Nine years before he bade goodbye to the world, Victor Samuel Leonard Malu, a general of generals, went into a coma and was taken to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) where he was placed on life support. He was later transferred to a hospital in London. After treatment for stroke, he was discharged from hospital and went to his home in Central London.
But when the grim reaper came knocking in faraway Cairo on October 9, 2017, Malu couldn’t be discharged from the hospital, for he took his last breath.
Not many have the guts that nature gifted Malu, who was known for being blunt, frank and fearless. He served his fatherland with uncommon commitment even in retirement.
A former commander, ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) under Sani Abacha, late military head of state, Malu retired after 34 years of meritorious service in the military. He held several positions — the highest being his appointment as chief of army staff between 1999 and 2001.
Born on January 15, 1947, at Katsina-Ala, Benue state, he enrolled in the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna in 1967 as part of the 3rd regular course and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant enlisted upon graduation in 1970.
RIFT WITH OBASANJO AND US
Malu said as chief of army staff, he observed that the Americans kept seeking ways to soil Nigeria’s image in the international arena. He believed his resistance to this plot led to his untimely retirement. A report on the national intelligence council of the United States had predicted that Nigeria might break up because of the insistence of the nation’s leaders on a union, against the people’s wish.
It also warned about the possibility of a coup by junior military officers.
However, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the senate dismissed the report as an unfair representation of the situation in the country.
“The US does not mean well for us and for anybody. They want things in their interest and that is how they protect their interest,” he had said.
“National security is above any individual. After many years in the army, I am in a position to analyse a threat to a nation and convey it to those who should know. But, when you don’t allow me to do that, that means you are not accepting that I am a Nigerian. And that was exactly what my president didn’t want.
“My retirement from the army was on the basis of that, because Americans told him (Obasanjo) that as long as Gen. Malu remained the chief of army staff, they would not be with him.
“So, he had to get rid of me and in the process, he had to sacrifice the other two service chiefs. They didn’t do anything. I did something because I stood on my principle.”
REGRETTED NOT OVERTHROWING OBASANJO
Following a public disagreement over the training of the Nigerian army for peacekeeping by US forces, Obasanjo sacked Malu in 2001.
“Americans did not come here to train us for peace-keeping. They came to get information on a country that, in spite of all the sanctions on it, could still achieve what we achieved in Sierra Leone,” Malu had said.
“Fortunately, I was the one there. So, I talk from a very knowledgeable point of view. I didn’t want to put government on the spot. Maybe because I was too loyal to Obasanjo, I would have done what I was supposed to do, but I believe in democracy, so I did not organise to overthrow him.
“I think it was a blessing that I was kicked out, otherwise I might have changed my mind from being a democrat to something else.”
“The Americans made it impossible for the president to find favour with them if I was still in office. Peacekeeping is not nuclear, chemical or biological warfare. That’s the job for infantry man who walks on his feet, carrying his ammunition, rifles, you maneuver to get to the point using fire. That is what Americans don’t do,” he had said.
“If you remember the five years of Abacha, we had completely severed from any other western country. All our officers who were in the various institutions abroad were sent back. We were not going on course America was curious to know how from a third world country with all the sanctions, the Nigerian Army could achieve the feat we achieved in Liberia.
“And then, they came and found a willing person in the name of Obasanjo. They got everything they wanted. It was at that point I told him (Obasanjo), ‘Sir, we cannot have Americans come here to tell us they want to train us on peacekeeping’. An interesting thing happened in Sokoto.
“The Americans insisted on staying in the barracks with our soldiers. I said over my dead body.”
HEADED PANEL THAT SENTENCED DIYA TO DEATH
In 1997, Oladipo Diya, de facto vice-president to Abacha, and dissident soldiers in the military allegedly planned to overthrow the regime of Abacha. The alleged coup was uncovered by forces loyal to Abacha, and Diya and his cohorts were jailed. Diya was tried in a military tribunal presided over by Malu and was given the death penalty.
One of the darkest chapters in the abuse of human rights in Nigeria is the Odi massacre. Malu was the head of the army when this sad event occurred. The attack was carried out on November 20, 1999 in the sleepy town in Bayelsa state.
Twelve police officers were murdered by a gang near Odi on November 4. The military decided to invade the village but were reportedly ambushed by militants. They reinforced and by the time the carnage was over, every building in the town except the bank, the Anglican church and the health center, was burnt to the ground. The Environmental Rights Action put the death toll at nearly 2500 civilians.
NEMESIS? MALU’S UNCLE AND WIFE KILLED IN ONE NIGHT
Two years later, 19 soldiers sent to restore peace following an ethnic crisis in Zaki-Biam, a community in Malu’s state of Benue, were killed and abducted. While on a revenge mission, the entire area was cordoned off by soldiers, with armoured tanks that were given air cover by helicopter gunboats.
This happened six months into Malu’s retirement. At the end of that military action, at least 300 persons, including Malu’s relations had been killed. Pev Adoor, his blind octogenarian uncle and his wife, lost their lives. His houses were burnt.
Two days after the attack, Malu granted an interview to New York Times.
“There is no other organisation in the country that could have done this. ‘Only the army has the tanks, the armoured vehicles and the arms to do this. I cannot believe it was spontaneous. It must have been very carefully planned. How can you kill innocent civilians, farmers carrying yam on their heads? Can you mistake a yam tuber for a missile?” he asked.
Malu has put behind all the stories and worries. He is now in a place beyond the reach of mortals. He was one of the finest military officers: a soldier of soldiers.