By Emmanuel Onwubiko
For over two years now, I have gotten used to always supporting the military veterans who usually celebrate their remembrance day I think some time every January or so.
There is this particular lady Air force operative that coordinates one of the activities to attract citizen-led support for the marking of the Nigerian military Remembrance Day who actually convinced me to always donate some money to buy the military commemorative badge each time she displays it somewhere in the Central Business District of the Federal capital.
This lady is so devoted to her duty that she comes so early to start canvassing for support and then departs very late in the evening.
Few days ago, out of curiosity, I asked her where exactly she comes from given that she was always very responsible in the area of punctuality.
She simply smiled and told me that wherever she stays is not really much of a problem that would be allowed to deter her from her job.
Well, I could see in her that due to her professional discipline, she may be unwilling to let me know her situation of housing as a serving military operative.
But I also met a very senior military officer who used to be a neighbor somewhere in Wuse 2 Abuja who narrated to me about the severe housing deficits afflicting the armed forces of Nigeria.
I actually went out of my way to find out why he was not living within a military base or what we know as barracks. These conversations took place about two or three years ago.
He made me understood that not all of the military operatives and officers that are quartered in the barracks due to insufficiency of amenities and housing assets to comfortably provide the housing needs of the military families.
The above two scenarios came flashing back into my subconsciousness yesterday’s evening when I read a story of the presentation made by the chief of Army staff lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai during his duty tour of military housing facilities in the North East of Nigeria and this speech has the central theme that touched on the increasing issue of housing deficits being witnessed by the Armed forces of Nigeria.
In fact the heading of the well written newspaper story carried by a reputable online newspaper will definitely melt the mind of even the most heartless bureaucrat in government because in very clear terms, the heading says: “Boko Haram: Troops living in dilapidated barracks” – says Buratai.
The news report credited to the Nigeria’s Army chief offered the best explanation for why the country as a matter of urgency should effect measures to address the grave housing challenge confronting the military.
This position is reinforced even by the constitutional functions of the military enshrined in section 217 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended).
These are the clear wordings of the constitution and the aspect that addresses the issue of housing deficit and the necessity for bridging the housing needs of the military can be found in subsection 2 of section 217.
For the avoidance of doubts, the relevant section which is 217 states thus: “(1) There shall be an armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an army, a navy, an Air Force and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.
Then here is the clincher in subsection(2) which states that: “The Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf, equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of – (a) defending Nigeria from external aggression; (b) maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea, or air; (c) suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly; and (d) performance such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. (3) The composition of the officer corps and other ranks of the armed forces of the Federation shall reflect the federal character of Nigeria.”
From the above constitutional postulation, we can then reflect deeply on what solution we must apply especially having it at the back of our minds that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai made the point on the housing challenge when he visited the headquarters of the North East Development Commission, said army barracks in Monguno and Bama in Borno State, which were destroyed by insurgents, needed complete reconstruction. He sought the commission’s help to rebuild some of the destroyed barracks in the northeast.
Buratai said the insurgency also affected road infrastructure which, he said, also needed to be repaired for smooth counter-insurgency operations as well as return of the Internally Displaced People’s and refugees in the zone.
The chairman of the Board of Trustees of the commission, Paul Tarfa, said that the commission would look into Buratai’s request and do its best to assist the army.
Acknowledging that combating the insurgents would require both kinetic and non-kinetic approaches, Gen. Buratai said Nigerians must realize the long-drawn nature of the battle and the need for persistence.
He added: “There must be a determined political will by the ruling elite to fight terrorism and insurgency, which is to be based on ‘all government approach’, involving the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. This was demonstrated by the USA in her over a decade’s pursuit and eventual hunting down of Osama bin laden. It took determination and a clear focus on the goal.
“In Africa, we recall that Algeria and Kenya have been dealing with the menace of terrorists for quite some time. While the Algerians are just getting off the throes of terrorism, Kenyans are still contending with the deleterious threats of Al Shabaab. Nigerians must realize that the country is not alone in the fight against global terrorism. In contending with this challenge, she should seek international partners and cooperation with neighboring states and those experienced in combating terrorism and insurgency. “The multinational approach is also necessary in the country’s bid to acquire arms and ammunitions from any part of the World. Efforts must be made to synergize with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEMs) of the required military hardware, to smoothen relationship and invariably establish a win-win situation.
“Furthermore, we must recognize that there is now a very wide area of convergence between internal security and external aggression. Modern warfare engagements are not conventional in nature. The parties are also not necessarily state actors. A lot of dynamism accompany these conflicts requiring flexibility and adaptability, by conventional troops involved.
“The asymmetric nature of these engagements by non-state actors makes efforts at combating their menace very complex. In spite of these complexities, these terrorists and criminal elements have to be curtailed and their activities eliminated, by a wide range of activities with the citizenry or innocent civilians the focus of all considerations or simply people-centric operations.”
The Chief of Army staff has indeed touched on a very strategic aspect of our national life which I strongly believe need to be looked at critically because of the implications these housing deficits for the military may have in an adverse way to our overall national security interest.
Importantly, what he has said is what is expected from every good and forward-looking leader.
If he is a selfish leader, he could have overlooked this critical issue because to start with, as the number one Army officer, he does not have similar experience of poor housing.
But as a leader who feels the pinch of what his foot soldiers go through, he has exposed these challenges so the relevant government authority can holistically look at it and effect remedial measures to provide qualitative housing assets to our combatants who are making the supreme sacrifices for us all. Although, it must be noted that housing challenges in the military did not start today, but the fact that it is now at the front burner of national discourse shows that just may be, the relevant authority may be persuaded to do the needful to address these challenges. Can I therefore suggest that substantial percentage of houses forfeited by convicted looters in Nigeria should be handed over to the military for the purposes of housing and accommodating troops. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Allied offences commission the other day said hundreds of housing assets were seized from unnamed government officials who denied ownership of those houses. I propose that those FORFEITED HOUSES BE DONATED TO THE ARMY TO HOUSE THEIR TROOPS.
I will relate my statement to a researched work done by an investigative journalist on the housing deficits afflicting the armed forces of Nigeria to show the necessity for calling on President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration and the National Assembly to take steps to address the housing needs of the military.
But first, let me show my readers how civilized societies like the United States of America provide qualitative housing facilities for all her serving soldiers. Information I gleaned from the United States’ military website said this about housing for the United States’ military.
“On-base housing varies by rank, location and family situation. All recruits live in the barracks during Basic Training. Upon completing Basic Training, most single service members are required to live on base for a period of time. On-base housing varies from one location to the next, but, generally speaking, it is similar to living in modern college dormitories and apartment complexes. Service members with families who live on base have a variety of options, such as apartments or single-family homes.”
The article on housing the US Army says too that in addition to the living quarters, most bases feature many amenities and recreational facilities accessible only to military personnel and their families at greatly reduced prices. Some examples include gyms, pools, bowling alleys, movie theaters, riding stables, libraries, camping grounds and golf courses.
Also, Service members who live in off-base housing are given a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which varies depending on the cost of living in their area. Also, keep in mind that off-base housing is granted based on a service member’s rank and family status.
On 5th April 2016, Samuel Malik writing on the theme: ‘Nigeria’s Army barracks left high and dry’ made the point that has just been made by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai about the severe housing problems affecting the military.
He started by narrated the existential realities of the typical military barracks thus: “Trying to haul a full 25-litre jerry can in each hand between rows of empty buildings, the woman stopped to wipe sweat off her face with the edge of her wrapper.
Mama Baby, as she called herself, was fetching water from the borehole in the army barracks of the 244 Recce Battalion, Saki, Oyo State.
Although the massive camp is home to hundreds of soldiers and their families, most of its residents are forced to rely on one hand-pumped borehole sunk some 20 years ago by the troops themselves.
Mama Baby said that, with water such a valuable resource, she would not risk leaving a full jerry can in the street while she took the other home.
“My brother, I no fit leave my water here make somebody come carry am go,” she said in pidgin, the lingua franca spoken in Nigeria, as she caught her breath.
The 244 Battalion has struggled with severe water shortages, dilapidated buildings and bad roads, despite vast sums of money pledged by the Nigerian government each year to refurbish military barracks.
The Ministry of Defence and Presidential Committee on Barracks Rehabilitation each year allocate funds for the rehabilitation of dozens of army, air force and navy barracks around the country.
But observers say that such neglect is common in army barracks nationwide.
Built in 1978, the barracks were once considered one of the country’s top military camps in terms of quality and aesthetics.
“It was a beautiful barracks, from the arrangement of blocks to the walkways. Everything worked fine,” said 62-year-old Molta Tarki, a retired corporal who began his military career there.
Nearly 40 years later, many of the buildings are badly dilapidated and the roads are in a deplorable condition. A number of the habitable buildings still need major works.
Some blocks in the other ranks quarters were renovated in 1998, although the remaining categories were left untouched.
In 2010, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) office renovated two more blocks in the other ranks quarters, along with the clinic, primary school and commanding officer’s residence.
For the next four years, no renovation work was done in spite of the billions of naira allocated for barracks rehabilitation nationwide.
Between 2012 and 2014, the Nigerian army budgeted N4,220,908,807 (21 million US dollars) for barracks rehabilitation. During the same period, the Presidential Committee on Barracks Rehabilitation (PCBR), a department under the presidency, budgeted N6,688,843,892 (33.4 million dollars) for the rehabilitation of army, navy and air force barracks in the country.
In the same period, the army also allocated N278,548,812 (1.4 million dollars) for the provision of water to army barracks around the country.
Apart from these allocations, the 244 Battalion has had money specifically set aside for it.
In 2012, the PCBR allocated N22,125,000 (110,426 dollars) for renovation works in the barracks, although the following year this figure fell to N3,331,359 (16,600 dollars).
Each year, the government allocates money for so-called constituency projects initiated by lawmakers, such as environmental or economic projects, reports the investigative journalist.
For instance, he wrote that in 2014, N150 million (748,649 dollars) was allocated for renovations and road resurfacing at the 244 Battalion as part of these constituency projects.
Then he stated that despite all this funding, only 18 more buildings were renovated in 2015.
Twelve of those he said were in the commissioned officers’ quarters with the remaining six in the NCO quarters.
Out of the 101 buildings meant for other ranks, 25 blocks containing 300 one-bedroom flats remained uninhabitable, he stressed.
The reporter also took time to bring out the graphic picture of neglect which is manifested by the poor infrastructures in the military facilities.
The roads inside the barracks remain badly in need of repair, with soldiers resorting to filling the potholes with sand and stones, especially during rainy seasons. Erosion continues to wash away parts of the roads, he wrote.
“The state of the roads makes it harder for the women, young people and children who go to fetch water at the borehole. As for the N278,548,812 (1.4 million dollars) the army allocated between 2012–2014 for water infrastructure, there is no evidence that 244 Battalion benefited from this money.”
By and large, I will suggest that the housing needs of the military should be given a high priority attention. In terms of accountability and transparency in the Army, the current Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai has garnered praises even from very unlikely quarters like the Lagos based Non-Governmental organization- SERAP which wrote the Army a freedom of Information request on Army expenditures for the counter terror war and was shocked to receive overwhelming quantity of adequately explained budgeting and expenditure profiles of the Nigerian Army.