The military and ‘Operation Positive Identification’
Strangely, the army authorities met the House Committee on the Army to explain the reason for the exercise. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, who did not appear before the House Committee on Army was represented by Chief of Civil-Military Affairs, Maj.-Gen. Usman Muhammed made it known that the army had submitted a detailed report on the OPI to the committee and OPI would not infringe on the everyday activities of Nigerians while the operation endures. He further explained that the OPI was a subset of its major operations and that based on intelligence the Boko Haram insurgents are no longer confined but dispersed and the exercise had commenced in the North-East on September 22.
The army chief added that OPI was a “training exercise and at the same time, it is a true operation whereby we use the opportunity to carry out activities to checkmate criminality and crime within those areas. In addition, he said that towards the end of the year, the military had a tradition of initiating operations to curb crimes. In the present OPI, it would collaborate with other security agencies like the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Department of State Service (DSS). For effect, OPI, he said had the blessing of the commander-in-chief, President Muhammadu Buhari, the minister of defence and the chief of defence staff.
The initial information in the public domain is to the effect that the operation would require the deployment of military personnel across the country and as consequence require every Nigerian to establish their identity by means of some valid identification such as workplace ID, International passport, driver’s licence, national ID, voter ID among others. Ostensibly, the exercise was expected to curb the activities of bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers and myriad criminal activities across the country. The scope of enlargement of the OPI must have been informed by the so-called success of a similar exercise in the northeastern enclave of Boko Haram insurgents.
Expectedly, the idea of OPI and its operationalisation has attracted condemnations from well-meaning citizens and the national parliament. This last-minute explanation is disdain and contempt for public opinion and the institutions of the state, especially the national parliament, which is the powerhouse of any democracy. This attitude is disturbing and perhaps has a latent function, which would unravel in the course of time.
Doubtless, the matter raises a question about the precarious state of the rights of the citizens, which has increasingly come under attack by the security forces under the prevailing administration. Daily, Nigerians go through all forms of violation in the hands of security forces including commercial raiding and violation of an old colonial law of wandering, abolished by the Nigerian government since 1989. Recently, Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) also indicted the Nigerian military, which it claimed has targeted journalists’ phones, computers with digital forensic tools like Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) and Forensic Toolkit (FTK), made by the Israel-based Cellebrite and U.S.-based AccessData respectively to ascertain sources.
We note that contemplation of a military operation of the substance and scale described above is a threat to the foundation of freedom of Nigerians. The role of the military is clearly spelt out in the 1999 Constitution as amended. The military primary role is the defence of the territorial integrity of the country and maybe called in aid of police in situations that the latter is unable to handle. The inclination to internal security role is an aberration that must be brought to an end. It is indeed unfortunate that the military in a democracy still largely labours under the ‘Glover syndrome’ in which it sees itself as the ‘other’ loyal to the incumbent ruling elite and not the people whose taxes go into the funding of the military institution.
The avalanche of reaction before the official refutation is a clear message of what the people’s expectations are vis-a-vis the role of the military in a democracy. A renowned activist and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana aptly likened OPI to the apartheid pass laws in the heyday of apartheid dispensation in South Africa. Seen from the ambit of the constitution, it amounted to a gross violation of the rights of Nigerians underpinned by the basic laws of the country.
Earlier, the House of Representatives had called on President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend OPI being planned by the Nigerian Army is seen as anti-people and a threat to human rights. It urged the Nigerian Army to develop “a pro-people strategy in confronting our security challenges instead of measures that would further victimise the people.”
In a similar vein, the Senate “will not support any action or policy that would either cause inconveniences for Nigerians or tamper with their fundamental human rights which include freedom of movement” and therefore summoned the military leadership. Despite a delegation to the House Committee on the Army to offer an explanation, no one should be fooled over an action that is clearly undemocratic and anti-freedom. What is more insulting to public sensibility is to continue the exercise against the weight of public opinion. For us, this is the height of insubordination and validating once more the famous statement of former Army Chief, General Salihu Ibrahim to the effect that the Nigerian army was becoming an “army of anything is possible.”
In a liberal democracy, as a normative principle, the military is subordinated to civil authority with enhanced civil-military relations (CMR). CMR refers to “those patterns of the relation between the military and the civil society. It involves perception as well as physical interactions between the uniformed men and women and the civil society in the transformation of society.” Although democracy allows CMR to bloom, the military hierarchy is undermining it by self-serving condescension to provisional officeholders. This again is unfortunate.
It is therefore pertinent to advise the military to rededicate itself to professionalism and steer clear of over-exposure. The government is equally advised to withdraw the military from internal security duties carved out for the police. The latter should be well equipped to take care of internal security. Today, the swirling rumours of insubordination and mutiny are a consequence of the over-reach and exposure of the military to the public. If military must be exposed to the civil realm, it must be for it to perform the edifying collateral functions, such as road constructions, building bridges, emergency assistance and even farming as a peace-time pastime. It is not too late to call off the impudent exercise. Lest we forget, was it not for all these reasons this same Buhari in 2015 ordered soldiers out of the streets where the previous administrations were using them for internal security operations? Why the policy somersault when we should be deepening democracy and re-professionalising the armed forces?
On the whole, this newspaper feels that the commander-in-chief of the armed forces should note that people are concerned that the army that is responsible for the territorial defence of the country is now responsible for internal security, which is not their constitutional role. And so people are asking what is now the responsibility of the police. Should the police be disbanded? Authorities in Abuja should, in the main, pay due attention to widespread intelligence from those who should know about organisational strategy and power game in Abuja that all this needless brouhaha is just about struggled for budget spending and not about national security, after all. That is why the nation requires better conceptual clarity, in this regard, from the Chief of Army Staff, before it is too late.
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