If General Victor Leo Malu had been alive last Tuesday, he would have thrown up watching the virtual meeting between, inter alia, our president and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. I believe Malu must have squirmed in his grave.
Twenty years ago, Gen Malu lost his job as army chief, by his own accounts, for opposing American strategic security presence in Nigeria. He told The Punch that, “The US does not mean well for us and for anybody. They want things in their interest and that is how they protect their interest. National security is above any individual.”
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Last Tuesday, President Buhari literally pissed on Malu’s grave as he begged America to relocate its Africa command’s headquarters, currently on German soil, to Africa. Buhari reeled out a farrago of excuses why he thought the continent needed American military presence on African soil. He wants America to help fight insurgency for the continent, or to be precise, for Nigeria. That moment of presidential panhandling was one Malu would never have thought would happen in a century.
As a soldier, Malu commanded the regional force, ECOMOG, in Liberia. He did so well and commanded so much respect that Charles Taylor saw him as a threat and canvassed for his withdrawal. During Malu’s tenure as ECOMOG commander, a former American Ambassador, Howard Jeter, who was on the field there, wrote a sterling testimonial on the sterling quality of the Nigerian Army (NA) in peacekeeping operations. He even gave Malu two copies of that report as a sign of trust.
You can imagine Malu’s consternation when the same Americans offered to train Nigerian soldiers in peacekeeping duties. Malu rejected the offer, but Obasanjo who, like contemporary Nigerian rulers, adores foreign adulation more than local idolisation, was on the verge of signing the Nigeria-America security agreement. He fired Malu.
Out of government, Malu continued to heckle Obasanjo’s cozy relationship with the Americans. In 2015, at the Arewa House, Malu regretted not unseating Obasanjo when he had the chance. This was deep, because Malu had convicted Oladipo Diya and others to harsh jail terms for a phantom mutiny.
Malu was a typical Nigerian we used to be a proud who wore our nationalistic haughtiness like a cock proudly displays its cockscomb.
The Nigerian Army used to be a force to reckon with, from our first peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, through ending a civil war and lately playing pivotal roles in bringing peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
It must have been hard for Buhari’s military chiefs, some of who were trained or mentored by Malu, hearing their Commander-in-Chief (C-inC) begging to be recolonised.
Buhari has been begging for assistance since he assumed office. Beginning with Obama and running through Trump’s White House where he was said to have been described in uncomplimentary terms. Buhari has lost the last vestige of military pride. His reported Tuscano aircraft are yet to arrive even though Trump has lost re-election and a new president has been sworn in.
Our military have moved from being a fighting force to glorified armed boy scouts. Days before Buhari’s mendicant appeal, the air force played down a friendly fire in which it strafed 20 or more of its own soldiers in the war against Boko Haram.
Weeks ago, Buhari trembled at the death of Chad’s Idris Deby. The presidency is more concerned these days either hobnobbing with or humiliating spiritual charlatans and begging for prayers to end the insurgency while pocketing its jumbo pay and perks.
It is not the first time that Nigerians would be looking at the Americans to fight their wars. During the June 12 crisis, there were rumours that the Americans had stationed war ships off the Lagos harbour, waiting to step in if Babangida did not accept the verdict of the people. Under Abacha, rumours were rife that the Americans would just fly into Abuja and put an end to the junta. None of that happened.
While Rambo-like operations have become the identifiable course of American diplomacy, Washington DC has learnt after a horrible experience in Somalia that Africa’s insurgents play by a different set of rules. America is wise enough not to poke its nose into the domestic or regional affairs of other nations, especially African nations. American citizens are getting tired of funding needless global democracy policing. It is scaling down on its operations seeing it is no longer much welcome in other nations.
It does not look certain that America wants to put boots on the ground in this continent or anywhere else. Conventional warfare is shifting, no thanks to technology. The global economic downturn does not favour the wastage of money to nations that sit idly by watching things go from bad to worse and hoping America would fly in with superscoopers to douse fires deliberately or sloppily set by rogue regimes and failed states.
Malu was right, an American presence would not be a plus on the African soil nor would it be in the best strategic interest of the Americans. Would America sit quietly on the continent watching democratic monarchy, the type that the French have tolerated in the DRC, Togo and recently in Chad? Would they tolerate the evolving mockery of democracy enthroned in Rwanda and Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, through Cameroon?
Our elders say that when a man needs help lifting a heavy load, he must be the first to scoop it where it is heaviest. Buhari inherited a bad military, but he has worsened it with lopsided appointments in which merit is sacrificed for nepotism and elevated to a matter of strategic state policy. It has led to the lowering of morals in the armed and civil forces. His open romance with hard-core extremists and the lame excuses he gives for that unholy alliance is sending the wrong signals to those trained and sworn to defend the nation. His passing verbal commitment to uplifting the standard of the military as a fighting force has led us to where we are in the various firefights the military are now engaged in quelling.
If Buhari must be taken seriously in the fight against insurrection, he should harness the best local resources from every part of the country and return inclusion as a state policy. He should run the nation as a father with children from a polygamous relationship, not as a biased bigamist. He should practically show that he is the president of those who voted en masse and those who voted in trickles for him to get a second term.
The challenges confronting our nation are daunting, but not insurmountable. If we must get help from the Americans or anywhere else, we must show commitment to fighting insurgency with ruthless force no matter whose ox is gored. We must be prepared to nip crises in the bud and not pretend that they do not affect us because they affect one section of the country alone. Arming Buhari’s army as presently constituted and commanded would not be in the strategic interest of our nation nor of the Americans.