The Boko Haram – fuelled insurgency in Nigeria, particularly in the North -Eastern part of the country has led to regrettable loss of lives, including those of troops fighting in the frontlines. Only recently, two lieutenant colonels reportedly lost their lives in a Boko Haram ambush just as no fewer than 50 soldiers have either been killed or gone missing within the last one month. A good number of these lives were lost in attacks on military bases in the frontline states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Dozens of military personnel, the police and officers of other security agencies have been killed by the insurgents over the years.
Soldiers have often complained of poor welfare and remuneration as well as lack of arms and ammunition to frontally confront the insurgents. These issues have in the past led to confrontation between the soldiers and superior officers. In 2016, soldiers attempted to lynch the then commander of the Nigerian Army 7 Division, Maimalari Cantonment, Victor Ezeugwu, after he allegedly left them in the warfront for two days without food.
It is for these reasons that we find the recent allegation of cowardice levelled against men and officers of the Nigeria Army by the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Tukur Buratai unfair and a dance on the graves of dead soldiers just as it is a morale killer for those still fighting in the war-torn areas.
In his well publicised comments, Lt Gen. Buratai accused soldiers of showing poor commitment to almost every assignment to defend the country, a situation he described as “unfortunate” and responsible for sparse promotion in the military rank-and-file.
“It is unfortunate, but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigeria army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks.”
“Many of those on whom the responsibility for physical actions against the adversary squarely falls are yet to fully take ownership of our common national or service cause,” Buratai had said, adding that the alleged laziness of soldiers could also be traced to “simply insufficient commitment to a common national or military course by those at the frontlines.”
As if that is not bad enough, the army chief has threatened to continue to deprive officers of promotion unless for a few who display an exemplary commitment to national service.
We hasten to remind Buratai part of the reason for the sparse promotion in the military rank-and-file is President Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence on keeping him in office despite his glaring underperformance, as a result of which the careers of some officers has been stagnated while many others have been retired. This, more than anything else, is a demoraliser. Under Buratai, there has been monumental loss of lives of frontline officers amidst complaints of poor welfare, months of unpaid allowances and lack of required firepower to match that of the insurgents. These, are the issues, which in our opinion, the army chief should bother himself with and work towards addressing. The army, under Buratai has enjoyed tremendous goodwill both in terms of funding from the government and support from the public and what the citizens expect is results, not buck passing as he is wont to do, having previously accused officers and men of cowardice in 2018.
A former president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, had a sign on his desk with ‘The buck stops here’ inscribed on it. This was meant to indicate that he didn’t pass the buck to anyone else but accepted personal responsibility for the way the country was governed. This is what we expect of the army chief.
Buratai, in our view, needs to desist from this condemnation of soldiers battling to end an insurgency that appears to have defied all solutions and with no end in sight, and focus on addressing those issues the soldiers have often complained of. He needs to show respect for the memory of fallen soldiers and commend the efforts of those still fighting in the frontlines.
Better still, his comments tantamount to admittance of failure in the very task of defending the nation’s territorial integrity as the Chief of Army State. In that case, he should honourably throw in the towel than hang on to the very critical assignment with an abysmal record of performance.