In spite of its many successful peace keeping efforts in other African countries, the Nigeria military, in recent weeks, has taken a severe bashing at home and abroad, writes Ojo M. Maduekwe
On December 24, 1989, enraged by Liberia’s then president, Samuel Doe’s ethnic Krahn-dominated government brutality at suppressing a coup attempt led by Thomas Qwiwonkpa, an ethnic Gio, Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) launched an incursion from Ivory Coast into Nimba County with the conflict degenerating into a civil war.
On May 30, 1990, after months of reprisal attacks and an incident where masked soldiers attacked a United Nations compound in Monrovia, the UN withdrew its personnel from Liberia in June and wouldn’t return until November 1990.
Later, in August of the same year, with no respite from the UN, the Economic Community Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) soldiers were deployed in Monrovia with the mandate to impose a cease-fire. But, with the NPFL refusing to talk peace, ECOMOG was forced to change tactics from peace keeping to combating the rebel group.
In November 1990, starting from August when they first arrived, the ECOMOG was able to establish a semblance of peace and order in the country; paving the way for the return of the UN and its personnel. Aside establishing a semblance of order and peace in Liberia, ECOMOG was also able to confine the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to their barracks; installed a government and secured a cease-fire.
Another critical ECOMOG achievement was stopping the slaughter of Krahn and Mandingo people in Monrovia. Reports had it that many Liberians were appreciative of the ECOMOG soldiers’ effort, such that it became common to hear statements like, “Thank God for ECOMOG.”
One Liberian medical worker was reported to have said: “ECOMOG was our saviour; it was a salvation. ECOMOG saved the population of Monrovia. They avoided fighting, but were pushed into a corner. We feel sorry for them; they have no cause to die here for this stupid, senseless war.”
A Liberian lawyer was reported as saying, “ECOMOG was respected more than the Liberian institutions.” Years later, ECOMOG also assisted in restoring peace and order to Sierra Leone, during the country’s civil war.
The successes of the Nigerian dominated ECOMOG was such that a major road in Freetown, Sierra Leone, was named after then Nigerian Head of State, late General Sani Abacha, while then Colonel Maxwell Khobe, a Nigerian who led ECOMOG troops into Freetown, was named the country’s Chief of Defence Staff, charged with rebuilding the country’s military organisation.
Although ECOMOG was accused of abuse of human rights in both countries, this nonetheless was the strength of the Nigerian army in the one-time war-torn Sierra Leone and Liberia. Same level of strength was displayed at the onset of the emergency rule declaration in Nigeria’s North-east, during which many of the top ranking members of Boko Haram were cut to size by the military.
Dubai-based Nigerian journalist, Ahmed Salkida, known for his extensive reporting on the activities of Boko Haram, in reaction to the military’s use of force and the federal government’s declaration of a state of emergency, wrote sometime last year that months into the emergency rule in the three North-eastern states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, the military in an offensive, recorded some degree of success against Boko Haram.
“To the credit of the military, most members of the elite Shura leadership council of the terror sect have been taken out.” A big blow then to Boko Haram, this victory was however short-lived and not consolidated.
“This is clearly a setback for the sect that, before May, was at the verge of declaring over 20 local government areas of Borno and Yobe states, its official territory, effectively excising the strip from Nigeria,” he said.
According to him, Boko Haram’s ambition was not to be. “Nigerians are beginning to credit the federal government with the good judgment in sending in the soldiers given that the sect’s armaments have been wholesomely destroyed and narrowing its terror activities to the fringes of two states.”
According to Salkida, “a trusted inside assessment of the impact of the military action reveals that at a point, the military had taken out a substantial number of the leadership of the sect thereby isolating its leader, Shekau. Had the military pushed further at the point, Shekau himself might have been taken out. But he got a respite as the military looked over its shoulder, ensuring that Shekau embarked in a rebuilding process.”
Lately the military hasn’t been living up to expectation. Accused of stark corruption, the military that was once the bastion of hope in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other African countries is currently battling to remedy its dwindling image at home. The fight with Boko Haram has proven to be the most difficult so far for the military and, it appears it would be for a while.
“The sect, fighting with renewed energy and ruthlessness maintains that its doctrine abhors any form of representative government and that it would continue to fight whether or not a Christian was in power in Nigeria,” wrote Salkida in the article.
Like the Nigeria Police, many of the men and women in the military are patriotic and willing to stake their lives to stave off anyone that poses a challenge to the country’s security but, it appears while they are being killed in their hundreds by members of the Boko Haram sect, some of their superiors who are supposed to provide the needed leadership, ammunition and welfare packages for both standing and fallen soldiers necessary to win the terror war, are busy feeding fat on the defence budget in Abuja.
Just as is with the police, the problem in Nigeria’s fight against terrorism appears to be the top brass of the military. There are allegations that the defence funding starts getting depleted from the ministry of defence which tabulates how much fund is required to defend the country, down to the National Assembly where the budget is debated and then what’s left goes to the military, where the top brass each gets a slice of the pie.
Following several local and foreign reports of corruption in the military as having a drastic effect on the war on terror, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has called on the National Assembly to investigate the expenditure and budgetary allocations of security agencies in the country.
According to the NLC in a statement signed by its President, Abdulwahed Omar, this call is in consideration to the fact that the military has not shown justification for the N130billion expended in the first quarter of 2014.
“We wonder why there is evident low morale and dearth of operational equipment in confronting the on-going terror attacks across the northern parts of the country if the sum of N130billion was spent within three months, on the military.
“It is important that the entire security sector be audited in the hope of detecting those who are short-changing the security agencies and may have been collaborating with the enemies of our people to unleash mayhem on our country,” read part of the statement.
Irrespective of the allegations of corruption being levelled against the military, the establishment has continued to deny that it is corrupt and repeatedly refuted claims that its soldiers are less equipped and motivated than members of Boko Haram. But this has not stopped its officers from mutiny.
Nonetheless, it appears the military is working on getting its act right. Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro recently, at the 58th Nigerian Navy Week Conference, stressed the need for a national retreat that would transform the military.
Obanikoro expressed government’s determination to assist in initiating the process where “stakeholders from the National Assembly, the Minister for Defence, myself, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, other members of the executive and the private sector will sit down to develop a transformational roadmap for the Nigerian military,”
But Nigerians hope this is not the usual all-talk-and-no-action the Nigerian politicians are known for.