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Overhauling the military in a democracy


Nigerian Military

If there is anything, which the apparent militarisation of the 2019 general elections seems to have demonstrated, it is the need for repositioning the military. That was our conclusion the other day when we first assessed, ‘the military and 2019 elections.’ As many reports have stated, the curious involvement of military officers and in some cases, deployment of a whole battalion, with their apparently partisan roles in the conduct of the general elections, were a clear demonstration of unprofessionalism. We had stated the above observation before the supplementary elections, which also demonstrated that the military establishment again went too far in the controversial 2019 elections that have not been concluded, anyway.

No doubt, this is a consequence of growing indiscipline that has again crept into the military establishment in a volatile political terrain. This is unfortunate and embarrassing as electoral officers and election observers have been openly decrying involvement of soldiers in allegation of irregularities at the polls.

It is for this reason that a promise made by President Muhammadu Buhari that he would withdraw the military from relatively secure parts of the country has become very instructive. It is quite gratifying that a promise to this effect is coming from the president himself; for such a promise suggests that the nefarious activities of some unscrupulous military officers have attracted the attention of the president.

If and when the president fulfills his promise, it is expected that the strange militarisation prevalent in many parts of the country, especially in the south-south and southeastern parts of the country would be a thing of the past. Should this be the case, Nigerians would rest assured that the heavy military presence being experienced is a temporary measure, after all. It is also expected that there would be proper strategy to re-equip and re-orientate the army, especially within the context of the ongoing lack-lustre performance in the northeast operations against insurgency.

But the military shares only part of the blame. The prevalence of many intra-state conflicts as well as the rise in terrorist activities, have given the military an additional responsibility on internal security management. This burden on the military will be greatly appreciated when we realise that because of under-policing of the country, the military has been saddled with civilian matters, unprepared. Compared to countries where adequate policing is greatly priced, Nigeria’s police-citizen ratio is a dismal 1: 600. This seems to be a huge joke for a conflict-prone country like Nigeria.

To address this anomaly, there is need for the governing authorities in the country to show renewed commitment to the professionalism of the Nigerian military. One way of doing this is for politicians to wean themselves of the misconstrued thinking that the military is at the beck and call of our political leaders. Notwithstanding the fact that the geopolitical structure of Nigeria is a military construct, qualitative leadership demands that the ruling powers make deliberate effort to insulate themselves from this incestuous dependency on the military in a democracy.

Specifically, as we have repeatedly stated here, this calls for overhauling of the Nigeria Police from a force to a service, empowered to ensure law and order in a most sophisticated and respectable way. If the Nigeria Police is to make any headway in this regard, it must transit to a brand new orientation that reflects 21st century police service.

The Nigeria Police Force is at present populated by ill-motivated, poorly paid rank and file as well as officers working with stone-age equipment, and for whom the prospect of a proud law enforcement career will always be a mirage.

Beside the recruitment of more qualified candidates, with sound moral consciousness and public spiritedness, to meet the United Nations stipulated recommended ratio of one police officer to 400 citizens, the police need to be equipped with periodic training on civility and community relations. They should be equipped too with sophisticated gadgets and equipment that are consistent with current global practice.

Fortunately, the ruling political party has all it takes to get this done. One of the salient points in the manifesto of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is the devolution of powers, which includes the establishment of state police. Only last year, the APC national working committee in its recommendation to the party, proposed the establishment of state police, and adduced differences in history, culture and administrative systems as reasons for its proposal. Besides, the vice president once inaugurated a powerful panel to recommend operations of a decentralised police service. If this administration is decisive about addressing the problem of widespread insecurity in the country, via police reforms, it must look the way of its party manifesto as soon as possible.

In the main, even if Buhari’s official preferences still reflect his military background, he has to muster the required civility his position today demands to communicate a clear vision about the military. His curious aloofness about the activities of the military sometimes should give way for decisive actions that must lead to democratic culture.

Above all, the populace must be committed to the democratic process. It appears that poor understanding of civic responsibility and ignorance of the value of democratic culture has led to inability of Nigerians to appreciate the powers and values of civilian government or democratic environment. Nigerians should demonstrate passion and ambition for self-rule. And this democratic attitude should form the basis for discipline that would enable leaders draw up a roadmap for sustainable development goals for the country.

One of the lessons, which all stakeholders in civic responsibility to Nigeria should learn is the fact that the Federal Republic of Nigeria and even its constitution are implicitly a military arrangement since 1966 when they came with a curious ‘correcting fluid.’ Thus, political leaders and indeed governing authorities now should ensure that they manage public service and even democratic elections in ways that will make citizens have faith in the government and state institutions that define its governance. The military is the last bastion of defence of a country. So, if we allow the institution to be debased in peacetime, then we should be ready for consequences of failure – to protect such an important institution.

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