here’s what some told us

In Nigeria, military personnel are deployed for internal operations to combat terrorism, armed banditry, kidnapping and other forms of insecurity. This means frequent relocations, and sometimes even international assignments, brings consequences to the families of personnel.

However, there is scant information in Nigeria on how families manage their family, work and time with a breadwinner who is frequently absent.

Our study probes the strains and benefits associated with military postings on their families.

Using in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and key informant interviews, we obtained data from officers, non-commissioned officers, wives and children of deployed officers in the Nigerian army.

The participants for the focus group discussions consisted of a total of four officers, six other ranks, five wives and five children who willingly took part in the group discussion. A total of four focus group discussions were conducted with six people in each session.

Oral interviews were conducted to complement the focus group discussions data. These participants were interviewed to obtain in-depth information about their experiences, interactions and opinions on the research focus.

The Nigerian military strength was about 223,000 as at 2018. Although the sample for the research was small, we believe the study provides insights into the contextual strains that families encounter.

Posting benefits and downsides

Military postings are regular exercises carried out within the Nigerian army to reinvigorate the system for greater performance. They are also done as part of peace operations nationally and internationally. The length of postings range between six months and two years depending on the mission.

Our findings indicate that military officers preferred international peacekeeping missions to national postings, because they expected to be treated better and earn foreign currency. Participants also reported language and culture gains.

On the negative side, they reported the risks of loneliness, neglecting their homes, infidelity, unmet emotional needs, and worries about their children’s education and behaviour.

Posting in the army – being sent away from home – gives officers valuable military experience and may lead to promotion. A female army colonel we interviewed said:

You have the advantage of learning the traditions of that particular place and you are able to associate with “new environment”.

But deployments take a toll on families as soldiers seldom return to their original base after prolonged posting. And postings are often unplanned.

The family as a system must manage both the absence and the presence of a member. That can be an emotional strain. A major said:

Then the issue of not being there for the family will also come up. And in that case, you will be at the mercy of God except the wife has been trained and such a woman is very responsible and industrious, or she has good neighbours … at least, if she lacks, she could get things from the neighbours.

A spouse may also have established a business in their former place of posting before the new posting came, and runs the risk of losing the business and customers. Even if the new posting affords new business opportunities, it may take time to build a community of clients.

Some spouses who decide to stay at home and manage their businesses risk communication problems with the absent spouse.

Care of children

The study revealed some concern about military barracks as an environment for children. Drug use and unsafe sexual practices were mentioned. One participant said:

Leaving your family behind with your wife poses a big challenge because your wife alone will not be able to take care of the children you left behind especially the male child. In this barrack, boys in their tender ages smoke India hemp … Again, educationally, posting could bring setbacks to the education of the children.

Another participant mentioned the case of a man whose wife had died while he was posted to another location, leaving their children in the care of neighbours.

Most respondents cited the absence of the father and non-fulfilment of his role as a disciplinarian as the reason for a rise in problem behaviour among children in the barracks. This has created a stigma – “barracks boys” are seen by those outside the military as uncultured because their absent parents haven’t socialised them correctly.

Solutions

The disruptions and strains which can result when army personnel are deployed away from home need a systemic solution.

The first part would be strict adherence to the army manual’s rule governing posting of officers. This would help to create stability in the home and reduce negative effects on families.

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