Nigeria’s backward march, by Eric Teniola

During the tenure of Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s Head of State from 1966 to 1975, the two best friends of Nigeria were Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (1892-1975) “power of the trinity” and Hamani Diori (1916-1989) the first President of the Republic of Niger. Their frequent visits to Nigeria during that time made them to be regarded as Nigeria’s best friends. In short their frequent visit to Lagos kept the agile Ikeja airport correspondents on their toes. Those correspondents include Dapo Aderinola, now in America, Jimi Aderinokun, Rabiu Bako, Godwin Esiri, Tayo Falade, Banji Ojewale, late Sesan Ogunro, EmeliFonwo, Chief Oloyede, Kunle Egbeyemi, James Bello, Godfrey Odu, late Kola Adeshina, Kunle Adekoya, Seinde Dagunduro, Toye Akiode, Demola Osinubi and the present Kabiyesi of Akinale in Ogun State, Femi Ogunleye.

So intense was the friendship that in 1972, a detachment of Brigade of Guards under Major General Joseph Nanven Garba (1943-2002) was sent to Niamey, capital of Niger Republic, by General Gowon to quell a coup attempt on Hamani Diori. He survived the coup at that time but was eventually toppled on April 15, 1974 in another army coup led by Lt Col. Seni Kountche in which Diori’s wife, Aissa, was killed.

That General Gowon could send a detachment of a Nigerian Army, that is the Brigade of Guards to Niger at that time spoke volumes of the power of the then Nigeria Army.

The Brigades of Guard was formed in September 1962. It has two battalions, 3 and 26 battalions.

The Nigerian Brigade of Guards is unique in its customs and traditions. It is the only formation in the Nigeria Army where commissioned officers carry walking stick as part of their dress regulation. Officers are allowed to wear web belt in the Mess, an exception (to) the rule in all other Messes. The Brigade is also one of the few formations in the Nigerian Army where all ranks fly plums (green-red in colour). It is customary for all officers posted to the Brigade to be decorated with its insignia, walking sticks, lanyards and plums on plums on assumption of duty. Another unique feature of the Guards is a very high level of proficiency in drills of all types. It has the highest level of espirit-de-corps in the Nigeria Army.

It was established as a special formation, tasked to provide security for the head of state as the highest political office in the country in conjunction with other security agencies. It mounts other ceremonial duties as may be required by the office. The Brigade has undergone several changes and transformation in terms of nomenclature, location and strength. The successive commanders have therefore tried to improve the efficiency of the Brigade and maintained the vision of its founding fathers. The Brigade has become the pride of the Nigerian Army; thus, in addition to its assigned roles it is seen as an epitome of regimentation in the Nigerian Army.

In the first four years of its formation after it was established in 1962, Lt. Col. Wellington Bassey, Major David Ogunewe, Captain Mobolaji Johnson, Captain Frank Obioha, Major Donatus Okafor, and Major Ochei all had the privilege of leading it.

Following the appointment of Major General Garba as a foreign Minister in 1975, the leadership of the Brigade of Guards fell on Major General Paul Tarfa from Garkinda in the North-East, whose entire family was wiped out by the Boko Haram recently.

If the Brigade of Guards could be so effective years ago, one can imagine the mighty strength of the entire Nigerian Army years ago. How are the mighty fallen.

The Economic Community of West Africa Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, was formed on May 29, 1981 during the tenure of President Shehu Shagari. The group is made up of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Fasso, Guinea, Liberia and others.

Because of the mighty strength of the Nigeria Army then, Nigeria has supplied nine out its eleven field Commanders. They include Major General Felix Muajhperuo, Major General Abdul Muhammed, Major General Timothy Shenpidi, Major General Rufus Kupolati, Major General Idowu Adetunji Olurin, Major General Victor Malu, Major General Joshua Dongoyaro, Major General John Inieger and Major General Isaac Obiakor.

Now the same country that supplied all these field commanders is at the receiving end. The ugliest aspect of the war on Boko Haram was when I saw troops sent by President Muhammadu Issoufou of Niger Republic on BBC to Nigeria in our plight against Boko Haram. It made me wonder. I am still perplexed. It was as if I was in a dream. I kept asking myself, is it this same Nigeria?

Just imagine the Niger Republic sending troops to liberate us from the claws of Boko Haram, a country with a population of less than 17 million which is not up to the population of Lagos state. Same with Chad another landlocked country with a population of less than 12 million. And Cameroon too. It’s as if we have fallen to the bottomless pit.

The country we know and proud of, is falling before our eyes. Certainly something is wrong with us. We should be marching forward not backwards. No doubt we have mismanaged ourselves. We should be the ones liberating and not be the ones being liberated. We should maintain our status as a regional power with all our resources, population and effective personnel. Nigerians abroad are excelling in all their callings and the world is aware, why can’t we exhibit such brilliance here at home?

In spite of all, I believe the last days of our republic have not come and the inevitable doom is not around us. Not at all. The present could redefine us and spring us to action. We must wake up from our slumber and take up our positions in the committee of nations. Our case is not truja fuit meaning “troy was; troy is no more”.

ERIC TENIOLA, a former director at the presidency, stays in Lagos.


  1. Uncle Jimi, I grew up in the angelic city of Jos. Anyone who knows Jos will agree that apart from the very ‘oyinbo’ status it had in the 60’s to the early 90’s, it has a very rich (sometime notorious) military heritage. Almost all coups Nigeria has experienced were plotted in Jos. Of course most coup tribunals sat in Jos and inevitably, the culprits were often jailed in Jos.

    I grew up having Generals like Joseph Garba, J.T Useni, Cpt Welby, Cpt. Din as neighbours at various times. There was hardly a boy growing up in the city who did not want to join the army. General Joe Garba made the Brigade of Guards so glamorous that I personally (albeit secretly) determined that if I ever joined the army, I would join the Brigade of Guards. Well I never joined the army ( thanks to my parents)

    Looking at the army today, I wonder what went wrong. I may not be in the army but quite a number of my former classmates an friends are Lt. Colonels and Colonels now. The information I get from them suggests that the political class have deliberately starved the armed forces of funds and much needed training. In fact the Nigerian troops on peace missions have been reduced to guard and police duties. A sad tale of ‘how are the mighty falling’…

  2. Eric, thank you for this brilliant write-up delving into history of where we were before and where, unfortunately, we are now. It is sad. Very sad. I remember how very ecstatic we were then seeing those men with their plumes proudly displayed on the berets. My favorite image happens to be that of the gangling Major-General Joseph Nanven Garba with his neat moustache and body hug uniform. What a fine generation of officers we had then in the Nigerian Army and not now when we have pot-bellied officers who cannot even command or discipline themselves. How then can any country call us great. Not even Benin Republic! I am tempted to ask for a re-union with all those u mentioned in your post. Dapo, Sehinde, Toye, my Ciusin, Kunle Egbeyemi and others. Those were the glorious days of the profession when you dared not go on leave!! Eric, I know you still have the power to fire so pls continue doing so from all your cylinders!

  3. It is amazing how Nigeria found itself in this cesspit of helplessness. My final year project for a degree in political science in 1991 was based on the commanding leadership role of Nigeria in the resolution of the Liberian civil war. It is truly sad that the Nigerian military has been brought to this low. Like Mr. Teniola, I also hope and pray that it is not yet nunc dimitis for Nigeria.

Comments are closed.