NIGERIA: IS THE MILITARY STRONG ONLY AGAINST THE WEAK?
On December 12, 2015 in Kaduna state, north central Nigeria, the military allegedly mowed down hundreds of Shiite Muslims who allegedly tried to obstruct their path. Till date, their leader, Ibrahim El Zarzaky and his wife are still in detention, although authorities like to sugarcoat it as protective custody.
While Nigerians are still mortified by that horrific event in Kaduna, under the disguise of a military exercise code named operation Python dance ll, the military on September 15, 2017 invaded southeastern Nigeria-Umuahia and Aba-in particular, unleashing sorrow, tears and blood on the civilian populace. Coincidentally, in the 1980s, after a fierce and unfortunate encounter with the military, which led to the death of illustrious Mrs. Fumilayo Kuti, mother of the highlife music maestro, late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the radical musician had released a hit song, aptly tagged ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood, them regular trademark’
Events in the recent past have confirmed that Fela’s odious characterization of the military was on point.
While the army in particular is basking in the euphoria of killing defenseless civilians (whose tax money is used to fund them) in both north central and south east Nigeria, it is being given a bloody nose by the religious insurgent group Boko haram, in the north east.
It is common knowledge that Bornu and Yobe states were practically turned into killing fields by the terrorists and citizens have remained exposed to being raped, kidnapped and sold into slavery or killed for nearly ten years without adequate protection from the army that’s brutalizing Nigerians in other zones.
Rather than carry out their military drills in the dreaded Sambisa forest where Boko haram holds sway, urban centers such as Kaduna, Umuahia and Aba are their preferred training grounds.
What a paradox?
The disappointing performance of the military against Boko haram which had been regaining momentum through increased spate of bombings and steady return to the territories which the military claimed it had recovered, prompted the then acting president , Yemi Osinbajo to order the military high command to return to their central command base in Maiduguri. And upon his return from medical vacation in London, in August, president Buhari endorsed Osinbajo’s decision by renewing his call on the military to defeat the insurgents without further delay. Despite the presidencies marching order to the military , Boko haram is still a significant threat to life in the north east, sometimes making incursions into Internally Displaced People, IDP camps and educational institutions like university of Maiduguri where they have recently killed and kidnapped both students and lecturers.
In fact,the National Bureau of Statistics , NBS and Central Bank of Nigeria,CBN attribute the current high cost of food partly to displacement of farmers in the north east due to acts of terrorism which has been preventing them from tiling the soil for food.
Before the Kaduna tragedy and the recent Umuahia debacle, there were massacres committed by the army against unarmed citizens in Zaki Biam, Benue state and Odi, Bayelsa state in November 1999 under the watch of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Curiously, these heinous crimes by the army against civilian population within a country and not under civil war condition occurred during the watch of former military dictators who later became presidents in democratic settings.
A quick trend analysis reveals that under the regime of other democratically elected presidents like Umaru Yar’Adua of blessed memory who succeeded Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, whom Buhari succeeded, although civilians rubbed off the military on the wrong side, such irksome Nigerians were not sent to their early grave by deadly military force as has been the case in the two instances earlier cited.
What that indicates to me is that no matter their claim to the contrary, once a soldier, the nihilist orientation never really dies, even when they replace their khaki uniforms with Agbada frocks as they exit the military jackboot arena and step into the tough but civil political turf.
Arising from the forgoing scenario, I have come to the conclusion that the claims of being reborn democrats by former soldiers when they are trying to engage in politics , are actually mere gimmicks meant to beguile the gullible voters who they lure into voting for them to get into office, only for their deadly fangs which they had retracted when seeking the mandate, to become unbridled soon after they have captured political power.
Going forward, given what we know now, before choosing their leaders, l suggest that Nigerians should apply the cautionary measure that lawyers refer to as caveat emptor-buyer beware.
Unsurprisingly, owing to the vicious and cold blooded approach of the Nigerian military in tackling insurgents within the internal territory of Nigeria, international civil liberty organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have had course to indict the military in several reports. Consequently, they had cautioned the military on the need to respect the rights of civilians in the course of discharging their duties of reining in insurgents, but the military has always denied the allegations.
And some Nigerians who still had confidence in the military had risen in its defense, but with the plan to carry out operation Crocodile Tears in the South-South and South-West, the military would not be enjoying public support any more as pictures of the gruesome murder of civilians(some of which are fake) trending in the social media have been assaulting the senses of those who have come in contact with such horrific and gory footages. Would it not have been better if instead of seeing the disgusting pictures of soldiers brutalizing civilians online, Nigerians serenaded with videos of civilians clapping and cheering soldiers returning from their patriotic duties of protecting them from terrorists and aggressive neighboring countries currently harassing those dwelling around border posts? Unfortunately, it appears they the military is yet to engage in such onerous task to earn such public adulation and it does not seem poised to do so soon.
The massacre of civilians by Boko haram in January of 2015 in Baga area of the lake Chad zone in Bornu state without the expected protection from the military which had a camp comprising Nigerian, Chadian and other allied forces in the location , attracted the highest condemnation of both Nigerians and members of the international community.Its no emphasis that the alleged reprisal action by the military which was not sensitive to the civilian population and created grievous collateral damages on the inhabitants of the surrounding environment hindered Nigeria’s ability to acquire more sophisticated military hardware, until recently.
Given the scenario above, I won’t be surprised if the blood cuddling videos depicting the viciousness of the military during their latest onslaught tagged operation Python dance ll in the south east that trended heavily in the social media discourages future plans to acquire more arms from countries like the USA whose laws, especially the Leahy Act, (named after a senator who sponsored it) forbids the sale of deadly arms to military forces considered not to be trustworthy to use the armament responsibly.
Now, my candid observations and concerns about the ignoble trend of Nigerian military’s aggression against civilian population actually is with a view to drawing its attention to areas in which it has been adjudged wanting. Whether they like to hear it or not , most Nigerians don’t believe that the military has done a good job of reorientation from military and autocratic rule to democratic system of governance.
Added to the atrocities allegedly being committed by the military in their crude approach of not applying adequate restraint while dealing with civilian population in the course of trying to root out militants and insurgents, is their recent usurpation of the role of the Executive arm of Government and the National Assembly, NASS when by fiat, it proscribed the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
But thank goodness the blunder by the army was rectified shortly afterwards through a court process initiated by the attorney general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami. However opinions are divided on whether or not that court ruling needs ratification by NASS. That’s why the judgement is currently being challenged in court by IPOB.
The prompt action of rectifying the error of the military by justice minister, Malami is a welcome development because it’s only through submission and deference to, as well as the respect for the rule of law by the military that our hard earned democracy can be sustained.
But typically, the military would likely attack the messenger instead of the message by considering as an affront my honest and harmless prognosis which is meant to point them towards their obvious areas of weakness with a view to attracting the attention of local and international authorities that could offer them assistance towards strengthening their capacity to deal with the new reality via skills bolstering initiatives by more experienced armies of super powers such as the USA, European Union and United Nations.
Perhaps it’s pertinent to point out at this juncture that l have both patriotic and personal reasons and zeal to support the military because my father was a soldier from the medical Corp before he passed away on active duty towards the end of the civil war in 1970.
Erroneously concluding that l’m an adversary and targeting me for assault of any nature, would be unfortunate and it would not deter me from speaking the truth to the authorities, in the best interest of WE THE PEOPLE of Nigeria.
Before the military writes me off as a black leg who betrayed his constituency by virtue of being an old soldier’s son, allow me quickly share a fascinating wisecrack: A crab was once running on a shore and admiring it’s beautiful foot prints. Suddenly, a huge wave splashed and washed away the foot prints. The crab said to the wave “l considered you one of my best friends, why did you do that to me”? The wave replied. “A fisherman was following your footsteps, that is why l wiped it off”. The moral of the story is that sometimes when we believe some people are hurting us, they may be helping us.
In the light of the forgoing, here is hoping that the military understands that my chastisement is in its best interest.
As a public intellectual, l have taken, without equivocation standing up for the voiceless as a sacrifice that must be made on behalf of the hoi polloi who by every stretch of imagination are presently detained in a sort of political Intensive Care Unit, lCU due to the inclement and precarious sociopolitical atmosphere which pervades all strata of society.
It may be recalled that a couple of years ago, a group of American social scientists including a former USA ambassador to Nigeria authored a damning report that Nigeria as country may split up before 2019. Rather than looking at the report dispassionately to identify the underlying factors that could trigger such an unpalatable outcome, authorities denounced the report and dubbed it a satanic work by enemies of Nigeria.
Today, given the deafening noise from the saber rattling of separatist agitators from the south east, south-south, south west, and the middle belt, if adequate and urgent precautionary steps are not taken, and the panaceas recommended by the authors of the report are not heeded, Nigeria would remain on the precipice or even fall off the cliff.
And that possibility of a split up which thankfully may be remote now, is an eloquent testimony to the efficacy of the prediction of the American social scientists which was denounced rather than being acted upon.
The military need to know that as an institution of Government, it is owned by all Nigerians and not just by those who lead it now.
The men and women of that inestimable and highly valuable organization that is meant to be an instrument of national defense and stabilization, must subject themselves to scrutiny and criticism as the executive, legislative, and judicial arms of govt and even the fourth realm of the estate-the media do.
Put succinctly, just as Nigerians criticize politicians in parliament , Governor’s, ministers and commissioners in the executive arm as well as judges in law courts when they fall short of expectations; much the same way that civil servants in the bureaucracy are railed against if there is failure in service delivery and medical doctors as well as nurses endure the ascetic tongues of Nigerians when they perform below expectations; because they have thrown themselves into the public arena, the military must be ready to absorb public condemnation if they flounder and and mend their ways accordingly.
One other thing the military must recognize is that they can not be allowed to intimidate those of us they love to refer to as ‘Bloody Civilians’ just because they have custody of the arms and ammunition that WE THE PEOPLE procured for them to protect us.
Written by Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist and alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts USA, former cabinet member of Delta State Government.