On 6th day of July and also 15th January every year, the Army and Armed Forces of Nigeria observe what they have chosen to christen Army and Armed Forces Day. They observe these ceremonies with fanfare consisting of military drills and shows, which culminate in an address by their Command-in-Chief.
But what is the reason for these military celebrations and the cultural substance that supports it? According to Major General Markus Kangye and Major General Anthony Omozojie, both Chief of Civil-Military Affairs and Chief of Policy and Plans of the Nigerian Army, the Army Day is mapped to commemorate the birth of Nigerian Army which was according to General Kangye was formed in 1863 while General Omozojie insists the celebration was “to commemorate the day the unfortunate Nigerian Civil War broke out, when the very first shot that commenced the war was fired at Garkem in the present Cross River State.” According to Omozojie, the Army Day celebration (NADCEL) was first held in Lagos in 1978. So, this year event marks the 159th year of Nigerian Army’s existence since its formation.
I don’t think anybody quarrels with the place and importance of ceremonies, rituals and symbols in the life of a person, a people, a country and even an organisation if such have rationality and substance girding and defining them are very much essential to the existence and development of the person, people, country or organisation concerned. Now, that we have appraised the raison d’être of the doublebarelled celebrations – for we must assume that the same reasons and substance that warrant the Nigerian Army Day Celebration would a fortiori also be true of the Nigerian Armed Forces Day even though that is held on 15th day of January every year with as much fanfare as the NADCEL or even greater. In any case, the Nigerian Army is the fulcrum of the other armed services that exist more as appendages to it because of its dominance.
The very first intervention we have to make regarding these jamborees is the fact of the army historical origin springing from forces of conquest, subjugation, occupation and exploitation a fact glossed over as put forward by the army chieftains quoted above. According to them Nigerian army was founded some 159 years ago which domiciles its formation sometime in 1863, that is true.
But the circumstances of its formation are sordid affairs that followed colonialism. Lt. John Hawley Glover was part of Dr John Baikie Expedition to Northern Nigerian when their ship on its return-journey sank at Jebba. The surviving party including Bishop Ajayi Crowther reached the riverbank safely where natives sustained them on local foods and fruits. Lt. Glover travelled overland back to Lagos to source help. For the journey back to Jebba, Glover recruited porters and escorts who were majorly Hausa and Nupe slaves. Some of the recruits belonged to Oba Dosumu and the Lagos wealthy trader, Madam Efunroye Tinubu.
These slave-owners desired to take back their slave from Glover but Glover and his recruits fought off the resistance. The recruits’ martial ardour impressed Glover. Furthermore, the Glover team made the journey back to Lagos after successfully rescuing his partners at Jebba. One lesson Glover took back from the journey were the facts that these Hausa recruits could walk along distance bare-footed without footsore, had marital ardour and quite unlike British or West India Regiment personnel survived on bare necessities and local foods. Already, in 1851, Britain had conquered Lagos using British naval squadron and by 1862 Lagos had been annexed and colonised.
That being so, Lagos was garrisoned by about 100 soldiers of the West India Regiment and such was grossly inadequate. Following this inadequacy, Glover who has been promoted Captain on November 24, 1862 and appointed Administrator of Lagos on April 21, 1863 needed to strengthen security system of Lagos.
To cure this inadequacy, the Lagos colony government headed by Governor Sir Stanhope Freeman wrote the British Secretary of State for the Colonies requesting for the establishment of a security force and made particular case for recruiting the Hausas they have tested and found to endure long marches covering long distances without suffering footsore and the economic cost of maintaining them being less than that of the soldiers of the West India Regiment. Based on this request, the British Colonial Office permitted Glover to train and deploy 30 of these his Hausa companions as a security force for Lagos.
This military force became known as ‘Glover Hausas’ and later ‘Hausa Militia’ but pejoratively due to the use for which they were deployed which were conquest, pacification and subjugation with the brigandage that go with the deployment then became known as ‘the forty thieves’. By December 1863, the force had grown to 600 members and was deployed for punitive expeditions against Nigerian ethnic communities that British officials and traders disagreed with over trade and other issues. Now renamed Hausa Constabulary, they were deployed against the Egba in 1870 and other communities, and even the Ashanti in Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1873-74 Anglo-Ashanti War. The journey of this military force from colonial to neo-colonial military force is sordid. Nothing about it is worthy of celebration.
The ‘Glover Hausas’ which later became Hausa Constabulary until when it was combined with the 1886-created Royal Niger Company Constabulary, the Oil Rivers Irregulars later, renamed Niger Coast Constabulary to form West African Frontier Force in 1900 after the revocation of the Royal Niger Company Charter.
Thus, this military force’s metamorphosis as a colonial instrument for the conquest, subjugation and exploitation of the ethnic-nationalities that now constitute Nigeria began with the three private security system, namely, the Lagos Glover Hausas; Niger Deltabased Goldie’s the Royal Niger Constabulary and Royal Niger Company’s Lugard’s Niger Coast Constabulary which were later combined by British colonial authorities to become West African Frontier Force in 1900.
Needless to restate that this military force had the vile origin of being an instrument for the conquest, subjugation and exploitation of Nigeria. And in a way, it is the first national state institution at the formation of Nigeria and it is correct to say that it made the creation of Nigeria possible. At independence, it became Nigerian Army.
The Nigerian Army or the Nigerian Armed Forces has always loved to boast that it is the fulcrum of Nigeria’s existence and its continuance as a country which its henchmen after the Biafra War that made them rulers of Nigeria in the long military interregnum (1966-1979 and 1983-199) that they guarantee its unity as one ‘indissoluble’/’non-negotiable’ entity as General Markus Kangye boasted that the Nigerian Army “has been the centre of unity of the country.”
The dates chosen by the military institution for observance are dates of infamy. The 15th day of January 1966 that gave rise to July 29, 1966 is a date that the military committed treason against Nigerian State by overthrowing the State and its government and thereby plunged Nigeria into an irredeemable catastrophe which generated the crisis that culminate in the Nigeria Civil War that started on July 6, 1967 which lasted 30 months and consumed over two million lives and trillions costs in money and property. These dates (6th July and January 15) are days of infamy not worthy to be observed not to talk of celebration.
If at all, these days should be observed in utter solemnity as National Days of calamity. So, let’s stop re-opening the wounds of national calamity until Nigeria survives the crisis induced in Nigeria’s political economy that created serious dislocations in the state structure, constitutional framework and governance challenges especially the intractable corruption that has destroyed the value system and social norms.
Not until Nigeria survives this abnormality and restores the hijacked state and institutes people’s autochthonous constitutional framework with a people’s defence forces will these dates make any meaning to majority of reasonable Nigerians. For the time being, 6th July and 15th January remain days of infamy to all reasonable Nigerians which are only being intransigently observed as a monument to impunity and lawlessness.