in officer-ship with the attendant danger of undue complex and problems of harmonization.

There was a case where some other ranks of the Nigerian Army were sent to a certain foreign country in the quest for training additional officers. Unfortunately, the Nigerians were commissioned as officers after only 16 weeks leadership training. Whereas some other Nigerians attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for two years, the Ethiopian Military Academy for four years, the Indian Defence Academy for four years etc. to train and receive commission as second lieutenants compared to those who did the leadership course for only sixteen weeks. There were yet some Nigerians who were trained and commissioned also as second lieutenants after doing only two to six months in British, Indian or other training institutions which were only set up to give crash training and commission to the host country’s citizens who had received either a university or other tertiary educational qualifications.

It is true that the military principles of war are universal… But in view of the peculiarity of each country in terms of climate, terrain, weaponry, level of technology, financial constraints, ideology and the types of war that could be fought, each nation has to develop its own doctrine. … For example, for Nigeria to have the Armed Forces that is Nigerian in doctrine, regimentation, weaponry and facilities for the production of the proper kind of officers, it had to have its own officers’ training institution. The usual tradition in some countries has been for each of the services or arms to establish its own school. For instance, the British has the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, the Royal Naval Academy in Dartmouth, and the Royal Air Force Academy in Cromwell.

The British arrangement has the advantage of concentration of efforts in particularizing the officers’ training. But it has the disadvantage of triplication of costs and lacking in depth in general service knowledge required for the promotion of esprit de corps and common doctrine that can enhance joint operations.

However, many other Nations had decided to use their military academies as unifying centres by establishing one institution to train their Armed Services officers. Chiefly, amongst such countries is India, which established just one unified National Defence Academy where all eligible Indian citizens are admitted as cadets and trained together but respectively commissioned into the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

The Indian experiment has survived the test of time for many decades; judging by the very high standard of discipline and quality of the Indian Armed Forces performances in war and peace. The Indians have also succeeded in perfecting and exporting the defence joint officers training system to many countries, including Nigeria.

The Nigerian Adoption

Nigeria and India have a lot in common having graduated through the same British colonial rule to attain political independence. To sustain their new independent status, the new born countries had to rationalize their scarce resources to meet their competing priorities which included building indigenous and requisite armed forces that is able, efficient and disciplined enough to secure and guarantee the lasting peace required for national development.

Nigeria being in search of sustainable and affordable democracy, set up a committee to study and recommend a unified system for the training and commissioning of officers into the Nigerian Armed Forces. It is gratifying that a defence academy development committee wisely recommended the Indian experiment which gave birth to the Nigerian Defence Academy in January 1964.

In order to make sure that the aim and objectives were successfully planned and executed, the Indians who originated the system were invited by the Nigerian government to establish the proposed Nigerian Defence Academy. This resulted in the arrival in Kaduna, with the history of being a military citadel, a team of eight Indian military experts to engineer and start the institution on 20th January 1964. Also, Malam S.S. Waniko, the Chairman of the Nigerian government committee on the planning and establishment of the Nigerian Defence Academy was appointed the first Director of Academics in the NDA for the purpose of successful implementation of the project.

The Nigeria Defence Academy is born

By an act of parliament in 1963, the Nigerian Defence Academy was legally born. The institution immediately came into existence when a team of officers, men and academicians were commissioned on 2nd January 1964 by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister of Nigeria, to establish a Defence Academy that would recruit, train and supply the requisite quality regular combatant officers for the Nigerian Armed Forces.

The January 1966 Coup D’etat

I LIVED in the last room of the third block nearest to the Non-Commission Officers quarters and others who were instructors and staff of the NDA. The sound of vehicles and the unusual movements from the above quarters woke me up from sleep. I looked at my watch and it was about twelve midnight. I looked at the Academy time table and there was no official exercise scheduled for us. Thus, I discountenanced the movements and went back to bed.

Col. Ogbebor.

But I heard gun shots. Then I remembered that I had overheard someone saying that the NMTC was going to be on a night exercise codenamed ‘Operation Damisa’ on the 16th of January 1966. I then questioned why the Academy authority had not deemed it fit to involve the cadets as observers. I was still enjoying the continuous sounds of the mortar and other supporting weapons staccato when I slept off.

I woke up next morning to put myself and things together to start the day’s activities when the news came that there had been a military coup

The military coup was later authenticated in a radio broadcast of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who was the Commandant of the NMTC that planned and executed the coup, which was the first military coup in Nigeria… There was apprehension since the broadcast was from Kaduna. What was the situation in Lagos which was the seat of the Federal Government?

Find the answer in Ogbebor’s  great book. Grab a copy. (concluded).

Also read part 1 of this serialization: The Nigerian Defence Academy – A Pioneer Cadet’s Memoir (1)


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