Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
BARRACKS: THE HISTORY BEHIND THOSE NAMES (PART 6 - CONCLUSION)
continued from: http://www.dawodu.com/barrack4.htm
So far we have reviewed barrack-naming practice in the United States, United Kingdom and Nigeria - while taking note of some other countries. We can now venture to place in context and express opinions on all of the issues - as enunciated by the Nigerian Defence Minister - which were posed at the beginning of the essay. But it would be meaningless to do so without first understanding why it is that we even bother to memorialize individuals and events through naming practices and other forms of memorialization.
Memorialization is a critical component of the process of constructing a national or community identity. According to Jonathan Boyarin, ‘Memory erupts into and shapes “public space” in various and often ambiguous ways, as in monumental public art. The erection of monuments is a central means of shaping memory.’ [Jonathan Boyarin, ‘Space, Time, and the Politics of Memory’ in Remapping Memory, ed. Boyarin, 20] However, the meaning of monuments can certainly change over time and some monuments even embody resistance to dominant historical themes.
In her presentation on ‘War and Memorialization’, Catherine Brace tells us that monuments form backdrops in our daily lives. By deliberately conveying symbolic messages to individuals and groups based on the creation and sustenance of narratives of the past, they commemorate what we value and instruct us in our heritage by constant reminder through visible manifestations that give meaning to what happened. [
But there is another way of looking at it. Memorials were originally meant to be temples of worship to assist those bereaved to bear their loss by taking the edge out of their bitterness, reducing despair and thus encouraging healing. [Jay Winter. Sites of Memory, Sites of
Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History; Cambridge University Press, 1995.] War memorials in particular honor sacrifice not only as part of the ritual of bereavement but also by placing memory in moral context and drawing lessons from it to remind survivors of what is most important. They inspire gratitude for what transpired before our time
and encourage us – as a kind of atonement - to double efforts to build and sustain the kind of community or nation that would be worth the specific sacrifice or contribution being memorialized. [Leigh, Catesby. "Our Monuments, Our Selves." Weekly Standard, 5 March 2001] Thus they also have the secondary role of providing a way to manipulate survivors for political purposes.
When we memorialize people and events, therefore, what we are also doing is reinforcing certain social and political values and obligations by reminding present and future generations to cherish what the monument symbolizes. Clearly, therefore, any given memorial should reflect some central meaning and purpose. When the memorial
is to an individual, the role of such an individual as a hero, leader or collective actor is mythologized. As the Australian newspaper, “The Age” once observed in an editorial comment regarding the controversial Aboriginal Memorial in Canberra,
“A purpose of memorials is to show public respect to the people to whom they are dedicated. Memorials remind us to remember them and to reflect on their contribution, or their sacrifice.“
At the same time, when memorials are specifically designed for reconciliation,
“Reconciliation is not served by a monument that increases the pain of wounds it is meant to heal.” [Sorry state of the sorry memorial. Editorial Opinion. The Age. Saturday 1 December 2001
Unfortunately, there may not necessarily be consensus between and within elite and popular versions of collective memory and so what tends to happen is that those in power usurp the popular conscience and create societal myths based on their own accounts of history. A society’s memorials, therefore, say a lot about the values of the elite.
WHAT IS THE PROPRIETY OR OTHERWISE OF NAMING MILITARY INSTALLATIONS AFTER INDIVIDUALS - DEAD OR ALIVE?
Typically, only past events or dead people are memorialized. However, the living can be honored with gestures of appreciation for unusual contributions or sacrifice, such as when we award certain categories of medals for gallantry or accelerate promotions, among numerous other devices at a personal level. However, to physically name an entire military installation after an individual for the rest of eternity demands much higher standards. The overwhelming majority of Barracks and Military Bases in the world are not named after living individuals – in part because a soldier’s unique role in society is to kill when legally required to do so, and thus, risk his or her own life in the process.
The ultimate individual military sacrifice, therefore, is death. Even when there is intent to so name an installation based on unusual professional contributions, the actual naming process usually awaits the individual’s transition at which point the institution takes a step to immortalize him or her. That is the warrior tradition.
That said, one observation that seems evident from our historical tour of Barrack or Base naming practices in other countries is that individuals (of all ranks, including, albeit rarely, civilians) have indeed been memorialized by their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates when they made,
1. Ordinary contributions in extraordinary circumstances,
2. Extraordinary contributions or sacrifice in ordinary circumstances, or
3. Extraordinary contributions or sacrifice in extraordinary circumstances.
Obviously, the last category mentioned is the least controversial. Circumstances could be viewed as extraordinary if in wartime (particularly important military action, battles and wars that threaten national survival or way of life) or ordinary if in peacetime. There is the caveat that a case can be made for extraordinary conditions in peacetime, such as during search and rescue
operations in support of the civil authority or combat training accidents.
Thus, naming military installations in Nigeria after individuals per se would neither be unusual nor wrong as long as it follows due process, is not abused and such individuals - from a military point of view - really do merit being memorialized for extraordinary soldierlike, seamanlike or airmanlike qualities. If they are civilians, requirements should include extraordinary contributions that directly enhance the
soldierlike, seamanlike and airmanlike qualities of service personnel in war, or institutional readiness in peacetime for future war.
In a peculiar institution like the military, it needs to be recognized that every single inappropriate exercise in memorialization insults the credibility and undercuts the morale of every true soldier, living or dead, active or retired, in addition to undermining the prestige of the institution and its image. It is not enough to have served in the military or held office because there will be many in that category and
certainly not enough Barracks to go round, well into the future. Individuals should not be memorialized for merely doing their jobs - unless what the country and armed forces are saying is that merely doing one's job is an accomplishment that deserves to be recalled by future generations. Such a scenario should only arise, if at all, when circumstances are truly unusual, in which case it is the circumstance, rather the individual that ought to be memorialized. Unfortunately, emotional factors tend to obscure these distinctions, such as when respected figures have died unexpectedly in tragic circumstances. What should never happen, however,
is to memorialize individuals for performing ordinarily (or with mediocrity) in ordinary circumstances merely because of ethnicity, religion or the vanity of some transient regime.
For example, as summarized by Neil Mishalov, based on Chapters 3-6, US Army Regulation 600-8-22 (Military Awards) dated 25 February 1995,
"The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President in the name of Congress to a person who, while a member of the military, distinguishes himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly
foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades and must have involved risk of life. Incontestable proof of the performance of the service will be exacted and each recommendation for the award of this decoration will be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit." [http://www.mishalov.com/Medal_of_Honor.html]
Criteria for memorializing individuals should be established upfront and embedded into binding regulations like the Nigerian Armed Forces Act, to avoid the kind of frivolous naming and renaming practices that have transpired in the past in Nigeria. Those individuals after whom military barracks and installations are named should personify critical values of the Nigerian Armed Forces, such as personal sacrifice above
and beyond the call of duty or in highly unusual circumstances, outstanding leadership, command, innovation, professional accomplishment, etc. as is reflected in its doctrine, laws and traditions. As much as possible such individuals should also be towering figures from the point of view of soldiering in general as a generic profession that cuts across national borders and time.
SHOULD EITHER THE NAMES INHERITED FROM COLONIAL ERA THAT HAVE NOW BEEN ABANDONED OR THE PRINCIPLES UPON THEY WERE BASED, BE REVIVED?
Based on a survey, it has been my observation that the majority of old Barracks built and named by colonial powers still retain their old names – as they should. In my view, names inherited from the colonial era “that have now been abandoned” should be revived – as long as the colonial names did not supplant already established pre-colonial names, if any.
Pardon the digression, but I have often wondered, for example, why the West African Frontier Force (WAFF) Road in Kaduna was renamed. Just before amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria, the West African Frontier Force Camp was based in Jebba before being moved to Kaduna in 1912 to test the site of Lugard’s proposed new capital, consistent with the decision to transfer the headquarters of then Northern Nigeria from Zungeru. Lugard built the city of Kaduna against a backdrop of primordial mini-settlements in the area. The WAFF helped to build it. Lugard is certainly a highly controversial military figure, but these are the facts. It would be an entirely different matter if there had been a pre-colonial town called Kaduna and Lugard came and started renaming established
ancient roads after himself or the WAFF.
The truth is that Nigeria was colonized and we cannot pretend that it did not happen. Many of our people died resisting colonialism. But colonialism prevailed for reasons that we ought to be thinking about, rather than deceiving ourselves. Some of our people even helped colonialists colonize the rest of us. Some of our people, voluntarily and involuntarily, also served the colonial military machine in foreign wars, allegedly against fascism. These are the facts. Merely changing the names of Barracks inherited from the colonial era because they are colonial will not make history go away. It risks
deceiving future generations into complacency by forgetting that there was such an event in Nigerian history. Quite apart from sweeping the supreme sacrifices of many brave Nigerian soldiers under the carpet, there is also the danger that some might even forget that what we now know as the Nigerian Army was a colonial creation.
On the other hand, the principles upon which Barracks were named during the colonial era – after epic Battles or Battlefronts (like Myohaung) or philosophical military concepts (like the Latin word Tego) - were certainly very laudable. However, it must be pointed out – as I made clear earlier - that the British did always use such principles exclusively for their own Barracks in the UK or Barracks in
other colonies, like Ghana. Many Barracks in Britain are obviously named after deserving individuals. Therefore, that the British did not do so in Nigeria is not by itself, reason enough to declare the colonial principle inviolable. There were certainly soldiers like Regimental Sergeant Major Chari Maigumeri, after whom Barracks could eventually have been named at the time of
death. Maigumeri was a soldier’s soldier. He won the German Iron Cross in fighting against the British during World War 1 in Kamerun. After part of German Kamerun (later called Northern Cameroons) came under the British in 1917, he was recruited into the WAFF and fought against the Germans in East Africa. He later won the British Military Medal for gallantry during fighting against the Italians in Ethiopia, and the Japanese in Burma in World War 2 and was promoted to Honorary Captain when he left the service in 1953 (NJ Miners, The Nigerian Army 1956-66, p 37).
That said, there are good reasons why the colonial policy of avoiding individual names has merit in a country like modern Nigeria. We have no established system for the honest, fair and consistent appraisal of individuals on the basis of merit. We are not self-policing. Vanity, sycophancy, personal spite, ethnicity and religion
have overtaken military commonsense and honor. Some of the individuals – alive and dead - after whom Barracks are currently named in Nigeria, do not deserve such profound statements of memorialization. It insults the memory of those who do and the place in history of the institution as a whole.
CAN AND SHOULD APPROPRIATE ADDITIONAL NAMES ARISING FROM THE NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR, ECOMOG OPERATIONS IN LIBERIA AND SIERRA LEONE AND ANY OTHER PEACE-KEEPING OPERATIONS IN WHICH NIGERIAN TROOPS SUFFERED CASUALTIES BE RECOMMENDED?
Yes. And to this list I shall add pre-colonial ‘Nigeria’. A determined effort needs to be made by scholars to establish the names and military records of great military philosophers, commanders and soldiers of pre-colonial Nigeria. That
this has not so far been done in detail is an embarrassment. In the course of this essay I mentioned Umaru Nagwamatse, the great Fulani warrior after whom Fort Nagwamatse in Kontagora is appropriately named. But we also had other great soldiers and military innovators like Mai Idris Alooma, Ewuare the Great, Ake of Isi, and many others, long before the white man came. Then there were those who actually died in battle,
resisting colonialism, like Sultan Attahiru Ahmadu of Sokoto, Asoro of Benin, Rabih Fadlallah of Borno, etc. They too should be memorialized if they meet predetermined criteria – to ensure that the modern Nigerian military understands and celebrates its dual heritage. In cases where specific individual names cannot be established, names of well known warrior nationalities with unique styles and records of innovative
warfare or heroic resistance could be memorialized in some way, like Kwararafa, Oyo, Ibadan, Baghirmi, Uyo, Tiv, Jukun, Arochukwu, Nupe, Abam, etc.
However, cautious consideration needs to be applied regarding the Nigerian Civil War and the role of “heroes” in various coups d’Etat in Nigeria. Although, I have no doubt that there are many unsung soldier heroes of the Nigerian civil war (on both sides), a civil war is not like a foreign military campaign or peacekeeping operation where celebration of victory or conquest or success is an all or none affair with unanimity of interpretation. Where and how the battles and personalities of the Nigerian civil war are memorialized demands sensitivity to reconciliation on one hand and good long-term judgment about core military values and precedents on the other – without being blind to the realities of history and Nigeria’s fractious political terrain. In the United States, for example, many Army Barracks and Bases in the south are named after famous Confederate soldiers even though the South lost the war. This was possible because of the federal mechanism by which Military Barracks are named in the US, with strong, usually decisive local input. However, the same cannot be said of Spain after the Spanish civil war.
Nevertheless, personalities aside, in addition to the unprecedented sea-borne landing at Bonny, which is memorialized by “Bonny Camp” in Lagos, there are other commemorative battles and campaigns that are of interest. The town of Ikot Ekpene, for example, was captured, lost and recaptured by both sides more often than any other town in the history of the Nigerian civil war. The various battles for Ikot Ekpene could be memorialized – without controversy - as a tribute to the “fighting man’s spirit” on both sides. There are other examples of civil war battlefields that can not only be used to name Barracks but be designated as “national historic battle fields”.
What to do about military officers and men who have taken part in (or benefited from) successful coups is another thorny issue. If the Armed Forces and country have now decided that the coup d’Etat culture cannot be glamorized, then it will be curious indeed for the same military establishment to be seen naming monuments and Barracks after past coup plotters, participants and collaborators, successful or unsuccessful. Most of Nigeria’s post-colonial military “heroes” are coup plotters, storm-troopers, coup addicts, enablers, innocent bystander beneficiaries or apologists although there are certainly some who are not. The challenge is to identify those who are untainted. Once beneficiaries of Nigeria’s many successful coups have been memorialized it becomes difficult to justify why those who were executed or jailed for failed attempts but otherwise made unique contributions to the profession or sacrifices for the nation at other times should be ignored. This is a slippery slope.
Such thorny considerations, if implemented strictly, would eliminate a huge number of contenders from memorialization. They add credence to the views of those who argue that we may well be best served by simply restricting the names of our Barracks to the names of pre-colonial figures, colonial and post-colonial era military battles and campaigns, the localities in which Barracks are based or the technical functions the tenant units perform.
CAN THERE BE RIGOROUS CRITERIA FOR NAMING SUCH INSTALLATIONS IN A CONSISTENT AND FAIR MANNER THAT WE CAN AGREE ON AND WHICH WILL COMMAND RESPECT AND COMPLIANCE IN THE FUTURE?
Yes. But such criteria have to be embedded in the Armed Forces Act to have legal teeth and the public has to be informed enough and willing to act as a watch dog when those criteria are violated by military charlatans. We have mentioned some of them over the course of this essay.
As a general federal principle, the Barrack naming process should originate locally, not only from the military units affected within the proposed Barrack location, but also after liaison with local leaders of thought. This will help ensure that those most intimately familiar with the gallantry and intrepidity of the individual(s) proposed for memorialization partake in the process while avoiding culturally insensitive names
that undermine civil-military relations. Proposed names can then be sent to the Military Secretary’s office at the Army HQ for comment based on confidential records, and then on to the Ministry of Defence which, after due consultations and verification of compliance with guidelines, can propose alternatives for reconsideration at the local level or approve the submitted name.
The process can be fine-tuned by providing a panel of historical experts as a resource, and having external controls, such as a distinguished panel of former Nigerian soldiers who served around the time of the proposed honoree also served. There might even also be invited ‘external examiners’ from other African countries.
In special cases the AHQ or MOD or interested groups of civilians or military retirees can also originate nominations but the bottom-up process should still be respected as much as possible.
My focus is in this article on entire Barracks and Military Installations. Within such entities, however, there are usually roads, buildings, parade grounds, landing pads, schools, libraries, markets, armories, magazines, shooting ranges, etc.. The criteria for naming those sub-entities should also be addressed at some point but need not be as rigorous as the criteria for entire Barracks and Military Installation.
My recommendation is that Barracks should be named after:
A. Difficult or memorable military actions, battles and campaigns, preferably outside Nigeria, involving the unit originally based in that Barrack location, particularly those in which there was significant loss of life, e.g. Arakan campaign of World War 2, etc. as exemplified by colonial practice. Potential battles and campaigns for future
memorialization might include UN peace-keeping operations in Lebanon and Somalia, OAU operations in Chad, ECOMOG Operations Liberty (in Liberia) and Sandstorm (in Sierra Leone) and the ECOMOG resistance to Charles Taylor’s Operation Octopus (in Liberia).
B. Famous pre-colonial Nigerian military figures, titles, acts of resistance and/or battlefields, e.g. Idris Alooma Barracks in Maiduguri, Ewuare or Ologbosere Barracks in Benin, Kakanfo Barracks in Oyo (after Are Ona Kakanfo), Attahiru Barracks in Sokoto (after Caliph Attahiru I), Satiru Barracks in Sokoto (after the Satiru rebellion), Ekumeku Barracks (after the Ekumeku movement), Burmi Barracks (after the 1st and 2nd battle of Burmi), etc. along the lines of “Fort Nagwamatse”.
C. Deceased soldiers and civilians (irrespective of rank) from the Army or other Services or employees or officials of the Ministry of Defence who have made outstanding professional contributions and/or performed heroic actions at great personal cost – such as death or disability - which contributed to the Unit's or Base's or Service’s mission. Such persons, like RSM Chari Maigumeri, should be memorialized at the original home base of their parent Army unit, barracks as close to their places of origin as possible e.g. Maiduguri, or in the federal capital area. An additional consideration might be to use the names of servicemen and women whose ranks while on active service match the rank group of the soldiers who mostly use the Barracks in question. In such a scenario, Barracks used by NCOs and soldiers at the Infantry Center and School (ICS), Jaji or Depot NA in Zaria could be named after RSM Maigumeri or other deserving “Other ranks.” I met some such unsung heroes during a personally troubling visit to the ECOMOG ward at the Yaba Military Hospital many years ago. Doubtless, I failed to meet those who were taken straight to the morgue.
D. Names of the locality or some famous geographic, architectural or historical feature in the locality in which the Barracks are based, e.g. Ikeja barracks in Lagos, Bassawa barracks in Zaria, Aso Barracks in Abuja (after Aso Rock) etc.
E. Names of Internationally famous military philosophers, innovators and soldiers, e.g. Shaka the Zulu etc.
F. Functional descriptors of the Units based in that Barracks, e.g. “Artillery Barracks”, “Signals barracks”, etc. or names symbolic of such units and their purpose.
G. Highly respected servicemen and women, (or outstanding civilians in the Defence industry) who died on active service during tragic peacetime circumstances or accidents during war. Examples include Colonel Joe Akahan’s crash in July 1967, C-130 crash of 1992, Brigadier Umaru Mohammed’s death in the F-27 crash of 1980, various fighter jet aircraft, and helicopter and small
transport plane crashes over the years, etc. In this category may also be grouped those who died in violent coups d’Etat – as long as they were widely professionally respected at the time for extraordinary contributions to the service, under the conditions which obtained at that time.
H. The Founding father principle. The founding father principle is what was used to name the Nigeria Police Headquarters in Abuja after Louis Edet, Nigeria’s first indigenous Inspector General of Police. Obviously, therefore, it seems to be a factor in Nigerian
thinking, based on the premise that merely being the first indigenous occupant of that office is an unusual circumstance even if one performs ordinarily on the job. One can appreciate the novelty, but in my opinion, merely being a founding father is not enough to name a Barracks or Installation after an individual, if he or she did not hold the job for a significant length of time, contribute professionally to the development of the service, die tragically in office, or project the frontier mentality of a true discoverer and scout for his or her successors.
Nevertheless, for argument sake, if the founding father principle is contemplated, it ought to be fully implemented down the line without bias – unless there are really serious reasons why it should not be. Let us (hypothetically) imagine this scenario. If the founding father principle is used as a criterion in the military, then Nigeria’s first indigenous defence
minister (Alhaji Tafawa Balewa) should have the Ministry of Defence (Ship House) named after him. Army HQ would become Aguiyi-Ironsi House. NAF HQ would be George Kurubo House. NN HQ would be Akinwale Wey House. The HQ 1 Division would be Mohammed Shuwa House, HQ 2 Division, Murtala Mohammed House, HQ 3 Division, Benjamin Adejunle House and HQ 82 Division (formerly 4 Division), Emmanuel Obada House. Furthermore, the Nigerian Defence Academy might either be named after Tafawa Balewa (because he laid the original foundation stone of the precursor NMTC
in 1960), or Muhammadu Ribadu (because he was the Minister who oversaw its creation in 1964) or Major General David Ejoor (because he was the first indigenous Commandant). The Nigerian Military School would be named after Brigadier WU Bassey (its first Commandant) while the ICS would be named after Colonel Ralph Shodeinde (or perhaps even after Alhaji Tafawa Balewa because the ICS is the former NMTC).
The Armoured Corps Barracks would be named after Major General Hassan Katsina, Artillery Corps Barracks after Lt. Col. Alexander Madiebo, Signals Barracks after either Brigadier Adesoji Ademulegun (first signals officer) or Lt. Col. A.O. Eze (first officer in command of the Signals squadron). The Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Barracks would be named after Col. Victor Banjo while the Engineer Barracks would be called the Lt. Col. Mike Okwechime Barracks and the
HQ of the Medical Corps named after Brigadier Austen Peters. While the HQ of the Intelligence Corps would be named Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu House, the Ordnance Corps HQ would be the Col. Effiong House. Lastly, who exactly was the first Nigerian to be commissioned as an officer in the West African Frontier Force? He was Lt. Ugboma, who only died
last year after a stroke. Unfortunately for him he left the service before the classification scheme of Nigerian Army specific numbers was introduced in the mid-fifties. Therefore, Brigadier WU Bassey became “N1” and is officially regarded as the first commissioned Nigerian officer. Who then is the founding father of the Nigerian
Army Officer Corps? Ugboma or Bassey? Should Ugboma be officially ignored?
I have little doubt in my mind that the list that has just been presented would evoke different reactions among different knowledgeable Nigerian readers and run afoul of some of the concerns earlier expressed about coup plotters etc. That is precisely why merely being a so-called founding father is not so straightforward as a reason to be memorialized.
I. The concept that once named, do not rename. In Britain and the US there are now rules that once named after an individual, every effort should be made to avoid renaming a Base or Barracks. There are good reasons for this. Such
renaming (which used to occur in the past) demeans the memory of those after whom the base or Barracks was originally named and often provokes resistance and negative publicity from their relatives and local supporters.
However, in Nigeria there are Barracks that have been renamed in the past, including some colonial era Barracks (as pointed out by the Minister) and Fort Obasanjo – as previously noted. Some famous (or rather, notorious) military Barracks have been handed over to the Police e.g. Dodan Barracks in Lagos.
Now that there is a committee reviewing and trying to standardize Barrack naming practices, there will be a point at which the government has to decide whether to rename certain inappropriately named Barracks. There are two groups – those named after the living (inappropriate or potentially appropriate in the future) and those named after the dead (appropriate and inappropriate). Unless a blanket decision is made to simply stop naming Barracks after individuals, alive or dead, there is no way the exercise will not be controversial, knowing the role of memorialization in the grieving and healing process set against Nigeria’s inability to rise above ethnicity and vanity. In many sectors of the polity naming practices are loose and unprincipled. Just this past week, the decision to rename the Jos airport after General Yakubu Gowon, the Head of State and son of the soil who built it, (to replace Colonel Wase who died in an air-crash there but had no prior record of real professional achievement) met with criticism from an aviation group. Such criticisms occur because there are no established guidelines for naming practices, which can guide informed public debate.
The options, therefore, are,
1. Let sleeping dogs lie and make standing rules for future Barrack naming policy. Some other countries have adopted this approach.
2. Change the names of all Barracks that are named after any individual, alive or dead.
3. Change the names of those Barracks named after living individuals.
4. Establish guidelines, get public input, make them legal by due constitutional process, and then change those names (alive or dead) that do not meet the standards of the established criteria and ignore inevitable criticism.
The last option is my preference.
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