Review: 

New SOJA

Vol 27 37/43 Apr – Jun 2003 

The third issue of the newest magazine of the Nigerian Army, NewSOJA is in circulation.  Once again the Editorial team has produced an outstanding journal, printed with exemplary quality.

The front cover is adorned with a dominant photograph of General Alexander O. Ogomudia (of the Signals Corps) handing over, as COAS, to Lt. General Martin Luther Agwai (of the Armoured Corps).   Then there are insets of smaller photographs of the new COAS being decorated with his new rank, two Nigerian born British soldiers and the installation of then NAOWA President, Mrs. Iwayemi Ogomudia as Yeye Bobasewa of Ijero-Ekiti.

That a magazine of the Nigerian Army can boldly celebrate the passing of the torch from one Army Chief to another in openly legitimate and amicable circumstances is noteworthy because it is a rare event in Nigerian history.   In 1965, Maj. Gen. CB Welby-Everard (a Briton) handed over, somewhat amicably (since he opposed Ironsi’s nomination), to Maj. Gen. JTU Aguiyi Ironsi as GOC, Nigerian Army – Nigeria’s first indigenous Army Chief.  In January 1966, Ironsi became “Supreme Commander” after taking control following the January 15 mutiny.   He did not actually give up the position of GOC, NA.  Instead he combined it with his new position and appointed Gowon Chief of Staff (Army) – COS (A).  Hence Ironsi continued to use the license plate “NA 1.”  In July 1966, then Lt Col. Yakubu Gowon assumed the position of “Supreme Commander” in the very tense circumstances of a violent counter-coup in which Ironsi was killed.  Gowon remained “Supreme Commander” until he gave up the title after the Aburi meetings of January 1967.  However, he re-assumed the powers of “Supreme Commander” when he declared a state of emergency in May 1967 and revoked Decree #8.    His successor as Chief of Staff (Army), Lt. Col. JRI Akahan later died in a helicopter crash as the civil war broke out in July 1967.  Then Colonel Iliya Bissalla acted for a while before, faced with resistance to his orders from his course-mates in the field, then Brigadier (later Maj. Gen.) HU Katsina took the substantive mantle as COS (A) in early 1968.  Maj. Gen. DA Ejoor succeeded Katsina, somewhat controversially, in 1972, but not without some drama.  Although Ejoor was senior to both he and Gowon, Hassan refused to be posted out as Commandant to the NDA, quipping that he did not want to be a “Headmaster.”    He was settled with the new position of “Deputy Chief of Staff, SHQ” – the first and last time such a position would exist in Nigerian lexicon.   In July 1975, while Ejoor was outside the country, a coup took place.  Gowon, who was also outside the country, was overthrown.  Then Brigadier TY Danjuma, then GOC, 3 Division, who agreed beforehand not to oppose the coup, was appointed Army Chief by the putschists.  He changed the title from Chief of Staff (Army) to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and insisted on using the license plate “NA 1.”    Needless to say, there was no “hand-over” from Ejoor, who was retired with his boss. 

In October 1979, Danjuma did ‘hand-over’ to his course-mate, then Major General (later Lt. General) JIA Akinrinade as the military regime ceded way to the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari, again, not without some intrigue.  Outgoing Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, apparently ‘chose’ Akinrinade for Shagari.  Then Major General, (later Lt. Gen.) GS Jalo became Akinrinade’s “deputy” – the first time such a title – of  ‘Deputy COAS’ – would be created.  But when Shagari took over, he had his own ideas.  In 1980, Lt. General JIA Akinrinade was “kicked upstairs” to the ‘powerless’ newly constitutionally created position of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).  Lt. General GS Jalo became COAS and Lt. Gen. MI Wushishi (Shagari’s ‘real’ man) was made ‘Deputy COAS.’   In October 1981, Akinrinade retired, apparently voluntarily, opening the way from Jalo to be kicked upstairs to the position of CDS, while Wushishi became COAS.  Once Wushishi became COAS, the position of  ‘Deputy COAS’ was abolished.  On December 31, 1983, however, Wushishi was arrested, asked to resign and then replaced by his trusted friend and erstwhile Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans, then Brigadier Ibrahim Babangida – the ‘moving spirit’ of the coup, as Ikoku put it.  It was as COAS that Babangida later carried out the Palace coup of August 1985.  The GOC, 2 Div, then Major General (later General) Sani Abacha, a key supporter of the coup, negotiated the position of COAS for himself as part of the haggling for post coup positions.  Then Lt. Gen. S. Abacha held the position of COAS until August 1990 in combination with the position of Chairman Joint Chiefs, a separate position that he wrested in a game of musical chairs from then Lt. Gen. Bali in January 1990.   In August 1990, Abacha ceded the position of COAS to Lt. Gen. Salihu Ibrahim, a move facilitated by General Babangida’s decision to cede the lucrative Defence Ministry to Abacha in combination with his position as Chairman Joint Chiefs.  However, Abacha refused to move out of the FlagStaff House, the traditional residence of the Army Chief since colonial days.  Indeed some say he even once offered to purchase it outright.  Salihu Ibrahim soon found himself in an impossible and weakened position.  In August 1993, as he was “stepping aside”, General Babangida appointed Lt. Gen. Aliyu Mohammed COAS – an appointment that was almost immediately delayed by Defence Minister Sani Abacha until September, allegedly to allow Salihu Ibrahim retire with some honour.  However, a few months later in November 1993 Abacha struck, throwing out the Interim National Government of Ernest Shonekan – and replacing COAS Lt. Gen. Aliyu Mohammed with Major General MC Alli, a participant in the coup.  Aliyu Mohammed became the target of a sustained campaign of surveillance and harassment.  Maj Gen MC Alli, meanwhile, fell out of favor with Abacha and was suddenly replaced in August 1994 by Maj Gen AJ Kazir.  In March 1996, Kazir himself fell foul of his suspicious master and was suddenly replaced by Lt. Gen. IR Bamaiyi.  Lt. Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi was about to be replaced by Abacha in June 1998 when Abacha died suddenly.  This gave the then COAS respite until the new civilian regime came on stream in May 1999. 

Bamaiyi apparently handed over to then Major General (later Lt. Gen.) SVL Malu  – incoming President Obasanjo’s choice from among three or four competing officers – before becoming the target of a protracted legal case for which he remains in jail as of writing.   Malu on the other hand was suddenly retired in April 2001 in an atmosphere of civil-military tensions.  He has publicly stated that he prepared hand-over notes for his successor, then Major General (now General AO Ogomudia.)  Nevertheless, given the barely concealed tensions of the moment, there was little stomach for elaborately publicized photo-ops commemorating the event.  Therefore, the beautiful and highly symbolic pictures of then Lt. Gen. (now General) Ogomudia happily handing the Nigerian Army Flag to then Major Gen. (now Lt. Gen.) ML Agwai in the current issue of NewSOJA should be celebrated as a dividend of democracy. In fact General Ogomudia is the first four-star Army General to be so appointed by a non-military regime in Nigerian history.

The new COAS, in his goodwill message, has promised to make literary contributions to the magazine which he hopes will have even wider distribution in the future.  This is commendable.  I would suggest that he specifically dedicate a page as the “Chief of Army Staff page” and not only write articles on contemporary Army problems and solutions, but also provide a periodic recommended Chief of Army Staff Reading List, for NCOs, Junior, Middle grade and Senior Officers.

But who is Lt. Gen Martin Luther Agwai?  I believe this question should be answered fully in my “Occasional Biographies” series and will do so shortly.  For now, in summary, let me say he is an exceptional officer with outstanding qualifications.   The word on the streets is that Nigerians can rest assured that they have an Army Chief who – like his predecessor – knows what time it is.

In his Editorial comments, Editor-in-Chief, Col. Emeka Onwuamegbu, has announced a price increase to $4.00 or N300 per copy.  Given the quality of the magazine and the shortfall between sales and advertising revenues on one hand and production costs on the other, this is reasonable.  Little (if any) by way of government funds are expended on the magazine, so I strongly urge the reading public to make contributions towards its success.  The managers of the magazine may want to more aggressively market it abroad – perhaps via subscription – where a large pool of foreign exchange laden Nigerians and interested non-Nigerians are available.

A few pages were dedicated to an ‘Open forum’.  I found two comments particularly interesting. One was a suggestion by Chief Emeka Chikelu (Hon. Minister for Information) that the Army should establish an “Army radio” or “SOJA FM.”   The suggestion has been made before, but it is noteworthy that the Minister is willing to place the prestige of his name and office behind it and I commend him for that.   Furthermore, countries like Israel, Thailand, India, Germany, United States, and others have had or continue to operate such stations.    However, although they have certain advantages, they are not cheap. Careful thought must be put into determining how a “SOJA FM radio station” will be funded in a sustained manner – through commercial grants and subsidies – or shared resources and risk with civilian institutions.  There has been some controversy in Israel about the financial outlay and implications for taxpayers of Israeli Army Radio.  Reliance on Nigerian government and MOD funding could be slippery, given the state of the national economy and the confused “now you see me, now you dont” manner in which government funds are disbursed even for more critical operational line items.  

Colonel IE Usoro sent in the second comment I took note of.  He expressed hope that the NewSOJA magazine would become an “authentic tool for the conduct of robust discussion on issues affecting the military rather than the photo-gallery for send -off ceremonies and a compilation or reprint of recycled lectures.”  The Colonel’s fears are legitimate and should get the attention of those charged with producing the magazine.  However, the responsibility for such an outcome is shared by the Officer and non-Commissioned Officer corps in general.  They should take reading and writing more seriously and expand the pool of writers and contributions available for selection by editors and producers.  The other factor is the question of specialization versus consolidation.  The NewSOJA is only one magazine that seeks to cover diverse matters and issues to a diverse audience.  Back in the late sixties and early seventies, even before the Army wide SOJA magazine of those days, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd infantry divisions and some Brigades had their own magazines and newsletters, like Flying HorseOctopusBayonet, and others. These could focus exclusively on unit specific issues and operations to a more focused audience. Even now, from time to time, some Corps (like Engineers) and Institutions (like NDA) in the Military produce their own specialized magazines and newsletters.  In foreign countries there are numerous such military related magazines designed to address different audiences and issues.  Some are deeply military.  Others are adorned with “less serious” photo-galleries of send-off and other ceremonies.  Given the cost and distribution issues involved in producing one central Army magazine, let alone several magazines, it seems the one available magazine for now (ie NewSOJA) is inevitably going to reflect a range of issues, some of which may not necessarily interest every reader.  This will remain an ongoing challenge.

Moving on to subsequent pages, I found Ben Onwudinjo’s piece on “War and Victory in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart” fascinating.  I cannot recall how many times I have read and re-read Achebe’s beautiful works over the years and it is my hope that someday he will be rewarded for his original contributions by the Nobel prize committee.  Somehow Onwudinjo placed Okonkwo, the main character in Things Fall Apart, in a military context and concluded “Victory is from God alone.”  This short phrase, I should point out, is actually the motto of the modern Nigerian Army, adopted from the motto of the defeated Sokoto Caliphate of 1903.  Interesting.

The next four pages were dominated by Colonel John Oricha’s article on “Terrorism as an International embarrassment.”  It is a very well researched article with a detailed chronicle of events.  It is highly recommended reading for those interested in more information about this plague of our times.   My only comment is that the author, having laid the groundwork in his opening paragraphs, could have explored the historical, psycho-behavioral and political underpinnings of ‘terrorism’ in greater detail with a view to identifying imaginative non-military solutions to the phenomenon – if any.  ‘Terrorism” is – in the view of some – a form of war, despicable though it is.  Others see it as pure criminality.  War, as the saying goes, is a “continuation of politics by other means” but cannot, even when governed by the “laws of war”, be considered desirable or unembarassing.  It is always a messy business of last resort.

The concluding excerpt on “Rationale for military subordination to civil authority” from Dr. Nowamagbe Omoigui’s lecture at the National War College in January 2003, follows Colonel Oricha’s piece.  It is then followed by the speech – and citations – delivered by immediate past Hon. Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma (rtd), on the occasion of the renaming of military barracks earlier this year.  I have had occasion to react to this speech on this page in the past [http://www.gamji.com/nowa72.htm].  This story, supported by pictures, is titled “What’s in a name“?  The next page encapsulates an ongoing debate about the state of disrepair of equipment in the Army.  At the inspection and commissioning of Armoured vehicles refurbished at the Special Vehicles Plant, Bauchi, former Hon. Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma (rtd), expressed preference for the maintenance and refurbishment of existing equipment rather than acquisition of new equipment.  Given current economic constraints, and our poor national maintenance culture, the attitude of the former Minister is understandable. 

A flurry of news items of mainly social interest is then highlighted.  Send off parties for Colonel EG Edet of the Data Processing Directorate, Colonel Nnomi Attiogbey of Nursing, and Colonel SIO Giwa-Amu (former ADC to the C-in-C) were reported.   Admiral Ogohi (rtd) now former CDS laid the foundation stone of the new Defence and Police Officers Wives Association (DEPOWA) Secretariat

Following this intermission, Major Praise Ntoimo presents a report on the new Nigerian Army College of Logistics (NACOL).  It was commissioned on May 20, 2003, by former Defence Minister Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma (rtd) and is said to have been the brainchild of then COAS, then Lt. Gen. (now Gen.) AO Ogomudia.  The school, which is in Lagos, is said the first of its kind in “black Africa.”  Informed by the endemic logistics problems encountered by Nigerian troops in the West African sub-region, and perhaps inspired by Defence Policy reviews, one imagines that it is patterned after foreign institutions. These might include the U.S. Army Logistics Management College, Fort Lee, USA, former Soviet War College of Logistics and Transportation, Leningrad, Norwegian College of Logistics, Australian College of Logistics Management, Pakistani Air Force College of Logistics etc.   Areas of emphasis include Logistics planning, Tactics, Military and Information technology, Management and General studies and Peace Support.  Olalekan Oyekola and Asuquo Iquoh provide justification for it in their piece titled “Why NACOL?”

After the NACOL piece, NewSOJA highlights a number of other important professional activities.  For example, the British Defence Adviser in Abuja hosted a party for selected officers.  Col. Onwuamegbu (of the Army), Group Captain Kure (of the NAF) and Commander Kabir Aliyu (of the NN) were invited to a model secondary school in Abuja to partake in activities marking “Career Day.”    They used the opportunity to explain prospects for careers in the military to the young students.  Also present was a civil servant, Engineer Emmanuel Oluwabisi. Such activities are very helpful and should be encouraged all over the country.

Moving on, I found the article “Army’s concern for HIV positive personnel” written by Lt. SJ Dibal of the Military Hospital, Lagos very instructive.  Social support is a vital component of the range of options available for dealing with the scourge of AIDS, and I am pleased that the Army has not ignored this angle.  Ceremonies and interviews heralding the appointments of the new COAS and CDS and their visions for the Army and Armed Forces, respectively, dominate the next 16 or so pages.  True to their depth and breadth, both officers projected confidence, competence and experience. 

Ben O continues with his inspirational “Letter No. 3 to the Unknown Soldier.”  Then we are treated once again to a photo-gallery of promotions and rank decorations – and, interestingly, to a photo gallery of recently dismissed soldiers.  This is followed by unit reports from the 2nd Division, 4 Guards Battalion, Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Brigade of Guards, Artillery Corps and School, Finance Corps, NYSC, Armoured Corps, UNAMSIL, DAPR, etc. 

Sports activities in various formations are also reported.  Talking about Sports, the activities of Nigerian born Privates Okoroafor and Osazuwa of the British Army are highlighted in detail for the quiet appreciation of their countrymen and women back home. 

My mood was lifted by the account of vigorous training activities at the 4 Guards Battalion under Lt. Col. EJ Atewe.  But I was particularly touched by the write-up about the death of “General” Mambilla, one of the ceremonial parade horses at the Presidential Villa.  On the other hand, the focus on the life and career of Major General DO Enahoro (rtd) – former Chief of Policy and Plans – was very helpful.  For anyone who wants a perspective on prospective career and retirement planning the retired General is a role model. 

Other great items include Major SG Mohammed’s account of his experience during the Armor Captain Career Course at the Armor School, Fort Knox, Kentucky, in the USA and the presentation of UN medals to NIBATTS 15 & 16 under Lt. Cols. SA Nudamajo and Abdul Mustapha respectively, in Sierra Leone.  But before leaving the subject of peacekeeping there is one account that is a must read.  Major James Myam, an artillery officer, shares his moving experience as a casualty – >From ECOMOG…In coma – one that kept him in hospital for almost one and one-half years.  He, and others like him, who have risked life and limb and continue to do so deserve our gratitude and support.  So do those who work quietly unheralded behind the scenes treating our wounded. But there is downside.  Some would rather abuse the system to get out of harm’s way or shirk their responsibilities.   The article “It could be you” by Colonel PP Nyong touches on this important subject. 

On the subject of military traditions, Colonel BM Monguno reviews the custom of the “Arch of Swords” in his timely feature article, “Unsheathing “Crossing of Swords.”  There are many such military customs and traditions which, I am pleased to notice, the NewSOJA has a place for.  I must point out again, as I did the last time, that only the bride and groom are supposed, by tradition, to walk under the “Arch of Swords.”  The picture of the procession at the wedding of Captain Nnaemeka Ogili revealed persons other than the main celebrants walking under the Arch.

Sadly, life must end for all of us at some point.  We learn -with regret – from this edition of NewSOJA that Brigadier William Vanduhe of the Corps of Supply and Transport died recently.  May his soul rest in peace.

News, articles and reports aside, this edition of NewSOJA – like the last – is again well stocked with humorous cartoons provided by Colonel BM Monguno. Through his drawings, he reflects tastefully on contemporary problems within the military in particular and the larger society in general.    I recommend that readers study each cartoon not just for humorous content but for a deeper meaning about our society and what we would like it to be.

I almost missed it.  But there it was – an advertisement by the Defence Industries Corporation (DICON) based in Kaduna.  Ever since 1964 when it was established it has lagged behind its competitors in other countries.  But it seems it now wants to reverse that trend.  Pictures of “Nigerian-made” items like the Nigerian Pistol 1, Nigerian Rifle 1 and Sub-machine gun were prominently displayed along with non-military items like Head-Frames, Ballot boxes and Traditional Staffs of Office.   DICON also says it has expertise in rural water supply, rural electrification, and erection of windmills and fabrication of spare parts and industrial gear.  I shall revisit the subject in more detail when I reflect on the role of the military in Nigerian society in a forthcoming article.

Well, there you have it.  A magazine well worth having – the third edition of the NewSOJA.  The Editors are – once again – to be congratulated, and the Army has good reason to be proud.  In line with the promise made by the new COAS, Lt. Gen. ML Agwai, we can expect NewSOJA to reach even greater heights in the years to come – God willing.

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