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Bidding the military early bye-bye

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MY reading of the 252-page book of Lt. Gen. Ishaya Rizi Bamaiyi (rtd.) entitled: Vindication Of A General led me to one conclusion: That the Nigerian Army has not been combat ready from the time the Civil war ended on January 15, 1970 and the time they finally handed over power on May 29, 1999. They were not combat ready, hence they were planning coups and counter-coups. Our military were not fully engaged in combat and since they are being engaged now with Boko Haram we are hearing less about coups.

When idleness becomes a way of life, a daily thing, it ceases to be refreshing. It becomes dangerous. Idleness is the breeding ground of trouble. It was one of the major factors that contributed to the decay of the Roman Empire.

Good cannot be expected to come from a perpetually idle mind. It is like a stagnant pool that breeds scum, disease and filth. Evil thoughts intrude upon the idle mind and are nourished there, building up wrong desires that eventually express them in bad actions.

Under the decadent influence of indolent nobles who avidly pursued money and pleasure, the people of the Roman Empire sank into the lowest imaginable depths of debauchery. With most of the labour in the empire being done by about 60 million slaves, approximately one-half of the whole population, idleness became the way of life for the Romans.

It created an attitude that was dangerous to the continued existence of the empire. This led to the fall of the mighty empire.

General Bamaiyi was Chief of Army Staff between 1996 and 1999. I feel he should know about the workings in the military. In the book he declared: “Growing up as a young man, I had always dreamed of being a soldier, of serving in the military in Nigeria, where I was born and raised.

As a young man, I realised that dream but soon found out it was not everything I had imagined it would be. Where I had envisioned camaraderie, honour and respect, I found secrets, lies and backstabbing. I found corruption where there should have been transparency and openness, and worst of all, malice where only valour should have thrived”. The book was published in 2014, but certain contents of the book are still very relevant.

General Bamaiyi declared in the book that “the biggest casualties of the forays of the Nigerian military into the political arena were discipline, respect for seniority, hierarchy of command and loyalty from above. These are time-honoured values that have sustained the military as an organisation and set it apart from many other modern organisations. At the core of the problem which I try to highlight in this book is the impact of the erosion of discipline in the Nigerian military, and how patronage crept into the military because of adventure into power.

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Once junior officers became beneficiaries of juicy political appointments and had access to untold wealth and influence in the ruling circles, insubordination of junior officers to senior officers became the norm rather the exception. It is for this reason that Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, though it recognises the role of the military in supporting internal security operations, makes this role complementary as important and as desirable as it may be.

What this means is that in practical terms it may be difficult to divorce the military, especially of developing nations, from politics and power. The real issue, however, is that of maintaining a delicate balance between the allurement of power and politics on the one hand and the demands of professionalism, including respect for discipline on the other hand.

This becomes very critical because, from the Weberean point of view, the military is a foremost bureaucratic organisation, whereby hierarchy and a clear chain of command flowing from the top to the bottom take precedence over other considerations. The efficiency and effectiveness that sustain the military as an organisation largely derive from respect for discipline.

The Nigerian military, modelled after that of her British colonial masters, was expected to be apolitical and to be truly professional by sticking to its traditional role of defending the territory of the Nigerian state from external aggression. But this was never to be, as the experience of many West African countries, including that part of Nigeria, showed within one decade of obtaining independence from their colonial masters.

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