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Bring back our Nigeria Army

By Emeka Obasi

Land of the brave, this is something you cannot take away from our country. We are ready to take anyone headlong irrespective of whose ox is gored. The story must not change at this crucial time.

The world respected the Nigeria Army. Our boys fought in Burma, they saw battle in India. Nigerians were part of the liberation of Libya, the people of Abyssinia saw them do what was expected of real men. From the First World War to World War 11, the Allied powers knew there were as many strong men in the African tropics as you could find in Europe and America.

I really do not think United States President Donald Trump will be so proud of the Nigeria Army today given the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari passed out from the US War College.

President Buhari’s quality as a soldier is not in doubt. As General Officer Commanding[GOC] Third Division, Nigeria Army, he led troops into Chad after a Chadian division under Idris Deby seized Nigerian villages on April 18, 1983. It was so disastrous for the invaders whose capital,Ndjamena, would have been captured before President Shehu Shagari ordered a withdrawal.

Buhari relied on Army Intelligence and the Air Force to put the Chadians to shame. Among the pilots who helped in that three-day war were Ben Ekele, Adamu Sakaba, Martin Luther, OFI Ihenacho and Jubril Yusuf who lost his life. His father, Nureini Yusuf,later became Chief of Air Staff.

The same Buhari was outstanding on the Nigerian side during the Civil War and was lucky to survive the battle of Owerri, where as a subaltern he became an acting Brigade commander when Col. E.A. Utuk was  injured. It is to the eternal credit of the 16 Brigade that Biafra’s Army Chief, Gen. Alex Madiebo, described it as  “easily the best fighting unit fielded by Nigeria during the war.”

It is quite disturbing that under the same battle tested President Buhari, killer herdsmen from all over West, Central and possibly North Africa, have taken over Nigeria. I say this because, when Deby, a Zaghawa, eventually became Chadian president in 1991, the first thing he did was to visit Nigeria, apparently to ask for forgiveness knowing how powerful the Nigerians were.

This is the Nigeria of Gen. Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, the first African to command United Nations forces. He was honoured by the Austrian government for exceptional bravery in the Congo. This is the Nigeria of Cols. Adekunle Fajuyi and Conrad Nwawo, who were decorated with the Military Cross in the same Congo.

I mean the Nigeria of John Obienu, the best non-British cadet in his Sandhurst Cadet years.  Mike Iyorshe, best foreign student all through his days at the Command and Staff College, Ontario, Canada and one of the brightest officers to come out of Army Staff College, Camberly, England.

The Nigeria Army has produced over two dozen  Peace Force Commanders globally, from the African continent to the West African sub region. Name them: Aguiyi-Ironsi, Samuel Ademulegun, Joshua Dogonyaro, Muhammadu Magoro, Geoffrey Ejiga, Edward Unimna and Chris Garba.

Also included are Rufus Kupolati, Ishaya Bakut, Tunji Olurin, John Inienger, Victor Malu, Timothy Shelpidi, Ekundayo Opaleye, Gabriel Kpamber, Joe Omonibi, Chikadibia Obiakor, Festus Okonkwo, S. Iliya, Collins Remmy Umunnakwe Ihekire, Martin Luther Agwai and Moses Obi.

Lt. Gen. Obiakor, who fought for Biafra as a boy and ended up in Nigeria as a GOC before moving to Liberia to command UN forces, made history by becoming the first United Nations Assistant Secretary General/ Military Adviser in charge of peace keeping operations.

Generals Luka Nyeh and Suraj Alao Abdurrahman[Butterro], both of Nigeria Defence Academy[NDA] Course 14, were at different times Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of Liberia. Maxwell Khobe, was in same position in Sierra Leone where Nigerians troops whisked away troublesome Fodeh Sanko and brought him to Abuja.

We have had officers who were dreaded. Aguiyi-Ironsi’s small crocodile carving from Congo was seen, albeit, erroneously as his source of power. Patrick Amadi had a  tortoise hanging round his neck. Many feared it saved him from bullets and enemy mortar. Some soldiers believed  Benjamin Adekunle, Black Scorpion, as an Ogbomosho man could not be hurt by enemy fire.

Some accounts say Adekunle, after serving Nigeria, was called out of retirement by Murtala Mohammed and sent to fight for the MPLA during Angola’s war of independence in 1976. One casualty was the great Biafran fighter pilot, John Ikeokwu Chukwu, who was absorbed by Gen. Yakubu Gowon after the war.

The Nigerian military boasted of dare devil pilots. And some of them found themselves on the Biafran side. Austin Okpe, Willy Bruce, Larry Obiechi, Alex Agbafuna, Ibikari Allwell-Brown. They risked their lives and operated from Gabon. Those young men were kings of the sky.

I was so proud to be a Nigerian at the Africa Union Summit, Abuja ’91. Liberian President, Amos Sawyer had a Nigerian military police captain as his ADC. I also saw how Nigerian commandos messed up soldiers guarding Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire[Congo DRC] as they insisted on entering the Conference hall with their weapons.

Five years earlier, I guess at the Non Aligned Movement Meeting in Zimbabawe, President Ibrahim Babangida had arrived with a battalion of troops and insisted on moving into Harare with them for protection. He stood his ground. We have not forgotten that one Musa Bitiyong  was one of those who trained Robert Mugabe’s troops.

It is strange that this is the same Nigeria Army that has been badly damaged by our politicians. Some of the best officers are being retired or kept far away from decision making. We now have an Army grossly pilloried by smaller countries surrounding us.

I know there are still brave soldiers in the Nigeria Army. President Buhari must do something now before it is too late. We have officers and men who can fight bandits. They are in our midst, use them. Please, dear Commander-in-Chief, bring back our Nigeria Army.


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