Amaechi Vs Olukolade

Governor Amaechi of Rivers who also doubles as General Buhari’s presidential campaign director, has been roundly condemned by government and our overwhelmed military over his view that soldiers engaged in anti-insurgency operations had a right to protest the lack of arms and ammunition needed for successful military engagement. This was a reaction to mass death sentences passed on 54 soldiers for disobeying the order of their commanding officers. To further disabuse the minds of the public from a statement the military believes is capable of inciting the soldiers, Major General Chris Olukolade, Director of Defence Information has pointed out that “the war on terror is not all about equipment but mindset of both the military and the public”. He has in  the light of that privileged information warned politicians to  “refrain from pronouncement and attitude that seek to undermine the established justice/disciplinary procedures and processes of the military system”. I think it must be conceded to Olukolade that soldiers signing for the military know the consequences of breaching the military laws. But with General Obasanjo, a man who should know better as a former field General and former Head of state now authoritatively asserting that “in the military profession, there are no bad soldiers but bad officers” and that if we see a situation where the soldiers are not doing well, examine the officer, military leaders from now on may find it hard to continue blaming others for their inadequacies.  Yes there are military laws and the soldiers enrolling in the military are conscious of the consequences of breaking such rules.  I think the missing link is the spirit of the law. And I think this is where the leadership of the military has failed their foot soldiers.

But it is difficult for one not to share Olukolade’s anguish and anger against politicians, the source of the past and current travails of the military. The infiltration of the military by ethnic irredentists as politicians in the first republic led to unleashing upon themselves ‘internal haemorrhage’ first on January 15 and July 29 1966, subsequent 30 months civil war and the long years of military involvement in politics ending with emergence of political fraudsters and treasury looters as Head of state and reducing a professional army of pre-independence to “an army of anything is possible” by 1998. Today, the military is not just at war with Boko Haram, a by-product of PDP intra-party feuds; it has been infected by a Jonathan administration riddled with corruption and impunity. The result is crisis of confidence in the military as it battles the insurgency with its cycle of violence against innocent and helpless people of North-eastern Nigeria. In the face of the general atmosphere of insecurity in the north, the urbane Sultan of Sokoto has now passed a ‘fatwa’ calling on Muslim faithful to defend themselves against Boko Haram since government has let them down. This was coming on the heels of similar call by Muhammadu Sanusi II, emir of Kano late last year.

Yet a military that is increasingly finding it difficult to re-establish its relevance and indeed needs help has continued to regard itself as the most nationalistic group and custodian of our common will. This is long after various studies have abundantly demonstrated that most members of the Nigerian military like their counterparts elsewhere are hardly motivated by altruism. Rather, they are rational beings who enrol in the military not to commit suicide but to take the advantage of the opportunities it offers to climb the social ladder. Buhari, former military head of state and presidential candidate in the February election once told the story of how he secured a chance to go to the military school as a poor village boy because unlike today, Ahmadu Bello, the then premier of the north extended opportunities to the children of the poor even in the rural areas.

Therefore, Nigerian soldiers like their counterparts elsewhere in the world have hopes and aspirations. They want to fight and live. They look forward to welfare packages after retirement just like legislators, governors and local council politicians.  Kitting soldiers to fight to live is therefore not an idle talk. If those set on the path of martyrdom are kitted with modern fighting equipment, how can we provide less for those fighting for their nation with the hope of acquiring good education and a secured future? For this reason many democratic nations have already elevated the protection of soldiers from avoidable death on the battle field to a human right issue .

The greatest responsibility of an officer is securing the life of his soldier. In a globalised world, our military leaders cannot continue to act as if they don’t have obligations to others. When two British soldiers Corporal Stephen Allbut and Trooper David Clarke were killed by a friendly power during their Iraq engagement in what was described as ‘completely avoidable tragedy’ by an inquiry to the incident, a coroner indicted the British Army officer in charge of the operation. His major offence was not deploying 47 state-of-the-art satellite recognition sets leased by the Ministry of Defence from the US which were capable of tracking friendly tank movements. Similarly the  report that British troops were deprived of the right equipment to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan  led to the setting up of Chilcot Inquiry in Britain where Gordon Brown faced questioning with General Lord Gurthrie the chief of staff from 1997 to 2001 accusing him of allowing soldiers to die. Brown as chancellor at the period was indicted for not making funds available therefore forcing the Armed forces to cope without a wide range of equipment’.

Here neither military leaders nor government think they owe anyone any explanation for their failures. Alarmed by the low quality of arms in spite of huge allocation of over a quarter of our annual budget of N4 trillion to ministry of defence for two years consecutively, the US suggested that the source of wealth of some military officers be probed. The government ignored the advice probably because those considered as friends of government are above the law. It was the same form of impunity that greeted Kashim Shettima, the governor of besieged Borno State’s first alarm that with the relative ease at which Boko Haram was overrunning everywhere, our troops probably needed more fighting kits and better motivation. Doyin Okupe and other presidential hurrah boys were deployed to all available electronic media to accuse the governor of attempting to incite our hard-fighting and ‘well-kitted’ soldiers. When over 200 young girls were abducted from their dormitories and driven over a distance of over 200 kilometres in a state under emergency, the president’s wife and minister after minister took turns to call the governor names. This was followed by the insurgents’ take-over of over 20 LGA in Borno, the sacking of some military barracks and the killing of an estimated 4000 innocent Nigerians. It was after all these that the president, without an apology to Shettima and Nigerians sought the approval of the National Assembly to seek $1billion loan to equip the military.

While one appreciates Olukolade’s righteous indignation against politicians, if he ‘shines’ his eyes, he will be pleasantly surprised that Amaechi is not the problem. It lies as much with the leadership of the country as with the leadership of the military. I think instead of chasing shadows, and trying to play safe, leaders will benefit from the admonition of American General David Petraeus, an architect of victory against Iraq insurgency to his colleagues when they faced their own demons in Iraq.  “What you face is simply a moral challenge, a test of will and commitment that if you believe that all is not well – change it; do not wrestle with the sum of your fears; but embrace the course you believe to be right …”

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