Army withdrawal from Ondo checkpoints
The reported unilateral withdrawal of Nigerian soldiers from security checkpoints in Ondo State gives cause for concern. Notably, it has so far not been refuted nor clarified by the Army that the Commander of 32 Artillery Brigade, Brig.-Gen. Yakubu Yerima ordered the dismantling of military checkpoints in the state for reasons that he has not officially stated. In the absence of a clear statement, a variety of explanations have been inevitably speculated on his behalf. These range from personality clash of sorts with Chief Adetunji Adeleye, Corps Commander of Amotekun, the Ondo State internal security organisation, through a grouse with purported ethnic-targeted arrests, to alleged failure of the state government to pay certain allowances due to the soldiers.
Ominously, neither the Brigade commander nor the Army high command has deemed it fit to say a word to the Ondo State citizens in particular whose safety is somehow compromised by this action and the Nigerian public in general, on the reason for this action. It is even reported that ‘‘attempts to speak with the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Brigade proved abortive.’’ Under any type of responsible government, this is improper and unacceptable; under a democratically elected government subject to constitutional rules, this behaviour is even more intolerable. Nigerians deserve an explanation not the least because the Armed Forces are creations of the Constitution; and their powers, authorities, entitlements, privileges and actions are subject to the relevant provisions of that guiding document.
Indeed, the matter assumed a political colouration with an opposition politician quick to volunteer that ‘‘Soldiers that man security checkpoints in Ondo State …have abandoned the check points …as a result of the refusal of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to pay allowances due to the personnel’’ claimed Kennedy Peretei, the publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party. Given the security implication of the withdrawal, it will be interesting to interrogate how he knew this.
The unilateral action taken by Brig.-Gen. Yakubu Yerima throws up a number of questions of due process and propriety. Has he explored the back channel to privately discuss his grouse with the governor who, in principle, is the chief security officer of the state? As member of the State Security Council, has he presented his complaint (whatever it is) at a meeting of the council and if so, what was the decision reached? Has he raised the issued in contention with higher military authorities and if so what did they do about it? Indeed, does this officer have the authority to pull Nigerian soldiers out of security duties legally assigned to them by constituted authority? Or, are his superiors aware of and approve this decision?
The Armed Forces Act in Section 7 ‘‘vests the day-to-day-command and general superintendence of the Armed Forces in the Chief of Defence Staff. Is he in the know of Yerima’s action? Ultimately, does the President and Commander-in-Chief, who, as provided for in Section 8(1) of the Act, determines the operational use of the Armed Forces’’ and from whose constitutional authority flow such decisions know what the Brigade Commander in Ondo State has done? It is critically important to establish transparently by what authority Yerima acted the way he did in the course of a sensitive national assignment. Nigerians want to know in order to be assured that process and procedure still rule in this clime. And if, as provided in the laws of the land, the Brigade in Ondo State was legitimately assigned to aid civil authorities to maintain peace and order in a state so criminally-ravaged, but has chosen without appropriate consultation and due authorization, to withdraw from duty post, then Section 62 of the Armed Forces Act on ‘Failure to perform military duties’ comes into consideration in respect of that behaviour, unless of course, there are extenuating factors.
It is a pity that the Nigerian Armed Forces have so regularly been assigned to even low-level security duties which, ordinarily should be performed by the non-military sections of the country’s security system. This is not supposed to be so at all. Soldiers are not so expensively and rigorously trained for these purposes of keeping civil order. The Constitution states the purpose of the Armed Forces of the Federation as ‘(a) defending Nigeria from external aggression; (b) maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea or air; (c) 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…’ To, at this time, remove the armed forces from their professional roles and places of urgent attention shows extremely poor judgment, or even worse, on the part of this government.
To man checkpoints is really not so heavy a security duty that the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps and other non-military agencies cannot handle. But that is if the government musters the political will to strengthen these organisations with the necessary resources. Alas, it has not, despite promises that its parent political party, the APC freely made in writing to the electorate in 2015. ‘APC will urgently address capacity building of law enforcement agents in terms of quantity and quality as this is critical to safeguarding the security of lives and property.’’ This, and related manifesto statements remain unfulfilled six years after.
It is gratifying that Amotekun, the internal security structure of Ondo State, the Nigerian Police and other organisations have filled the gap left by the soldiers. The state has not descended into security chaos that some feared. Indeed, these security agencies are doing sufficiently good job that Akeredolu could say that ‘‘the absence of the military personnel from the highways…is not being felt.’’ This proves two points: one, that if properly empowered, these agencies can do well what they are established to do; two that local security outfits such as Amotekun can in collaboration with other bodies, secure their respective areas of jurisdiction. The second point is a strong justification for, specifically, state police, and broadly, a genuine, working federalism. In view of the new development, Ondo Sate government should strengthen Amotekun as much as possible within the bounds of law, as well as motivate the other agencies. And, other states should learn now from what is happening in Ondo State. That effective policing is local remains incontrovertibly true.