AS Nigeria passes through these troubled times, it is important to admit all inadequacies if the times would ever pass and not become permanent. Apart from other dysfunctions within the polity, the threat posed to the country and its citizens by the campaign of terror of the militant group, Boko Haram, has no doubt opened a can of worms regarding the combat readiness of the country’s security forces, worms that must be banished if the nation would not be swarmed.
Recently, the Governor of Borno State, the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives and troops that are engaged with the insurgents in combat complained that the military is ill-equipped to fight the insurgents. Indeed, the inability of the country’s security forces to contain the insurgents has now caused the Nigerian military a huge embarrassment in the international community and the setbacks as well as discomforting reports of the state of the troops’ combat readiness is worthy of concern. After all, it has already resulted in avoidable casualty and a consequent mutiny in one of the military formations in the country. This obvious deficit must be addressed for a number of reasons.
One, the military institution is the material force of the state and must be capable of fulfilling the function of protecting the nation. Secondly, the military is the most unifying institution in the country, and thirdly, the institution has played a critical role in restoring peace and democratic governance to neigbouring countries in West Africa. It has also been active in peace-keeping operations under the auspices of the United Nations globally. So, the Nigerian military has a rich legacy. But for this legacy to be sustained, it must meet its responsibility as the amour of the state and its vitiation by whatever means must be avoided.
In grappling with the current circumstances, a historical reflection is inevitable. The military institution suffers from a foundational ‘Glover syndrome’, a situation where it has always distanced itself from the society and perceived it as an abstract construct, thereby alienating the rest of society from itself. Whereas in theory and practice, it ought to defend societal interest, the military’s incursion into politics and the corresponding spectacle of counter-coup d’etat brought down its espirit de corps. It was the case that once in politics, certain branches of the armed forces were treated preferentially according to the whims and caprices of whoever was the commander-in-chief as a form of guarantee against possible coup. Such was the state that a former army chief noted that “it became the norm for subordinate officers to sit, not only to discuss their superiors, but to pass judgment, of course in absentia. We became an army where subordinate officers would not only be contemptuous of their superiors but would exhibit total disregard to the legitimate instructions of such superiors.” Indeed, the Nigerian army became “an army of anything goes.” To be sure, military rule so eroded internal cohesion and professionalism of the institution that military officers became political officers chasing after wealth by means of primitive accumulation.
The point has now been made that the morale of the military is low. And, also, there is dearth of equipment. Data on military expenditure in Nigeria between 1999 and 2005 averaging 1.3 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shows that the military may have been underfunded over-time. In recent times, however, an improvement in funding has not resulted in corresponding professionalism and performance. Although military hardware are expensive, a logical question still is: what have the defence officials and National Security Advisers been doing? What happened to the trillions of naira voted for defence in the last three years? What of the security votes and sundry extra-budgetary allocations for security? What is the nature of the procurement process within the military? Military expenditure is very opaque in an environment characterised by almost total non-control by the ministry of defence which, in the past, and in more civilised societies, has pre-eminence over the armed forces. Then there are the additional issues of absence of sound and steady defence policy as well as strategic, engineering and accounting expertise for arms purchase. Certainly, the Nigerian military needs to be reformed to restore professionalism.
Regardless, of the current contradictions, the service chiefs must be responsible to the defence ministry as well as the president who appoints them all. The procurement process must become more transparent. This should be easy as armament purchase is done on government to government basis. Loopholes for the purchase of second rated materials in the black market should be plugged. Professionalism is a categorical imperative and it entails, among others, strictly disciplined conduct, sound equipment, great motivation as well as rigorous and strategic training of the fighting components of the military. The glory of the Nigerian armed forces must be restored. And the time is now.