Year in, year out, thousands of them put their lives on the line so that millions of us can live peaceful lives, or some resemblance of it. Some of them are even drafted to foreign lands to help keep the peace. Over the years, the Nigerian soldier has played a crucial role in keeping the nation and the world together.
The Nigerian soldier, alongside the agent of the Department of State Security Service (SSS), who has been providing the needed intelligence that has eased the onerous task of checkmating purveyors of violence, has strived in a nation faced with a terror war that is alien to its security architecture, to uphold public safety.
Decades after the end of the Nigerian civil war, the debate had been what to do with the Nigerian soldier. Finding a role for him in peacetime had been a herculean task for the nation’s security managers. However, with more and more nations embroiled in civil wars, the Nigerian soldier has become a harbinger of peace in many foreign lands. He has demonstrated his valour in many nations, including Congo, Lebanon, Chad, Somalia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Of late, the Nigerian soldier has been involved in peacekeeping in Sudan and Mali, where a group of Islamic insurgents have replaced the rule of law with the rule of the gun in substantial parts of the crisis-torn nation.
At home, the Nigerian soldier has become a key actor in fighting crime in the face of glaring ineptitude of the police occasioned by long years of neglect, poor training and poor welfare that have combined to serve as a disincentive to efficiency by the men and officers of the nation’s police force.
It was the lot of the Nigerian soldier, ably supported by the SSS agent, to curb the militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta, which led to a sharp drop in oil production and an attendant decline in national revenues. This was in addition to restoring order in view of the state of anarchy foisted on the region by the militants and their sponsors. Besides, there are very few states in the country today without special anti-crime squads that are peopled by the Nigerian soldier.
With the intensification of insurgency in Nigeria, especially since 2009 when the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, launched a widespread offensive in retaliation against the extra-judicial killing of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, by the police, the Nigerian soldier has been sucked deeper into the vortex of the nation’s violence. The SSS agent also has been involved in the terror war to wipe out the insurgents.
Operating under either the Joint Task Force or Special Task Force, it has been the task of the Nigerian soldier to combat the insurgents that have turned many parts of the country into war zones.
However, irrespective of the weather, the Nigerian soldier goes out daily to confront the Islamic insurgents, many of whom have been primed for death. He is never sure if he will return alive from his tour of duty to the warm embrace of family and friends whom he had left behind in the service of the nation.
In all of these roles, men of the SSS have been lurking in the background, risking their lives and those of their families to gather the intelligence that would help the soldier plan the next operation, the next attack.
Irrespective of their shortcomings or the pervasive despondency over how long it is taking to root out the criminals or the allegations of insider support for the terrorists, the Nigerian soldier and the SSS agent have gone beyond the call of duty to contain the terror merchants.
For gallantly bearing the cross of peace, whether in Nigeria or Somalia, Sudan or Mali, roles that they have played with efficiency, dedication and without garlands, the Nigerian soldier and his ally, the SSS, are celebrated as THISDAY Persons of the Year.