Recently, Charles Nengite, a colonel in the Nigerian Army, bagged six awards and emerged second best speaker for 2016 Strategic Officers’ Course at the United States War College. He shares his experience during the programme with PREMIUM TIMES’ Aminu Adamu, in this interview.
PT: In a class of 308 Americans and 79 foreign students that participated in the strategic officers’ course at the USAWC you distinguished yourself by winning six awards and emerging the second best speaker for 2016. Tell us about it.
Nengite: First of all, I did not expect to perform so well partly because I had my apprehensions. But the system is designed to bring out the best in you and it is very fair and so with every task and course requirement I found myself doing very well. At one point I felt I should just seize the moment and give that extra effort that made the difference. One thing I have to make clear is that the college discourages calling someone the best graduating student because in the college, competition is discouraged. Instead participants are encouraged to seek collaboration and team work. At the end you graduate in the class as best graduating student of the college. That way your performance is timeless and you are regarded as a distinguished graduate of the college.
The college provides graduate level instruction to senior military officers and civilians to prepare them for senior leadership assignments and responsibilities. In other words, the college educates current and future leaders on the development and employment of land power in a joint, multinational and inter-agency environment.
The six awards and honours I won are the distinguished graduate award, the United States Army War College Commandant’s award for distinction in research for my strategy research project “Boko Haram”, establishing an intelligence fusion centre to combat the terrorists”. Others are a recognition award for my efforts at creating awareness for the Sexual Harassment and Response Program (SHARP) and the 2nd place award for the 2016 public speaking competition which is a very tough competition among the student body.
The honours include being the President, International Fellows and Vice President of the entire student body comprising 381 students. These are appointments with very demanding responsibilities. What makes the college awards and honours special was that there were very strict guidelines to win and the process was very transparent. Notable alumni are Dwight D Eisenhower (class of 1928), George S Patton (class of 1932), Ulysses S Grant 111 (class of 1934), and Omar Bradley (class of 1934). Others include Norman Schwarzkopf (class of 1973), President Muhammadu Buhari (class of 1980), and Abdul Fatah Al Sisi (class of 2006).
PT: What were the challenges you faced during your training in the US War College?
Nengite: I must say that my American colleagues were very friendly and made my stay worthwhile. At every point, they were always eager to assist and put me through any challenging concepts. The basic method of learning is the adult learning model which emphasizes a self-directed learning and the promotion of dialogue and participation.
Because of differences in culture and experience, there were some challenges. Firstly, the difference in culture made the feeding difficult. The American food is mostly burger and veggies with lots of beef and steaks which is quite different from what I am used to. It was my wife who ensured that I continued to enjoy our rich Nigerian culinary dishes. She brought a lot of cooking ingredients to America and that made it possible for me to continue eating eba and egusi soup during my stay at Carlisle.
The other major challenge was the reading culture which I was not used to. We were required to read about a hundred pages of literature every day and that was very tough. But the truth was that, that was the strength of America. A lot of my friends had read a lot of books and they were very well versed in many subjects and areas.
Their approach and ability to extemporaneously generate conversation and dialogue in the seminar inspired me to read harder and develop my reading culture. Right now, I have started reading books, articles and essays of people who are subject matter experts in my areas of interests.
PT: “I am Your Friend” a sexual harassment and response programme you chaired during your training is considered of significant importance to the US Army. What informed your interest in that topic?
Nengite: During the strategic leadership course, we had to write on some specific topics chosen by our faculty instructors. I was given a topic about sexual assault in the United States Military. I had to do a lot of research and readings because that is not a challenge in the Nigerian Armed Forces. I interviewed some students and my student sponsor, Col. Tonri Brown was very helpful.
After our research, we found that the word “friend” could be used as a prevention tool. So I coined a message from that word essentially because the word “friend” connotes the acceptable relationship status among colleagues in the work place. So the word f.r.i.e.n.d. means “Family of brothers and sisters in the military”; “Respect my privacy and gender”; “Inspire and enhance my career in the service”; “No one should take me for granted”; and “Do not cause me pain by your conduct or behaviour.” Therefore, if you are my friend, then stop unwanted sexual contacts in the military. The college was really happy with the concept and displayed it in the main hall of the college (Root hall). Thereafter I was given a recognition award for that and the concept has received a lot of positive reviews ever since.
PT: As a strategist, what lesson have you brought home especially at this time when Nigeria is faced with security challenges?
Nengite: The greatest lesson I have brought home is the concept of critical thinking and judgement. Thinking critically about weighty, complex and biased issues calls for serious self-awareness and knowledge about the critical thinking model by Prof Steven Geras of the United States Army War College.
I have found out that most times we make decisions out of bias and logical fallacies in our arguments and therein lie the mistakes that could be the products of our actions. A lot of people are aware of this and have made efforts to redeem past actions. The college for the most part will teach you how to think and not necessarily what to think. The result is a strategic leader who thinks out of the box and very creative in their approach to strategic challenges and threats.
The present leadership of the Nigerian Army has made this point very clear and you can see that we have started thinking creatively which has yielded success in the present fight against the insurgents in the North East and the Niger Delta.
So in a nutshell, I have been sent to learn critical thinking which the present chief of army staff has emphasized over and over again as the core requirement of strategic leaders. Recently, I was made a resource fellow at the National Defence College in Abuja to teach critical thinking and problem solving as part of the research package of the college on September 9. It is just the beginning. I believe very soon everyone will be onboard on this vital subject and very crucial requirement for strategic leadership.
PT: Do you think young Army officers will follow your footsteps and set records like yours in the future?
Nengite: I am a product of the Nigerian Army educational system and I have never been outside the country before. My performance is a testimony that we have a robust and highly professional system that could produce better results. I truly believe that with the calibre and highly professional Nigerian Army leadership, more officers will perform better than we have seen so far.
Please, note that other Nigerian army officers have done very well in the United Kingdom, India, France, Tanzania and China. Nigerian army officers are always the centre of attraction in most military institutions outside the country and I believe that will continue for a long time to come.
PT: What advice do you have for your colleagues in the Army?
Nengite: As professionals we must build on our frame of reference and improve our knowledge, skills and attributes. As strategic leaders, we should hone our conceptual, interpersonal and technical competencies. As an institution that is subject to civilian control, we must continue to remain relevant by being solution givers. This can only be done when we are on top of the game through wisdom, and resilience. We should take up any challenge as an opportunity to learn and show our patriotism.