By Ikem Okuhu
Discussing Nigeria’s glory using the past tense, like some wannabe all-conquering soldier long dead, can be excruciatingly frustrating. Although our poor exploits (or lack thereof) were always well hidden in the huge dollars from crude oil sales that the nation’s leaders have mostly squandered, the country’s military might have never been questioned. In fact, the world respected Nigeria for its dexterous military and once rated our soldiers as one of the best in Africa. In fact, as recently as 2020, the once famed ‘Giant of Africa’ still ranked 4th on the log of Africa’s best military.
Such high ranking in 2020 may have been a consequence of reputational inheritances, acquired from the days we had a military that was worth the name. From 1989 and halfway through the 90s, Nigeria was a subregional liberator and led a coalition, then known as the Ecowas Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to rid Liberia and Sierra Leone of its multiple rebel groups. These two countries would still not have become stable democracies if not for the intervention of the Big Brother of West Africa. We all still remember the medals of honour Nigerian policemen and soldiers earned for themselves and the country during various United Nations peacekeeping missions. We cannot also forget how former President Olusegun Obasanjo flew to Cape Verde to routinely ask the band of soldiers that had seized power in what was to be the country’s first coup d’état, to walk back to the barracks, paving the way for the ousted civilian regime to return to office.
I do not know whether the country could still muster the might (of mind as of military) to muscle its way over any country today. How can we when we are almost overrun by different renegade forces, each pulling furiously and ferociously from different vulnerable corners of the country’s poorly protected underbelly? It took Nigeria just 14 years, between 1989 and 2003 to quell the civil war in Liberia. It took even fewer number of years, 11 to be precise, to put those tearing Sierra Leone apart to flight. Such was the dedication and precision of the Nigerian military.
The story is however different back home where the battle to decimate Boko Haram has lasted more than 19 years with no end of the religious conflict in sight. The people of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and indeed the rest of the world, would have been wondering whether it was still the same Nigerian Army whose soldiers arrived in their countries and smoked out Sergeant Doe, Charles Taylor, Yommie Johnson, Andre Baptiste, Foday Sankoh and sundry other fortune hunters destabilizing those countries.
The lingering, and, if you like, increasingly escalating war against Boko Haram in the north east of Nigeria has very recently been blamed on what the military like describing as the “asymmetrical” tactics of the terrorists. But anyone who followed the wars in both Liberia and Sierra Leone would have been familiar with how efficient the country’s military was in dispatching the different rebel groups who mostly used the asymmetrical strategy to fend off the ECOWAS coalition forces. Why then would an army that had defeated foreign rebels that fought with the asymmetrical strategy be struggling to contain a local rebel group purportedly using same war tactic?
The answer I found in the prevailing culture of condoning ineptitude currently pervading the country.
Okuhu, a former Special Assistant to Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, is a journalist, author, farm entrepreneur, whose most recent book is ‘Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths’