Dangiwa Umar’s voice of reason

Dan FulaniThe Nigerian armed forces have come under severe attack from various quarters for its handling of the insurgency in the North-Eastern part of the country.

Many residents of the affected areas have for long voiced their displeasure at the presence and attitudes of the boys in uniform. The most celebrated of such voices was that of the Borno Elders who appealed to President Goodluck Jonathan to withdraw soldiers from the streets and confine them to strategic locations in and around the conflict zones.

In recent times, the military has had to contend with various allegations of impunity and human rights abuses by no less an agency than Amnesty International. Just last week, UK’s Channel 4 aired a documentary that showed gory footings of soldiers allegedly hacking civilians and Boko Haram members to death.

Local news outlets have also accused some senior officers of not giving desired attention to the welfare of combatants who toil day and night to face the insurgents. On at least two occasions, men of the rank and file have revolted against their superiors by staging protests in Maiduguri for a better welfare and superior weaponry.

The Federal Government, through the Defence Headquarters, has always urged Nigerians and the international community not to take these stories serious. It said many of the reports were exaggerated with a view to painting the country in a negative light.

They point out the daily sacrifices their men and women make in order to safeguard the nation. To the government, what the armed forces need is constant encouragement and prayers, not distraction from international organisations and their Nigerian collaborators.

As the accusations and denials continue, what all parties, and indeed all Nigerians, tend to agree with is the gains recorded by Boko Haram in areas within Borno and Yobe states. Historical towns like Gwoza, Buni Yadi and Bama have all fallen to the brutality of the insurgents, with our soldiers nowhere in sight to defend the hapless civilians.

The ease with which our soldiers are dislodged in towns and villages has forced many to beam their searchlight on the armed forces and their strategy against Boko Haram. I know for sure that many political office holders have voiced their concerns privately and publicly about many challenges confronting the soldiers, but to have a respected former military officers speak out should force policy makers into a rethink of their strategies.

Just the other day, former military governor of old Kaduna State, Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, said that there could be more mutinies if some basic issues are not addressed by the Federal Government. Colonel Umar, who spoke to Abuja-based Daily Trust newspaper, said there were a number of challenges facing the military including, “dubious recruitment methods, poor training and equipment and lack of motivation. Unless these problems are addressed, we risk service-wide revolt.”

Another cause of the mutiny according to him was the “civilianization” of the military in which soldiers carry out police duties by “mounting checkpoints and soliciting and receiving bribes. Such checkpoint soldiers cannot be expected to fight in a war.” He also said that about 20 percent of military personnel are deployed in “extra-regimental duties such as guards and aides to people that are not entitled to such services.”

“One is shocked by the daily reports of soldiers’ revolts in the theatre of war which for all intent and purpose, the North-East of Nigeria is now involved in.  We must address the casualty factors in order to stem this dangerous trend,” he added.

All that Umar said are self-explanatory and quite frankly, deep-rooted problems that the army is fully aware of. The army authorities do not need to view every criticism with ulterior intentions. Many of these critical voices mean well for the country, and they desire to see the army succeeds in their battle to keep Nigeria safe.

In addition to Umar’s voice of reason, let me add that the issue of civil/military relations needs to be further strengthened. Our armed forces need reorientation in the areas of human rights, rule of law, negotiations, liaison and conflict management. Importantly, I feel the armed forces can do with a better information management structure.