The Politics of Military Recruitment: What is to be done?                                          By                     ...
debate because the numbers game has been exacerbated by the Nigerian military sincethe first coup in 1966, most especially...
of new entrants ought to have led to improved trainability and overall force readiness,the overt ethnic, class and politic...
office via a military commission, there is still a general feeling that the militaryoccupation guarantees a higher social ...
serving in the southern parts of the country are of northern extraction, and theperception in periods of political turmoil...
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The Politics of Military Recruitment


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The Politics of Military Recruitment

  1. 1. The Politics of Military Recruitment: What is to be done? By J ‘Kayode FayemiUnderlying the recent alarm raised by the Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN]over ethnic coloration in the admission pattern into our premier military institution arethree central questions: Should our armed forces be an equal opportunities force?Should it simply be a combat effective, battle ready force recruited from the most ablein the most rigorous and competitive manner, in short on the basis of merit? Third,should the manner of recruitment matter – if the training is standardised and gearedtowards bringing the best out of every recruit. Finally, are these goals mutuallyexclusive? The CAN outcry albeit atypical – certainly provides one the opportunityto address a controversial element, which has plagued Nigeria’s defence manpowerpolicy since the end of the civil war. We must thank CAN for this public service.The debate on whether an armed force should be a pure reflection of the society itserves is one that every military undergoes. Examples abound the world over of suchdebates in the United States, on the disproportionate number of blacks in the USmilitary; in India, on the influence of Sikhs, Moslems and other minorities as well asin many European countries. As yet, no empirical evidence supports the notion of anycorrelation between the military’s ethnic representation and its combat effectiveness.The truth is that most efficient modern armies in the world have tended to pay scantregard to the ethnic make up of their military. In fact, some like the British colonialarmy promoted the concept of “martial and non-martial tribes” in places like Indiaand West Africa. Thus, there was a tendency to recruit soldiers from among theRajpoots and the Punjabi Moslems in India, and among the ethnic groups in NorthernNigeria, Northern Ghana and the hinterland of Sierra Leone into the Royal WestAfrica Frontier Force. Indeed, Hausa soon became the lingua franca of the military inWest Africa under colonial rule. Underlying this recruitment pattern were economicand political motives that had little to do with the received wisdom about militaryprowess. The colonial army was established primarily for the subjugation andpacification of the local population, and to help British trade and administration. Toachieve these objectives, some ethnic groups were found more loyal and co-operativethan others were and they also happened to be less literate in western education thantheir southern counterparts and therefore more amenable to orders.Representativeness was never an issue for such armies and this early pattern ofrecruitment was replicated in the post-independence armed forces, except in therecruitment into the officer ranks where the forces needed educated men, and the bulkof the educated men came from the southern ethnic groups. Yet, representativeness inthe military continues to occupy a far more sensitive spot in Nigeria’s version of the 1
  2. 2. debate because the numbers game has been exacerbated by the Nigerian military sincethe first coup in 1966, most especially in the aftermath of the civil war. Consideringthat the tone of every armed forces is set by the officer corps, the state quotarecruitment procedure into the Nigerian Defence Academy has always created theimpression that the Nigerian military was more interested in an equal opportunityforce, rather than a combat ready fighting force. Given its more prominent role inNigerian politics over the past three decades, this has in turn elevated the importanceof having “our own sons” in the military hierarchy among various interest and ethnicgroups. Indeed, there is a sense in which it might be argued that CAN would be lessconcerned about the lopsided nature of recruitment had it not concluded that themilitary has become a permanent feature of Nigeria’s body politic, and therefore,access to this national cake must be shared on an equal basis. This is indeed broadlyreflective of the view repeatedly expressed in civil society where some have evenargued that regionalisation of the armed forces is the only solution to perceiveddomination.Although those in the hierarchy of the armed forces have always espoused the need tohave a military that reflects the make up of society, it is difficult to know what ismeant by this? It is noteworthy that between March 1967 when NDA turned out itsfirst set of graduates and December 1985, when it became a degree awardinginstitution, only 1,486 of the military’s 3,811 commissioned officers received regularcommission, according to school records. The remaining were either EmergencyCommission cadets (421), Short Service Commission cadets [1,239) and Direct Short-Service Commission cadets [765]. Although the EC and SSC commission have sincebeen phased out, recruitment into these commissions which produced more than halfof our military officers during this period reflected a disturbing level of cronyism andethnicisation wholly unsuitable to a fighting force.It is arguable that regardless of how their commission was obtained, the SSC providedan opportunity to utilise skilled manpower from the ranks, and many of the SSC andEC officers exhibited and continue to display an acceptable degree of work ethic intheir duties. Yet personnel with GCE/WASC entry level qualifications tend to bemore productive, better disciplined and most likely to finish their enlistment than SSCand EC officers who did not possess the requisite entry level qualifications for regularcommission. Even so, the level of professionalism among officers trained at the NDAhad been on the wane over the past decade. Military involvement in politics has nothelped matters. For many cadets, access to NDA is the shortest route to politicalpower, rather than a call to national duty. Inevitably, the Defence Academy startedattracting the wrong kind of recruits. At a point in the mid 1980s, no fewer than15,000 applications were received for only 200 places into the NDA, many from thosewho had deliberately dropped out of universities to pursue their politico-militarycareers. Even after the Defence Academy became a degree awarding institution, in1985, the problem did not go away. Although the increased educational qualifications 2
  3. 3. of new entrants ought to have led to improved trainability and overall force readiness,the overt ethnic, class and political colouration of the recruitment process played asignificant role in undermining this. It is common knowledge that siblings of topmilitary officers and their civilian cronies had the greatest chance of success in anyentrance examination to NDA, even if they have the IQ of a toad. The whole conceptof state quota had become a silly joke as it only provided the opportunity for seniorofficers from each state to share available places among themselves. Before long,every keen observer can see the nominal quality of new entrants, the crisis in themanpower planning process, and the failure of the internal mechanism of attaininginstitutional coherence.If as argued above, the tone of any military is set by its officer corps, an officer corpsthat had entered the military for reasons that are not strictly military is a recipe fororganisational dysfunction. The various extra-military functions taken up by theofficers, especially in political administration had not only made it impossible tomaintain the physical and professional qualities needed for a combat ready force, theyhave also contributed to the reduction in institutional cohesion in the armed forces. Asofficers take up political duties, the officer-troop ratio needed for easy management,command, control and regimental discipline is seriously affected. All of thisinvariably resulted in a decline in the level of discipline, training, administration andthe entire organisation’s efficiency. Thus, the turbulence that engulfed the efficiencyof military manpower became rooted in the defective recruitment process andprogressed gradually to a situation whereby approximately 30% of entrants into NDAfailed to complete their course in the 1980s. It could be worse now. As though thiswas not bad enough, the rate of desertion and unauthorised absence amongst thosethat completed their training and got commissions became unacceptable even to themilitary establishment as revealed in the Directorate of Army Staff Duties and Plansrecords.In fact, a 1981 study of combat readiness in the Nigerian army not only confirmedthat retention of unemployable officers and men created a façade of an efficient andbig army, but puts overall readiness at less than 40%. There is every reason to believethat combat readiness is now less than 20% of enlisted men and officers – less than adivision strength of the current army size of 80,000. In spite of this unenviable recordin force readiness and work ethic, interest in the services, especially the army grew ata geometric rate in the 1980s. The only noticeable exception was in 1990 when theusually high number of applicants to the NDA reduced by more than 25% followingthe well publicised deaths of Nigerian soldiers in the Liberian peacekeeping duties. Itwould appear that this experience in military engagement dampened the conventionalwisdom in the unlikelihood of real war situations. It confirmed the view that the morecombat engagements there are for our soldiers, the higher the tendency for desertionand lack of interest in the armed forces. Viewed against the attraction of political 3
  4. 4. office via a military commission, there is still a general feeling that the militaryoccupation guarantees a higher social stratification even if there are some risks to this.What is clear from the above is that good personnel are at the heart of any effectivemilitary organisation, and a defective recruitment pattern has implications for thelevel of discipline, attrition rate and the organisation’s institutional cohesion in thelong run. Yet, CAN’s call for equitable recruitment process only addresses one half ofthe crisis faced by our military, which has in turn affected morale, discipline andespirit de corps. To address that half of the problem, it has to be situated within thebroader political-military context that takes into consideration what the militarymission is and what objective threats are faced by the nation? This way, necessaryforce levels can be determined, without falling prey to the institutional reluctance thathas prevented the military from reducing the armed forces personnel to a levelcommensurate to the threats faced, in order to enhance operational efficiency andtechnical professionalism.For example, if the military mission is primarily coastal – protection of offshoreeconomic interests, and external – peacekeeping duties, are the personnel currentlyemphasised in the armed forces order of battle suitable for the types of missions themilitary may be called upon to perform? Are the manpower levels cost-effective, andmost importantly, does the institutional recruitment process procure individuals thatare wholly dedicated to their military duties, reliable and efficient. Put moregraphically, why is the Nigerian Navy virtually dead and the air force almost non-existent if the real threats are as explained above; why do we need four divisions ofover 80,000 men and officers in the army, and why was recruitment up till the late1980s process geared towards sophisticated equipment and modern technology, whenofficers are not fit enough to withstand pressures not otherwise common in theirprevious infantry based experience? Although the Training and Doctrine Command ofthe Army,[TRADOC] has tried to address this confusion by formulating doctrinecentrally, this has only slightly reduced the degree of subjectivity and prejudicehitherto prominent in policy making because the distortions in the career build up ofofficers has been largely compounded by the political encumbrances of the military,not by lack of ideas as to what is right and proper.The truth is that the only real threat identified by the military is primarily internal –although a lot of this is couched in grandiose regional and continental imperatives.Thus, the conception of military force is not based on any objective assessments ofthreats, but on the notion of permanent subjugation of civil society. This is whatmakes the CAN’s outcry relevant to the debate. The ethnic background of soldiersbecomes relevant particularly when there is possibility that the military might be usedto quell internal disturbances or subjugate their own citizens. To this end, anunrepresentative military institution does imply an unequal distribution of militaryburden and military power. There are credible reports for example that many soldiers 4
  5. 5. serving in the southern parts of the country are of northern extraction, and theperception in periods of political turmoil such as is prevalent in present day Nigeria isthat the ultimate aim is to use these soldiers against a people perceived to be againstmilitary rule.In a military controlled by a hierarchy increasingly less interested in any seriousnotion of professionalism, this constitutes a real security concern for the people. Justas in the days of the colonial army, rulers revel in the notion that their lot is betterprotected by surrounding themselves with officers from a particular section of thecountry. At the same time, they build a wall excluding others, except those ready topick the crumbs from under their desks. Ironically, those at the receiving end areusually the most able officers whose insistence that the goals of Nigeria’s defencepolicy will be best served when governed by a well articulated conception of real andperceived threats, the inter-relationship between the subjective and objective socialforces in the nation’s development, the extent to which threat levels have influenceddoctrine, force structure, arms procurement and other defence issues in a systematicand coherent fashion.Defence manpower policies with doctrinal roots in bland notions of equal opportunityrather than equality of access has never worked. Equally, while the key issue is notreally equal representation of any group, this objective security concern on the part ofthe people will only disappear if high standards for military service are set andmaintained, recruitment procedure fully standardised and the socialisation process inbasic training effective. One thing is very clear: if the objective of an efficient andeffective national defence is to be achieved, this can only be done by a cohesive cadreof nationally minded officers, which increasingly seems only possible under anaccountable civilian, democratic authority, which is answerable to civil society.Whether the rhetoric about professionalising the military is true or not, the onusremains with the civil society to make this a reality. The more civil societyorganisations like the Christian Association of Nigeria get their teeth into what makesthe military tick, the less chance there is for the military to keep its secrets secret fromthe rest of us. Our military is sick, and only a collective effort will save it from itself.Dr Fayemi’s book on Nigeria’s Defence Planning and the Future of its ArmedForces is due out next year. 5