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Epitaph for patriot Malu at a time like this

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Tunde Olusunle
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By Tunde Olusunle

It is the eighth month of the year, the month of August. The historically inclined will most probably remember that 33 years ago this month, leaders of the 15 countries which make West Africa took the bold initiative to poll combatants and resources together to rescue one brother nation specifically from the throes of internecine unrest. adsbygoogle || []).push({}); js">

It was an agglomeration of Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone entities in the subregion who defied sociolinguistic differences in engaging to confront a common problem. An African proverb reminds us that “you cannot sleep with fire on the roof of your thatched hut.” What the leaders of West Africa did at the time was a most visionary and proactive move as that concept. It ultimately prepared the sub-region for unanticipated uprisings elsewhere in this part of the world. The mustard seed planted in the West coast of Africa, commanded global attention, applause and ultimately support.

He was in Nigeria’s military academy when the civil war broke out in 1967. The hostilities persisted until January 1970 when the erstwhile *Republic of Biafra* called off fighting and presented to Nigerian authorities the instrument of surrender. But then he had always desired the experience of war situations for which he devoted three full years of his youth rehearsing for. The opportunity for such practical battlefield experience, however, came over two decades after his commissioning as a member of the very successful *Course Three* of the Nigerian Defence Academy, (NDA). That opportunity presented itself by way of intertwined offshore engagements in the territories of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Both countries contended with internal revolts and bush wars, at various times in the 1990s. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands and made a success of it earning plaudits from across the world.

Of all the seasoned Nigerian army generals who led the peace monitoring military force which stabilised Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, Samuel Victor Leonard Malu is very clearly my favourite. History and institutional memory have both become endangered species in a country barely interested in revisiting the past to help understand the present and chart a path for the future. It becomes necessary therefore to remind us about highlights of previous sociopolitical experiences in West Africa.
To borrow from Nigeria’s iconic novelist Chinua Achebe, such recollections will help us understand “where the rain began to beat us.” Civil wars orchestrated in the main by insurgents broke out variously in the Liberia and Sierra Leone beginning from the twilight of 1989.

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The bloodbath and refugee crises precipitated by the pogroms, compelled West African leaders in that milieu to establish a subregional military force to deal with the development. Under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS), a “military peace monitoring group,” ECOMOG was established to restore sanity and stability in both brother countries. The Liberian situation was more urgent and more pressing. Troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Liberia, Mali and Niger, among others therefore came together to stem the potential slide into anarchy in West Africa.
Arnold Quainoo a Ghanaian Lieutenant General was the first Force Commander of the subregional force when it commenced operations in August 1990. He was promptly replaced by an unbroken string of Nigerian Generals. This followed his sloppy, unprofessional handling of events leading to the killing of Samuel Kanyon Doe, the embattled Liberian President within Quainoo’s immediate area of responsibility, (AOR).

Doe was reportedly accosted, demobilised and seized by a faction of the Liberian rebels within the precincts of the ECOMOG operational headquarters on September 9, 1990. The incident was something of an abomination. Quainoo, according to Cyril Iweze a Nigerian General and ECOMOG Chief of Staff in 1990, sneaked away from the scene of the confrontation, into a Ghanaian naval vessel docked in the waterfront across the ECOMOG base.
Nigerian authorities swiftly detailed Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro a battle-tested Nigerian Major General to replace the whimpering Quainoo. Dogonyaro, renowned for his ruggedness, quickly stabilised the immediate post-Samuel Doe unrest, before his return to Nigeria in February 1991.

The “Hall of Fame” of Nigerian Generals who commanded ECOMOG thereafter parades some of Africa’s best military professionals. Rufus Modupe Kupolati, Ishaya Bakut, Tunji Olurin, John Shagaya, John Mark Inienger, Malu and Timothy Shelpidi, called the shots in ECOMOG in that order. Malu oversaw the general elections which produced the erstwhile rebel leader, Charles Ghankey Taylor as President July 19, 1997.

Instructively, all the Generals so deployed as ECOMOG Field Commanders when Sani Abacha, a four-star army General and Muslim was Nigeria’s Head of State, were all Christians. Sadly though, all eight successive Nigerian ECOMOG Field Commanders have passed at various times over the years. Their unfortunate departures without doubts has robbed Nigeria unquantifiable reservoirs of practical on-the-field military experience. Such vistas would have enriched tactics and strategies in dealing with Nigeria’s lingering multifaceted security challenges. Let’s hope a cognisant and sensitive leadership in Nigeria duly remembers these heroes and honours them appropriately.

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I’ve recently found myself reading and enjoying playbacks of the outings of Nigerian Generals during the ECOMOG years. Malu strikes me as particularly fearless, competent, blunt, vocal and tough. As a Brigadier-General, he served first in a tri-dimensional capacity as Nigeria’s Contingent Commander; Chief of Staff and ECOMOG Director of Operations, between 1992 and 1993. This prepared him for subsequent appointment as Force/Field Commander of ECOMOG in August 1996, the same month of August when the military intervention force was birthed six years earlier. Malu led a 10-nation coalition of armies established to sanitise the drift in Liberia, perhaps the first African country which gained independence back in 1857. In that capacity, Malu commanded over 10,000 troops in Liberia and exercised oversight in the neighbouring Sierra Leone which was sadly also in the throes of sociopolitical schism.

Under the unsmiling Malu’s watch as ECOMOG Force/Field Commander, the multinational force demonstrated toughness and no-nonsense ruthlessness to whip dissidents and insurrectionists in line. Liberia held general elections in 1997 an exercise which ushered in democratic governance. The decade-long unrest in that country within the period claimed an estimated 250,000 people.

Taylor and Malu would subsequently tango on a number of occasions with Taylor accusing Malu of running a parallel government. Malu held his grounds and repeatedly insisted he had specific briefs from ECOWAS and would diligently prosecute its orders. Malu’s Commander-in-Chief Abacha had to be persuaded by the ECOWAS leadership to reassign his General from the frontlines so as to calm tempers in the burgeoning Liberian democracy. In January 1998, Malu returned home to other military assignments.

Malu was immediately appointed Chairman of the Special Military Tribunal, (SMT), which tried suspected plotters of a coup against Abacha upon his return to Nigeria. Instructively, he tried his boss who was hitherto second-in-command to Abacha, Oladipo Diya, a Lieutenant General and Chief of General Staff, (CGS). His course mate at the military academy back in 1967, Abdulkarim Adisa a Major General like him, was among the rebels he tried.

Typically, Malu discharged his brief without fear or favour handing down death penalties in instances subject to ratification by the highest policy making body in the land, the Abacha-headed Provisional Ruling Council, (PRC). He was Commander of the Lagos Garrison of the Nigerian Army between 1998 and 1999, a strategic command which has metamorphosed into a full Division of the Nigerian Army. Malu was appointed Chief of Army Staff, (COAS) by the first President of the Fourth Republic, Olusegun Obasanjo, May 29, 1999.
It was an ecstatic Liberian populace which welcomed the much loved Malu back to their country in 1999. He was invited by the Taylor-led government for the conferment of an award for “unparalleled bravery and selfless gallantry” at a ceremony in Monrovia. His Commander-in-Chief, Obasanjo was also invited to the event and was caught on camera blushing at the international recognition for his own.

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The Ghanaian President at the time John Agyeman Kuffour equally attended event. Taylor, a sworn Malu hater could not but join the applauding audience in saluting a quintessential Nigerian army General who staked his life and career for peace and order to return to his country. Taylor’s handshake with Malu was notably long! Malu was true and through a worthy ambassador in his own right.

Almost two years into his job as COAS, Malu was removed from office by Obasanjo and replaced by Alexander Ogomudia in a move which amazed many. Malu was noted as doing a good job trying to restore professionalism to the army after decades of the corruption of the service by years of military rulership.

There were reports to the effect that Malu fell out with his Principal. As the story went while Obasanjo favoured the wholesale integration of foreign trainers in rebuilding the army, Malu voted for measured engagement. His experiences in the theatres of battle while on his various ECOMOG assignments convinced him that Nigerians can hold their own, having been standout performers among their peers on the battlefields.

Malu never recovered from the psychological bruises of his ouster. Most painful for him was the retaliatory invasion of his home community, Tse Adoor in Katsina-Ala local government area of Benue State by soldiers he once commanded, just months after he left office.

His aged mother was reportedly harassed and beaten up, while his 90 year old uncle was thrown into a burning house and left to roast. Malu’s health took a southward turn years after such that the keen sportsman and devoted tennis player came down with diabetes which snowballed into a stroke. He passed on October 9, 2017 at 70 at hospital in Cairo, the Egyptian capital and was interred October 28, 2017, in his country home in Tongov, Benue State. One of Nigeria’s iconic military personalities, Malu evidently died a broken man. Thankfully, his younger brother John Malu retired from the army as a Major General, while his first son, Terlumun Malu is a serving Colonel, holding aloft the banner of military professionalism the patriarch Malu left behind.

Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)

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