By Patrick Dele Cole
ISRAEL has the same respect for its military as the United States. They hold values that are existentialist to its survival under a democratic system with a large dose of freedom.
When a US soldier dies in combat, his coffin, draped in the US flag, is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington.
The cemetery of fallen Nigerian soldiers is unkempt and in a lot of places over grown with weeds and encroached upon. Can anyone encroach on Arlington? Moreover several members of the US political class are children of these venerated veterans.
Perhaps if Nigeria has a military national service like Switzerland, Israel, etc., we may begin a culture of building respect and formulating values for an important segment of our country-the need to serve, impart discipline, learn order and truth, learn how to live with each other, etc.
We had enough money to have built up a super army, raise the training to be as good as Sandhurst, Fort Bragg or the IDF. Such a force may have been better prepared to deal with Boko Haram and other insurgencies. If Nigeria had military conscription soldiers would be more disciplined. Instead money was voted to the military which systematically looted the money to the detriment of its services.
As corruption galloped in the army, a system of scrupulous transparent promotion through hard work gave way to skewered recruitment and promotion – just as the US army once had, but they worked hard to first reduce the incidence of favouritism and came up with a system that all are proud of.
Even if this is not universally true, the optics is that in the military this was the right way to do things, while scrupulously remaining outside politics. If you want to join politics, you resigned and contested the election. No American politician makes a speech without saluting the military. The US has a Veteran Administration, Veteran Hospitals, Veteran Social Support Institutions and Veteran Scholarships to the university.
I remember some tentative steps in Nigeria, in setting up the ex-soldiers, ex-servicemen as we called them, ex-military offices, institutions and rehabilitation centres, etc. Very little of these institutions have survived, not for lack of budget allocations but for the money to unavoidably escape to where it was not meant to go.
I wish the Nigeria military to pick itself up by the boot straps and establish something that all Nigerians can be proud of, that gives us that good time feeling that at last, there are things which become part of the foundation of Nigerian values. The Nigerian Army brought freedom to Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
It was a Nigerian military general who, at the world stage, declared discrimination as anathema and brought the lesson personally home when he declared that everywhere there was discrimination, it was personally against him; that his country will rather die than tolerate it anywhere, anytime.
The veneration of the US military was in spite of its decidedly ignoble treatment of Black Americans. The military was segregated, the towns were segregated, education was segregated yet African Americans fought all American wars under this barbaric segregation.
To be black and want to fight you had to go to the Tuskegee Air Academy. The graduates of this academy proved their worth to themselves but America continued to be segregationist. Black officers were not served in restaurants where White prisoners of war were served.
The US military had a disastrous outing in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan; nevertheless, the acclamation had continued not merely as an act of faith but as a demonstrable belief that America is great and its military has made it great. Is there any hope that Nigeria would ever come to regard its military as great as the epicentre of its values a venerable institution?