Lt. Gen. Victor Malu – A Tribute
By Jide Olatuyi
Lt. General Victor Samuel Leonard Malu was a former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the eighth Commander of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) peace-keeping force – popularly tagged the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). He died monday, October 10, 2017, in Cairo, Egypt at 70.
A highly decorated soldier, Malu’s military career of a little over three decades featured many remarkable and significant achievements. He was distinctively well known for discipline, his assertiveness and boldness in ventilating his views on issues he felt strongly about without any regard to whoever is gored. He was apolitical, brave and a selfless crusader for military professionalism.
Born January 15, 1947 at Katsina-Ala, Benue State, Nigeria, Malu enrolled at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, in 1967, as part of the 3rd Regular Course and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1970. Later he attended Command and Staff College, Jaji and the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies-(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos.
At the time of the February 1976 coup when General Olusegun Obasanjo took power, Malu was chief instructor of the Nigerian Military School, Zaria. He became General Officer Training, Army Headquarters and Commander, 7 Mechanised Brigade. Malu was a highly decorated soldier. He is a recipient of the Force Service Star (FSS) Award, Meritorious Service Star (MSS) Award, and Distinguished Service Star (DSS) Award, among others.
His career path tells of a brave and hardworking officer who was fiercely loyal to the authorities he trusted but scathing in his criticism of those he considered undeserving of his trust and respect. Malu’s doggedness, impatience and frustration with military diplomacy, his “no-nonsense” posture will ironically contribute both to his future military career success and eventual fall out with the authorities.
Malu’s monolithic stand to be apolitical and resolute commitment to military professionalism even during the years of African military adventurism in politics helped him climbed steadily up the military ladder, occupying many important national and international positions. In 1997, he chaired the Military Tribunal that tried Gen. Oladipo Diya and other officers for attempting to overthrow the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha. One of his most remarkable postings was as the Force Commander of the ECOMOG, from December 1996 to April 1998, during the Liberian civil war.
However, due to his apolitical approach to life generally and specifically to the prosecution of the war, his share frankness with state and non-state actors in the crises and firm resolute to end the senseless internecine fratricidal war, Malu fell out with the then Liberian President, Charles Taylor, who in 1998 accused him of trying to run a parallel government in Liberia. He was replaced as ECOMOG commander allegedly on account of this. Needless to say, that at the time, Taylor had become the sole man who sells pain, death and destruction and laugh.
In a book he later wrote on the Liberian war, which was cited during Taylor’s trial at The Hague, Malu claimed that Taylor secretly smuggled arms and ammunition from South Africa through Monrovia without informing ECOMOG peacekeepers. This controversy, like some others he was involved in, did not stop him from reaching the zenith of his career in 1999, when President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him Chief of Army Staff (COAS) at the restoration of democracy in the country in 1999.
He, however, occupied the office for only two years before he fell out with the Obasanjo administration in 2001. At the ECOWAS regional level, many factors surround Malu’s emergence as the ECOMOG Force Commander. Malu’s emergence as the ECOMOG Force commander effectively nipped the Liberian civil war directly in the bud.
In Nigeria, he excelled as a professional military officer.
Though many criticisms have trailed his handling of the Odi massacre, Malu remained dear in the minds of all and respected both as a hero and as a patriot. Only recently, in September 2017, the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) 3rd Regular Course marked its 50th anniversary in Kaduna during which Malu and his class mates were honoured as worthy ambassadors of the Academy. Malu has been variously described as an unsung hero and a national symbol of patriotism that should have been celebrated for his resistance to attempts by foreign powers to undermine Nigeria’s sovereignty. His outright refusal to the open-ended supervision of the Nigerian Army by foreign powers cost him his position under the Obasanjo’s administration as the COAS.
At the ECOWAS regional level, General Malu as the ECOMOG force commander provided the leadership needed and the desired focus to achieve the result of ending the first Liberian fratricidal civil war. ECOMOG at the time was a West African peacekeeping force that began with approximately 3,000 troops and has grown to between 10,000 and 12,000 troops, the vast majority being Nigerians.
In the early 1980s to the late 1990s, the idea of peacekeeping operations have assumed a centre stage in the operation of International Organization as a veritable instrument for maintaining International Peace and security. The United Nations and other regional – like the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU) and sub-regional organizations have adopted these measures in their efforts to secure peace in the major conflict states of the world.
However, the Liberian crisis blew out when the major western powers as well as the United Nations are embroiled and wearied in many implosive and international conflicts and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries around the world.
The Liberian blood and steel crisis presents a unique experiment with the principle of collective security resting on the assumption that all nations share a primary interest in maintaining International Peace and Security. Liberia was one of such cases in which the measures was applied to maintain peace by the Economic Community of West Africa State (ECOWAS).
The crisis started as an entirely ethnic conflict involving the indigenous ethnic Liberians who constitute the majority of the population and the Afro-America settlers who were settled in Liberia following the abolition of slave trade in America and who have dominated the political scene in the country since their arrival in 1821. The Liberians crisis escalated in 1980 and the conflict assumed a wider dimension following the involvement of other extraneous forces around Liberians, a situation which the ECOWAS leaders thought would lead to the war spreading to other countries in the sub-region.
By August 1990, wars had become a global spectators sport and without any prospect for intervention by the United States or the United Nations, ECOMOG arrived in Monrovia to separate the warring factions and to stop the bloodshed. The West African countries justified their intervention on the grounds that it was no longer an internal conflict since thousands of their own nationals were trapped in Liberia and tens of thousands of refugees had fled to neighboring countries. The ECOMOG mandate was to impose a cease-fire, help form an interim government and hold elections within 12 months. Unfortunately, with National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) attacks continuing, there was no peace to keep, and ECOMOG was thrust into combat to push the NPFL out of Monrovia.
There has been much speculation about the ulterior motives of the participating states for intervening in Liberia. Some have accused Nigeria of attempting to support the Doe government, since Doe and Nigeria’s President Babangida were allies; others contend that Nigeria was striving to act like the regional superpower that it aspires to be.
Others believe that the motivation was a genuine fear of regional destabilization, since dissidents from the Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone, most of whom were trained together with the NPFL in Libya, were known to be working with the NPFL. Still others contend that the intervention was due to the NPFL’s treatment of the West African nationals living in Liberia; thousands of Nigerians, Guineans and Ghanaians were effectively held hostage in Monrovia, and hundreds were later killed.
Another theory is that the enormous flow of refugees into the neighboring countries compelled them to act. As all these concerns filter continently and globally, “The Washington Post” commented in August 1990 that when the decision to form ECOMOG was announced, the participating states all were ruled with a strong arm by military or civilian dictators and have little experience with democracy.
It was within these very difficult contexts bordering ECOMOG’s legitimacy, challenges of motives, limited military and financial resources, questions on human rights that the ECOMOG in an unprecedented manner emerged to intervene as a peace-keeping/peace-enforcement force in the Liberian crisis.
However, in spite of the initial squabbles, controversies and limited successes recorded in the era of the former ECOMOG force commanders before Malu, it was the ECOMOG under Malu that finally nailed the end to the Liberian crisis. He accomplished the concrete objectives that led to a cease-fire. It was part of his major contributions to the peace-keeping/peace-enforcement efforts that resulted in the palpable peace, security and stability that is currently being consolidated upon both in Liberia and the West Africa.
As the ECOMOG Commander, he had tamed and moderated the fire power of broken lives at the stage of coup-plot in Sierra Leone where Major Johnny Paul Koroma had sacked a peoples’ mandate as an apology to explain political unraveling and in Liberia, he represented Nigeria and the ECOWAS in nailing Charles Taylor’s butts to the ground for taking the entire region hostage with rebel attacks.
Malu’s time as the ECOMOG force commander was no doubt, the high point of merit, professionalism, fame and glory for Nigeria and West Africa. Malu’s troops went to all assignments with determination and zeal, coming back home triumphantly with ‘laurels’ of timely finished resolves in enthusiasm at the time Nigeria under Abacha suffered variety of sanctions including military sanctions.
It was Malu that secured the redeeming image of the Nigerian military capabilities at the testing event of the nation’s daunting tasks of confronting storming challenges. In fact, cynics, critics and observers who have become critical of ECOMOG’s actions believe that the initial intervention was laudable. One of its most important accomplishments they pointed to was that ECOMOG stopped the senseless killings in Monrovia. Curiously, a modest Malu attributed his success to the collective efforts and commitments of the ECOMOG troops and the ECOWAS leaders, who sent ECOMOG to Liberia in 1990. He even thanked the international community for their support.
Though I did not meet Lt. Gen. Malu when Biodun Bayo of “Punch” and I for “The Guardian” newspapers trailed behind the Nigeria Battalion tagged (NIBAT I and II) to Liberia in those crisis years. At the time, stories of Malu’s feat and that of ECOMOG enveloped everywhere at the popular “Hotel Africa” as well as the nooks and crannies of Monrovia. However, I met Gen. Malu briefly at the Aso Presidential Villa early 2001 when I with other members of the defunct National Sensitization Committee (NSC) on the “ECO” Currency were inaugurated by president Obasanjo.
Since his departure, many comments, condolences, eulogies and modest remarks have continued to pour for Malu. The Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari commiserated with the Nigerian Armed Forces and described Malu as a very distinguished and professional colleague, whom he said demonstrated incredible courage and leadership, including during very turbulent times in Liberia.
The President recalled General Malu was an icon of professionalism, bravery and discipline, and he aptly demonstrated these attributes throughout his national and international military assignments. His Malu’s course-mate, friend and colleague, the former senate president David Mark, said, “Malu was a patriot, brilliant and courageous officer gentle man”.
Similar attributes came from veteran international journalists like Ben Asante and Lindsay Barrett both of whom reported from the trenches of the Liberian crises. They agreed Malu was truly a fearless, gallant soldier and an ardent lover of music. Malu has since been interred 27 October 2017.
Similar remarks, condolences and parting words came from the government and people of Liberia through its envoy in Nigeria, Ambassador Al-Hassan Contey in Abuja as well as the Sierra Leonean Acting High Commissioner to Nigeria, Maj.-Gen. Alfred Williams.
Late Malu was a hero who did what had to be done when it needs to be done regardless of the consequences. He was a “soldier’s soldier,” whose resolute and rare determination demonstrated “courage and leadership,” and “ensured fairness and equity for all.”
Liberians should honour the commitments and contributions of this man and that of other soldiers, to the peace, stability and democratic consolidation of the country in the on-going democratic transition process. Liberia must not be allowed to derail or relapse into the art of senseless conflict. Many women, children and even journalists either died, lost something or somebody precious to the Liberian crisis. One of Liberia’s major problems today is a weak economy, poor infrastructure compounded by high youth unemployment and crime rate.
Corruption and the inability to address peace and reconciliation is still a major issue in the Liberian national political discourse. Concerted efforts should be committed to consolidate on returning Liberia to the path of growth and development. Overall, Malu in my view should be immortalized for representing Nigeria, the ECOWAS and the army creditably nationally, regionally and continentally.
***OLATUYI is an International Development Policy and Migration Expert in Abuja.