The Nigerian military and politics
AS the struggle among various political interests vying for control of affairs of Nigeria rages and partisans are being recruited across the political spectrum, the Nigerian military must be insulated from the contaminating putrid wind that is blowing. Democracy demands a completely professional and totally apolitical disposition from the military institution for the health of the polity. Even though some developments recently have tended to call into question the military’s neutrality while causing general anxiety among the public, it bears reiteration that the strength of a nation is in the professionalism of its armed forces.
The Nigerian military has been the butt of criticisms due to its increasing involvement in the electoral process, especially during voting. When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) hinged its postponement of the general elections earlier scheduled for February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11 on the unpreparedness of the military to provide security for the movement of sensitive electoral materials, protect electoral staff and to pre-empt situations that are likely to degenerate into violence, it was only natural for citizens to be suspicious and wonder what is becoming of their men and women in the armed forces.
“INEC not being a security agency that could by itself guarantee protection for personnel and materials, as well as voters during elections, the Commission cannot lightly wave off the advice by the nation’s Security Chiefs. The Commission is specifically concerned about the security of our ad hoc staff who constitute at least 600,000 young men and women, together with our regular staff, voters, election observers as well as election materials painstakingly acquired over the last one and half years. This concern is limited not just to the areas in the North-eastern part of Nigeria experiencing insurgency; the risk of deploying young men and women and calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility.” With these words, INEC practically lunged the success of the current electoral process or its continued forward march on the military.
This development has engendered a debate on whether it is the primary or statutory role of the military to provide security during elections and whether the aura of its impartiality and strength as the one institution that unites the country is not being eroded. In fact, it is now justifiably perceived that the military has once again assumed the commanding posts and agenda setting role for Nigeria’s democracy in ways that are unwholesome for the polity.
To reassure Nigerians of its neutrality and commitment to democracy the military has, however, told Nigerians that it would not influence the re-scheduled elections. Besides, it pledged its desire to remain committed to professionalism. While acknowledging that there was “palpable tension being generated … with regards to the roles of the Nigerian military in the ongoing political activities and recent developments, especially in relation to electioneering,” it said it was “important to reassure Nigerians that the military will remain professional, apolitical and non-partisan in all operations … related to elections”.
The Nigerian military must not be allowed to return to the era before the return to civil rule in 1999 when it was over-politicised to the extent that one of the institution’s leading lights, a former army chief, described it as an ‘army of anything is possible.’ In the context of its over-politicisation, the challenges being faced by Nigeria over its military are how to ensure its subordination to civil authority; how to restore its corporate integrity, cohesion and professionalism due to fractured esprit de corps; how to ensure it enjoys social legitimacy from the people through cordial civil-military relations; and how to ensure that the institution retains its national character.
Recent developments already point to a dangerous precedent. Getting the Defence Headquarters involved in the General Muhammadu Buhari certificate controversy, exchanging words with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and its ascribed role in the electoral process, culminating in the postponement, are divisive and injurious to the military institution.
The military is an important arm of the state and its integrity must be protected. Keeping to its professionalism and maintaining an apolitical pillar are the sources of its veneration by the society.
The Accra Principles on Demilitarisation emphasise such transformational measures in civil-military relations, as submission to civil authority of military institution anchored on re-orientation. The principles also insist on a level of institutional reforms such as depoliticisation, distance from police missions and cross-cutting civil engagement which minimises military exclusivity and upgrading of military collateral functions to core professional tasks.
The Olusegun Obasanjo administration response to such demilitarisation and exercise of civil authority in 1999 was a sweeping purge of officers deemed political, on account of their previous political postings, and contracting of the retraining of officers for professionalism to the U.S.-based Military Professional Resources Initiative (MPRI). But much is still desired in achieving full demilitarisation as envisioned by the aforementioned Accra Principles. The neutrality of the military and commitment to professionalism will enhance the quality of democracy and incline it towards consolidation.
The military’s affirmation that “the Armed Forces believe strongly in the prospects of the country under a democratic rule and will continue to discharge its responsibility to support our democracy as constitutionally guaranteed” is, therefore, re-assuring.