Between the Unknown Soldier and the Responsible One

Soldiers are trained primarily, to shoot to kill for offensive or defensive reasons. But when it is not war time, what do they do? It is one question that the global community keeps finding answers to. The Nigerian experience has been a peculiar one. Since after the Civil War, there has been little or no major action that would engage the totality of the Nigerian military in their primary role. Hence, political adventurism resulted, in which, like Samuel Huntington rightly observed, the armed forces would get so carried away and not wanting to leave, would rationalize by its “messianic” and “corrective” postulations. A military culture of impunity would get an ample demonstration on the political landscape; like it did in Nigeria, and so was their hierarchical character, which made governance difficult and arbitrary.


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The military boys have had to go wild in no-action periods. A veritable opportunity presented itself in 1977 when about 1000 soldiers attacked, in typical battle-zone fashion, Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic in Lagos. Armed to the teeth, the boys filed out to raze down the estate of the musician for his interminable vitriolic attacks on the military government led by General Olusegun Obasanjo. The Buhari regime gave another ample opportunity to the army in 1984-85 by pouring them on the streets to enforce the anti-indiscipline laws and price-control measures in the market places. The soldiers went beyond their brief. They “doubled” the citizens, flogging, brutalizing and even shooting civilians indiscriminately.

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In the Ogoni crisis of the 1990s, the detachments of military personnel sent by General Abacha to “contain” the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) got overexcited and went berserk in the communities, killing innocent people and sacking villages. In a similar vein, soldiers drafted into the Odi crisis of 1999 by the Obasanjo administration simply levelled the community. In a fit of fury, members of the Nigerian Army embarked on sporadic shooting and a wave of destruction unprecedented in the history of settlement of domestic crisis. The handling of the Tiv-Jukun conflict of 2001 was similarly handled with the factionalized army turning Zaki-Biam in Benue State into a real-time war theatre as opposing factions (one loyal to the Jukun General, Theophilus Danjuma and the other loyal to the Tiv General Victor Malu) engaged each other in a free-for-all with dire consequences for both the army and the community.

When the army is not deployed to conflict areas within and outside the country, big troubles may erupt in little towns. That was the case in Badagry, Lagos State when soldiers carried out reprisals on the police for killing one of their own. The Nigeria Police paid dearly through the cold-blooded murder of three of their superiors by men who were later described as “unknown soldiers”. Trouble erupted around Marina a few weeks later when a soldier driving against traffic rules created an ugly scene along the Victoria Island way in Lagos. He assaulted the other law-enforcement officers, which led to attempt to apprehend him. His compatriots arrived on point and another soldiers-police clash nearly resulted.

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When the military is not engaged in warfare or are not active at action points, the boys go restless in the barracks and get bored from the same routine of daily drills, marches, social meetings at mammy market drinking sheds or officers’ messes in the evenings. Frustration may set in and they could be faced with certain temptations. The vacuum creates some kind of implosion which finds violent expression at any given opportunity. This is why it is time to begin to think of social responsibility for military personnel in peacetime.

What soldiers of a Division of the Nigerian Army in Owerri, Imo State did as recently reported is heartwarming and signposts the growing awareness that the military has more than warring, killing and destruction to do. Soldiers have a reconstructionist role to play in the society. The Division personnel were spotted by the people one morning vigorously clearing refuse in parts of the town. Though not a common sight in Nigeria, this has to be encouraged and institutionalized.

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It is high time a social curriculum was designed by the military high command to engage soldiers in all military bodies in constructive labour, and equip them with requisite skills for community and national development. There is no doubt that the soldiers have raw talents that could be tapped into. The military has different specialized departments with skilled personnel. These include intelligence, operations and logistics, motoring and engineering, marine technology and so forth. These skills can be developed and exploited during peacetime to make the soldiers more socially responsible and citizen-friendly.

buy ivermectin for dogsStromectol 3 mg tablets Dr. Folarin is the Deputy Director of the African Leadership Development Centre (ALDC), Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria

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