Civilian casualty in fighting insurgency
No time in history has probably been more trying for the Nigerian military than now when it is battling on all fronts, Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and local insurrection among others.
At the same time, the military is facing an accusation from civil society groups of alleged high-handedness and overzealousness against ordinary and innocent citizens in its operations. Yet, Army officers are also being attacked and killed, often by groups whose identities are not easily ascertained. Certainly, it is an unpleasant situation for the whole country; but the path for the Army to toe is that of professionalism to avoid walking into traps while ensuring that damages to the innocent civil populace are minimal.
Despite the dilemma it is facing on the fronts, the Nigerian Army must avoid the labelling of being at war against its citizens. Nigerians are already traumatised by daily reports of killings and kidnappings by the Boko Haram insurgents, nomadic cattle herders, bandits and the general state of insecurity in the country; the last thing they need at the moment is agony induced by the very security organ set up to guarantee their safety.
Following the killing of one army officer and ten soldiers in Benue State, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has alleged that men and officers of the Army had engaged in reprisal attacks which resulted in the killing of innocent civilians. This was further confirmed by a former governor of the state, and senator representing the community Gabriel Suswam, who accused the army of being on a revenge mission, as they have bombarded villages far away from the troubled areas.
And in the South East where yet unknown gunmen have been attacking law enforcement agents including soldiers, their stations, correctional centres and other government structures, the Army has been called to restore order and in the process drawn the ire of groups accusing them of victimising innocent Nigerians.
These reports are reminiscent of the events of October 2001 in Zaki Biam Local Government of Benue State, where the army had allegedly killed scores of civilians while thousands were displaced in seeming retaliation for the abduction and killing of 19 soldiers by a local militia group. It equally calls to mind the 19th November 1999 massacre at Odi in Bayelsa State, where the army had razed down the community following the killing of 12 police officers.
The Professor George Obiozor-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo in a statement signed by its spokesman, Alex Ogbonnia, said the organisation’s attention had been drawn to ongoing massive arrests of Igbo youths by the Nigerian Army. It alleged that military personnel, suspected to be led by the 34 Artillery Brigade, Owerri had been arresting male residents and youths, particularly in Oguta and Ohaji communities and clamping them into vans and taken to unknown destinations.” The socio-cultural group was concerned that many of the youths so arrested bore no arms to warrant their arrest. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide also warned about the dangers of any military deployment to South East, insisting that the consequences of such impulsivity might lead to Nigeria’s break up.
Granted that the officers and men of the Nigerian Army are often faced with a guerrilla situation, where almost anyone in the troubled spot becomes a suspect, however, they are trained professionals and must never allow the situation to get the better of them. They have a constitutional duty to suppress insurrection and restore order and must be wary of actions likely to incite the people. The nation is still battling with protest by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, often resulting in loss of lives and properties, six years after the killing of its members and arrest of its leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, by the army. The attitude and opinion of the people play a critical role in guerrilla warfare and the army needs the support of the people if the country is to win this war.
The killing of security personnel across the country by criminal elements among Nigerians is highly condemnable, and the situation must be addressed before it gets any worse. These heinous crimes are perpetrated by criminal minds who hope to profit off the heightened sense of insecurity, and unless drastic steps are taken, it is capable of plunging the nation into a state of anarchy. The insecurity situation in the country appears to worsen by the day and while stakeholders continue to clamour for the creation of State Police to address issues of insecurity at the grassroots levels, the current administration appears clueless about the situation and continues to turn a deaf ear to the calls.
Security officers make huge sacrifices on a daily basis to ensure the safety of the lives and properties of the citizenry, and accordingly deserve the support of its people and the government. Save for the criminal minds in their midst, the people recognise these officers to be their brothers and sisters and realise that the safety of the nation depends on the wellbeing of these officers. Nigerians are not unaware of the challenges they encounter in the course of carrying out their duties, which are even made worse by corrupt politicians and senior officers who connive to steal public funds and deny these officers on the field of adequate welfare and supplies to ensure their safety and wellbeing. But these officers must also realise that the average Nigerian equally suffers from bandits and other criminal elements, as well as corrupt and incompetent political officeholders, and the army is better off having the people on its side. The ordinary Nigerian is not the enemy; the war is out there.