In spite of the challenges, the Nigerian Military School, Zaria, continues to strive to uphold its cherished tradition of discipline and excellence, writes John Shiklam
The Nigerian Military School (NMS), Zaria, has continued to play a vital role in producing the manpower needs of the Nigerian Army since its establishment in 1951.
The establishment of the school is particularly tied to the history of the Nigerian Army and the process of decolonisation.
In 1951, the West African Command of the Royal West African Frontier Force which gave birth to the Nigerian Army, muted the idea of a Boys Company to be patterned after the Boys Wing of the British Army in each of its four colonies: Nigeria, The Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone and the Gambia.
The Boys Company of Nigeria was established with a vision â€œto inculcate a family tradition into the forceâ€ by enrolling children of serving Nigerian Army personnel to be trained as soldiers to replace the departing colonial Non-Commissioned Officers.
The school was initially named Boys Company of Nigeria with a population of 30 boys divided into four Houses, namely Exam, Inglis, Fairbanks and Swynuerton.
In 1960, the name was changed to the Nigerian Military School, the names of the companies (hostels) were also changed to prominent cities in the country.
The school currently has a population of 1,222 Boys drawn from across the country who are admitted based on quota system. They are divided into seven companies named after the cities of Kaduna, Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Abuja, Calabar and Zaria.
Boys from 12 years are admitted for the six-year programme at the end of which they write the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) and those who chose to join the army are eventually recruited having attained the age of 18 while those who do not want to join the army are allowed to opt out.
Since its establishment, the school has grown from strength to strength, making it one of the reputable institutions that have produced many prominent army top brass and politicians as well.
In the 66 years of its existence, the school has contributed immensely to nation building especially in the moulding of men and officers of the Nigerian Army as well as professionals in various fields of endeavours.
Among prominent Nigerians who graduated from the school are the Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau, Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. David Babachir Lawal and the governor of Niger State, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, among several others.
Located in the same vicinity with the Nigerian Army Depot Zaria, the NMS, till date maintains its tradition of discipline and high academic standard.
Admission into the school is highly competitive as only the best five candidates who passed the exam are selected for admission from each state of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
The school is being funded solely by the Nigerian Army, although parents pay a token as development levy for the maintenance of infrastructural facilities .
Commandant of the school, Brig. Gen. Mukhtar Mohammed Bunza, in an interview with journalists in the school said the boys undergo both military and academic training, after which they will decide either to join the army or opt out.
He disclosed that out of the 171 boys that are passing out this year, only five of them have indicated their desire to opt out while the rest will be absorbed in the army.
“We have the education wing that is responsible for the academic activities in line with the national policy on education and the military wing that ensures that the boys are equally trained and grounded as professional soldiers.
“These are the two things that the school does in ensuring that both are achieved without one interfering with another. All aspects of military training are being taught in the school. We carried out all normal practical exercises for them to also see before going out to the field to see,” he explained.
However, the military training was suspended for six years (2011-2016) following complaints by the United Nations (UN) about child soldiers until in July last year when the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai ordered for its resuscitation.
He said those who passed out during the period that the military aspect of the training was suspended, felt bad that after the rigorous training they went through, they couldn’t be absorbed into the army.
“The issue with the suspension of the military training was that the military wing was still there and the boys were being trained but they were not handling arms (during the six years of the suspension) and once you suspend the practical handling of arms, you cannot see them as soldiers.
“The United Nations child soldier issue led to the suspension of the military training, but on the other hand, we have similar institutions currently in the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK) and other countries of the world.
“In fact, there is a leader of one of the military schools from UK who came to this school. The fact is that this is government approved institution, there is no way you can accuse government institution of involving in child soldering.
“When the COAS visited us last year, I told him the problem, because the boys felt very terribly bad that after the training for six years, at the end of the day, they will just go home like that. So the COAS gave directive for the immediate resuscitation of the military training,” Bunza explained.
He said the boys are the babies of the Nigerian Army and as soon as they passed out from school and they gain admission into the university, they have automatic sponsorship to further their education while serving in the army.
In spite of its 66 years of existence, the school, like other institutions has gone through its thick and thin, especially in the area of provision of infrastructure and basic facilities.
Bunza was appointed Commandant at a time when the decay in the school was so alarming and on assumption of office, he had to take urgent steps to ameliorate the situation.
Recalling the deplorable condition of the school, he said “when I took over mantle of leadership, I discovered that there are a lot of challenges, most especially, infrastructural decay which was very alarming!
“Of course the first point of call was the Nigerian Army, the owners of the school. What I did was to compile all the infrastructural requirement and then forwarded the catalog to the Nigerian Army and I’m pleased to tell you that the Nigerian Army have greatly come to the rescue of the school.
“The COAS visited us in July last year. He went round the school and when he saw the level of infrastructural decay, he ordered the immediate renovation of some of the structures which include the six soldiers accommodation, Chief Clark residential accommodation, the military wing of the school, the computer room and other areas of intervention.
“We discovered that over the years, even the bedding of the boys were actually in a very sorry state, and when we reported to the Chief of Army Staff, he gave approval and released funds for the purchase of new beddings, blankets, mosquito nets and bed sheets.”
He said the COAS responded swiftly by approving funds which led to the rehabilitation and execution of projects that have revamped the institution.
For instance, more toilets were constructed while the existing ones were rehabilitated. There is steady water supply following the rehabilitation of the borehole by the school’s Hall of Fame with a backup generator for regular pumping of water.
Similarly, 15 dedicated generators were provided for other boreholes to ensure adequate water supply.
Bunza converted the Nigerian Army Museum building into the Education Wing, thereby providing well-spaced and convenient offices to education instructors.
Some facilities at the Medical Inspection Room were also upgraded and an Isolation Room was carved out for Boys with communicable diseases.
A geography garden has been constructed to aid the understanding of the study of geography among students of the school. The moribund paint factory belonging to the school was revived to compliment internally generated revenue.
The Commandant said the paint produced from the factory is being used extensively for painting the structures in the school, adding that the
school will soon commence the sale of the paint to members of the public as soon as the army authorities give approval.
Bunza also approached some government agencies, corporate organisations and individuals for assistance to improve facilities at the school.
This effort has paid off as some of them responded very positively by initiating various projects in the school.
For instance, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Olonisakin who graduated from the school in 1973 renovated and modernised the Cookhouse and the seven dining halls of the various Companies.
The suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Lawal also renovated two blocks of classrooms and a computer laboratory while another former student of the school and Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahaman Danbazau (rtd) donated N2 million for the renovation of the school library, named after his father who served as RSM of the school.
Similarly the Corps Commander Education, Brig. Gen LF Abdullahi donated N2 million for the renovation of Calabar Company.
Ex-Boys of the school who graduated in 1976, 1977 and 1981 who are based in the United Kingdom also donated classroom furniture to the school.
Corporate organisations like the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) constructed Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Centre for the school, equipped with 21 computers under its School Digital Awareness programme while the National Information Communication Technology Development Agency (NITDA) desktop computer supported with solar panel and inverters.
Also, the Nigerian Deposits Insurance Corporation (NDIC), sponsored the construction of a Language Laboratory for the teaching of French and Arabic languages.
Bunza expressed gratitude to the COAS, Lt. Gen. Buratai, for restoring the NMS to its traditional statutory role by authorising the resumption of military training and for facilitating the upgrading of facilities.
According to him, the COAS has approved the construction of a perimeter fence by the southern flank of the school as well as the renovation of RSM and Chief Clerk houses, the NMS Military Wing, six Soldiers accommodation blocks as well as Kaduna and Lagos companies.
While many public schools have virtually collapsed as a result of corruption and poor management, the military have continued to ensure standard and excellence in their institutions to the admiration of many Nigerians. The NMS has served Nigeria well.