Officers of the armed forces enlist in the service to give the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for their country. It does not mean they have to give it but If they must, one should expect it to be for a cause that defends and protects the borders they swear allegiance to. A sacrifice, by definition, improves a condition.
This week, 44 soliders of the Nigerian Army were reportedly killed by Boko Haram in Borno state. It is a new episode of the demoralizing series which Nigerians are becoming accustomed to; soliders being attacked at their military bases and overcome in embarrassing fashion. It recurrs at a pace that weakens the image of the nation’s defence. With each new story of this form, ordinary Nigerians become less confident and care less. This should not be so.
Among the servicemen killed on Sunday were three officers and their commanding officer. A member of the Army told AFP that “our troops were completely routed and the terrorists captured the base after heavy fighting”. Have we heard this before? Unfortunately yes. When will it become a thing of the past? When?
Nigeria’s military apparatus is respected on the continent and in the world. We have made notable interventions in countries from West Africa to Congo. There is a tradition of competence, bravery and of courage. The Nigerian solider is a proud, confident and broadly patriotic officer. Through NYSC, most people below 50 have come in close contact with a number of them for a three-week period at least. In that time, regardless of the unpleasantness of the morning beagle, you will still inch for the moment to take a photo with any one of them. I should know; I did NYSC and made sure to obtain such a photo. It was a privilege, one moment where it meant something to be a Nigerian.
Without searching, I was pleased to be recommended a video published by the Nigeria Air Force on a random stroll online few days ago. The 27-minute documentary shows trail-blazing women of the service excelling in various capacities at virtually every unit of the service from flying and combat, to engineering and training. Early this year, Flight Lieutenant Nkemdilim Anulika Ofodile Keku who holds a PhD in Control Engineering, was in the news for the best reasons. She is an invaluable asset to NAF, helping to design the country’s first Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The impression from the strides made within her time in the service so far is that she is a dedicated servicewoman who will only keep breaking grounds under the right environment.
See the zeal and enthusiasm in Ofodile’s colleague, Flight Lieutenant PN Chankat who is part of the NAF Special Operations Force currently deployed in conflict zones around the country. “I feel so fulfilled on earth doing this” she says in her field gear and bearing a rifle like your typical alert soldier in battle. “It has prepared me to be ready to sacrifice my life, my energy, my everything to the nation”. Aircraftwoman Iyala, also on the special force, was born into a family of an infantry solider. She says she is looking forward to leading a squad in battle someday because she has the strength and determination.
These brave, exemplary patriots deserve that their service be matched in care and commitment by the most chief among their commanders.
The Senate, on Thursday, adjourned plenary in honor of these 44 slain soldiers. It is a cute gesture but if the National Assembly does not take the welfare and integrity of the nation’s defence architecture as a first-class priority, such tokens of honor will look more like excuses for skipping work in order to pursue campaign goals. There was strong hope that President Muhammadu Buhari would be firm in re-organizing the shape and standing of the Army but that has not materialised. Indeed, former president Olusegun Obasanjo may have fallen out with the president for failing to heed one of his petitions just after election results were confirmed in March 2015: to reform the military, the institution which nurtured both men, from much harm done to it.
The harm continues to be done, in scores. It’s become too often that we can’t keep score. Nigeria’s servicemen and women deserve much better than to be ambushed and killed by thieves and truants. Who will rid Nigeria from the continuity of this shame?
Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform