Leadership: Nigerian Officers Call For Reform

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December 29, 2014: In early December a senior army officer on duty in northern Nigeria released an anonymous letter to the media. The letter was meant for publication and the author explained that doing this anonymously was a matter of life or death because officers who speak out about the corruption and incompetence in the army receive death threats and some of them are killed as a result. The letter went on to describe the many ways the army is crippled by corruption and incompetence. The letter detailed how senior commanders diverted supplies for their troops (especially food and fuel) for themselves, to be sold and the cash disappearing. He described how 3,000 soldiers who deserted or were killed are still listed as active and senior officers take the pay that these “ghost soldiers” are still receiving. Ammunition and weapons also go missing and the writer describes how one successful operation against Boko Haram had to be cut short because the troops were out of ammunition and there was no more to resupply them with.

Local elected leaders in the northeast have seized on these revelation to demand that the federal government do something about the crippling corruption in the military. But many of these northeastern politicians also admit that it will take the appearance (via upcoming national elections) of truly incorruptible leaders to clean up the mess and meanwhile the army is losing its war with Boko Haram.

The failure to suppress Islamic terrorism in the northeast lies with the security forces, which operate outside the law while trying to enforce it. The army and police, when faced with a major emergency (like the Boko Haram terror tactics) will react by arresting and torturing lots of people (especially young men, the most likely Boko Haram recruits), often killing them and denying what had been done. While Westerners act horrified at such behavior, that sort of thing did not largely disappear from the West until the last century or two. When a Nigerian joins the police or army they tend to accept the “traditional” way of doing things. But there are good reasons why many such traditions have been replaced elsewhere in the world. Indiscriminate torture and murder is not the most efficient way to deal with an outbreak of Islamic terrorism. Many senior government officials understand this, but getting the security forces to change these deadly customs has been very difficult as have efforts to root out corruption in the army and police.

The police and soldiers often do more harm than good, usually in the form of abusing or killing innocent civilians. This is largely the result of incompetent recruiting and training, as well as a culture of corruption in the leadership (especially in the police.) The government has long talked about dealing with these problems, but little has been accomplished. This latest public plea for change, from someone in the army leadership, will probably fail to cause any meaningful change.

 

 


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