The modern state exists at the behest of the military which also defines the state’s well-being by repelling external aggression and suppressing internal insurrections.
But by far, what makes the fate of the nation-state intricately tied to the military institution beyond state formation is the process of nation-building.
This perhaps explains why the Nigerian military, as the custodian of the nation’s constitution has continued to pay heavy prize as it confronts crisis of nation-building exacerbated by both professional and military politicians since it first dabbled into politics, an uncharted terrain for which it was ill-equipped in 1966.
First, it was prevailed upon by politicians to wage unjust wars against popular uprising by those seeking self-actualization in the Middle Belt and the Isaac Boro-led Ijaw insurrection in Rivers.
Then in the manner of the old Greek tragedies, they descended on themselves, eliminating the most gifted military officers in their rank and file in January and July 1966.
They were then rail-roaded by professional and military politicians into civil war with a harvest of some three million deaths including the best and the brightest of our soldiers.
In the last decade, they have been in the forefront of a war against Boko Haram Islamic insurgents that have killed about 3.6million and condemned about 1.8 million to IDP camps.
There was a sign of relief, however in 2016 with the celebrated liberation of the Sambisa forest, the epicentre of Boko Haram operations. Celebrating the capture of ‘Camp Zairo’ in Sambisa forest which he said was the last stronghold of Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs), Major General Leo Irabor had told Nigerians: “On 22 Dec 16 at about 0800hrs, our troops commenced advance for the capture of Camp Zairo which was the main Boko Haram Terrorists (BHT). The air component and artillery were effectively employed during the operation before the final assault by the troops”.
Commending President Buhari for ‘“restoring integrity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the pride of all Nigerians”, the Alumni Association of the National Institute, AANI, Kuru Jos had said “Nigerians at home and in Diaspora are proud of the enormous sacrifices and patriotism of the Army High Command and the troops of the Operation Lafiya Dole on the successful capture of the Boko Haram enclave in Sambisa Forest.”
The Leadership newspaper of December 27, 2016 quoted the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai as saying liberated Sambisa forest, “will now serve as training centre for the army”, adding that he had “directed that the Nigerian Army small arms championship for 2017 should hold in the forest”.
But there has been a renewed killing of soldiers and civilians by insurgents in the Northeast region. In early March, 30 innocent Nigerians were killed in an attack that took place at a gate only eight kilometres to the University of Maiduguri, which the military authorities said needed to be closed at 5pm to enable them carry out counter-insurgency activities.
The military authorities blamed the victims claiming “the incident would not have happened if the travellers respected military directive, which bans plying of the road from Benishek, a local government headquarters to Maiduguri, after 5p.m”.
Last week, 29 soldiers were again killed in an ambush inside the ‘liberated Sambisa forest’. This figure was down from the initial over 40 quoted by the military and those of some Nigerian newspapers quoting AFP that claimed “at least 70 Nigerian soldiers were killed in an ambush by terrorists who specifically targeted a truck loaded with soldiers with RPGs and incinerated the vehicle, killing all on board”.
Apart from the figure of casualties, this was not markedly different from the account of the Theatre Commander, Maj.-Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi. He had admitted leading the troops to Harbour, about five kilometres ahead of captured and cleared Gorgi only to have the rear elements of the advanced force “where the Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher and Sink Yellowbucket Truck loader where soldiers were positioned attacked with more than a hundred mortar bombs at 80 to a hundred RPGs; in addition to eight to 10 gun trucks firing at us from all sides”.
The embattled theatre commander with injured solders lying on the ground around him blamed the ambush on false military intelligence supplied by the military authorities.
Although the military as a disciplined institution is intolerant of character flaws that civilians ordinarily get away with, soldiers’ excesses must be contained in the interest of the military institution as a whole and for the good of the larger society.
It is for the above reasons and the fact that soldiers don’t have the luxury of errors of judgment which have grave implications for society, that the military institution as powerful as it is, must be answerable to civilian control.
If modern state quibbles about civil-military relations, they have a lesson to learn from the old Yoruba traditional administrative system where a General’s only choice in war is victory after which he is resettled at the outskirt of the city to keep an eye on would-be enemies of state but also accept his fate by committing suicide if he loses a war.
There are so many unanswered questions about the nation’s change of fortune in Sambisa forest. First is there a link between Buratai’s relocation back to Abuja and the increased exploits of Boko Haram insurgents inside “captured sambisa forest’?
What are the effects of relentless war by the National Assembly that passed two different resolutions calling on General Buratai to resign on account of under-performance, a call backed by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo apex socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF; Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) and other informed Nigerians as well as retired military strategists?
The theatre commander amidst his injured soldiers last week complained of inadequate resources. Could this be responsible for the decision of our soldiers many who are experts in strategic studies to literarily embark on a suicidal mission by packing over a hundred soldiers along explosives and other munitions in the same vehicle?
The theatre commander with injured soldiers littering everywhere also told journalists: “I’m standing here with Sector 2 Commander; the armed helicopter has just come to hover our air”. While it is possible for an ambush to occur as result of infiltration of the military intelligence network by Boko Haram elements, but what is the explanation for the absence of a back-up or air force protection which exposed the advance force to rear attack ?
It is not of any relief that we have been told “only 29 of our gallant soldiers were killed with 61 injured in the ambush. The soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice were not just numbers but some people’s children, husbands and fathers.
They have siblings, school mates and friends. They laid down their lives for a nation facing crisis of nation building, exacerbated by politicians who condemn 70% of their youths kept out of school to poverty and easy recruits for religious fundamentalists.
That their sacrifice may not be in vain, is it not time to put aside the culture of secrecy in the military and like other participatory democracies, celebrate these fallen heroes through publications of their pictures, those of their spouses and the children they left behind?
Besides promoting the spirit of patriotism among our youths who know nothing about our history, I think it is one way of keeping alive the memories of those who paid the supreme sacrifice for our avoidable but very often self-inflicted crisis of nation building.