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By Ehi Akpata Esq.
- Published December 1st, 2014

When a handshake crosses the elbow it has become another thing - Chinua Achebe

This proverb made famous by the legendary writer, Chinua Achebe, can be applied to our current security challenges. One would agree that if the current Boko Haram crises were to be a handshake, it would almost be reaching the shoulder by now. It is no longer news that our army is having serious challenges dealing with the evil menace that the sect has now become in Nigeria. From a group of rag tag religious fundamentalists the sect has grown into a fighting force that now has the guts to attack military installations in broad daylight and occupy Nigerian territory thereby forcing thousands out of their homes as refugees. I will identify some areas that need urgent attention and offer possible solutions.

In Nigeria, sound and visionary leadership seems to be at premium at all levels. It has become as clear as daylight that money meant for the purchase of military equipment and to cater for the welfare of military personnel grows wings and flies to unknown destinations, embezzled by the senior officers saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the soldiers under their command. This has been the case for so many years and has only been brought to light by Boko Haram. Recently, some soldiers in a fit of rage opened fire on their brigade commander who narrowly escaped being killed. The soldiers were angry (amongst others) that they were not being given sufficient ammunition and that their welfare was not being well taken care of. What was the response of the army high command? They simply rounded up several of the men involved, court marshaled them and sentenced most of them to death. In all of this, the real underlying issues have not been resolved and the next uproar by the boys in green might not be too far away.

Unknown to most Nigerians our Army has seriously been politicized and its level of professionalism drastically dampened. The once lofty standards used for recruiting officers and men into the army have been steadily watered down over the years. Soldiers have been recruited not on merit but on other considerations as applicants for military recruitment now report at the recruitment centers armed with various letters from the high and mighty. The end result of this sad practice is that for so many years we have not been recruiting our best men and women into our army. This holds true for the Navy, Air Force, police and other security outfits. There has never been a more urgent need for a removal of the Federal Character principle from the recruitment processes of security agencies. We so desperately need our best men for the job, men who are passionate about serving in the army and not people who look at military service simply as a means to earn a living. The criteria for military recruitment should be made known to all and those who meet these requirements should be admitted on the spot instead of the current system where the recruitment board is allowed two to three months to doctor the final list to the taste of the powers that be.

In the area of equipment, it is now common knowledge that our troops do not have the kind of military hardware that an army such as ours should have. This much has been admitted by the President who now needs a 1 billion USD loan for the purchase of weapons for the army. I would refrain from sharing my thoughts on the failed attempt by this government to buy arms from South Africa and all the accompanying drama of that episode and would simply plead for more transparency in future. In spite of the billions budgeted for the army over the years it is not too much to expect that our army should have state of the art weapons. It is very saddening to hear of bullets being rationed to our troops like water during a drought. With the money Nigeria has we should as a matter of course be giving our troops state of the art weapons and equipment like night vision goggles, guns with optic sights, full body armour, modern communication gadgets and fully armoured transport vehicles for the movement of troops amongst others. It is sickening that in 2014 our troops are still being carried about in open vans. Little wonder why so many have died in ambushes. They should also have enough ammunition to bury Boko haram with. Troops should get good food and water as well as medical care. They should also be fully insured so as not to lose our in case of death or serious bodily injury.

It is impossible to discuss the sorry state of things in our army without commenting on the role being played or otherwise by our President and commander in Chief of the armed forces. While this title may appear imposing in peace time, it carries loads of responsibility in times of war. Nigeria is clearly at war and anyone who thinks otherwise must be in a deep Snow-white kind of sleep. A simple unscheduled visit to the troops would not only boost morale but would offer the president an opportunity to interact with the troops and hear some of their problem and challenges firsthand instead of relying solely on what he hears from the military high command. Those advisers who may have told the President not to visit the troubled spots simply donít mean well for the nation. Imagine what an unscheduled visit by the President would do for the morale of our troops and even for his dented public image. Leaders the world over have used this tactic to great effect and one would expect some of president Jonathans over paid advisers to realize this. History has shown that the military decline of many an empire started when kings stopped going to war and started placing reliance on army commanders.

If the true intention of this administration is to end insurgency then throwing another 1 billion USD at our army would not solve much as it would simply go the way most of the other billions have gone in the past. The same characters that have put us in this position are still entrenched in office and must be licking their lips in anticipation of the latest bonanza from government. The Army is badly in need of an overhaul in its leadership. Some of our Generals are no leaders and this is a time that calls for true leadership in the army. Little wonder why many of our retired generals have so much money when they leave office that they can fund expensive forays into politics.

Finally, No successful war story is told without the mention of the names of great leaders whether military or political. President Jonathan should get more involed with the prosecution of this war. Addressing Nigerians more would not do any harm to his image instead of loud silence we are greeted with fro Aso Rock each time there is a terrorist attack. Isnít it funny that the wanted Abubakar Shekau doesnít hesitate to release new statements while the President of the nation remains silent like one who is not sure of himself? Nigeria is the only country that most of us have and we have a right to live in a secure and prosperous country. The President has taken an oath to safeguard the welfare and security of all Nigerians and it is not asking too much if Nigerians simply ask him to do his job.


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