Sunday, September 7, 2014 2:51 pm
An ex-officer’s memoir spills much about the Nigerian military, confirming fears that the army deserves the ‘rag-tag’ appellation
Perhaps not many people remember Alozie Ogugbuaja, the tough-talking police public relations officer. He has receded into the mountainous heap of our national historical memory. Though not the subject of the book, Ogugbuaja’s uncomplimentary but truthful remark about the army in the 1980s, was that the military had become an idle bunch whose preoccupation was liquor consumption relished with pepper soup and then coup plotting. The cop was disgraced out of the force even as no one, including his immediate colleagues, came to his rescue. Like Ogugbuaja, Colonel Gabriel Adetunji Ajayi, author of End of the Road…The Travails of an Infantry Officer, was treated uncharitably by the army, the very organ he served for 30 years, for plotting a coup that all sane people and the institutions have labelled as phantom.The objective Colonel Ajayi sets for himself in the memoir is to share with readers his hellish experiences as a victim of the country’s past, when news of coups plots roiled into military and secular politics. But then, it’s the book’s non-linear plot that lets readers into an area many Nigerians hitherto merely peeked at with trepidation. As a successful weaving of the author’s personal life with institutional fallibility and the mismanagement of a fundamental organ of society, the book jaunts through the history of various regimes – military and civil – presenting how the foibles of those juntas rubbed-off on the Nigerian Army, turning a previously fearsome force to a pauperised force whose weakness even the camouflage dress is unable to shield.
The problem with the army is caused, like many other critical problems in the country, by the absence of institutional structures. There is no provision for the various organs of government to function, unless the leader decides on their survival. During military rule, particularly the regimes of Generals Babangida and Abacha, which could be described as a national bundle of rods, everything came under the thumb of the leader. The despots had no regard for the constitution.
Ajayi narrates how dependence on the instructions of the leadership of the juntas crippled the army during the Babangida regime. He remembers, for example: “Throughout my command of the battalion the Army Headquarters withheld the release of all statutorily budgeted funds for running all units of the Nigerian Army…” Rather than direct funding, the “President had to institute direct presidential grants to units to survive”.
Besides issues of ill-equipping the armed forces, the regimes themselves, Ajayi tells us, were pre-occupied by tenure safety. Thus, vital army corps, for instance, were put into the use of the overall commanding officer, who, feeling insecure, set intelligence officers howling against their opponents. The author tells us that although Babangida and Abacha seemingly dovetailed well in their personal projects to rule Nigeria; one after another, the inner rivalry was clearly established, but which the civilians couldn’t see.
From 1985, the army, the author says, having reached its finest peak, had begun a descent to the abyss. The overthrow of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1983 signalled the return of the military to the national meat mincer. Babangida then turned the table against Buhari in 1985. Despite his maverick games with politicians, and seemingly overwhelming control of the army, Babangida remained under the cush [hence the main military power base was in the hands of the crown prince, General Sani Abacha. The Gideon Orkar attempted coup of April 1990 exposed IBB’s vulnerability and feeble grip on the army. Apart from bruising the dictator’s ego, the putsch prepared the way for Abacha to ascend office and laid the mines that crippled the army.
If anyone is wondering why the Intelligence Corps of the Nigerian Army went kaput, paving way for various crimes and various dimensions of insurgences to sprout, mature and hold parts of the nation to ransom, one needs look no further. Ajayi notes that the Gideon Orkar-led coup of 1990 was essentially a tussle between two factions of the RECCE or Armoured corps; a vital combat wing of the army that should lead the way in proactive national security. The crushing of that coup and the subsequent ascension of Abacha to the throne spelt doom for the RECCE.
Ajayi does not shy away from stating that the Intelligence Corps, from that point onward was emasculated as the general sought to maintain a chokehold command of the polity. A lot of the officers, he says, built their careers on fraud. The ascension of impunity and betrayal became so steep that officers began to carry tape-recorders about to tape private conversations with colleagues. Such gist, though truthful (but considered provocative by the Head of State or his acolytes) were turned to their paymasters, who ensured that their victim was hounded and either killed, retired or thoroughly dealt with by whatever means.
So many questions surround the relocation of the Armoured Corps from their divisional headquarters to the hinterlands. We are also in the dark as to why the National Guard, the third tier of intelligence mechanism established by IBB, was cancelled by Abacha. We ask why the Nigerian military has no defence headquarters building in Abuja or anywhere else. It doesn’t shock anyone who reads Colonel Ajayi’s book, though. The answers are there, black and white.