Daily Trust (Abuja)

25 February 2013

Nigeria: Our Country, Our Generals, Our Burden

opinion

Perhaps for the first time ever a serving Chief of Army Staff has addressed a press conference to explain the arcane criteria supposedly adhered to when impartially promoting and subsequently retiring generals in the country. But beyond the meander of official explanations and the actual reasons that necessitated the press conference in the first place, the bloated relevance of our top heavy military in an anti-people economy such as under the current dispensation is the main issue that was not addressed.

In the world over military forces are a compulsory load on taxpayers except notably in Egypt and Turkey which Nigeria should emulate, but only if our nation can muster enough incorruptibility, our National Assembly the imagination and our Commander in Chief the will to do so.

The Egyptian military produces its own food, water and textiles out of its own factories. And widely reported is the fact that "they produce almost anything the army could conceivably require to function, ostensibly to take the burden off Egyptian taxpayers. During civilian shortages of certain goods, the military would open its surpluses and production to the population at large, thereby adding to its lustre". In Turkey the largest business conglomerate is OYAK, an armed forces behemoth with assets up to $50 billion incorporating 60 companies and affiliates that employ 250,000 civilians. OYAK manufactures cars, produces iron & steel, cement and is into oil and gas. It is also into construction, information technology, power generation& distribution and food processing amongst many others. It also produces Turkey's military insignias, uniforms, armaments and assembles aircraft and even parts, OYAK is also an administratively and financially independent legal entity attached to the country's Ministry of Defence.

That is exactly the kind of scenario Nigeria should strive for not holding press conferences on ethno-religious divides.

Another pertinent issue raised by General Azubike Ihejerika is that of "age on rank". This is unfortunately another punitive and unnecessary distraction that has impacted negatively on our military. The country is so awash up with so many well trained retired generals and their equivalents drawing heavy pensions without the country maximizing the benefits of its investment on such highly skilled persons hacked down into a frustrating premature retirement by some obscure policy conceived by self serving and myopic technocrats. Our military in times past have always had generals serving under their juniors particularly during the General Yakubu Gowon era. Internationally, even during Operation Desert Storm its commander General Norman Schwarzkopf reported to General Colin Powell who was 2 years his junior at West Point and 4 years younger by age. What matters most is the chain of command not the individuals, their ethnicity or their religion. Stormin' Norman was commissioned as an officer in 1956 which makes him militarily senior to all Nigerian generals ever (serving and retired) except General Aguiyi-Ironsi yet he was in US Army service up to 1992. Another prominent case in point is that of a youthful North Korea leader Kim Jung-Un frequently reviewing troops alongside probably the most geriatric generals anywhere overseeing one of the world's most formidable militaries.

In other climes all previous military expeditions are characterized by subsequent major reforms. After the Vietnam War the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became public discuss in the United States so was the Gulf War Syndrome after Desert Storm 2. Our boys have disastrously been to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Darfur and are now in Mali yet our military has never done a damage assessment in the public domain on how the general populace can help psychologically rehabilitate these service men and now women into society. It does not take a great imagination to propose that the insurgency, kidnappings and crude oil theft raging in parts of the country must have value added support from disgruntled killing machines maliciously eased out of military service at their prime many with scorn and sometimes invective. The recent case of Officer Dorner formerly of the US Navy and LAPD easily comes to mind.

The Nigerian military has however come a long way. Gone are the "batchas" and our officers are now so urbane and highly intellectual that they no longer ask "who bil dis gada?" Gone are also the days that batmen melt candle wax with charcoal irons on uniforms and "mad dogs" snarl in traffic gridlocks. The "zombie" years are gone but our military should at least produce the shoe polish for their jackboots and toothpicks for the officers' mess.

Yahaya-Joe wrote from France Road, Kano

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