Yesterday, January 15, was Nigeria’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day, a day set aside to remember the roles played by the armed forces in various aspects of the Nigerian polity. Whereas the commemoration ceremonies centred on praise, I think a blend of kudos with knocks is better—kudos for the good, and knocks to correct some wrong sectors in the military’s head.
Since the inception of Nigeria, thousands of service personnel have paid the ultimate price for the security of their fellow citizens, both the grateful and the ingrates. The hard-to-forget civil war tops the chart for the huge amount of human sacrifice it commanded. As Nigerians, we appreciate the sacrifices of our armed forces, both those who gallantly chose to march into battle, and those who were forcefully conscripted to defend the existence of Nigeria.
As we remember those who died in the civil war, and those who lost limbs and other body parts in those three brutal years, we also remember those whose altars were located outside our borders. Some of our military personnel gave their lives in foreign theatres of war, as peacekeepers, helping to bring stability to other nations in crisis. These foreign expeditions bestowed upon Nigeria the prestige of international leadership.
We also thank the armed forces for its role in confronting conflicts within our borders. Communal crises and regional insurgencies have required our military’s boots to quell violent outbursts before they blow out of control. The military frequently handles security issues that appear to bewilder the Nigerian Police Force. From Zaki Biam, to the Niger Delta, to the North East, their presence has helped to restore calm, or at least, a semblance of quiet. Despite the huge sacrifices they make, the establishment-controlled underreporting ensures that many Nigerians are ignorant of the human cost of restoring peace.
Above all, we also thank our armed forces for their resilience in the midst of malicious deprivation. I read an American serviceman’s boast on Quora about the military gear used by his country’s military, which keeps their death toll very low, compared to their opponents. The Nigerian service personnel do not have the luxury of such a boast. Yet, they pour their heart into their pledge, fighting for a country that sometimes sends them to a knife-fight with bare hands. Thanks to all members of our armed forces who refuse to despair despite suicidal odds. We celebrate your courage, as we recognise your indispensability.
The Nigerian Armed Forces are indispensable. That is why we need to deliver some knocks, for with kudos alone; the head tends to expand beyond sensible limits. The time for knocks has come.
Firstly, the military has to realise that civil rules are meant for ALL—military and civilian. Our service personnel have a penchant for driving against traffic, jumping queues, and presuming that their military status grants them free public transportation. They even go as far as beating up anyone who dares challenge them, whether such challenge has legal/moral basis or not. This physical assault knows no bounds. Woe betides any police officer who dares arrest a military officer. One or more truckloads of comrades-in-arms will be sent to teach that police officer and his colleagues a forceful lesson.
This flagrant abuse of the law stems from the military’s time in power. The numerous coups and countercoups, along with the regimes they enthroned, gave the armed forces an air of superiority over “bloody civilians”. Seventeen years after the return to civilian rule, the people in khaki are yet to imbibe the common sense of obeying civil laws. They seem yet to understand that their C-in-C is a “bloody civilian”. Apart from Obasanjo and Buhari, who are former military officers, Jonathan and the late Yar Adua have no military history. While we recognise the sacrifices of our armed forces, they should know that no sacrifice places them above the law, or above other Nigerians. If all Nigerians were to be in the military, the country would be “useless”. Similarly, if all were civilians, we would be defenceless. Both realms are needed; mutual exclusivity does not exist; none is superior!
Secondly, the military should learn to respond, not over-react. I once read a fictional account about a bullied person, who trying to escape from taunting, picked a sharpened stick and repeatedly stabbed the bully in the eye, refusing to stop despite the pleas of all around. Although our armed forces cannot be described as being “bullied”, their reactions many times overwhelm the initial offence. Even when the military was initially the victim, their reaction turns them to the villain. Zaki Biam and Odi easily come to mind as examples of extrajudicial reactions. The same can be said of some of the military’s escapades in the Niger Delta, and in the areas ravaged by the evil Boko Haram. The recent Shiite incident lends credence to this pathological attribute of the military.
Unsurprisingly, the second grouse leans heavily on the first—reluctance to obey laid down laws. I concede that some stupid persons sometimes chose to taunt armed personnel, and that some insurgents sometimes use unarmed civilians and civilian buildings as shields, and that some foolish persons do not respect the life of armed operatives. However, it is better for the armed forces to take the high road, sit back and plan a response in line with extant laws, not just reacting because they have guns, tanks, and aircrafts.
The ability to respond in a coolheaded manner will demonstrate professionalism. We want a military that is effective AND obedient to rules approved by democratic processes. If the military establishment feels that some laws restrict their performance, the case should be made, and an amendment sought through democratic channels. It is deceitful to swear to uphold a constitution, and then rudely violate that oath. In this 21st century, integrity is preferable to roguery.
The Nigerian armed forces have done a lot for this country. As long as change is acceptable, they can ditch the present fear by Nigerians for appreciative respect. It’s all about making some adjustments here and there—some small, others large. That’s why the knocks had to follow the kudos.
Happy Belated Armed Forces Remembrance Day!