Danger Signals From The Military!
It became public knowledge the other day that about 356 soldiers fighting the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria’s North-East have in black and white, told the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) their intention to retire voluntarily from the armed forces. In their letter referenced NA/COAS/001 acted in accordance to the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service soldiers/rating/airmen (Revised) 2017, and advanced loss of interest and the corresponding low morale as reasons for seeking retirement.
Accordingly, the army authorities have approved their request, “In compliance with the provisions of Reference A, the COAS vide Reference B has approved the voluntary and medical discharge of the above named MWO, and 385 others listed as Annexes A and B…The soldiers are to proceed on terminal leave December 3, 2020, while their disengagement date takes effect from January 3, 2021, following the Nigerian Army Administrative Policy and Procedures No 27 Paragraphs 3 and 4.” And they are expected to report administratively to their formations and units for release with their unit service documents for documentation and de-kitting. The list includes Master Warrant Officers, Warrant Officers, Staff Sergeants, Sergeants, Lance Corporals, Corporals and Privates.
This development is shocking and serious and should attract the attention of well-meaning Nigerians. These are danger signals from the military. It simply shows that all is not well with the country’s armed forces whether in its war against insurgents and by extension the way the military is being run today. It is common knowledge that troopers have been victims to insurgents’ offensives incessantly and that some of the field commanders, from Brigadier-Generals Ransome-Kuti to Adesina have complained about the paucity of military paraphernalia to engage the enemy.
These, including poor training, actionable intelligence, mistrust, and deepening ethnic cleavages and corruption have combined to slow down the war against the insurgents and increasing losses among our soldiers. The rot in the military has reached a point at which rank and file soldiers are making YouTube videos to express their discontentment with the top brass. For example, Lance Corporal Martins did allege abandonment of troops to their fate on the battlefield.
It would be recalled that in the mid-1990s, the well-respected General Salihu Ibrahim once described the force as an “army-of-anything-is-possible” where it was fashionable for young officers to sit and discuss their superiors in the Mess. He probably was foreshadowing the worst to come. As things are today, we seemed to have arrived there. Well-meaning Nigerians and even the National Assembly have passed resolutions for a change of the service chiefs. The presidency has been recalcitrant, refusing to do the needful by changing the service chiefs and repositioning the military as a fighting formation devoid of ethnic sentiments and with a professional fixation. A country without a cohesive military is mincemeat for the enemy and our country seems to be on a downward slide with no one taking responsibility.
However, there are contrary arguments regarding the predicament of the service chiefs and the recalcitrance of the presidency. It is argued that the times of the appointment of the service chiefs and the unconventional war they have been fighting vitiates the call for their removal. The president is further argued, knows what he is doing and if convinced as a General that the service chiefs’ strategy will ruin his government, he will drop them. Besides, there is no constitutional limitation on how long he could keep the service chiefs. Even the Chief of Army Staff has made the point that they have not disappointed President Muhammadu Buhari in the last five years. This argument is indeed curious.
Nevertheless, they have overstayed in the eyes of the people and they haven’t performed. Desertion has trailed its operations in the war front. It is surprising that when Chad, our neighbour has demonstrated battle dexterity and have been successful, we are pre-occupied with the issue of soldiers opting to resign amid a long-standing conflict. The situation in the war against insurgents and the development within the military in general poses a lot of questions that need to be answered. One, what is the implication of the avalanche of retirement for the military? Two, is there any prospect of winning this war? Or are we just in a war without end? What is being done to the problem of maltreatment of junior officers and lack of concern for their welfare? What has happened to the incessant appropriation for equipping the army? Are we to discount the narrative on the fight against insecurity being a big business?
We believe that there is nothing unconventional about the war anymore. Forces that can attack barracks frontally with heavy weapons and lunch mortals to targets have transformed from the hit-and-run formation. The current chiefs have failed and should be booted out. We can’t play a devil’s advocate for a failed administration. The recent resignation should be a cause of concern. The mass disengagement is indicative of the general discontentment in the army and against its leadership. Also, it speaks volumes of the way the war against Boko Haram is being prosecuted and the flagging morals of Nigerian troopers.
At outset of 2020, Boko Haram offensive on military locations in the North-East has been quite disconcerting. In March, the Defence Headquarters admitted the killing of 47 soldiers in a bomb blast in the perimeter of Allargano Forest in Borno State. In the same month, some three troopers were killed while others were injured by the insurgents in the Damboa Local Government Area of Borno. In May, a location in the 156 Battalion area of responsibility was attacked with a fatality in the army. In June, the army lost Major K. Yakubu, to insurgents’ firepower. Despite this reality, the Chief of Army Staff has not helped matters with his duplicity.
While admitting that the army was on top of the security situation, he nevertheless passed the buck to Nigerians whom he averred have the responsibility to end insecurity because those terrorising the country whether as insurgents or kidnappers are Nigerians. As this newspaper noted recently, the war is deficient in a different way, the battlefield reality is different from set objectives, there’s an overly mistrust in the military, absence of actionable intelligence, poor equipment despite intervention funds and the absence of political will to get rid of the lackluster service chiefs. The time to do so is now. There should be consequences when the president continues to ignore the people and their representatives in parliament on national security challenge.