SUNDAY SERMON – PREPARING NIGERIAN SOLDIERS TO ENGAGE CHILD
Nigeria is fighting wars on a number of fronts these days.
We have been fighting the ongoing global war on terrorism. On the home-front,
we are combating Boko Haram in northern Nigeria; there is ongoing war against
oil theft mafias in the Niger Delta; the battle against militia warlords is
also in progress in several fronts across the country. The leaders of these
wars on the other side have persistently featured child soldiers in their illegal,
criminal campaigns against the country, thus posing serious operational
challenges to our soldiers. Their activities are not only threatening the
corporate existence of the country, but also posing severe danger for next
Who is a child soldier?
A child soldier is anyone under the age of 18 who is part of
any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child
Soldiers explained that, “Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including
participation in combat, laying of mines and explosives; scouting, spying,
acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training drill or other preparations;
logistics and support functions, portering, cooking and domestic labour; sexual
slavery or other recruitment for sexual purposes”.
Child Soldier s: Alien to
Pre-Colonial Nigerian Societies
The doctrine, or use of child soldiers was unknown in all
the pre-colonial countries that were later knitted together to form Nigeria.
When considering warfare in traditional Nigerian setting, children rarely come
to mind. In real traditional Nigerian cultures, war is assumed to be a place
for only the strong, brave, and willing, from which the young, the old, the
infirm, women and the innocent are not only excluded but supposed to be
afforded special protection. The exclusion of children from warfare held true
in all Nigerian traditional cultures. In pre-colonial Nigerian tribal armies,
the general practice was that the warriors normally joined four to five years
after puberty. In the stateless countries of the Niger Delta, it was not until
the ages of 18 and 21 that members were eligible for enrollment into the
village regiments. Similarly, in pre-colonial Kano, only married men were
conscripted, as those unmarried were considered too immature for such an
important and honoured task as war.
The ranks and files of the pre-colonial Nigerian tribal
armies known as “Akoda” and “Olopa” in Western Nigeria, “Dangary”, and “Yan Gardi” or “Yan Doka”
in Northern Nigeria, and “Danduka”
in Eastern Nigeria consisted mainly of adult soldiers who perform protective
duties, served as messengers to the Kings in various capacities, in courts,
palace, and while traveling. They also fought wars, defend their territories,
and maintained internal security.
When the British arrived, there were no traces of child
soldiers in these armies. They applauded both the legality and legitimacy of
the constitution and composition of the local forces. In reaction, the British cherished
their usefulness, encouraged their continued existence and recognized them as “enforcers” of local laws, “keepers” of peace and order, and “protectors” of Kings.
When children of lesser ages did serve in ancient Nigerian
tribal armies, they typically did not serve in combats. Instead, they carried
out more menial chores, such as herding cattle, bearing shield and mats for
more senior warriors. There is no trace of traditional Nigerian tribes or
ancient civilizations reliant on fighting forces made up of young boys and
girls. This is a reflection of the general importance of age grades as
traditional ruling structure long cherished in Nigeria. These social groupings
determined by age cohorts cut across ties created by kinship and common
residence thus enabling senior rulers and tribal elders to exercise control and
maintain command over their younger and potentially unruly subjects. Throughout
the thousands of years of tribal wars, children were never an integral,
essential part of any military force in what becomes known as Nigeria today.
Also, the available weapons of war in pre-colonial Nigerian
cultures did not favour child soldiers. For example, in the pre-colonial Eleme
army known as “Ejε” only men of 20
years old and above were the choice men eligible to go to war, who could handle
spear and shield.
Origin of Child Soldiers in
History of the origin of child soldiers in West Africa in
general and Nigeria in particular will be incomplete without mention of role of
the British, the propagators of the doctrine in Nigeria. The British introduced
the use of child soldiers in Nigeria.
The establishment of the Boys Company of Nigeria (now Nigerian Military
School), Zaria modeled after the Boys Wing of the British Army marked the
genesis of child soldiers in Nigeria. Between its formation on May 20, 1954 and
the abolition of direct absorption of child soldiers into the Nigerian Army in
2009, the Nigerian Military School (NMS), Zaria, which was established along
with three others in the British West Africa colonies of the Gambia, Gold Coast
(now Ghana), and Sierra-Leone, has turned out well over 3,000 child soldiers.
In a statement in Abuja on 15 September, 2011, the then Col.
O. U. Abdul, Director of Army Information revealed that, “the Nigerian Military
School, Zaria was established to in 1954 to meet up with the basic academic and
manpower requirements of the Nigerian Army in the early days of Nigeria’s
independence”. He admitted that “the
administrative burden of managing the Nigerian Military School produced child
soldiers was not only cumbersome but the system contravene the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child and also falls below the relevant UN
standards”. He announced that in 2009 the Nigerian Army abolished the direct
absorption of child soldiers from the Nigerian Military School, Zaria into the
Nigerian Army”, in line with the UN Convention on child soldiers.
Security Challenge of Child
Soldiers in Nigeria
Over the years, child soldier has emerged a serious security
challenge in Nigeria. During the Nigerian-Biafra War (NBW) child soldiers
featured prominently on both sides; and it is estimated that not less than
100,000 child soldiers were killed in combat and another 150,000 were murdered
by hunger. Child soldiers are also playing active roles in the ongoing crisis
rocking the country. The child soldiers or child terrorists’ activities in
various parts of modern Nigeria calls for proper training, equipping and
support for our professional soldiers to deal with this dreadful change in
contemporary warfare. Political and military leaders must begin to wrestle with
the difficult dilemmas that our soldiers now face in the field rather than
continuing to ignore them at greater costs. The onus is on our leaders, in
government and the military to do all that they can to reverse the spread and
end the terrible practice of using child soldiers/child terrorists.
With the rising of groups using child soldiers in Nigeria,
our military forces, home and abroad, must prepare themselves for the task
ahead. Our troops will have to put themselves in a situation where they face
real and serious threats from insurgents whom they generally would prefer not
to harm. Of course, they may be youngsters, but when combined with the
increasing simplicity and lethality of modern small arms and light weapons,
child soldiers often bring to bear a great deal of military threat.
Therefore, Nigerian soldiers must be prepared for the tough
decisions that they will be confronted in order to avoid any confusion over
Rules of Engagement (ROE) or the micro-second hesitations, because of shock at
the composition of their foes or uncertainty on what to do when faced with a
child soldier or child terrorist as young as 9 years of age, that can prove
lethal. An effective, timely response will also take away some of the perceived
advantages of the child soldier doctrine, making it less likely to be
Preparing the Military for
Experiences have proved that there are a number of effective
techniques to handle situations when professional soldiers are confronted by
child soldiers or terrorists. These include:
There is urgent need for military commanders and policy-makers to develop
official policies and effective solutions to counter the dilemmas that child
soldiers raise rather than wishing the problem away.
The national intelligence apparatus must be overhauled to become attuned
to the threat and ramifications of child soldiering. This is not only important
in forecasting broad political and military events, but knowledge of the
composition and structure of the adversary is also a critical factor in
determining the best response. Intelligence should be sensitive to three
aspects in particular. These are:
What methods of recruitment the insurgent
The core use to which the child soldiers are
The average child soldier’s period of service.
using abduction techniques will be more prone to dissolving under shock than
those with voluntary recruits or children who have been in service for many
years or who joined based on ideological conviction.
Whenever troops deploy into an area known to have child soldiers or
terrorists present, they must take added cautions to counter and keep the
threat at a distance. Although all children are not threats and certainly
should not be regarded as such, protection measures must include the
possibility or even likelihood of child soldiers and terrorists. It is
important to change the practices of letting children mingle among troops, and
even putting children through the same scrutiny as adults at checkpoints.
Fear with Firepower
During engagement with child soldier forces, the best practice is to hold
the threat at a distance and where possible, initial fire-for-shock is
recommended. The goal is to maximize efficiency and prevent costly peripheral-fatalities by attempting to
break up the child soldiers units, which often are not cohesive fighting forces.
This forms part of a micro-level application of effects-concentrated warfare
without the overwhelming dependence on high technology.
Demonstrative artillery and mortar fires, including the use of smoke,
rolling barrages, which gives a sense of flow to the impending danger added
with helicopter gunship passes have been proven especially effective in
breaking up child soldiers’ forces.
The use of nonlethal weaponry gives more options. However, be cautioned,
because total annihilation of the enemy in these instances may actually
backfire. The international community and human rights organizations are unpaid
watchdogs of crimes against humanity.
They cannot be bullied or bribed from monitoring and reporting how you fight
your wars and manage your crisis. In this regard, whenever possible, military
commanders and policy-makers should explore options for using nonlethal
weaponry in situations that involve child soldiers or terrorists.
Armchair generals often ignorantly mock nonlethal weaponry, overlooking
that it in no way eliminates the option of deadly force. Rather, its
availability will provide our troops in the field with added choices and
options. Nonlethal weaponry is a welcome alternative that may not only save
lives on both sides but prove more effective to meeting operational goals. With
the rising army of child soldiers and terrorists in Nigeria, the military need
well over 50 nonlethal weapons kits to aid its internal security
and Pin Down the Leader
When forced into engagement with child soldier forces, professional
soldiers should prioritize the targeting and elimination of any adult leaders
if at all possible. Experience has revealed that their holds over the units are
often the center of gravity, and units will dissolve if the adult leader is
taken out of a position of control.
As forces seek to mop up resistance, they should focus their pursuit on
the adult leaders that escape. Failure to do so allows the likely
reconstitution of forces and return to conflict, as has become a recurrent
theme in child soldiers’ fueled Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State.
Psychological operations should be integrated into the overall efforts
against local resistance including being specially designed for child soldier
units. The primary goals should be to convince child soldiers to stop fighting,
leave their units, and begin the process of rehabilitation and reintegration
At the same time strategy should be developed to ensure that insurgents
leaders know that their violations of the laws of war are being monitored and
the dire consequences they will face in using child soldiers/terrorists.
Psychological operations should also seek to undercut any support for the
use of child soldiers within the local community, by citing the great harms the
practice is inflicting on the next generation; its contrast to local customs
and norms; and the lack of honour in sending children out to fight adults’
The defeat of a child soldier-based insurgency does not just take place
on the battlefield no matter how successful. Measures must be taken to welcome
child soldier escapees and prisoners of war (POW) quickly, so as to dispel any
myths on retribution and to induce others to leave the insurgency as well. This
also entails preparations being made for securing child detainees, something
the Nigerian military have had no doctrine or training for, even down to not
having proper sized cuffs. Once soldiers
have ensured that the child does not present a threat, any immediate needs of
food, clothing and shelter should be provided for.
As soon as possible, the child soldier should be turned over to
healthcare or non-governmental organization (NGO) professionals. The business
of imprisoning juveniles is not the mission of the military and certainly not
positive for the health of the military institution.
Protect Military Personnel
The military must also look to the health of its own personnel. Our
military and political leaders must brace up to the fact that the protectors need protection. The
vulnerability of our military and law enforcement officers and their families
to targeting and attacks was brought to the fore with the recent massacre of
over 100 officers in Nasarawa State and attacks on various military and police
formations across the country with little or no resistance.
military must be ready to deal with the psycho-social repercussions of
engagement with child soldiers, for this is an added way that the use of child
soldier puts professional soldiers at a disadvantage. Units that participated
in the operations should be subjected to post conflict treatment and even
individual counseling, otherwise the consequence of being forced to engage
children may ultimately undermine unit cohesion and combat effectiveness.
and Blame Strategy
affairs specialists and analysts should be prepared before hand for the unique
repercussion of such engagements. In explaining the events and how children
ended up being killed, they should stress the context under which they occurred
and the overall operation’s importance. The public should also be sensitized
that child soldiers or terrorists, although they are children, are just as
lethal behind an assault rifle as adults. Importantly, public affairs specialists must
seek to turn blame on where it should properly fall, on those leaders that not
only illegally pulled children, indoctrinate them, drugged them into the
military sphere but also send them out to execute their nefarious activities.