What a Nigerian Soldier Told Me
By: Deji Yesufu
This past week was filled with activities around the burial of my father-in-law, Prof. B. E. Olufemi, former Dean of Students at the University of Ibadan. Besides the activities and travels, I also came down with a bout of malaria – combined with stooling. I thank God and my dear wife for nurturing me back to health. By the time we returned from Ìmèsí-Ilé, where we had gone to bury Grandpa, I met a house filled with so many unfinished business. There was particularly the generator that needed to be fixed. So I took the machine to the repairer’s shop and decided to wait and collect it.
As the engineer was rounding up his work on the equipment, this gentleman drove up to us on a motorcycle. He appeared to know the generator technician. He asked him for a used plastic bottle that contained some engine oil. He was handed one. From their conversation, I could tell he might be a soldier from a nearby barrack. But he was not wearing uniform, so I asked him: “oga, you be soldier…”; “eh, now. How we go come do…” He looked like someone who would not resent some conversation so I used the opportunity to question him about the insecurity in Nigeria – especially the situation in the North East.
“Oga, wetin come dey happen for dis Borno so now? Why this Book Haram no one finish?”
With his bike balanced between his legs, he replied: “If the war finish, were you think say our oga dem go fin’ money? You no know say na when problem dey, when war dey happen, na di time money go commot buy weapon? And na from dia dem go fit find money steal?”
I have heard that line of thought from people before but coming from a soldier, it was an information that was worth noting. This guy went on to explain to me that he has been posted to the war front three times now and that he only returned just recently. He explained that the war continues not because the Nigerian army does not have the capacity to end it, but because some officers at the helm are benefitting from the continued violence. He gave the example of how ISWAP caught and killed Shekau recently. He said the army could do the same but greed won’t allow it.
“But how does this affect the morale of the soldiers on the field?” I asked.
He explained that what the media is not reporting is the high number desertions ongoing in the army. Besides the ones that are illegal, hundreds of others have already put in for voluntary retirement. Soldiers are discovering that some people in high places are simply benefitting from the blood of others. Then he told me the story of how he also nearly left the army. A few years ago while he was at the war front, reports reached him that his wife was at the point of delivering their child and yet there was no one to sign the consent form for a surgery to be performed on her. The woman was in this condition for three days. By the time the child was delivered, it was still born. His wife nearly died also.
And here he was in the middle of nowhere in North East Nigeria. He said vehicles don’t ply the road where he was stationed and so there was no way he could even leave. He said it was with great restraint that he did not turn the gun on his superior who was a Major. Eventually the woman’s life was spared and they have even gone on to have another child.
Mr. Soldier, I intentionally did not ask for his name as I would not want him to be witch-hunted, told me that the morale among soldiers is very low. He said he knew the soldier who came out to criticize Burutai some months back. He said that was the position of many of the men but since they know what they have signed for, they choose not to complain. Except that at any opportunity they have many of them flee the army to do other things.
A few days ago the Director General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brig. Gen. Shuiabu Ibrahim, said that Youth Corpers can also be drafted into the army. There was a lot of uproar as a result but what the man said is true. In fact when a nation goes to war, it immediately conscripts all its 18 to 25 year old male into the army. So youths at NYSC are more than ripe to go to war. What the NYSC DG did not explain is that there is a dwindling of man power in the nation’s military. And the fault is not the government, that continues to give the military all the resources she needs to prosecute the war; rather, the fault is the high level corruption among a few in the military itself.
One day, hopefully not too far from today, Nigerians will realize that the success of this nation lies solely in their hands. We are fond of blaming our leaders or one politician somewhere; but we forget that the politicians and our rulers (that come out of the political class) are themselves Nigerians. If Nigerians begin to think wholesomely and selflessly about this country, it is likely that this spirit and attitude will catch up with everyone. And with time we all can bring a measure of patriotism into whatever we do in this country.
The increasing insurgency in the land: Boko Haram in the North East, banditry in the North West, IPOB in the South East and a growing call for a Yoruba nation, are ideologies that are made to fester in the absence of a truly Nigerian nationalistic mindset. When we begin to think Nigeria first, our various places of origin become secondary. Then we will realize that all the money that is spent on ammunition and all the effort at quelling insurgency, can be put into educating the Nigerian mind to possessing a truly patriotic spirit. When this spirit possess the men of the Nigerian armed forces, the money they will get out of prosecuting wars will no longer be a priority. Our men will go to war with insurgents and quell these evil lot in a short while, while helping to educate their proselytes out of the evil ideologies they have imbibed.
Disclaimer: Again, I intentionally did not ask for this soldier’s name because one of the downside of the military today is the vengefulness that is run in that place. Rather than handle healthy criticism, they clamp down on all dissent. Let it suffice the reader to know that the account I gave here was a first hand report I obtained from an individual who has been at the war front. Those who may wish to doubt this account have the liberty to do so.