Reforming the Nigerian Military To Become a World-Class Institution

President Buhari’s recent decision to inject $1 billion into the Nigerian military to fight the Boko Haram insurgency is a good one. Currently among the 25 largest economies in the world, and identified among eleven countries to be Global Growth Generators—sources of growth potential and of profitable investment opportunities—Nigeria is yet to boast the congenial environment to lure foreign investments and positively transform the lives of its citizenry. The menace of the terrorist sect, among many other perils, almost checkmates Nigeria’s prospects and fortunes. Besides, having a modern, world-class military among the top 15 fighting forces in the world should have been a natural concomitant of being among the biggest oil producers in the world. Of course, Africa’s most populous nation has a lot more going for it than oil—a lot more, still domiciled in the verdant fields of potential.

Although, if it were possible, I would advocate for a ban on all wars, but the potency of the pacifist in me, has the mere significance of a chimera, given global realities—such as Boko Haram and the extant slavery of the Nigerian. Moreover, a strong military may serve as a deterrent not only to wars, but also as a protector of human rights. The former leaders of the Nigerian military squandered its opportunities on profligacy and corruption, and therefore, it is pertinent, to caution that this billion-dollar investment is not akin to gathering water in the proverbial basket that leaks. It is time for President Buhari to purge corruption in the military, to capitalise on needed investments in the country’s fighting men and women, who safeguard Nigeria’s territorial integrity.

The woes of an average Nigerian have never been more daunting, as he risks being enslaved in his journey to economic freedom in the voyage up north in the atavistic trans-Saharan slave trade in Libya. I cannot imagine an American, no matter his hue or creed, being held as a slave in North Africa. A potent military in Nigeria will check that anathema. So, at least perhaps North Africa is somewhere President Buhari won’t find Nigeria’s looters, as slavery indiscriminately awaits the Nigerian in Libya, while Nigeria’s lethal prayer warriors will find their enslavement as just remedy for their treachery. (It is claimed that the fervent prayers of religious Nigerians, which hurled imprecations at former dictator, General Sani Abacha, led to his sudden death in the arms of foreign courtesans. I suppose it took time, for them to be pushed to the wall—especially after the corrupt military dictator’s tastes strayed overseas).

I love Nigeria, my country of origin. I have studied its history and the variegated cultures of many of its diverse people: all vibrant, gregarious, hospitable and optimistic folks, remarkable for their soul, and their mouthwatering dishes. Additionally, I have studied the history of many of its institutions intricately, including the Nigerian Military. I took a course taught by distinguished Professor Ibrahim James, who was part of the faculty at the Nigerian Defence Academy, while a student in Jos. What I learnt about the history of Nigeria’s military wasn’t pretty. Its antecedents were in the colonial forces of Nigeria’s former British colonial ruler. The Nigerian Armed Forces is the progeny of the British empire’s Royal West African Frontier Force. It was a band of natives organised by the British to further the subjugation of fellow West African “natives” or the less pejorative “indigenes” of the territories that came to be known as Nigeria.

It is no wonder that following Britain’s departure, the leadership of the forces that evolved to be the Nigerian Armed Forces, appeared to have their loyalty more committed to an extra-territorial entity that was clearly not Nigerian, if not exclusively to their self-aggrandisement.

The vaunting of the high point of the Nigerian military, is hackneyed: together with other Africans, I applaud the Nigerian military’s role in sending peacekeeping forces abroad, as a contingent in the United Nations, and in serving as the backbone of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in stemming the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.


My second country is the United States of America, and here the military sprung up out of revolutionary fervour, contradistinctively, committed to breaking all extra-territorial shackles and forms of subjugation of the Americans. Rather than the self-aggrandisement and exclusivity manifested by the archetypal Nigerian small band of warriors and soon to be insurgents, the prototype of the United States military embodied and committed to an ideal of egalitarianism (for all white men initially). And when you talk about the military defending its country and citizens, the United States military is the epitome of this noble standard, and is second to none.

Considering the backdrop of its accidental origins, the Nigerian military has hardly defended Nigerians from significant foreign aggressors. It once bullied a weak fellow African neighbour in the Bakassi peninsula and still capitulated in that conflict without protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity (although the capitulation was in consideration of the International Court of Justice’s judgment). The leadership of the Nigerian military orchestrated the institutionalisation of corruption in Nigeria, and under its watch during its numerous misadventures into politics, Nigeria became “fantastically corrupt.”

The Nigerian military has a dishonourable history of allegedly raping, pillaging, abusing, exploiting, and dividing the Nigerian people. Victims of Biafra and the ongoing conflict in the Niger-Delta have cited these allegations. Because one wears a uniform does not mean one deserves respect by default. Respect is earned from one’s actions.

The history of the Nigerian military is replete with disgraceful/dishonourable actions unworthy of soldiers/men in uniform. From treason via coup d’etats, extra-judicial murders, embezzlement on a grand scale, grand larceny, promotion of tribalism, you name every act of treachery and perfidy, and the old Nigerian military has been there. The history of the old-order Nigerian military does not bestow honour on its uniformed men, like that of the United States military does – and which it has earned from its people (its record around the world as the world’s policeman is not at issue here. The objective is to assess the performance of military forces competently responsive to the needs of its citizens first). The Nigerian military is not even capable of defending Nigeria from an invasion from powers such as Russia, China, any major foreign power that counts, but its members have bullied and denigrated its own people with impunity. What has been the return on the vast investments in the Nigerian Armed Forces? Things tenuous if not “naught.” Clearly, for Nigerians to reap the rewards of their investments in the Nigerian military, its operations must be more transparent to Nigerians and cease to be machinations of “men” lurking in shadows.

Today, the Nigerian Military has an opportunity to repair its tarnished image—through a rebirth—in fighting the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram for one; in fighting corruption within its ranks (a precondition to the infusion of more capital investments); in saying “NO” forever to military coup…

A Model To Follow

Do you know that in its 240-year fabled history, the United States military has not once committed a coup d’etat? A United States uniformed officer, among civilians, is the perfect gentleman and the quintessence of meekness: He daily exemplifies his role of protecting and serving U.S. citizens and has never lorded it over them. He is quiet, can never raise his hand to strike, much less use his weapon on an American civilian that he has sworn to protect. He honours the United States president as his commander-in-chief, whether black or white, and even if he never served in the military himself (the last four U.S. presidents, including the first black one, Barack Obama, never did). In contrast, in July 1966, a Nigerian soldier, murdered the head of state of Nigeria, and then commander-in-chief, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi in cold blood, and with impunity.

The American soldier respects and submits to the laws of the United States. There is nothing like that diminutive insignificant cowardly husband, who beats up his wife, who he is meant to protect and uses her as a punching bag, but is obsequious outside, because he is afraid of the boxer, martial artist, bodybuilders, and real men that will kick his weak shameless derriere in the public arena, where he is not an autocrat. The rules of engagement dictate that similarly situated principals engage themselves. Trained practitioners of violence, should not oppress defenceless citizens, whose resources are utilised to train the very soldiers, who betray and abuse them.

That is the history of a hitherto cowardly Nigerian military that deserves no respect. An instance of such cowardly acts by persons in uniform, was the deplorable use of a letter bomb to take the life of a family man, who was not only a Nigerian citizen, but was also a professional conducting his legitimate business – the prominent journalist, Dele Giwa.

I have honourable friends and family members, who are members of the Nigerian Armed Forces today. Even during the era of military rule, there were honourable men serving in the Nigerian military but, who were silent or silenced. I will borrow an analogy from the United States concerning the thorny issue of race. During the inception of the United States and its revolutionary wars of independence, there were some Founding Fathers fervently opposed to slavery. But their voices weren’t heard—one of them was Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. treasury secretary. During the Jim Crow era in the southern parts of the United States, some whites lost their lives fighting for equality with blacks. Honourable officers in the Nigerian military must never again allow reactionary forces that abuse a Nigerian institution made for honour and valour, to silence their voices, and scorch the conscience of the nation.

Today, the Nigerian Military has an opportunity to repair its tarnished image—through a rebirth—in fighting the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram for one; in fighting corruption within its ranks (a precondition to the infusion of more capital investments); in saying “NO” forever to military coups; in setting an example in its de-tribalisation, and enforcement of gentlemanly conduct; and in exemplary service and humility towards all Nigerian citizens, irrespective of tribe or socioeconomic status. Under the leadership of a former military man himself, who had the noble goal of purging Nigeria and the military of corruption, the Nigerian government has an opportunity to institute an authoritative body of experts to investigate the atrocious antecedents of actors in the military and to remedy abuses.

Of course, there is an opportunity for pardon for acts done in the interest of national security. However, acts committed in the furtherance of self-aggrandizement should be punishable. The present time is an opportunity for the Nigerian military to extricate its uniformed persons from conflicts of interest, and from the influence of all foreign entities and powers seeking to make Nigeria an appendage of foreign national interests. 

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