By Okanga Agila
An irresponsible military is a fundamental threat to any nation. Narrowed down, an unprofessional and undisciplined Army is a devastating disaster with dire consequences on the fabrics of a nation-state. On the flipside too, a professional and disciplined Army is the pride of every country in the world.
The political history of Africa is discolored and besmirched by the series of military interregnums. Democracy in Africa is often described as nascent of the persistent military interventions, which has stunted its growth and suppressed the desire of the people to be governed by democratic leadership choices. It is resentful, even aberrational and the world has risen to resist it.
Similarly, the widespread proliferation of arms in African nations has spurred the ugly specter of fanatical and extremists sects, leading to violent armed local conflicts. Its frequency and intensity, most times, like currently obtained in Nigeria has necessitated the invitation of the Army to aid civil and regular security to maintain public law and order.
Therefore, the imperative in Nigeria to have an Army inclined to professionalism, discipline, loyalty, patriotism and subordinated to civil authority becomes inevitable and inescapable. It has been the mania of the current leadership of the Nigerian Army.
The obsession of Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai from the outset, when he assumed duties as the Army helmsman in July 2015 has refused to wane. He encapsulated his vision and mindset with this aphorism; “To have a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.” Gen. Buratai has been relentlessly guided by this mindset in his leadership of the Nigerian Army and voraciously scouts for improvements and tightens loopholes monthly and yearly.
Such vibrations echoed loudly at the week-long 2017 Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference, which has just ended in the ancient city of Ibadan, the Oyo state capital. It raised yet another platform for self-evaluation by the Nigerian Army. Packaged under the theme; “Re-appraising the Nigerian Army’s Operational Efficiency in Combating Contemporary National Security Challenges,” the gathering of top brass of the Nigerian Army and other experts on security interrogated various nuances of Army operations in the year winding up and explored fresh ways of brightening its efficiency, the multifarious special assignments and operations within the country for 2018.
The assemblage of experts on security reviewed the focal events that shaped its operations in Year 2017 and laid the framework for its 2018 operations. Therefore, the forum raised a platform for Army Divisions, Directorates and Commands to compare and exchange notes on their operations in the year under review across the board.
And quite enticingly, a post-conference communiqué issued at the end of the 2017 COAS conference, signed and released by the Nigerian Army’s Chief of Policy and Plans, Major Gen. Christopher Jemitola punctuated two very critical and important issues concerning the Nigerian Army and the arduous task of nurturing a peaceful and secured Nigeria.
The communiqué read in part; “The conference also deliberated on issues impacting on the conduct of ongoing Nigerian Army operations and the need for such operations to be conducted within the context of the rule of law and international best practices. Human rights issues were also discussed which brought to fore the need for commanders at all levels to abide by extant rules in fulfilling Nigerian Army’s obligations to the citizenry especially the strict employment of established Rules of Engagement.”
It is instructive that the Nigerian Army has consistently kept its binoculars on the sacred task of internal cleansing. At the last count, soldiers on special assignments in Nigeria have been deployed to over 30 states in the federation. Their briefs is mainly to assist regular security curb the weird excesses of extremists’ sects, insurgencies, insurrectionists, separatists’ movements and other layers of local armed conflicts.
This is quite a delicate task, particularly, as its execution is tied to an inevitable interface with a belligerent and fragile civil populace. In Nigeria, there is the tendency of armed criminals who overpower civil security, but dread the Army to deploy the instruments of blackmail and malice against the operations of troops.
However, Gen. Buratai has proven to be an effective sentinel over his troops. In the dozen communities and states the Nigerian Army has been deployed for rescue operations, they have not only posted excellent results, but also effectively set new records in upholding the human rights of Nigerians. Today, everyone is excited with soldiers perfect and mutual blend with the civil population and host communities.
It is glaring that in confronting the bile insurgencies which have assailed Nigeria, soldiers religiously comply with the extant Rules of Engagement and international best practices in the operations of quelling the potentially explosive national conflagrations. So, even the deliberate and mischievous attempts to stain the reputation of the Nigerian Army with campaigns of calumny by some debased individuals, agents and international organizations,’ has failed to work. The Nigerian Army has always triumphed, after lawful probes.
Analysts posit limitlessly, that protecting the human rights of Nigerians has been the signpost of the Nigerian Army in all its operations under the leadership of Gen. Buratai.
The hitherto brash and crude force applied by soldiers on internal assignments have been replaced with amiability and friendliness with host communities. On such assignments, they freely mingle with people, strike interpersonal relationships, court their attention with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects in critical areas of needs.
This approach has proved very effective in winning the hearts and minds of members of host communities, which has changed the perception of soldiers as brutes, but as friends, who have come to assist them overcome sickening insecurity challenges. It has engendered peace and seamless interactions. Members of host communities have reciprocated such gestures by pairing up with the Army to fight violent sects, as exemplified by the Civilian JTF, much as others volunteer information to soldiers on the hideouts of armed criminals.
The establishment of the Human Rights Desk at the Army Headquarters and its replication in major Army Divisions by Gen. Buratai is intended to address isolated cases of professional misconduct and any violation of the human rights of Nigerians. Probably for a long while in Nigeria’s history, the Nigerian Army is responding to court summons from ordinary Nigerians and subjecting its serving personnel to civil courts over alleged rights violations to enable them argue their innocence or otherwise.
Nigerians are witnesses to the recent Court Marshall and punishment of some Army personnel for violating the human rights of Nigerians, an indication of the willingness of the Army to cleanse its House appropriately.
Looking forward to 2018, the Nigerian Army intends to not only sustain this tradition, but improve on its splendor, as the communiqué says, “Civil-Military Relations was highlighted as part of Nigerian Army’s efforts to integrate and relate to the general public especially host communities for the winning of their hearts and minds.”
Furthermore, Gen. Buratai has ensured the complete subordination of the Nigerian Army to civil authorities, besides constant preachments and reminders to soldiers to remain apolitical, Gen. Buratai has raised an Army which has been indoctrinated to believe their existence in service only revolves around exercise of professional and constitutional duties of protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Nigeria, and proven instances of aberrations’ or undue interference with political and electoral matters have been tackled instantly and penalties pronounced on offenders where necessary.
It is soul-lifting that in 2018, the Nigerian Army has resolved to tremendously improve in this direction. The communiqué says, “It is the resolve of the Nigerian Army to remain responsive and apolitical while re-affirming its total loyalty to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR.”
Therefore, the world has continued to celebrate the Nigerian Army for its professionalism and courageous combat of Boko Haram Terrorism and insurrections and, the accolades came because of their evident upholding of the human rights of Nigerians. As a people and a nation, Nigeria will continue to celebrate Lt. Gen Buratai for upholding these twin cardinal principles of human existence in relation to the Army’s pursuit of peace and security for Nigerians.
Thus, 2018 has held greater promise for the Nigerian Army in this regard. It is manifest in its pledge at the Army Conference to continue to adhere to the Rules of Engagement, dogged and unflinching protection of the human rights, respect for international humanitarian laws and absolute subordination to civil authorities. These are the famed hallmarks of the leadership of the Nigerian Army, which has made Lt. Gen Tukur Yusufu Buratai “first among equals.”
Okanga is a traditional warrior and contributed this piece from Agila, Benue State.