The swashbuckling former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Victor Samuel Leonard Malu (rtd), expired in an Egyptian hospital amidst encomiums from erstwhile comrade-in-arms and a grateful nation he served so well. Liberians partly has Malu to thank for the democracy they enjoy today and for the role he played in restoring normalcy to that country that was over-run by warlords scrambling for power and influence. He was the Force Commander of the ECOMOG peace-keeping force in that country from 1996 to 1998 and from pedestal, he gave the people back their freedom to choose their leaders.
Malu, as commander of ECOMOG during the First Liberian Civil War, was reported to have impressed both Liberians and international observers with the improvements that followed his taking command. By March 1997, he was able to claim that Liberia was completely cleared of land mines. Of course, as a no-nonsense army commander that he was which earned him the command in the first place, he knew that clashing with the warlords especially then President Charles Taylor was just a matter of time. That Taylor accused him of trying to run a parallel government was, therefore, expected as it was a veiled compliment to his sagacity as a committed soldier.
Before his foray into international politics, Malu had made his mark in the Nigerian Army where he was, at various times, chief instructor of the Nigerian Military School, Zaria; Commander, 7 Mechanised Brigade and later General Officer Training, Army Headquarters. The Tiv-born soldier’s soldier had a stint with military politics when he was appointed the chairman of the tribunal that tried General Oladipo Diya and other officers for attempting to overthrow the Sani Abacha regime in 1997.
Malu became the Chief of Army Staff in May 1999 at the start of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. He retired in that capacity in April 2001 in perceived controversial circumstances occasioned by his stand on Obasanjo’s hobnobbing with the Armed Forces of the United States. The patriotic streak in him took over at that point and he broke protocol to warn his Commander-in-chief, then President Obasanjo of the inappropriateness of United States’ infiltration into Nigeria’s military affairs and went ahead to state in a matter- of- fact manner that American involvement in the nation’s military issues was just to further their own interests. Unsurprisingly, the Americans disliked his views and pressurised Obasanjo to ease him out of office which he did to pave the way for the signing of the Nigeria-United States Military Cooperation Agreement.
His retirement from service did not end his squabbles with Obasanjo. Malu complained that the government was persecuting him and that the State Security Services had seized his passport. He also said that his military service records had been declared missing and he was not getting fair treatment over his pension. Matters between him and Obasanjo came to a head in January 2006 when he caused a stir in a speech at a meeting of the Arewa Consultative Forum in Kaduna during which he was reported to have expressed regret for not overthrowing Obasanjo’s government while he was COAS. That was how controversial he could get that also got his community into trouble with the government of the day. In October 2001, there were protests by Tiv people in Zaki Biam, Katsina-Ala local government, Benue State and 19 soldiers sent to restore peace were killed. In retaliation, the army allegedly massacred 100 people. Malu said armed men burst into his own home and killed four members of his household before burning down neighbouring houses.
The late COAS (rtd) was born on January 15, 1947 at Katsina-Ala, Benue State. He enrolled in the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna in 1967 as part of the 3rd Regular Course and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant enlisted upon graduation in 1970. He was awarded Force Service Star (FSS) Award, Meritorious Service Star (MSS) Award, and Distinguished Service Star (DSS) Award.
His death on October 9, 2017 at the age of 70 has been eliciting sad memories by his friends and erstwhile colleagues alike. In addition to his qualities as a fine, gallant officer and gentleman, most of them remember his commendable role in the sustenance of democracy, peace and security in the country. May his soul rest in peace.