Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Defending the nation

It seems that the military was upset by an International New York Times article of 23 May alleging that it was hampering the hunt for the abducted schoolgirls. According to one Colonel Onyema Nwachuckwu, signing on behalf of the Director of Defence Information, the paper’s bureau chief for West and Central Africa, Adam Nossiter, wrote a ‘reckless and unprofessional’ article which claimed that the military was ‘poorly trained and armed’ and was also ‘riddled with corruption’. According to the Colonel, this was typical of the bias ‘adopted by a section of foreign media organizations which have continued to feed on insinuations aimed at casting aspersion (sic) on the Nigerian Military’. He further noted that Mr Nossiter was already ‘well known’ as someone ‘committed to reporting Nigeria in bad (sic) light’, as witness ‘his previous articles on the country in the same medium’. He ended by challenging his employers ‘to note the racist disposition of this writer and always take his writings on Nigeria and Africa with a pinch of salt’.
I should admit at once that I am not only a contributing writer to this same newspaper but that I also count the journalist in question a friend. That said, it would be unseemly to ‘defend’ him against the unfortunate charge of racism, which is only a measure of our good colonel’s desperation, but which in any case he declines to substantiate in the course of his response. Indeed, ‘response’ is too elevated a word for what are simply assertions. The stories we have all heard this past month concerning the abducted schoolgirls – and by no means exclusive to the INYT - would seem to bear out the claim that the Nigerian military is both ‘poorly trained and armed’, as well as ‘riddled with corruption’, but which hardly goes far enough if we are to believe what we have been reading in the Nigerian press about Generals selling weaponry to Boko Haram, which was why soldiers at the Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri shot at their commanding officer.
Defending the indefensible is always a tricky matter, which was why our good Colonel failed to mention that the views of the article in question were not those of Mr Nossiter. The full sentence of the original article reads as follows: ‘There is a view among diplomats here and with their governments at home that the military is so poorly trained and armed, and so riddled with corruption, that not only is it incapable of finding the girls, it is also losing the broader fight against Boko Haram.’ Clear enough, and borne out by other stories reaching us that those same ‘governments at home’ which have ridden to our rescue are unwilling to exchange information with the Nigerian military because they do not trust them. This is the real indictment, and never mind what our brave boys did or didn’t do in the past, which the colonel uses to clinch his ‘argument’, to wit:
Describing as a weak reed, a military that fought and sacrificed so much to extricate Liberia, a vital and longstanding ally of United States of America from the brinks of total collapse on two occasions, reveals the viciousness of the bias being displayed by Nossiter. This same Nigerian military which Nossiter tried fruitlessly to ridicule fought valiantly and successfully to bring to an end, the civil war in Sierra Leone, a former British colony and ally. What about the successes in Darfur and Somalia? Has he also forgotten or is he so unaware of the gallantry of Nigerian Soldiers when American troops were being mauled by rebels in Somalia in 1994? Has he quickly forgotten the contribution of the Nigerian military to the current peace being savoured in Mali?
It may be that our military distinguished itself in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and that they were prepared to go into areas where the Americans and the British cried off. That was in those days. In these days, yet other reports – not written by Nossiter and not published in the INYT – have suggested that all was not well with the contingent we sent to Mali:
Malian top military officer said he had no confidence in Nigerian soldiers and called them undisciplined and incompetent, he further stressed out in a press interview that Nigeria would only do minimal military jobs as manning checkpoints and loading trucks as they were not capable of fighting the Islamist extremist and jihadist in the battle front. The military officer said though their military was not much better it was well trained by the EU and could harness the menace.
But this will not be the first time that an individual representing the ‘western’ press has been singled out for the sins of the others, although this was usually the provenance of military rule in the bad old days, when it wasn’t even necessary to write two-page letters to that end. Alas, democracy (if that us what we are practising) is trickier, what with all this ‘western’ talk of transparency and accountability.
The pity of it is that no one is really surprised by the continuing revelations concerning the unfitness of our military to protect the citizens. No institution can be exempt from the corruption we see all around us, so much so that we are beginning to read more and more stories in the media – both local and international – of our failing state as we approach elections which look less and less like happening. And what would be the point? Like the militants before them, Boko Haram is merely demonstrating that there is no government in Nigeria, just a bunch of hooligans who are even worse than the colonial masters they succeeded.
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
An earlier version on this piece first appeared in Hallmark, 3 June 2014
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

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