By Emmanuel Onwubiko
In the early 80’s when yours faithfully was just about leaving primary school preparatory for enrollment into high school, something happened that has shaped my opinion of the Nigerian military.
This was it: a neatly dressed officer of the Nigerian Army was ushered into the assembly ground of the Aduwan one local government Education Authority Primary School in the sleepy town of Kafanchan in Southern Kaduna state.
The tall, handsome but tough looking officer was also accompanied by two other persons including a lady who were both so well dressed in the same military fatigue.
Their purpose for visiting the school was to educate the pupils about the Nigerian Army even as they said they were to look around the pupils standing before them for those who have the physical fitness and who may be interested in enlisting into the military.
Their focus was on the final year pupils who were only few days away from taking their first school leaving examination.
For about thirty minutes they were done with their assignment just as we were told that they found about a dozen pupils including yours faithfully who they think should be encouraged to apply for the Army’s secondary school and thereafter get enlisted.
One thing led to the other, and yours faithfully decided otherwise.
But some of my classmates opted to go to the Military High School.
That symbolic encounter became the turning point in my positively constructive view point about the Army. Psychologists states that the mind of a little child is like a tabula rasa in Latin which means a blank board.
It is therefore from a prism of someone who got fascinated as a child about the military that I am doing this piece. This is because of the complexity i find in the attitudes of our modern day soldiers that radically questions the validity of my infant’s ideation or conception of the military in Nigeria. This is a call for both funding and personnel bailouts for the Nigerian military.
This piece is also directly inspired by the snippets of negative commentaries about the conducts of the military in the contemporary times during the numerous internal military operations in aid of the civil authority.
These negativity that sums up the overwhelming opinions of most observers regarding the ugly encounters between the military and the civil populace during the several internal military operations can then be likened to that which occurs when someone has reached the bridge and therefore is required to cross the it.
The journey to the bridge is akin to my earliest experiences of the military and my impressionistic opinion of the institution of the Army during childhood, and the crossing of the bridge is the new impressions that came pouring in based on the institutional impediments that have constituted a cog in the wheel of progress of the Nigerian Army on its way towards becoming a truly professional military institution that complies holistically to global best practices and whose operatives are bound by extant legal frameworks governing the conduct of internal military operations.
Two quick points on the major issues at play as highlighted above.
The most disturbing of the two is the failure of leadership on the part of the civil authority.
The failure of leadership on the part of those wielding democratically bestowed powers and authority can as well be seen from two perspectives.
The first is the lack of vision and political will to comprehensively reform the policing institutions and to make the police a thoroughly professionalized institution with the hierarchy that is chosen based on merits, competences and professional excellence.
The second segment of the failure of leadership at the level of political governance structure, is the failure to activate the legal frameworks for efficiently monitoring the internal military operations to ensure that the operatives and officers comply with extant laws and global best practices.
So far what has happened is that in virtually all of the complaints emanating from the apparent misconducts of the military in internal military operations is that the political authority has always ended up muddling up the mechanisms for redress by compromising such institutions like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and by setting up kangaroo panels that have always ended up not effectively dealing with the issues of professional misconducts.
These attitudes and tendencies to corrupt and compromise the mechanisms for redress have led to the erosion of confidence on the part of the civil populace that they can ever obtain remedial redress if their rights are infringed by soldiers during internal military operations.
Two things have therefore emerged: the victims of use of brute force by the military are compelled to resort to self-help measures.
Those insignificant minority who don’t subscribe to the use of self-help measures against the military whenever they suffer violations of their rights have decided to approach both the domestic and international legal fora to seek for redress.
I must state that the current chief of Army Staff will go down in history as someone who going by all that the media have reported about some in-house reforms, is passionate about instilling professional discipline.
It is known that in the last three years of his leadership scores of indicted military operatives have gone through the court martial process just as many have been sanctioned.
But it must be admitted that the impacts of the different military court martial sessions does not seem to have sufficiently tackled the overwhelming evidences of crass misconducts by some operatives.
For instance, there are occasions of conflicts between the Army and some civil protesters that resulted in fatalities.
But despite concerns expressed by well-meaning groups, the military is known to have defended their operatives.
The spokesman of the Defence headquarters has done irreparable damage to the public image of the Army by outrightly justifying what seemed like naked and brute use of maximum military force against civilian protesters. He said any confrontation with the military will be met with maximum force since the military have no rubber-bullets during internal military operations.
Watching the latest television interview the Defence headquarters spokesperson gave to a television producer who sought to know why the Army opened fire towards the surging protesters of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, it does not look professional that this senior officer justified the extra-legal killings.
These conflicting signals from the media managers of the Nigerian military should lead us to ascertain the next big institutional impediment weighing down the professional pride of place of the military.
We have earlier listed that too many internal policing jobs done by the military is the fundamental cause of the deterioration of the professional status of the military because the primary duty of the military in line with the constitution in section 217 is to defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity.
The military has done well in defending Nigeria’s territorial integrity but is significantly impacted negatively by multiple policing jobs that the Nigeria police force ought to be doing but for the near collapse of the Nigerian police force, these routine policing duties are carried out by the overstretched military.
The next big impediment is funding deficits.
Poor funding inevitably results from the overwhelming involvement of the military in routine duties that they are not prepared, equipped or adequately financed to enforce.
This porous financing status can be seen from news reports that state governments whereby internal military operations take place are tasked to donate to the military.
It is not unusual these days to flip through the pages of newspapers to read stories and watch photos of state governors donating vehicles to the military and even a state like Rivers state is known to have donated gun-boats to the Navy to police the maritime areas.
I have never read nor have seen when any of the fifty states in the United States or any of the municipal authorities in Germany, Spain or United Kingdom have donated vehicles to their equivalents of armed forces and police.
Nigeria must decide on granting comprehensive bail out to the military.
Around February of this year, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, lamented poor funding of the Nigerian Army despite the military operations being carried out in all the states of the federation.
Buratai, while appearing before the Senate Committee on Army in Abuja to defend the 2018 budget proposed by the Nigerian Army, noted that agitations had spread across the country since 2015, making the military to be deployed for internal security operations.
The Army chief also decried the envelope budgeting system adopted by the Federal Government, which he said, had limited the outfit’s access to funds.
He said, “Let me quickly appraise the performance of the Nigerian Army’s budget for 2017. You will recall that since the beginning of 2015, the activities of violent non-state actors have aggravated in various regions across our dear country. In response to this, the Nigerian Army has expanded from five divisions to eight divisions, and is currently engaging in the war against Boko Haram and other internal security operations – virtually in all the 36 states of the federation.
“These commitments have extended our core constitutional roles and have impacted significantly on our human and material resources. The inadequate budgetary allocation, the subsisting envelope budget system and partial release of funds have negatively affected the Nigerian Army towards achieving an utmost secured environment for the citizenry.”
The Army chief however decried that the Ministry of Finance was deducting Nigerian Army’s power consumption bill from source, urging the Senate to stop the withdrawal.
Buratai, while appraising the Nigerian Army’s 2017 budget, said N133.44bn budgeted for unpaid allowances such as ration cash, medical and cost, was fully released.
He said the Nigerian Army’s overheads appropriation had a performance of 42.82 per cent, amounted to N171.7bn. He however said only N11,849,000,000 was released for capital expenditure, out of the N20,623,000,000 appropriated, representing 57.46 per cent.
On the 2018 proposal, the Army chief said the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Budget and National Planning proposed N233.05bn.
He said, “However, the Nigerian Army is requesting the sum of N261.67bn.”
Commenting, a member of the committee, Senator Abdullahi Danbaba, lamented that the Army was being underfunded “in a situation where we have so many challenges in terms of even the territorial integrity of this country.”
He said apart from the fact that the overheads of the Army was “completely reduced” from what the committee recommended, the government failed to release the amount appropriated in full.
The chairman of the committee, George Akume, said the lawmakers would engage with the relevant authorities to ensure that the Army enjoy full releases especially on overheads.
Another member of the committee, Senator James Manager, however, argued that previous engagements with the Execute had not produced positive results.
He stated that it was time that the Nigerian Army was put on the first-line-charge of the Federal Government.
Manager said, “There is serious insecurity in the country and for us to survive as a country, there must be peace and that is where the Army, the police and all the security forces are important. Speaking for the Army and the entire military architecture, I would rather advocate the first-line-charge for the military.”
This writer totally agree with the proposal that the military should be put on first line charge just like the judiciary. This is because without adequate funding of the Army, the national security status would be porous. However, adequate checks and balances must be put in place to remove procurement crimes that do occur whenever defence expenditures are made by the ministry of Defence or the relevant procurement departments of the different segments of the armed forces. Funding independence must be followed strictly by monitoring and efficient oversight by the legislative houses and civil society practitioners.
All the aforementioned are strategic because more than any other period in the nation’s history, the Nigerian Armed Forces are engaged simultaneously in at least 10 major internal security operations across the six geo-political zones of the country, according to a report by Thisday.
These major internal security operations include the war against terrorism, deadly herdsmen, cattle rustlers, kidnappers, oil thieves and pipeline vandals, and the joint police/military security outfits against criminal activities such as armed robbery in the 36 states of the federation.
The various operations involve huge deployment of military assets and manpower and are being prosecuted simultaneously at a period of dwindling national revenue and protracted war against terrorism and insurgency that has lasted six years, thereby stretching the military too thin.
In the North East, there is Operation Lafiya Dole, which handles the overall Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency Operations with expanded scope, scale and depth comprising three divisions and more than five states. This has dovetailed to other specialized operations like Operation Crackdown to wind down the war against insurgents and clear the remnants of the Boko Haram sect in Sambisa Forest; Operation Gama Aiki, which serves same purpose in the northern part of Borno state; and Operation Safe Corridor, set up for the de-radicalization and rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram terrorists.
North Central has Operation Safe Haven stationed in Plateau State with area of operation extending to Benue, Kogi, Nasarawa and Kwara States to quell ethno-religious conflicts and other criminal activities.
There is also Operation Sara Daji and Operation Harbin Kunama in the North West, established to battle the criminal activities of armed bandits, cattle rustlers and robbers operating particularly in Zamfara, Kaduna and fringes of Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kano states.
Down south, the military has a major operation codenamed Operation Delta Safe which was formerly Operation Pulo Shield. It is now complemented by the Nigerian Army’s Operation Crocodile Smile, and Navy’s Operation Tsera Teku. These operations are all aimed at crushing the resurgent Niger Delta militancy and other acts of criminality like oil theft, vandalism, and bunkering in the region.
In the South west, there is Operation Awase with a mandate to contain the criminal operations around Ogun-Lagos axis, particularly in Arepo where illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism are regular occurrences. South East has Operation Iron Fence to combat armed robbers, hooligans and kidnappers.
This is how important the institutions of the military is according to the constitution as spelt out in section 217 (1) “There shall be an armed forces for the federation shall consist of an Army, a Navy, an Air Force and such other branches of the armed forces of the federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly. (2) The federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf, equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of – defending Nigeria from external aggression; maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea or air; suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the president, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the national Assembly; and performing such other functions as may be prescribed by an Jift of the National Assembly.
This bailout is urgent and necessary.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; ww w.huriwanigeria.com;firstname.lastname@example.org.