The Norms for Civil-Military Relations in Nigeria, By Jibrin Ibrahim

Jibrin Ibrahim

Last week, I participated in the interactive session on civil-military relations at the 2 Division of the Nigerian Army in Ibadan. The programme was organised by the new civil military department of the army under the command of Major General Bola Koleosho.

The purpose was to promote cordial civil military relations. There was a large presence of civil society, community and religious leaders at the five-day event. Indeed, cordial civil military relations is the base on which the modern state is constructed.

Military might in the modern state is conceived as a tool for protecting members of the society from external aggression. In this context, the role of the military is one of protectors of citizens and the community.

This new conception is a radical departure from the previous approach where power and the use of military might was conceived as being an instrument for the gratification of the ruler.

Indeed, for most of human history, rulers and the law were synonymous. The law of the land was what the rulers wanted and the exercise of power was rooted in arbitrariness.

The modern state is able to promote cordial civil military relations on the basis of the exercise of the rule of law, which developed in the context of the transition from authoritarianism to democratic culture.

One of the major principles of political science is that although force is a central element in political systems, it cannot on its own sustain a polity. Rousseau reminds us that even the strongest is never strong enough to remain the master unless he is capable of transforming force into law and obedience into duty.

In Nigeria however, the colonial security apparatus was established to control and extort the people and not to protect them. Not surprisingly, the security culture that developed was one of repression with an emphasis on coercion and general lack of civility towards the civilian population.

Following independence, the democratic regime lasted only six years before the military took over. This meant that democratic culture did not have enough time to impregnate the security forces. The Second Republic was short lived and the Third Republic never took off. It was only with the Fourth Republic that we have had sustained civilian rule for fourteen years. Unfortunately however, the Fourth Republic has been marred with a serious crisis of insecurity.

The Nigerian citizen has long endured a culture of intimidation by the country’s security forces. Law enforcement agents have since colonial times developed a culture of reckless disregard for the rights of the people.

The legal framework has not helped matters given our colonial heritage of laws against vagrancy, illegal assembly, wandering, and illegal procession. The state is constructed as an edifice against citizens who are assumed to have a natural tendency to break laws and must therefore be controlled, patrolled and constantly surveyed.

Not surprisingly, citizens learn to fear and avoid law enforcement agents. The ordinary Nigerian sees security agents as potential violators of their security rather than providers of their security.

The reality of state security for ordinary people then becomes the perception of insecurity. This negates the principle of cordial civil military relations.

The fact of the matter however is that security is a good thing. It is the function that guarantees that people and states are free from violence at the local, national and international levels.

Security is conceived in modern states to provide the framework that guarantees that the ordinary people are free from external aggression by enemies of the community and internal subversion that can ruin their lives. This means that the purpose of state security is not to protect the people who occupy positions of state power but to protect the ordinary people.

The Military has ruled Nigeria for 29 out of the 53 years in which the country has existed as an independent entity and has impacted strongly on the country’s culture and institutions.

Military rule ultimately impacts negatively on society by generalising its authoritarian values, which are in essence anti-social and destructive of politics.

Politics in this sense is understood as the art of negotiating conflicts related to the exercise of power and ensuring that the rights of the people are respected. The specific legacy from the military is therefore the fabrication of a political culture oriented towards the imposition of a command and control structure on the political process.

The Fourth Republic has been marred by several sources of instability. The Niger Delta amnesty remains fragile. Ethno-religious conflict in the ‘middle belt’ with its epicentre in Plateau state continues to grow. An Islamist insurgency in Nigeria’s North East is spreading to other parts of the country. These conflicts are fuelled at the national level by deepening poverty, an expanding demography as well as ethnic, religious, social and economic grievances. These grievances point to a crisis of democratic consolidation in which citizens are not seeing the dividend of the democratic transition that occurred in 1999. The escalation of the insurgency in the Northern states culminated in the declaration of a State of Emergency by President Goodluck Jonathan in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.

The state of emergency was justified by the fact that the militant insurgents are very well armed with the most modern deadly weapons and have deployed these sophisticated weapons, and their familiarity with the local terrain to inflict repeated heavy casualties on both the security forces and the civilian population.

They appear to have been so well armed that they exposed the apparent initial unpreparedness of the Nigerian State to respond to and apprehend the insurgency.

There has been repeated and very disturbing allegations that some of the features of conflicts include human rights abuses and other horrendous crimes in the theatres of conflict, including Law enforcement extremism, unaccountable or ‘rogue’ law enforcement, general violence against women and sexual violence against both male and female genders, all of which crimes are encouraged by a pervasive sense of impunity.

Over the past year or so, the capacity of the military to confront the armed insurgents has improved considerably. The capacity of the insurgents to strike in the cities has noticeably declined. Their response however has been to use hit and run tactics in rural and isolated regions.

Their method has been to operate using uniforms of the armed forces and this unfortunately creates a lot of confusion in the mind of the public as people, who appear to be soldiers, but is in reality insurgents, attack and kills them. This situation of confusion can have a very negative effect on civil military relations as citizens begin to conflate the military and mass murder.

Within the military itself, it appears that a ‘political economy’ may have developed around the security challenges in Nigeria, with the effect that certain elements may be deriving financial benefits from the prevailing state of insecurity, especially from the resources budgeted for the prosecution of the counter-insurgency and from the extortion of citizens.

It is of particular concern that there seems to have developed a culture of silence with respect to the impact of the security conflicts on civilian populations in the theatres of conflict, with the effect that the severe trauma to which the victims of these conflicts are subjected are not being addressed or even acknowledged.

Given the huge security challenges facing the country, it is important that Nigeria as a nation devises effective strategies that will stem the insurgency and create conditions for the protection of human rights and the deepening of democracy. The armed forces have a significant role to play in this regard. Nigerians are particularly concerned about the rules of engagement for military operations within the civilian population.

The National Security Adviser to the President has informed us that there are military operations in 32 states of the country. This means that the normal process of police being in charge of internal security issues no longer operates.

At the same time, the military have not been traditionally trained to engage in this arena and their rules of engagement might not be suitable for the new role thrust upon them.

It is important in this context to publish, debate and revise the rules of engagement to ensure that they are in conformity with human rights principles.

The senior army officers in Ibadan argued that the rules of engagement, which are tailor made for each operation, are restricted documents, which cannot be shared and discussed. My response was if they remain restricted, then the good intentions of improving cordial civil military relations will be lost.


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