Whether the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, failed to think through his statement last Tuesday condemning Nigerian military troops who are on the frontline of fighting the Boko Haram insurgency or he was just being magisterial like all bosses do, the import and symbolism of that waffling condemnation, it will seem, are far too fatal than he probably can guess. His allegation against the hapless soldiers, shunned of hyperboles, is treason. At the opening ceremony of a workshop tagged “Transformational leadership” which was organized by the Army Headquarters Department of Transformation and Innovation, which held at the Army Resource Centre in Abuja, Buratai had said: “It is unfortunate, but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigerian Army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to the insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks or simply insufficient commitment to a common national/military course by those at the frontlines. Many of those on whom the responsibility for physical actions against the adversary squarely falls are yet to fully take ownership of our common national or service cause.”
Buratai’s allegation has provoked critical discourses. Broken down to its basest ingredients, the Lieutenant General was simply accusing his troops of treason. If anyone says that the claim by the Nigerian state, represented by its No 1 Army Commander, that the multiple killings of Nigerians in recent time by an apparently more coordinated, closely-knit and more forward-looking Boko Haram fighters, as well as the shrouded, yet loudly sounding sad news of the killing of hapless soldiers in the last couple of months, were as a result of “insufficient willingness” of the soldiers, isn’t an accusation of treason, then we may have to break open the Thesaurus to find its hidden semantics. So, are these young men and women engaged in treasonable dissent against the Nigerian state or the state is mortally unfair to them?
Discourses on Buratai’s accusation and allegation have sought to look at the moral of the allegation from a boss to his subordinates, its intendment, purport and implication for us as Nigerian people. Let us begin from its fundament; that is, the purport and implication of the allegation. According to Part X11 of the Nigerian Armed Forces Act, especially Section 45, 46, 47 and 48 which deal with misconduct of military personnel, there was an emphatic zeroing-in on offences that border on Buratai’s claim against the troops. They are offences of aiding, communicating with the enemy, offences against morale and cowardly behavior of troops which, upon trial by courts-martial, could earn culprits sentences that range from death, life imprisonment and the like. Among these can be found the offence of “insufficient willingness” of soldiers.
Give it to him, before Buratai could volunteer this information to the public, there must have been a broken down attempt to rein in the incubus of disintegration among the troops. “Insufficient willingness” could be a symptom of several malaises, ranging from weariness to fight, disobedience to command, sagging morale, cowardly behavior, communicating with the enemy, among panoply of other tendencies. The truth is that, the Nigerian Army has attempted severally to keep the lid tight on putrid oozes from its operations in the last few years but it would be shocked that the smelly information is available everywhere, even at bus stops.
Like every sector of the Nigerian economy, the Nigerian Army too is suffocating under very atrocious jackboots of corruption. Billions of Naira that are voted for purchase of equipment and fighting of the enemy are scooped inside the filthy arms of Generals and their surrogates in crime; the defence establishment grows rotund tummies each time such budgetary allocations are made and, like Eddie Iroh said in his Toads of War, the Generals suddenly acquire the bellies of toads, at the expense of soldiers daily killed by Boko Haram. Allocations for the upkeep of the suffering and hapless loyal troops are filched by these heartless species of nature’s creation and they vicariously kill these boys who are sent to the frontline literally barehanded. The scamper for the cash of military budgets is so huge that many of the characters named above have acquired the heartlessness of the dragon, at the expense of the loyal fighting troops. It is thus no wonder that the enemy, in this case Boko Haram fighters, picks them from the cliff like the praying-mantis effortlessly harvests its ant prey.
A window into the welfare of the troops was opened on Monday, April 29, 2019 when Dr. Sidi Mohammed, a member of the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI) claimed that fighters of the Boko Haram terrorist group get paid the sum of N1 million ($3000) on a daily basis while, on the other hand, Nigerian troops earn a paltry sum of N1000 daily. Sidi was speaking at an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Sub-Sahara Africa’s Economic Outlook Report in Abuja. He made this assertion to complement the belief that enlistment into the Boko Haram insurgency family is such a lucrative business that would make recruitment into it a fait accompli, especially among youths in the North Eastern part of Nigeria that is ravaged by the pestilence of want, unemployment and despondency.
Buratai is probably too engrossed in the voyeuristic fancy of Generals to realize that these troops did not descend from Uranus and that they indeed have members of their families whom they communicate on their fates and fare in the trenches. They tell horrible stories of neglect, abandonment and shabby treatment by the military establishment. Worse still is that, in deference to that inscrutable god of non-disclosure and national security, the military hide the casualty figure of our children, the loyal troops killed in action, from us. Some of them are buried in unmarked graves and the ones who are lucky enough are siphoned into military cemeteries at nocturnes for burial. The unpalatable news filtering in every now and then is that the figures are frighteningly alarming and are recently on the upswing. Generals who are vicariously responsible for their deaths smile to the bank to cash the bloody proceeds of their deaths.
The unwritten intendment of the drafters of the Nigerian Armed Forces Act was not to forge, in the smithy of Army Barracks, a slavish band of yes-men soldiers who have no minds of their own. Or soldiers who would remain pliable in the face of obvious, superior officers-manufactured deaths that harvest them from the cliff, in droves and on a daily basis. How Buratai expects to forge a troop that is loyal, bendable and with “sufficient willingness” is curious, going by the Generals’ abetment of soldiers’ overrun by Boko Haram.
A far worse implication of Buratai’s alarm is that we are all in danger as Nigerians. If we, as captives of the Nigerian state, are being “protected” by soldiers who do not have the “sufficient willingness”, we are all dead on arrival. Only God knows what would happen if some enemy forces bump in on us at the moment. No wonder President Muhammadu Buhari recently resorted to supplication to supernatural forces as way out of the bind Nigerians have found themselves. While reacting to an attack last Sunday by suicide bombers, Buhari was quoted to have said that insurgents who unleashed the terror at a viewing centre in Mandarari, Konduga Local Government Area of Borno State, “would be punished by God.” Speaking through one of his media aides, he was said to have “decrie(d) the heinous acts, stressing that perpetrators of evil acts have judgment awaiting them, not only from man via the long arms of the law, but also from God Almighty.” About 30 persons were reportedly killed in the multiple bomb blasts and 40 others were said to have been mortally wounded. The truth is, if we count the number of the dead since Buhari assumed office in 2015, it should be near the casualty figure of the Nigerian civil war. Yet, he and his government said that the insurgents have been technically defeated. Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna States and even his Katsina home, have become hotspots of deaths from nefarious bandits whom the supposedly powerful Nigerian state now grovelingly supplicates at their feet. Only on Friday, rampaging bandits killed 18 people in Zamfara and abducted its district head. But all is calm at the Villa; except that we should pray to God. People have asked if Buhari shouldn’t resign his office, so that Nigerians can totally, physically surrender Nigeria’s security to Him and His sovereignty while we start operating the papacy of the Holy See. Nigerians want an effective government that is capable of combating Boko Haram and would not take the lame and escapist scamper into the bosom of God to hide governmental ineptitude.
In saner societies, Buratai should have tendered his letter of resignation after that unconscionable statement, for government to begin a diligent probe into the allegation, as well as the funding of the military in the last ten years or so. It is an indictment on the General’s ability; indeed, a naked surrender on account of incapability. But, this is Nigeria: a land where mediocrity rules; where the worst of us rule the best of us; where value qualification for the top is appetite for illicit wealth and acquisition, where redemption is very near, yet so distant, hidden in the unseen bowel of an unforeseeable future.
Edo and the vicious cycle of war
I do not know at what point it will occur to the power elite in Nigeria, especially governors who seek to play the role of godfathers, that planting surrogates to clean them up when they leave office can only result in cataclysm. Many godfathers have had their noses bruised by godsons who suddenly grow Dracula teeth with which they bite their insatiable godfathers. One person who is learning this hard reality is the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) Adams Oshiomhole. Erstwhile governor of Edo State, he thought the lid on the state was firmly sealed and its keys tossed into his insatiable pockets at his anointing of his godson, Godwin Obaseki as the governor to take over from him. No sooner this deal was struck, than the godson became independent-minded and started to ask very discomfiting questions.
What godfathers fail to realize is that, the godson who was looking at government and governance from afar, ostensibly didn’t have an idea of how dirty and smelly his godfather was. He still sees him as a fighter to whom he is indebted. The moment he is handed the mantle of power, he is shown the books, he is led into the leaky vault and the pipes that the godfather plugged into the till of the state, wherein finance is siphoned into foreign accounts. He is alarmed at the avarice of his godfather, his shamelessness and callousness. The godfather also makes the mistake of looking at the godson with the eye of yesterday – apologies for a direct transliteration of Yoruba – forgetting that the moment he mounts the rostrum of power, the godson is no longer the small fry of yesterday. And so, he suddenly becomes a rebel.
Now, the people of Edo State are witnessing the battle of the godson and his godfather. Obaseki has grown in political and power stature. He has seen through the veneer of Oshiomhole’s pretense and realized his Achilles hill. He controls the purse and the people. Oshiomhole mistakenly believes that his imperial power of eight years still subsists. So the House of Assembly is the first turf of the demonstration of that power. While searching for a successor, the party chairman made the first mistake in power calculus – he got a very cerebral man to replace him, rather than one with a Primary Six School Leaving Certificate like him. Obaseki is said to be very deep and understands the geography and contours of power. More fundamentally, he comes from the largest tribe in Edo State.
I cry ahead for the great people of Edo. As Don Carlos sang, there will be weeping, wailing, mourning and gnashing of teeth. These two elephants would burrow their warring feet into the virgin lands of the state and upturn its apple carts. It is however a cycle that comes full throttles every four or eight years in virtually all Nigerian states, with no lessons learnt and no message taken from a prophetic system that destroys its own self.