It is part of the duty of the military to be deployed to confront security challenges at home or abroad. For developed countries, the scope of deployment has been operations in foreign lands, while developing nations are saddled with the responsibility of internal security operations as well as peace keeping operations.
One of the lessons learnt by commanders in various operations is that while armed forces focus on primary preparation or pre-deployment training such as troops’ mental alertness, physical fitness, drills, weapons, vehicles and equipment handling and overall proficiency and effectiveness – that is combat readiness, there could be gaps in the efforts at preparing mission-bound soldiers on ethnographic and cultural operational environments.
In the United States’ deployment of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and the entire Middle East, commanders have admitted setbacks in operational success due to lack of knowledge of Arabic and cultural awareness.
In like manner, Nigeria’s armed forces operation to secure Bakassi Penissula from Cameroon and the ongoing fight against Boko Haram and ISWAP indicate how language and limited understanding of the culture of the people has hindered progress in the overall operations.
Based on these lessons from what experts refer to as Contemporary Operational Environment (COE), of fighting among people, of wining hearts and minds, of matching non-state actors in information warfare and of cyber warfare; militaries have been taking deliberate steps towards empowering their troops beyond weapons and drills.
World powers such as the United States, China, Russia among others have privileged learning of foreign languages and what military geographers call ‘cultural intelligence’ or ‘people puzzle’ as a force multiplier within their armed forces.
Taking a cue from this global trend and taking cognizance of contemporary security challenges where Nigerian Army is deployed in all 36 states and FCT in internal security operations, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen TY Buratai, introduced the learning of major languages in Nigeria (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) for officers and men.
While speaking at the graduation ceremony of Indigenous Language Proficiency Course at Nigerian Army Resource Centre, the Chief of Army Staff said his approval for the course ‘was informed by prevalent domestic security environment.’ “With the threats of terrorism, insurgency, kidnapping, cultism and proliferation of small arms and light weapons, amongst many other challenges across the country, it is imperative for troops to acquaint themselves with host communities’ languages to enhance thier operations”. Represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans, Lt Gen LO Adeosun, Gen Buratai said the prevalent security challenges necessitate the deployment of troops in almost all the states of the federation for internal security and particularly, the North East on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. “As you all know, internal security and counter-insurgency operations are intelligence driven. Therefore, the Nigerian Army’s ability to adequately and professionally respond to these domestic security
challenges depend largely on our ability to communicate and interact effectively with the local populace. Thus, proficiency in the local language will facilitate the NA’s ability to penetrate and dominate the local operating environment.”
Also speaking at graduation ceremony on the importance of the language policy, Director General, Nigeria Army Resource Center Maj Gen GA Wahab, noted that “emphasis on the language course was heightened by sensitivity to the dynamic nature of Nigeria’s domestic security environment which is littered with plethora of threats whose potency undermines national security.”
This policy statement by the army which was announced in 2017, brought some urgency and attention to the existing gaps in proficiency in major local languages as well as some foreign
languages. It also drew attention to the importance of language proficiency as a force multiplier within operational areas.
The move by the army must be emulated by other security agencies as a necessary step in confronting current, emerging and future security challenges. Getting our security agencies to learn the three major Nigerian languages and two foreign languages (French and Arabic), should be a national agenda that equips the armed forces and security agencies to confront domestic and regional security threats. The policy should be driven by the ministries of Defence, Police Affairs and Internal Affairs.
Rather than a mesh of bureacracy, the ministries can introduce language learning as a requirement at various military and paramiltary training institutions for officers and men at tactical, operations and strategic levels.
Considering that language learning becomes difficult with age, steps should be taken to integrate languages at the early stages of careers of officers and men.