Every profession whether in the public of private sector, has its entry and exit requirements and conditions of service that lead to retirement. This includes military service.
While some military officers retire based on age on rank, others are able to serve out their years once they attain Major General or its equivalent in the navy and airforce.
Considering their wealth of experience and knowledge, some countries keep their retired military officers permanently on reserve. Unlike these nations, Nigeria has no institutional framework for productive engagement of retired military personnel, particularly the senior officers.
While there may be interaction at personal levels based on espirit de corps as regards course mates or service chiefs inviting their predecessors during events or seeking their advice when necessary, there is no institution such as RAND as think tank for robust and futuristic discussion on national security issues as is obtainable in the United States.
This means that for decades, when military officers and men retire, they are left on their own even though they remain a national asset.
While they retire into civilian life as community leaders, opinion leaders, politicians, farmers, or entrepreneurs, many are unable to detach themselves from their primary calling – the profession of arms. This is why, you hear the appellation –‘retired but not tired’
It is therefore heartwarming and a welcome development when the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor recently took a bold step in reaching out to retired military officers.
Many Nigerians who do not understand the military profession, and do not recognize that retired military officers are national assets that should not be left to waste, would not appreciate that General Irabor’s gesture has a far reaching impact and will continue to reverberate beyond 2 Division Headquarters, Nigerian Army, Ibadan where the first interaction was held with senior military officer from the South West of Nigeria.
It is important to put on record that officers who have done strategic courses at National Defence College, National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS or their equivalent in other military institutions around the world as Colonel (army) Captain (navy) and Group Captain (air force) must have in-depth knowledge of Nigeria, Africa and the world.
At tactical levels a military officer, in addition to other courses must participate in Junior Division course as one of the conditions for promotion to Major, Commander or Wing Commander in the army, navy and airforce respectively.
An officer must also participate in the senior division course at Jaji or other similar military institutions. Recently, in line with global best practices, each of the services established its war college to fill the existing gaps and close the waiting period for officers to attend strategic courses.
Each of these courses—junior division, senior division, War College and strategic training expose officers to the most advanced training in technical and leadership capabilities. This is more so for those who are able to make the rank of general. As Generals in their services, they become statesmen.
It is in this light that the robust engagement of General Irabor with retired senior military officers should be seen — a deliberate step to tap into their wealth of experience, curb wastage of national assets, give them a sense of belonging and make them powerful tools for changing public perception of the Nigerian Armed Forces —enhancing public support through their use of word of mouth as community and opinion leaders in their various spaces.
Speaking at the event, which was tagged: “CDS Interaction with Retired Senior Military Officers in the Southwest”, General Irabor said the retired officers as individuals whose knowledge and wealth of experience in defence and security matters should not just undertake the task of security enlightenment an sensitization in their domains, but also be the mouth piece of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
He reminded the senior officers that by their professional calling, both serving and retired military officers are all already sold out to Nigeria and have a duty and responsibility to continue to further the cause of unity, faith, peace and progress of the nation.
He urged them to be drivers of peace, unity and progress within their neighbourhood. Geneal Irabor commended the veterans for their service to country and noted that their contribution is still required in tackling emerging security challenges.
He said: “… you know that our constitutional role is to protect the territorial sovereignty of the country which you have done. We face security challenges mostly from internal factors, these factors may have external input.” “From the wealth of your experience, there is no group that can be engaged better than you. You are mostly qualified and knowledgeable . This is the reason we brought you here. So let me thank you for honouring our invitation. We are hear to rub minds.”
This interactive session is in line with global best practices of constructive engagement of serving top echelon of the armed forces and veterans in proffering solutions to security challenges.
As noted by the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 2 Division, Nigerian Army, Ibadan, Major General Gold Chibuisi, the security parley is apt and timely considering the challenges in the country.
Already, General Irabor has promised that he intends to leverage on the security meeting to boost the ongoing military operations across the country. It is therefore hoped that the retired military officers will see the engagement as an opportunity to proffer solutions having had the benefits of learnt lessons from outside the service.
It is also expected that as noted by Chief of Civil Military Cooperation, Defence Headquarters, Rear Admiral Fredrick Ogu, the participants will continue to draw the attention of the Defence Headquarters since a formal channel of communication has been provided.
I also hope that this commendable effort will be replicated in all the geopolitical zones within the shortest possible time.
Beyond this engagement, Nigeria must imbibe an institutional way of engaging veterans through establishment of think tanks and other similar formal advisory bodies that can utilize the wealth of experience of retired officers and men of Armed Forces.