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What manner of Nigerian Army?

As we grow up into adulthood, every Nigerian without exception desired a career in the military until much later when we realise that we all…

As we grow up into adulthood, every Nigerian without exception desired a career in the military until much later when we realise that we all cannot be soldiers as we melt into other callings to serve the nation, and make it great in our little ways and from our respective world views. I personally remember instances where certain situations looked ominous for the nation only for us to look up to the military which eventually saved the situation by restoring law and order. Even in 1967 when they plunged this country into avoidable bloodshed which altered our national drive towards democratic gains, it still became their lot to stabilize the country. In various internal assignments to deal with threats to the nation like we had with the Maitatsine uprisings in parts of the North, the several other disturbances across the country and of course both the Jos crisis and the Boko Haram uprising,  the military had walked into them and played their part creditably.

As a Nigerian I am proud of the Nigerian Army and like many others I look up to the soldiers to shoot their way into any matter that has the potential to break us up as a nation or even a matter that could pose danger to the indivisibility, peace and prosperity of the nation, our lives or property; and to prevail. But I must confess that the last Boko Haram crisis in Maiduguri and the way and manner the military put it down has shown to me that the type of army we have in this country and their manner of engagement leaves much to be desired. Both my residence and office are situated within a shouting distance from the Boko Haram enclave and I was a witness to how the whole thing started like a child’s play and snowballed into a conflagration. I was a witness to how lawless the Boko Haram members had become as well as the nuisance they posed.  I had over time watched how they rode on motor cycles and even on foot with an unmistakable air of arrogance and utter contempt for the law. I knew even then and I had told some friends that the day this bubble will burst I hope to be far away from it. My quarrel with the soldiers is with their apparent lack of tact, prior intelligence of the terrain, and their mentality to destroy any moving target along their path. The hundreds of innocent lives lost as a result of lack of restraint on the part of the soldiers which arose out of lack of prior intelligence on the nature of the people and their gullibility would have been spared. I say this because most of the corpses that dotted the Dandal roundabout on Shehu Laminu Way up to West End roundabout and on Sir Kashim Ibrahim road up to the Railway Junction that lead to the Boko Haram enclave were of people who, instead of fleeing, elected to stay and watch how the soldiers would deal with the problem; a very stupid, pigheaded and foolish action indeed. I lost a few friends among who was Babagana Jindi, a primary school headmaster whose Mafoni Ward area was infiltrated by fleeing Boko Haram elements with soldiers in hot pursuit. As my friend walked out of his house oblivious of the situation at hand, a bullet pierced his skull through the eye and he dropped dead.

My take on all these is that if an intelligence gathering network has been in place days before the fight started, residents around the theatre of fight will have been warned to either leave the area altogether or remain indoors. The state radio and the Fm station of Radio Nigeria will have sufficed here. Even with such a measure adopted, I still feel that some lives will have been saved if the troops have been well briefed on the need not to shoot at any moving target as they advanced towards the enclave. In any case, most of those who were shot along the road were not carrying any weapon; they looked very ordinary and had not been forewarned to clear the scene. A working relation between the military and resident undercover agents would have enlightened the soldiers on the terrain, the local innocent people and who amongst them was a threat. I think the army has a lot of work to do on this aspect of minimising civilian casualties in internal operations. The mentality engrained in the soldiers to shoot should be differentiated between how they handle external and internal enemies. The world over, armies in civilised democracies tend to be conscious of the need to save as many lives as possible even in real war situation. The kill-and-go mentality of the Nigerian rifleman in all the services should be flogged out of them through reorientation.

 Ahmed wrote from 114 Kashim Ibrahim Road, Maiduguri ([email protected])


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