The Nigerian Armed Forces should be concerned
That The Nigerian Armed Forces should be deeply concerned. A lot is currently happening around the armed forces, which is quite worrying, especially for a profession in which cohesion and discipline are non-negotiable prerequisites for a meaningful existence.
Of course, worrying doesn’t equate to the nature and calling of men of steel. Even then, there is ample reason for the Nigerian Armed Forces to worry about themselves, and for society at large to worry about its best soldiers.
Remarkably, the main reasons that armed forces leaders should be concerned right now are not exactly the same reasons society in general is concerned about its soldiers. The problems are manifold.
Last week’s report that more than 200 soldiers had petitioned the army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, to voluntarily withdraw from service should be cause for concern alone. Over 200 men resigning at a time when the armed forces are undeniably overwhelmed by the challenges of counterinsurgency must be a cause for concern. With a total personnel count of 215,000 according to Global Firepower, including 135,000 active duty soldiers and 80,000 from the paramilitary end, the withdrawal of 200 soldiers in one fell swoop is undeniably significant.
However, military high command said the retirement and the number of people involved were nothing out of the ordinary. As is commonly said in official Nigerian parlance, the command of the armed forces has given assurances that they have the situation under control. Let it be.
Reports last week quoted the spokesman for the armed forces, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, as confirming that more than 200 soldiers have indeed been ordered off duty. Most of the soldiers involved are said to be juniors, mainly from the line of action in the northeast theater of the counterinsurgency war. The army insists that the request for retirement is nothing unusual and that the development has nothing to do with a drop in soldiers’ morale or corruption in the conduct of the campaign or poor soldier welfare, it has been reported
Nwachukwu was remarkably vehement in his statement, which dismissed any suggestion that the Nigerian Armed Forces men were unwell. The spokesman contradicted this in a very sharply worded statement The “claim that Nigerian Army (NA) soldiers are taking voluntary retirement due to alleged corruption, poor service conditions and low morale, as recently reported by some media outlets on social media, is nothing but a figment of the imagination of the unrepentant enemies of the Nation and troublemaker and should be outright discredited by the public.”
He continued: “Perhaps these unrepentant troublemakers need to be educated to understand that the Nigerian Army is not a conscripted army and that recruitment into the Nigerian Army is voluntary, with the existing policy of dismissal and retirement of soldiers and officers, respectively other organizations.”
The military high command, of course, knows better. We believe them. In any case, don’t argue with a man with a gun, legitimate or not.
However, what is not common or even welcome is the high number of casualties that Nigerian soldiers suffer at times from the various attacks and ambushes by insurgents and terrorists nowadays, especially in the northern zones of the country. These attacks are obviously aimed at reducing Nigeria’s combat effectiveness. The terrorists’ daring expedition, including the daring storming of the Nigerian Defense Academy in Kaduna and the recent ambush and killing of elite Brigade of Guards soldiers in Abuja, undoubtedly make the Nigerian Armed Forces an extremely dangerous place to serve.
But despite this rather dangerous situation, another source of concern for the Nigerian armed forces has grown, distinct from the mortal threat of terrorist attacks. The escalation of crime and gross indiscipline involving soldiers on duty presents a new face to the threat that must be contained before it destroys the military from within. The military high command may have a duty to defend the integrity of its men, but it should be aware of the danger inherent in a situation where society develops a high level of distrust of soldiers. This is dangerous for all sides.
A few recent incidents should be instructive here. In early June 2022, the prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Bishop Samuel Kanu Uche, was abducted along with two of his priests on the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway near Umunneochi, Abia state. The prelate was eventually released after a handsome ransom of N100 million was paid. He then claimed that soldiers whose checkpoints were near the abduction site were complicit in the crime. He did not mince his words. As might be expected, the Nigerian Army denied its men’s involvement in any such crime. The fact that such an act as the kidnapping of innocent citizens by heavily armed criminals often takes place in environments occupied by soldiers with their checkpoints stationed there makes efforts to excuse it difficult to accept.
Just last week, another family of 10 was abducted in Kaduna. A ransom of N6 million was negotiated and paid. When the ransom was handed over, two of the kidnappers were arrested. Lo and behold, they confessed that they were soldiers. Unfortunately, the criminals, whose pathetic photos in military uniform were published by the media, offered unsolicited information that many soldiers are now involved in the business of kidnapping, mainly to make money.
Also late last week, police arrested two soldiers for the murder of Sheik Goni Gashua in Yobe State. The circumstances surrounding the incident remain hazy, even as army leaders have begun investigating the incident with promises to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
In Plateau State, a recent report by one Jerry Datu of a massive cold-blooded ethnic cleansing attack on five villages in the state went viral. The man at the center of the narrative named names and made serious allegations of complicity by soldiers in the chilling acts of coordinated murder.
The Nigerian Armed Forces have established a fairly good profile in terms of professionalism, both on international missions and at home. Citizens used to have a high level of confidence when soldiers showed up at a scene of conflict. You can’t say that about the men of all security agencies. Unfortunately, soldiers are now engaging in activities that undermine the reputation of the Nigerian Armed Forces, particularly the Nigerian Army.
It has become important and urgent for the military high command to take deliberate and drastic steps to enforce discipline and rein in their men before the line between illegitimate armed gangs and legitimate armed soldiers is blurred. Nigeria doesn’t have to lose everything at once.