Never in the history of our country have we witnessed the current situation where not only the contents of classified documents are splashed in the media but the bromides of such correspondences as well. In some cases, even before they reach the officials to whom they were directed. Unauthorized leaks pose a serious threat to the security of any nation and given what is coming out from the $9.6 billion judgement fiasco, an issue I am still digging into, I can hazard a guess that the obscure London firm knows everything that was happening on the Nigerian side. That our officials might have been leaking to them all government memos on the case, given the lack of discipline within the system, could only have helped their cause. I will also not be surprised if the beneficiaries waiting in the wings to ‘obtain’ from this humongous loot at the expense of our country are themselves Nigerians!
While that is an issue for another day, I am more interested in a letter that is going the rounds on WhatsApp because of its implications for our national security. Addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, the United Nations and other institutions, including the military, the ‘Letter of warning about overstayed troops here in Northeast’ claims to be from soldiers of 202 Tank Battalion Bama, Borno State. “It is with pain we are writing to you. We wish to bring to your notice that we have overstayed here in the Northeast. We were inducted in this operation on 10th March 2014 to fight Boko Haram insurgents”, they wrote, sharing their sordid experiences in the past five and a half years at the same location. “We are the only oldest Armoured Battalion in the Northeast and they don’t want to change us”, alluding that their plight can be located in the fact that they have no godfather.
Aside levelling the usual accusations of mismanagement of resources against the commanding officers, they claimed to have only been out of base (on pass) only four times within the past five and a half years. “We are begging the president, the FG, CDS and COAS to look into our case because our homes have scattered, some of our children don’t know us … some of our parents died of BP because of the situation on ground and the news they listen to everyday, the ladies we want to marry have left us because they are tired of waiting on empty promises… We have lost a lot, please we want the Army to come and change us before it will be too late,” their open letter stated.
Having spoken to knowledgeable people in the military, I will break their issues down before offering my own conclusion. The standard operating procedure (SOP) designed by the United Nations is that a tour of duty is six months. The whole essence is to ensure that troops don’t stay too long away from their family for fear of Sexual Exploration and Abuse (SEA) and most importantly, battle fatigue. This is however applicable only to troops deployed outside their country of origin. When troops are deployed within the country in peace time, there is no limit to how long they can stay. For counter insurgence operations like Boko Haram, however, the tour of duty is clearly defined and what is happening to the soldiers of 202 Tank Battalion is abnormal.
In 2017, according to military sources, a plan was designed for rotation of troops after one year tour of duty by the current Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai. The plan was based on ‘First to Arrive Theatre of Operation; First to depart’. It was the injustice in the execution of the plan that led to the current agitation. Those that have over stayed are not given priority; you must know somebody who can pull strings for you before you are posted out. The letter also responded to the recent allegation by Buratai that soldiers are not willing to fight, by questioning his integrity before highlighting some of the plights of the troops. Incidentally, the six-month tenure extension granted Buratai and other service chiefs last December by President Buhari lapsed in June and they are still in the saddle, two months after!
Perhaps, the greatest challenge in the letter is the communication gap which raises anxieties and rumours. I understand that periodic durbar session (town hall meetings) with unit commanders, during which troops air their challenges, is the standard practice. The approach adopted by these soldiers shows that either the medium has not been granted or the outcomes are ignored. Without holding brief for the commanding officers, however, inadequate logistics in operations and the enormity of internal security challenges may have undermined the attention they give to these complaints. Often, even commanders are paid late and meagre sums. Yet as leaders, they don’t disclose their challenges to troops.
The fact that personnel emoluments are inadequate without other streams of income to meet sundry responsibilities to family and the society usually causes traumatic stress for soldiers on the warfront. Prolonged stay in missions compound the problem because the men are not there to see their children through schools or support their aged parents. Our society is fluid and the pains these soldiers feel when they meet seemingly more successful school mates and peers add to the pressure. In the midst of that, seeing colleagues being unduly favoured with choice postings and appointments can only damage morale. The letter gives cause for a holistic review of the way soldiers are managed. Duration for soldiers on internal security should be fixed and enforced without bias.
My personal take is that the current agitation is more about the way the fighting is being coordinated with regard to logistics support, rate of casualties, bad burial procedure for fallen colleagues, weapons availability, corruption and poor rotation plan. In addition, the false claims about the ‘technical defeat’ of Boko Haram, and politicization of the military are among other reasons for the current agitation. I strongly recommend that these threats be taken seriously. If there is a mutiny, a resurgent Boko Haram will be difficult to contain. It will take time, reorganization and enormous resources to get the troops back to focus.
But whatever we do, it is now clear that Nigeria’s national security architecture is in dire need of rejigging. The open distrust, indeed hostility, between the army and the police highlights the problem. Following the re-arrest on Monday of the kidnap suspect, Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume, the statement released by the police was loaded: “…The suspect, who was appropriately restrained at the time of the incident, was subsequently released by his ’rescuers’ after they had destroyed the restraining handcuffs.” The video clip of the confessional statement made by Wadume which indicts the army was also released to the public by the police.
While President Buhari must deal with the growing hostility between the army and the police which bodes ill for our national security, the petition of the soldiers is proof that all is not well with the anti-insurgency war. Duration of tour of duty is a critical factor in managing deployment of troops and maintaining their morale before battle fatigue sets in and the more human needs for family and fellowship begins to override the zeal to fight. Worse still, if the confidence of the rank and file in their superintending authorities decline, the effectiveness of command and control will lag.
In the best of military traditions, troop rotation time frame is part of regimental order. It is not subject to the whims and caprices of individual commanders. From all indications, it would appear that the professionalism of our military has been stressed to the point of compromise, as we saw with the Taraba tragedy I wrote about last week. An intervention is required to urgently address a phased reduction of military involvement in civil security duties. A military force with inadequate training and discipline, and which embodies the worst vices of society, is no better than a band of licensed criminals.
Of Talent and Character
Something remarkable happened at the 4th edition of the annual Teens Career Conference organized by my church, The Everlasting Arms Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Abuja last Saturday. For the morning session, following on the success of last year, we decided to break the conference into 18 discussion groups with a maximum of 50 participants in each. With ‘Nurturing your talent; developing your character’ as theme, we settled for three quotes as topics for the breakout sessions. One, “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work” by Emile Zola. Two, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost but when character is lost, all is lost” by Billy Graham. Three, “Talent is a gift but character is a choice” by John Maxwell.
With each group moderated by a respected professional from our church, the teenagers were to discuss the topics at the end of which they would select someone to present their report to the larger audience. Quite naturally, each group nominated the person they considered their best to represent them. As it turned out, in one of the groups, that best happened to be a Muslim and despite knowing the faith he professes (which he didn’t hide), his colleagues had no hesitation nominating Ibrahim Lawan Ahmed to present their views to the larger congregation.
Ibrahim was in my office on Monday and we had an interesting chat. He read political science at the Bayero University, Kano and said he registered for the conference after reading about it on this page. But as he told me, his nomination to represent his group last Saturday surprised him. “‘This is a Church programme’ I exclaimed but they all said it didn’t matter”, said Ibrahim whose presentation was applauded because he drew from both Christianity and Islam to make his point about the importance of nurturing talent and developing character.
The annual conference which draws teenagers from Abuja and environs was conceived to, among other objectives, teach them to take responsibility for their future, have their imagination fired up through interaction with accomplished professionals in the society, make them realize that no matter the odds they can reach their goals; and also get them to understand that God still intervenes in the affairs of men. But we also made it clear from the outset that we would not turn back anybody who may wish to attend on account of their faith and we have stayed true to that.
Last Saturday, we had two accomplished personalities for the afternoon session: Popular comedienne, Dr Helen Paul and the governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi. Both speakers harped on character development through consistency, diligence and what is done when no one is watching. Helen Paul, who shared the story of the circumstances surrounding her birth and how some of the people she looked up to used that against her, admonished the teenagers to believe in their dreams no matter what anybody says. “Follow the right people and they would show you the way but you must also keep learning and keep reading while holding on to enduring values”, said Helen Paul.
In his presentation, Dr Kayode Fayemi shared ten principles, five on how the teenagers can nurture their talents and five on how they can develop their character, while urging them to delay gratification. “What are the moral codes that we have chosen to live our lives by? My advice to you is to define the values that work for you, write them down, and find somewhere in your room to stick the list up to remind you every single day”, Fayemi told the audience.
Even though we started small, there is no longer any doubt that the Abuja Teens Career Conference scheduled for August every year has come to stay. At the maiden edition in 2016, our speakers were: Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, former Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) chair, Mrs Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, then PenCom Director General, Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu and the grandfather of contemporary comedy in Nigeria, Mr Atunyota Alleluya Akpobome, popularly known as Ali Baba around whom we built the theme: ‘Your Life, Your Future, Not a Laughing Matter!’
In the second edition held in August 2017, we had the wife of the Vice President, Mrs Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of the late former Kaduna State Deputy Governor, Mrs Charity Shekari, former Education Minister, Mrs Oby Ezewesili and veteran actor, Mr Richard Mofe Damijo (RMD). The theme was, ‘Life is a Stage’. And last year, with ‘If you can dream it, you can make it happen’ as theme, our speakers were Mrs Folorunsho Alakija of Famfa Oil; then House of Representatives Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara; Deputy European Union Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Robert Young and social media influencer, Mr JJ Omojuwa, whose new book on digital wealth creation is as compelling as it is inspiring.
Incidentally, when we started four years ago, it was very tough getting teenagers to register for the conference. I personally had to go from one youth group in Abuja to another, pleading with them to let their members register and I will never forget one unpleasant experience. However, interest has grown over the years such that many parents now beg to get their wards enlisted after we have closed the registration portal. And as both my pastor, Eva Azodoh and my boss, the Junior Church leader, Ms Elizabeth Ekpenyong concluded, the conference keeps getting better and bigger every year. Interestingly, there is one particular family living in Jos, Plateau State, who have brought their children to attend every year without fail.
Since attendance is free and participants have both tea-break and proper lunch aside other expenses we incur, I must acknowledge the support of many friends who have over the years been there whenever I call. I cannot thank them enough. While I will not mention their names, they will be receiving letters from my Pastor for their kind support. But I must single out for mention two people. First, the editor of Sunday THISDAY, Mr Shaka Momodu who used his good offices to offer a tremendous assistance. Two, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, Mr Samson Itodo for their partnership this year. I hope we can work together in the years ahead as we seek to impact the lives of our young adults still looking for direction.
Meanwhile, videos of the presentation by both Fayemi and Helen Paul and other reports as well as photographs from the conference are on our website, www.rccgteapteens.org.
Jumia and Pirated Books
On Monday, an Italian friend residing in Lagos sent me a WhatsApp message, following receipt of four copies of my book, ‘From Frying Pan to Fire’ ordered through Jumia. She could not understand why the copies delivered were somehow different from the copy I had earlier autographed for her. “The quality of print is inferior and the page formatting not aligned”, she wrote with snapshots of the cover and some inside pages. I knew instantly that the copies bought from Jumia were pirated. When I forwarded the message to Bookcraft, I got an immediate reply: “Jumia did not get any copy from us. We only sell on Konga.”
Whether as a writer or film producer, it is difficult to operate in the creative industry in Nigeria because you just work for others. I cannot remember how many times I have accosted boys who sell my books on the streets of Abuja. I have even bought different versions of each of them which I keep as mementoes. I usually engage the vendors in a friendly manner. For the latest, ‘Frying Pan to Fire’, one told me his copies were being brought in from Kaduna while another said his own version was being produced here in Abuja. Since efforts to get the authorities to follow up on the real people behind the criminal enterprise has not worked, my attitude has been to leave the vendors who are merely trying to eke out a living.
But a company like Jumia cannot be involved in this sordid practice. On their website is the cover photograph of my book with a list of bookshops where buyers can get copies, the prices and sales rate. These bookshops include Zino’s Stores with a copy going for N2,100; Allwell Stores, selling at N2,300; Ewomazino Stores selling at N2,500; Reliable Store selling at N2,550 and two ‘Just Right’ stores, one selling at N2,800 and the other at N3,400.
While Jumia will be hearing from Bookcraft whose investment in the book is being jeopardized, there is need for the government, at all levels, to take the issue of piracy more seriously. Not only do we need to strengthen the enabling laws, we must also seek more efficient ways to track and punish those who feed fat on the sweat of others. Until we put these unscrupulous characters out of business, we will continue to kill creativity in Nigeria. Meanwhile, I have already served Jumia a notice: They will be hearing from Bookcraft!
• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com