To say the least, the curious frequency with which some commanders and their troops run away from the battlefield and abandon their weapons to the Boko Haram terrorists has become a national embarrassment. More so when it is now becoming clearer that these soldiers flee not because they were poorly equipped as we were made to believe in the past.
Politics aside, the military high command particularly the Chief of Defense Staff and the Chief of Army Staff, if they are already not, should be made uncomfortable by this embarrassing development except there is something they know that the ordinary citizens don’t.
If hunters and members of the civilian JTF from these areas- Mubi and parts of Borno, could gallantly engage and, outright, defeat Boko Haram fighters without the sophisticated equipment and training our soldiers had, then obviously there is something wrong and somebody should be held responsible for this national embarrassment of our soldiers fleeing everyday from tag-ragged terrorists.
These hunters and the civilian JTF don’t have the hundreds of billions of naira given to our military every year and don’t have armoured vehicles and other sophisticated military hardwares. They are armed barely with their hunters’ guns.
How do you reconcile that? The late General Murtala Mohammed and Benjamin Adekunle had a history of shooting cowards on the spot during Nigeria’s tragic civil war. General George Smith Patton, the American World War II hero, also had a record of publicly disgracing cowards under his command.
Even our own Colonel Achuzia was notorious during the Nigerian civil war because he cannot tolerate the least iota of cowardice from any of the “boys” under his command. So it is surprising to read/hear some Nigerians making excuses for soldiers and commanders who run away from the battlefield and abandon their weapons or equipment to the terrorists.
A soldier’s loyalty should be first to Nigeria. The day a soldier feels his loyalty belongs to conflicting interests, is the day the army lose cohesion, sense of purpose, unity and the will to confront a common enemy. The greater danger is to allow politics infiltrate the armed forces, a tendency too dangerous for the ability of our armed forces to respond robustly to a common enemy- in this case the fanatics and insurgents.
Are there enemies of Nigeria within the hierarchy of our military system? A whole Nigerian army reduced to cowardice in the hands of a bunch of tag-ragged insurgents! This is unacceptable because it glaring shows that something is very wrong. Was it not this same Nigerian army that performed admirably when deployed to the war-torn Liberia in 1990, armed with just AK-47 rifles?
A few days ago, the Boko Haram terrorists reportedly claimed to have seized more than 20 armoured vehicles from Nigerian soldiers.
This claim, if true, weakens the arguments of those who blame lack of equipment for the soldiers’ reluctance to valiantly engage the terrorists.
If Boko Haram could seize more than 20 armoured vehicles from the Nigerian army as claimed by Shekau, then what becomes of the arguments of those who say our soldiers have no equipment to fight terrorism? Could terrorists have taken more than 20 armoured vehicles from an army that has no equipment to fight? When cowards run away from the battlefield and abandon their weapons to terrorists, they always blame the military authorities for not giving them the equipment to fight.
Now it is becoming very clear that abandonment of battlefield has nothing to do with lack equipment: it is sheer cowardice. Common sense would have told apostles of “improper equipping” that an army without equipment could not have provided more than 20 armoured vehicles to its troops.
There is a great difference between losing more than 20 armoured vehicles to terrorists and the lack of will to fight by cowards who run away and abandon their weapons. Lack of equipment to fight is a mere pretext to defend cowardice and we are no longer accepting this.
Most of the soldiers that run away from the battlefield usually grant anonymous interviews, alleging that they are not equipped to fight the terrorists. Could an army that lacks equipment have lost more than 20 armoured vehicles to the terrorists?
The issue is beyond the usual arguments that lack of weapons is responsible for the reasons soldiers take a flight rather than fight the terrorists. A situation where some soldiers are more obsessed with the fear of avoiding the least risks at the expense of their sense of duty to their country defeats the whole purpose of being a soldier. The late American Gulf War hero, General Norman Schwartzkopf, said if a soldier is oppressed and haunted by the fear of death, he needs not join up in the first place!
The military is not made for chocolate soldiers, who are ruled more by their persistent fears than by a sense of duty. George Washington, one of American founding fathers, said “discipline is the soul of an army; it makes small numbers formidable.”
Is the excuse for not being equipped tenable in the light of the fact that certain soldiers and commanders have totally lost the will to fight?
An inherently timid soldier, however well-equipped, will retreat to his hole like a terrified rat! Citizens don’t join the army for the beauty of the uniform. You can’t make heroes out of wretched cowards. The American Gulf War hero, the late General Norman Schwartzkopf, told his troops during a pep talk that “if you’re haunted by the fear of death, you don’t need to join up in the first place.” And that is the reality of military life.
You can’t join the military and devote more time and energy to avoiding the least risks at the expense of your sense of duty. You shouldn’t join the army mainly with a conviction that you don’t want to suffer a scratch.
Worse still, the criticisms of the penalties meted out by our military authorities to cowards in the military who emboldened terrorists have not helped this matter either.
And this is where the whole thing looks complex and very suspicious. There should be no excuses for cowardice as this destroys the corporate discipline and morale of an army. They portray the army in bad light.
Our support for our military should not only involve recognizing their sacrifices, but should also include supporting disciplinary measures against those that wilfully embolden the terrorists and strengthen their hands through cowardice.
The truth is that these runaway soldiers include northerners and southerners, Christians and Muslims. The names of those arrested for cowardice so far confirm this point. Cowardice has no ethnic or regional boundaries. It is not therefore right to assume that every liver-hearted soldier that runs away from the battlefield must be northern “Boko Haram sympathisers.” This assumption is too farfetched and far off the mark.
This is an outright manifestation of the faulty recruitment process. Most applicants who are fit and really love to join the military are most often not enlisted instead the ogas recruit their “brothers” and those who came with letters from their ogas at the top.
Some jumped into the military for lack of employment elsewhere, and not because of their burning zeal to fight for the fatherland. And if those in the management cadre of the military (whose homesteads have been overrun by terrorists) would refuse to lead expeditions to recapture such places, why do we expect mere jobbers and recruits to care any better?
A soldier who is not proud of his chosen career cannot fight and, if necessary, die for his country. When nepotism and political patronage (like what obtains in the Federal Civil Service) are the process by which new recruits enter the military, then what we’re seeing here should be expected.
All the above were said so that I can say this: Where are the service chiefs particularly the Chief of Defense and Army Staff in all these? Where are the Brigade commanders and battle instructors assigned to the battalions in the affected areas? Somebody high up there has to be held accountable for our soldiers’ current dismal performance or rather show of shame.
Truth be told, this matter has nothing to do with President Jonathan neither with the Defense Minister or the National Security Adviser. These two men (the minister and the NSA) are mere political appointees who have no direct bearing on operational issues. This is purely a field operational issue and if the military high command cannot effectively control their men and officers in the field, then they have only one option and that is to ship-out. Period! We need to tell ourselves the truth no matter how bitter it comes.
The rot in the Nigerian nation state has eaten so deep as far as the military. Only our collective will and belief coupled with a very strong and selfless leadership would enable us solve this problem. This is my message and God bless Nigeria!
The writer, Ifeanyi Izeze lives and writes from Abuja. Email: [email protected]