In my adult age, I have regrettably come to know eulogies are hard to extend to the Armed Forces or armed men in uniform nowadays. Though the Nigerian Army is indubitably the most prominent among the three arms of Nigerian military, it is one such institution which suffers public ignominy.
Nigerian soldiers, hitherto revered, in my days of youth, became derided and hardly appreciated by the same people it serves at a minutely risk of their lives. No one was ready to sympathize with them at moment of trials or even think positively of their salvation roles in nationhood.
Obviously perturbed, I undertook a private study to unearth the reasons for this depth of this hatred of the Nigerian Army. I painstakingly followed the feelings, emotions and reactions of Nigerians for some time on issues, which affects the Nigerian Army.
And quite shockingly, I discovered that even when a soldier dies on the battlefield, it is not only so much heartless for us not to be unemotional or pensive about his brutal demise in the hands of our enemies. We hate to even know he died in the course of protecting us or while battling to give us peace and security in the comfort of our homes.
Worse still, we do not usually find it strange, and casually dismiss his death as one of the hazards of his profession. But oddly, the death of a politician or local councilor in a community attracts wailings and days of prayerful wishes for the repose of his soul. We ascribe to him lofty status, even when he contributed nothing either to us personally or the community while alive in the service of the state.
What confounded me most was that the respect Nigerians had for a soldier dissipated rapidly and sustained for over two decades. The indulgence of soldiers into partisan politics at the expense of professionalism and expertise in warfare angered Nigerians infinitely. It reduced the worth of an average soldier in the estimation of Nigerians.
I quite agree with Nigerians who felt disappointed with the Nigerian Army and extended hostility, instead of gratitude to soldiers. I still recollect vividly the perception as a growing up boy, about soldiers as potential millionaires’ once someone conscripted into the Nigerian Army. The likelihood of his growing up to become a MILAD or appointed into any other political office was quit high.
Even among peers, we could giggle and hail friends who joined the Army by flattering them with the appellation “potential MILAD.” This feeling completely extinguished the spirit of professionalism, discipline, loyalty and patriotism among soldiers.
I saw the incompetence of the Nigerian Army manifest at the return of Nigeria’s democracy in 1999. Soldiers displayed very confounding helplessness in quelling internal insurrections or armed local conflicts that surpassed the competence of regular security. They faltered badly at combat fronts.
So, militancy thrived unabated; lethal separatism movements’ choked Nigerians; religious extremists and fanatical sects punctured the serenity of Nigeria unchallenged; armed banditry and cattle rustling became a vocation and the most urbane of them all was the deadly progression of Boko haram terrorism. Indeed, from officers to other personnel, Nigerian Army displayed a shameful incompetence that attracted widespread public mockery.
We lost the soul and integrity of a once cherished armed force because they could not perform their professional and Constitutional duties. Meanwhile, soldiers became astute backdoor electoral kingpins and election riggers for politicians. They effortlessly and with the smallest bait, unprofessionally and unlawfully obstructed the electoral process for pecuniary benefits.
The Nigerian Army was indisputably one of the public institutions most abused by politicians. Soldiers were almost destroyed by politicians as officers and personnel abandoned their core military training for politics and unhealthy indulgence into petty national issues that had no correlation with their professional oath of service. The public spite of soldiers understandably accentuated and they courted more haters, than lovers; failed woefully in the execution of professional assignments as they shined more in partisanship.
This was the Nigerian Army President Muhammadu Buhari inherited in 2015. Mr. President knew a nation without an Army was endangered by its own whimsical and self-inflicted pitfalls. He wasted no time in searching inwards and fished out a competent, tested, thorough bred, disciplined and core professional soldier, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Gen. Buratai doubled as the henchman of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria.
But basically, President Buhari knew; only Gen. Buratai could reposition the Nigerian Army in professionalism, discipline and conduct. The Army Chief has not disappointed either. He has been able to achieve the total overhaul of the Nigerian Army within an incredibly short time. He has reclaimed and restored the lost glory of soldiers, which was familiar to Nigerians in the days of yore.
Today, like in the olden days, Gen. Buratai has re-fixed and rejigged the narrative of the Nigerian Army within the last two years. From the tales of doom, it is now unrestrained applauses of the progress and prosperity of the Nigerian soldier from the same Nigerians who derided them.
Myself, like any other Nigerian, now see or encounter a Nigerian Army which is the epitome of courage, discipline, gallantry and strength. Professionalism and adherence to international best practices on Rules of Engagement (ROE) while on special assignments has attracted nation-wide applauses and beyond. Like footballers, we can proudly say, our soldiers are back to “form,” strewing the path of the winnings or victories under Lt. Gen Buratai.
I get pleasantly baffled now, when I see Nigerian soldiers faze and subdue terrorists smartly. I see soldiers, who intellectually confront other agents of darkness, which have tormented us and breathlessly trail them on their tracks. An Army which anchors both physical and cyberspace terrorism warfares so elegantly and effectively, striving centuries ahead of the fake propaganda contrivances of insurgents. A new Nigerian Army, where probity and transparency are the hallmarks under Lieutenant General Buratai, the books are not only opened but clean as finance staff have lost their pot-bellies.
Our country, Nigeria is now a proud nation where terrorists can no longer intimidate our troops or the people. Rather, insurgents cringe at the sight of our soldiers; hundreds, including top commanders, even surrender to Nigerian Army and renounce Boko Haram terrorism.
Soldiers now capture terrorists alive and seize their cache of arms and ammunitions. This is the new spirit Gen. Buratai has inculcated in the re-oriented, reenergized, reinvigorated and re-professionalized Nigerian soldier. I therefore heartily say, welcome back to us, Nigerian Army!
That today, we have an Army which has earned public respect; soldiers who have untainted reputation on discipline that glows from the COAS to the last soldier, enlivens our souls. It is another reason we are standing on the tripod with a clear conscience to echo loudly that , welcome back, our cherished Nigerian Army.
It is enough joy and consolation that Nigeria has regained its respectful position in the league of nations, with Armies globally venerated for performance and the observance of strict military culture and standards. To all these, we say a warm welcome back, Nigerian Army.
Indeed, back home and throughout Nigeria, in the Southeast, Northeast, South-South, Southwest and North Central, solace has berthed on our land and Nigerians have been extricated from all acts of terrorism. The menace of bitter and overt or veiled acts of terrorism which became tormentor-in-chief of Nigerians have been dissolved or eclipsed by Nigerian soldiers. And to this relieve, we unanimously chorus, welcome back, Nigerian Army!
But most profoundly, our temples of celebration, previously caged by virulent Boko Haram terrorism, which puffed unconquerable might, because of the disappointing incapacity of Nigerian soldiers to tackle insurgency, militancy and other armed local conflicts in the past is now history.
It is a new era and a new dawn for the Nigerian Army in the country now, which is a clear indication that the real Nigerian Army was on sabbaticals. But it has bounced back with vigour, courtesy of Gen. Buratai. So, in Northern Nigeria, the repressed militant Islamic terror sect, Boko Haram insurgents, which once held the people at the jugular, the freed people are jubilantly saying, welcome back Nigerian Army.
Therefore, to our valuable, rebranded and reformed Nigerian Army, under the leadership of Gen. Buratai, we chorus a resounding welcome back, our soldiers, for wiping off our tears and making life once more meaningful to Nigerians. The cynicism of the past about the Nigerian Army has paved way for pessimism and confidence in the capabilities of the Nigerian soldiers of today. Once more, welcome back from a long and unexpected sabbatical leave, Nigerian Army.
*Angula writes from the United Kingdom.