Thursday, 16 October 2014

Soldiers Revolt Again



Soldiers Revolt Again
When, some months ago at the heels of an attack on a school in his state where lads were slaughtered while setting the girls free with instruction never to return to school, Gov Shettima of Borno State stated rather bluntly that the Boko Haram insurgents were better equipped and better motivated than the Nigerian armed forces, tongues wagged. Many people, either without peering into the subtleties of Nigeria’s fight against the insurgents, or due to some form of sentiments for the government of the day or sentiments against those perceived to be against the government of the day for whatever reason lampooned the governor for his submission. They claimed that he did not exhibit the needed patriotism or that he was demoralizing not just the soldiers but also the entire Nigerian population. The man stood his ground and if anything, he was more dogged about that position of his.
Since then, the issue of how well soldiers are equipped to face a now clearly determined and danger-spelling insurgency – if events in Syria and Iraq with the Islamic State fighters are anything to go by – has continued to rear its ugly head in the unfolding of events. In May, soldiers at Giwa barracks fired at their GOC with a clear intention to kill, in protest of the killing of their colleagues due to inadequate weapons and a reading by them of suspect instructions from superior officers. Even the GOC that took over from him in the wake of the altercation was not spared the bitterness of the soldiers in the division. As a result, the media space was awash with report, founded or unfounded, that a number of senior military officers were undergoing court marshal. The military has since come out to “blur” the veracity of those reports.
Only within this month of August, we have seen two occasions where wives of soldiers have come out to openly protest or infact outrightly block the deployment of their husbands to go and engage the insurgents on account of inadequate equipping. The developments speak volumes to any discerning mind.
A third event played out two days ago when soldiers refused orders to deploy to Damboa and Gwoza towns from Maimalari barracks to fight the Boko Haram militants. They were reported to have, after having boarded and driven out of the barracks, stopped on the outskirts of the city and would not move an inch further until they were provided with better and adequate weapons to engage the enemy. The spokesman of the Nigerian army, Gen Chris Olukolade, was reported to have denied knowledge of the development. As for the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Minimah, he reportedly threatened the soldiers with death if found guilty of mutiny, accordingly; and as for the protesting wives, they risked whips of the “koboko” and being thrown out of the barracks.
A reading of these events lends credence to the very comments on the development credited to Gen Kolade: “that degree of cowardice is not in the character of real soldier of the Nigerian army”, he said. “Each soldier answers for his actions in terms of discipline”. He went ahead to add that “the overwhelming majority of the Nigerian soldiers remains as brave and disciplined as ever”.
From the actions of the soldiers and their wives, it is clear that Kolade is very correct, which is why the protest, or whatever you might call it, is not on whether the soldiers are ready to fight for the nation but on fitting and adequate equipment to be made available to them. The wives of the soldiers did not say that their husbands should not go to the warfront; they only said that they should be better equipped to confront the enemy. These last set of soldiers in question did not refuse to mobilize to the battle ground; they infact were enroute and then decided that the country for whom they are fighting and which is sending them on this mission should equip them adequately. This is not too much to ask. As it stands today, these soldiers have come to see themselves as mere cannon fodders in the hands of their superior officers. A soldier who spoke to the BBC Hausa was reported as saying “soldiers are dying like fowls… they (senior commanders) are sacrificing soldiers”. This is a precipitous situation for an army to reach.
The top command however is not responding to the real question. It is talking about mutiny when the men are only asking for adequate equipment. I think the military authorities should address the issues head-on. These men are ready to die for country, as Kolade has noted.
Nigerians are watching. This matter lies in the hands of the executive arm of government and the military authorities. Out of the about N5trillion 2014 budget, a whooping sum of N968billion – about 20percent – went to the defense sector. Between January and april, over N130billion was reportedly released to that sector.

BLUEPRINT Newspaper; August 21, 2014

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