Once upon a time, the hyena and the cock kept a reasonable distance from one another. The hyena believed the cock carried fire on its head, which is why it was afraid of it. The hyena, however, was reassured by the cock that there was nothing to worry about as what he mistook for fire was only an erect red crest. The hyena verified that it was true. The hyena quickly overcame the dread of the cock and proceeded to bite off its crest when he attacked.


This was the story conjured up in mind each time one reads about the violent encounters between the Nigerian army and ‘bloody civilian’ Nigerians. In human psychology, perception is by far more important than reality. The army is meant to be feared.


The Nigerian army has been regarded as one of the greatest in the world since the days of colonisation. From the Congo during colonial times through the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, fought to prevent the country from collapsing to the present; so also their involvement in the First and Second World Wars and several peacekeeping missions are tales of triumph and glory.


The Nigerian military, which is present in around 30 states and the Federal Capital Territory, has also been compelled to engage in internal security operations due to the apparent shortcomings of the country’s police force. Long before three unusual security threats—killer herdsmen, Janjaweed bandits, and Boko Haram terrorists—took center stage, the Nigerian army has been carrying out the statutory tasks of the Nigeria Police. More than ten years have passed since the terrorist group Boko Haram started armed confrontation with the Nigerian government in 2009.


The Nigerian military was already engaged in quelling militancy in the Niger Delta, suppressing insurgencies in the South East and South West, and managing the violent conflict between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt and beyond. This was even before these counterterrorism military operations in the North East and North West. As the ungoverned spaces extend and the violent confrontations intensify, no state or area in Nigeria is spared in the escalating armed conflicts with non-state actors.


Hundreds of commanders and soldiers have died in the largely asymmetrical battles that the Nigerian army has bravely fought to prevent the country from collapsing and crumbling. The army and military haven’t won the wars, although they regularly record impressive runs of victories on all fronts. There are still many security issues in the Middle Belt, North West, South East, and North West, and the volatility of those regions has made those living there and visiting there quite nervous. Many have paid the price as victims, both in terms of money and life.


Farmers are no longer able to work on their farms because of insecurity and fear of being slain or abducted, especially in many Northern areas. Farmers have struck agreements and paid terrorists and bandits to gain access to their farms so they could cultivate and harvest crops in many different locations. Citizens in many LGs pay tax to bandits and terrorists, proof that Nigerian sovereignty is threatened if not shared.


The Nigerian military is among the biggest uniformed combat services in Africa, with about 230,000 active members. But given the size, variety, and magnitude of the security challenges, this number is stretched thin and war-weary. They need a greater sympathetic understanding of the citizens for whom they have put their lives on the line and the nation for which they defend its territorial integrity.


Thus, it was only fitting that national indignation followed the 16 soldiers’ deaths at the Okuama community in Delta State two weeks ago. As was to be expected, the military struck back, besieging the town of Okuama for 17 days. That led to many deaths.


Two soldiers were assaulted a few days ago in Banex Plaza Abuja, where they had gone to return a defective phone that one of them had bought. Acting under the tenet of “buyer beware,” the seller declined to cooperate, leading to the altercation.


After the authorities freed the two attacked troops, they quickly returned with truckloads of their comrades. The Banex Plaza with dozens of stores was closed. Similar to what it did in Okuama, the Nigerian Army is once more attempting to manage its image and reputation.


There are problems raised by this trend, without criticising the Nigerian Army for attempting to preserve its good name and character. Firstly, could these two instances have been handled any better by the Army and the Nigerian communities involved? The answer is yes.


Let’s start by discussing the reputational issue. Immediately, two specific queries about the part reputation plays in violence spring to mind. The first is whether an entity’s reputation for prior violence affects when violence against that entity starts. The start of violent disagreements is the initial phase of militarised conflict. The second question is whether a reputation for turning violent conflicts into full-fledged wars influences the probability that similar conflicts will arise in the future. The findings suggest that conflict is more likely to occur when there is a history of hostility, and that conflict will eventually turn violent.


Every army in the world was taught to fight, to fight to the death, and to win at any cost. Ordinarily, the Nigerian government and people should be aware of the army’s disposition and understand that it is neither equipped nor trained for civil engagements and niceties.


The Nigerian military, especially the Nigerian army, has not been treated fairly by either the state or the general populace in Nigeria. The Nigerian Army has become a laughingstock due to its excessive involvement in domestic security operations and even its role in protecting some politicians. These days, the troops are everywhere; they’re perhaps much more visible than the Nigerian police.


There is nothing particularly unique about the Nigerian military in light of this unwholesome exposure, which is why citizens may summon the bravery to defeat a soldier. It’s never happened before. The arm is a source of strength and pride for the military in particular and serves as a symbol of a sovereign nation.


It will take some time for the Nigerian Army to regain its reputation. As soon as feasible, they must be removed from internal security operations.


Locking down the entire Banex Plaza is an overreaction by the army in response to the attack on their personnel, and it can have the opposite effect. Given that the attackers’ shop or shops are recognised, those should be secured and their occupants should be issued a wanted notice.


The Nigerian military, in particular the army, needs to do a better job of managing its reputation than it is now doing. The art of managing an organization’s reputation involves influencing public discourse and stakeholder views of the organisation and its brands. It entails keeping an eye on attitudes and dialogues, reacting to risks to one’s reputation, and proactively grabbing chances to improve one’s reputation.


Remember it whenever you interact with regular Nigerians. They will appreciate it. Ubuntu, as the Zulus of South Africa would say, means “you are because we are.” Without Nigerians, there would be no Nigerian army, and vice versa.




*Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; [email protected]; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

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