This week, Defence Focus has decided to reproduce an unedited piece written by Ike Willie-Nwobu as it is in tandem with my views concerning the Nigerian Armed Forces as espoused before by such notable personality like the Director Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Chris Olukolade.
The traditional and central roles of the armed forces of any nation are, first and foremost, the defence and protection of a nation’s territorial integrity. One of the key aspirations of every nation is that it should achieve peace and stability within and outside its borders to enable its military to deploy its special skills and capabilities that have been honed through years of disciplined formation and culture of excellence for external conquests. In that way, the military continues to wage wars on a daily basis, not necessarily against external enemies but rather to win the internal daily battles which every society fights to get the best deal for itself and its members.
It must be pointed out that the historical circumstances that informed the formation of the military of every nation determines the level of its social involvement as well as how it perceives its roles vis-à-vis the other members of the same society. For instance, a national military formation that emerged from the ashes of a war of independence like those of South Africa, Kenya, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Israel, the United States of America, Cuba, to mention only a few, invariably becomes very people-oriented in its behaviour and outlook, because it sees itself in close partnership with the other members of the society with whom it had toiled together for the achievement of national survival. On the other hand, in the elite military formations which emerged out of less difficult circumstances like in the case of Nigeria, Ghana, India and so on, there is often a disconnect between the military and the other members of the society which the military often views with condensation and spite. It was in that spirit that the members of the Nigerian Armed Forces had often viewed the people as ‘idle civilians’ just as the civilians had felt that ‘the mother of a soldier is childless’. This type of mutual distrust and suspicion has often led to the situation whereby the military had believed that the civilians had no exclusive right or better stake to national governance, leading to the several military interventions of the past. In fact, the civilians had largely affirmed this right to the military, given such tongue-in-cheek comments by Chief Adisa Akinloye, the then national chairman of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), that “there are two political parties in Nigeria – the NPN and the Nigerian Army”.
I have taken recourse to providing this background in order to indicate how the Nigerian Armed Forces has transformed and metamorphosed itself into a very different outfit that has become unparalleled in the way it is now in total conformity with the ways and operations of a modern military formation under a democratic dispensation. The evolutionary socialisation of the Nigerian military, which started nine years ago with the return to Fourth Republic democracy, peaked with the arrival of the Yar’Adua administration. Every clear thinker knows that it is not always true that ‘a tree does not make a forest’, as a single or a few good trees can – and indeed do – make huge forests. That is what is happening in the Nigerian Armed Forces today.
From the Commander-in-Chief, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua, who has adopted the application of the rule of law in every aspect of national endeavour, through the Defence Minister, Gen. Godwin Abbe, who is a dyed-in-the-wool respecter of due process, to the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Paul Dike, who has publicly vowed to die in the defence of democracy, Nigeria’s defence complex has no other way to go than in the direction of being close drivers of the clear and pointed visions of the Yar’Adua administration for making Nigeria one of the 20 greatest nations in a matter of 11 years. The Armed Forces has now found itself at a vantage position to catalyse the success of this attainable vision.
In spite of the distractions which the Nigerian Armed Forces experienced on account of its deep involvement in politics, it has been able to hold its own in the comity of nations. Now that it has been relieved of the burden of that distraction for good, the sky can only be its limit in the deployment of its great potential in the achievement of the more demanding and loftier national ideals that are imperative for the national attainment of the respectability which the Armed Forces has achieved for itself.
The Armed Forces incarnates the best in all aspects of social endeavour. In every developed nation of the world, whatever invention or innovation that gets to the society must have been in use by the Armed Forces, which only makes them available for public function after they had existed for decades as the preserve of the Armed Forces. The epoch-making events and developments in the society like the Internet, key developments in aviation, electronic and medicine had first served the Armed Forces establishment before they were commercialised and introduced for general use.
It has been identified that one of the greatest clogs in the wheels of our national development is the degeneration which our educational system has undergone and which has led to a woeful deficit in the development of human capital that is capable of moving Nigeria to the next developmental level. As should be expected, Armed Forces-run educational institutions have so far been spared the rot of their civilian counterparts and, expectedly, the products of the Armed Forces education system are obviously better. So, there must be a way of injecting this experience into the larger society. Today, parents fall on top of one another as they struggle to find spaces for their wards in Armed Forces-run schools. What has remained a privilege of enjoying Armed Forces type of education by a few should be extended to all and sundry.
Away from these isolated measures, the Yar’Adua administration should tap into the different Armed Forces initiatives in the area of education and extension programmes. For instance, there is no reason why the armed forces methods of human capacity development should not be made the norm across the board in the government’s formal and informal educational objectives. It is unfortunate that the huge gains from the NYSC para-military experience is not being built upon both in the area of building human capacity as well as in its potential for enhancing national unity. Rather than scrap the scheme, deeper aspects of paramilitary experience should be introduced. After all, it is nearest to the compulsory Armed Forces training which young people of other more serious nations have made a way of their national life.
It would be next to impossible to ‘secure’ a society where ‘need’ occupies a pride of place. That is why the several poverty and skill acquisition initiatives of the Armed Forces should be incorporated into the scheme of things in the larger society. It is instructive that apart for the many welfare schemes which the Armed Forces has for its serving and retired members, it is embarking on more initiatives to broaden the scope of ensuring that there are ample opportunities for its members. Most of these schemes can be extended to the willing and appropriate members of the public or, more appropriately, the government could easily get the armed forces to extend these services to the general public.
Of course, the commitment of the Yar’Adua government to the solution of the problems in the Niger Delta should not be limited to the use of the Armed Forces to quell the menace of militancy in the area. The Armed Forces should be made to extend the frontiers of its internal defence capacities through the deployment of its proven special skills in the area. For instance, the Armed Forces which has shown huge potential in providing welfare and rehabilitation to its people could be used for the development initiatives of the administration in those areas. One of the factors which the government says has been militating against development in the area is the disruptive activities of criminal elements on the projects in the area. If the Armed Forces were used in the construction of roads, bridges, building of utilities and housing projects, it is doubtful if any agents of destruction or disruption would show its face. More importantly, the disciplined organisational structures of the armed forces would ensure that deadlines are met just as optimal resources management would be guaranteed.
The Nigerian Armed Forces is obviously the largest in Africa and should deploy its enormous capabilities in those areas as food production as is the case of some nations which also run the enormous risks that are inherent in food scarcity. If large-scale farms by organisations like the NYSC have become huge successes, empowering the Armed Forces to acquire larger farms would be the answer to the government’s development agenda, not only make the nation self-sufficient in food but also to export for foreign exchange.
The several competencies and organisational capacities of the armed forces could be made to bear on the different levels of Nigeria’s national life. It is only left for the governments at the different levels to tap into these overflowing capacities of the armed forces in every area of human endeavour to ensure the success of both its short-term 7-point agenda as well as for its longer-term vision of making Nigeria one of the 20 most economically developed countries of the world by 2020.
Every wise nation always puts its best step forward. The Armed Forces of Nigeria has continued to prove to all and sundry that it is one of the best faces of the country in the purview of the world. No one lights a candle and puts it away under a bushel. Let Nigeria do itself a great favour by making its armed forces work for everybody; let the Armed Forces become a potent agent in the success of both the Seven-Point Agenda and Vision 2020.
Ike Willie-Nwobu is a research fellow of the International Business and Innovation Institute (IBII), Israel