Sunday, October 20, 2019 9:08 pm
Ny Nkrumah Bankong-Obi
There is a sense in which all soldiers are the same. And it is at the point of convergence that they begin to differ. Some embrace the aggressive shield offered by the nozzle and muscle, as others handle the gun as an instrument to expand the frontiers of peace and social cohesion. At recruitment and induction, a military personal has essentially three big Ds as a guide; in the present or the lurking future. Discharge, Dismissal or Death are never far from the reflective scalps of the officers and men who polish brass, defend their nation’s territorial integrity and guide her democracy, where necessary. Indeed sacrifice is the hallmark of all gallantry.
It becomes clear why some soldiers are consumed by the passion to save the hapless ones in their line of duty. Such fellows are imbued with enormous crimson of fellow-feeling. At critical stages of military operation, they care little about military manuals, hence such guidelines never include absolutely, the realities of daily operations. Men of that mold just desire to protect and keep lives alive. This writer while ruminating on the life of the subject of this piece, recalls the experiences of Desmond Doss, the protagonist of the 2016 flick, Hacksaw Bridge. Doss, a Private in the U.S Army declines to bear arms while his colleagues dueled with the Japanese Samurai in the Battle of Okinawa. Indeed, Doss stood on the plinth of his own life to become a “conscientious objector,” hence using his para-medical skills to save a number of his colleagues at the point where exchange of gunfire was fiercest on that flank of World War II.
Like Private Doss, Moses Bisong Obi served his nation’s army to save lives. From internal security duties in Nigeria to the wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Sudan, he has been a soldier of peace, even in a turf where recent forensic revelations have flagged up some of his former colleagues as soldiers of fortune. Here is an officer who retired as a Major General with the prestige, owing to the tremendous contributions he made to restore peace in the West African coast and in South Sudan.
General Obi’s peacekeeping posting first came when he was a midlevel officer. He served then as a Platoon Commander in the United Nations International Force in Liberia, UNIFIL. The gentleman-soldier later served as a Deputy Sector Commander in the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone. At that point, Foday Sankoh’s rebel Revolutionary Patriotic Front, RUF had Freetown in the mincer. Together with his team, Obi led Exercise Flush-out to curtail their incursion into the capital and other neighbouring towns.
As he recounted to this reporter, his field command began on a horrendous note; “As I landed in Freetown, and was flown by the Ukrainians and South Africans, fighting was going on intensely. I arrived in the midst of war. I lost a chaplain, a driver and other aides. These are the people closest to you as a commander in the warfront. This shows you how close we came to rebel fire”
Following a successful tour-of duty with the United Nations Peace-Keeping operations, he was found suitable to lead West Africa’s field response to the crisis in Liberia. As Commander, ECOMOG Taskforce in Liberia, the Nigerian saw the war in its most dreary nakedness. Again, he acquitted himself distinctively. For his sterling exploits, Obi, at the rank of a Colonel was decorated with Nigeria’s prestigious Ordinary Order of the Niger, OON by former president Olusegun Obasanjo. This recognition clearly demonstrates that Obi’s heart even at the nascent stage of his career, had a heart of muscle in a flaming loop; it expands to absorb the inane strands of evil but giving love in return, the love to save lives.
In the West African phase of his peacekeeping engagements, the self-effacing warrior saw how vane man, even the super man can be. In wars, human lives count for nothing and the things that make live pleasurable become mere debris wrought by the warped memories of man, the beast. That is why, in all battles, the postwar spectacle is a grim catalogue. “Photographers exhaustively recorded the squalor of trenches, the wasteland of battlefields and foxholes, the junk piles of decomposing bodies,” Ann Wroe, a journalist says of one historical war. No one needs to say, except to remember the dazed silence that comes with the quietness of the mighty barrels.
General Obi and all those who worked to restrain the incongruous, unprofessional rebels, their accompanying child-soldiers and the virulent diamond-rich warlords from completely annihilating their countries, deserve loud accolades. But not the Nigerians, not the strategists and tacticians but a distant super- power continues to usurp the praise for returning Sierra Leone and Liberia back to health.
No one in high mobility occupation knows when the next duty calls. For General Obi, it was not exactly a farewell to arms after the dreary West African experience. As he climbed up the ladder, the Army Headquarters appointed him as Commander of the Multi-National Taskforce in the Lake Chad Basin.
And then in May, 2010, the tireless officer made the long dash to South Sudan. The then Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, appointed Major General Obi to succeed Lieutenant General Paban Jung Thapa of Napal who had completed his tour-of-duty as Force Commander of the United nations Mission in Sudan, UNMIS. It is a known fact that South Sudan had been the playground for rival gangs, violence entrepreneurs and tribal bigots who unleashed havoc of unimaginable proportions on their fellow countrymen. Here again, he gave his best to help the peace accords signed by the warring factions take effect. He also, helped the then infant and shaky government administer the somewhat improbable nation.
It is on the record that as Force Commander of UNMIS, General Obi addressed the UN Security council five times – a rare privilege for any field military officer. It is unclear if any Nigerian has recorded this feat.
When this reporter met him at his home, the brass hat comes across as spectacular example of how a peacekeeper doubles as a historian, diplomat and tactical guide. For instance, his understanding of, and seismic analysis of the Sudan crisis effervesces competence. Apart his family and nature, he devotes his time to peace-building as a community leader. His skills have been translated to restoring peace in parts of Boki Local Government Area of Cross River State, where he is the chairman of Ochibe Boki, the umbrella body of all Boki peoples.
The United Nations equally called on him to be the Adviser at its officer for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the North East of Nigeria. The Nigerian Army also taps him to help in the molding of a new generation of military leaders from time to time. General Obi occasionally contributes to military journals.
This distinguished Nigerian was born in 1956 in Boki LGA, Cross River State. He was educated at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna Nigeria and the Command and Staff college, Jaji, Nigeria.
-Bankong-Obi is researcher. He sent this piece via [email protected]