This week, I write to felicitate with a great Nigerian patriot, professional, internationalist peace-maker, General Martin Luther Agwai (CFR) as he turns 70. Agwai was born on November 8, 1948 in Kaduna and spent much of his life in the army, while his post retirement years have been spent engaged in international peace-making operations. He was commissioned as the best performer of Course 8 of the Nigerian Defense Academy and subsequently graduated from the Nigerian Command and Staff College, British Army Staff College, Camberley and United States Army Armor School amongst others. He was also at the National Defense University, Washington DC, where he obtained a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy. While at NDU, he won the Ambassadors Award for excellence in research and writing, making him the first foreigner to win the award. He reached the zenith of his profession as the Chief of Army Staff and later Chief of Defense Staff. He was also he was the Deputy Military Adviser at United Nations Headquarters, New York and served as the commander of the combined United Nations–African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.
In Darfur, General Agwai led one of the biggest peacekeeping operations in the world with approximately 20,000 troops and 6,000 police under his command. His mission, he declared was: “We are not here to conquer anybody, we are not here to compel any peace. We are here to work with the Sudanese people – both the government and the parties to assist them to find peace. We are not here to impose peace. We are not here to fight anybody.” On his retirement in December 2009, the Minister of Defence, Retired Maj-Gen Abbe said “the magnificent parade accorded Agwai is an indication that the nation is happy… the country is proud to produce a fine officer and a gentleman who gave a good account of himself. I am expressing the Commander-in-Chief’s pleasure, President Umaru Yar’Adua for the service he had rendered to his country and beyond and that is what an officer should be”.
To honour him. The Nigerian army established the Martin Luther Agwai International Leadership & Peacekeeping Centre, a centre is a Centre of excellence domiciled in Jaji – Kaduna. , Nigeria. The Centre delivers realistic training to potential peacekeepers for the multidimensional challenges of contemporary peace support operations. The Centre also undertakes and delivers research and training programmes that contribute to global peacekeeping operations.
On 7th November, his friends and colleagues organized a symposium in his honour on the theme: “Security, Peace and Leadership as Catalysts for National Development.” His very close friend Bashir Othman Tofa chaired the occasion and posed this question on the Nigerian condition. “With people like you in this country, if I may ask, how is it that we have sank so low, destroying one another because of how the Almighty intended us? Why is it that we are friends as individuals, but enemies as a community? Why is it that most of our people are so desperately poor and our active and intelligent youth are so left behind”? In responding to these interrogations, the lead speaker, Prof. Funmi Olonisakin from the War College, London drew attention to weak leadership through the decades. We have had too many leaders without requisite leadership skills who have created the conditions for the rise of structural violence in our society. If our leaders commit themselves to making the mass of the people live long and live well, our future would be great, she concluded.
I have discussed the depressing security situation with General Agwai on many occasions. His response has always been that our armed forces need to change their doctrine. Our soldiers are trained to fight conventional warfare but are faced with asymmetrical warfare, which operates on totally different principles. Without a change of doctrine therefore, it would be difficult to fully address the deteriorating security situation in the country. He also often makes the case that we have over stretched our armed forces sending them to police duties in 32 states in the country. In a recent newspaper interview, he appealed to Nigerians not to see the killing of troops as a sign of weakness on the part of the military, insisting that in an unconventional warfare, troops must suffer casualty. He asked Nigerians not to make so much issues out of the ugly development, even as he described it as so sad for the nation saying: “Let me say with all sincerity that it is so sad that we have lost such number of people (soldiers). Let me also remind all of us that when a dog bites man, it’s not news but the day a man bites dog, you know that it’s news. How many of you have reported the number of Boko Haram that have been arrested, those that have been detained and those that have been killed by the security agents? ’It’s because that is the dog biting man, that’s what is expected of the troops.”
At the symposium, his biography written by his daughter Rebecca Agwai was launched. According to Sultan Saad Abubakar, General Agwai was the greatest General that served Nigeria. He described the book as an excellent narrative of the truth and the truth, he added, shall set us free. The book however has a curious title – “Hoe a Congress of Baboons Made a General”. According to the book reviewer, Richard Umaru: “The book addresses four main themes: General Agwai – The Man; General Agwai – The Military Professional; General Agwai – The Military Strategist; General Agwai – the Peacemaker. But in as much as these four themes are conceptually distinctively identifiable, they are nonetheless mutually interwoven with backward and forward linkages.” You are all encouraged to buy the book so that you can understand this incredible feat in which baboons made our greatest General.