As a Defence reporter, I sat in the Chief of Army Staff Conference Room at Defence Headquarters Lagos with other reporters waiting to cover a meeting between the COAS, Gen. Victor Malu and a team from the US led by a Colonel.
They came. Malu entered smartly dressed. He took his place at the table and the US team opened discussion.
They told him that they were on a mission to RE-TRAIN NA and that the C-in-C had approved for them to liaise with him to visit some military establishments and also take stock of needs. They also told him that the C-in-C had asked that he released a certain document on the NA to them.
Malu did not waste time in reminding them that there are limits. He approved that they could visit the military formations they like but MUST be accompanied and guided by his own people from the intelligence unit and others. The US team frowned.
He also told them outrightly that as Chief of Army Staff of the Federal Republic of Nigeria he will not release the said document even to his most trusted friend. He told them to go and tell the C-in-C that sent them to come take the document and hand over to them.
The meeting did not end on a very happy note. He was very blunt. He could not romance his words.
Later he sat down with the Defence reporters and we asked questions. Some told him he was brash and unaccommodating of the visitors.
Gen. Malu did not leave us in doubt about the actual mission of the US team. He educated us on the importance of the document they asked for and concluded by saying that “if Benin Republic gets hold of that document they can over run Nigeria in 24 hours.”
Then someone asked him about how vocal he had become and if he did not fear that he may be accused of plotting to overthrow the civil administration. Malu laughed and said the era of military take over of government was over and that as far as he remained COAS, “if I hear any ‘fellow Nigerians’ on any radio station, I will personally March troops to bring down the station and whoever”.
On that day, he spoke freely about how the military suffered most under military administrations with the erosion of discipline and military ethos. And he said that he was gradually returning the Army to what it ought to be and that military involvement in political leadership must never be encouraged.
But he did not spare President Obasanjo. He imagined how the president would go to Iran and enter into logistics agreement for Nigeria military without asking to know what the needs are. And he questioned why the US was interested in training NA when they ran away from Liberia and Sierra Leone but showed up after NA had done the needful.
I like it when a man who is proud of his name stands up to imperialism. He did.
A soldier once told me they enjoyed working with him in Liberia. I asked what he meant and he said “the man will make you want to be a Soldier’. He said at times when the battle got tough and rough, Malu will pick his gun and head for the frontlines. I asked how he felt at such moments and he said “ol boy how you go see your Commander carry rifle enter front you go sit down?
Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu is a Journalist and Media Consultant