Apart from helping to foster better relationship between the town and the barracks, implementing such projects also enables the military’s specialised corps to broaden their expertise.
Nearly every adult would know that it is the responsibility of the military to defend their country against external aggression. But how about what soldiers do during peacetime when there is neither any threat of external attack nor internal strife that threatens the country’s sovereignty? Well, the answer to that too seems obvious: Their alert level remains just as high to stave off any planned attack because, as military strategists say, invading armies do not sound an alarm before launching an attack.
The problem with this fairly straightforward notion, however, is that the military is viewed simply from the limiting lens of its primary role as an armed force. This is particularly the case in societies, such as Nigeria’s, with an history steeped in military coups. The sad outcome is that seldom is the military’s other civil specialties, honed through decades of practical experience, ever reckoned with. An example is its civil engineering skills.
For a country with such a grating military history, this subtle rebuff runs contrary to the long expressed imperative of forging a better civil-military engagement. But, since 2015, this wall of indifference has gradually been dismantled in Enugu State, where Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has occasionally deployed the expertise of the Nigerian Army in the construction of Bailey bridges. The decision is in no way tokenistic; and neither is it some political patronage. It is rooted in an understanding that defers always to experience in the choice of contractors for capital projects.
This comment by Governor Ugwuanyi underlines that philosophy. “My administration made a deliberate choice of awarding this project to 82 Division Army Engineers, owing to their rich history of competence in delivery of resilient Bailey bridges. The event of today evidently justifies this procurement decision,” he said, earlier this July, while inaugurating a bridge built by army engineers across the Inyaba River, in Enugu South Local Government Area.
The structure was described by the supervising engineer, Brigadier-General Samuel Bitrus as a 14-bay steel deck bridge of single-truss, single-storey configuration and a class 16 military load capacity bridge. “The entire bridge is supported by the sub-structure made up of the far-bank abutments and an intermediate pier built to specifications with 6-8m deep piling work to guarantee stability capable of withstanding any volume of downpour,” he added.
The aptness of the army’s selection for the project became even more indubitable as Brigadier-General Bitrus recounted the challenges surmounted in constructing the bridge. Indeed, one really did not have to be an expert to know that hauling equipment across the acute steepness of the surrounding slope at the site and mounting piers in the fast-moving waters must have been difficult engineering hurdles. Although eventually retrieved, he explained that some of the deployed equipment were initially swept away.
But the real import of the day’s event lay beyond its civil-military symbolism. It was, more or less, a culmination of the military’s aspiration to bid for rehabilitation of public infrastructure. In October 2003, for instance, the then commandant of the Nigerian Army Engineers Corps, Brigadier-General E. O. Itodo, presented a proposal to ex-minister of works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, expressing the army’s interest in the maintenance and construction of the country’s federal roads. That request was consistent with the modern practice where combat engineers also receive training in civil engineering and could be deployed to carry out public works projects on somewhat commercial terms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the British Army’s Corps of Royal Engineers have both embraced this practice.
Apart from helping to foster better relationship between the town and the barracks, implementing such projects also enables the military’s specialised corps to broaden their expertise. So the army’s immense gratitude to Governor Ugwuanyi proceeds from that historical backdrop. “Our gratitude to the governor for giving the army the opportunity to be partners in your developmental strides for the people of Enugu State,” said the supervising engineer. The Ugwuanyi administration had, also, in 2017 awarded a contract to the Engineering Corps of the Nigerian Army’s 81 Division, Bonny Cantonment, Lagos, for the construction of a Bailey bridge over Ivo River, at Okpanku, Aninri Local Government Area.
For the governor, however, the motivation is not the accolades. The project, he said, “dovetails into the integrated rural development agenda of our administration”. This agenda includes enhancing connectivity and access to homes, businesses and communities as well as stimulating commercial activities in the communities. It is, essentially, a summary of the Ugwuanyi administration’s inclusiveness ethos that believes that rural and suburban communities’ residents’ rights to an improved living standard are no less valid than city folks’ right to the good life. This conviction is the reason once inaccessible communities are receiving the sort of remarkable makeover being witnessed across Enugu State.
The dire impact that inaccessibility could cause is clearly understood by the people of Umuogo and Umuagba Amechi Uno/Obeagu, the two communities in Enugu South council area that the new Bailey bridge now connects. For decades, mutual trade and other socio-cultural interaction between the communities were impaired by the less than one hundred-metre gorge through which the Inyaba river flows. However, the construction of the bridge has today abated the sense of abandonment they had felt for decades. This much was evident in the speech given by their most illustrious son, former governor of old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo, the day the bridge opened for public use. “We owe you our greatest gratitude for constructing this bridge on your own initiative and without any prompting,” he told Ugwuanyi. “Thank you for wiping away my tears.”
But an equally enduring outcome is the fond memories which the bridge’s construction and presence will always evoke for its host communities and the army. No amount of exhortations at grand seminars urging improved civil-military relations could have achieved that.
Laurence Ani is a senior communications aide to the Enugu State governor.