*Efforts are on to improve civilian, military relations in the country.
By Kingsley Omonobi
Abuja-Penultimate Friday, the Yarâ€™Adua Centre, Abuja, played host to a wide spectrum of Nigerians including the top brass of the Nigerian armed forces, and the civil populace including members of the National Assembly, the academia, the business sector, representatives of government agencies, the para-military and the general public.
The primary reason for the gathering was the presentation of a book entitled, â€œWinning Hearts and Minds: A Community Relations Approach for the Nigerian Militaryâ€, whose aim is the cultivation of an understanding of the dynamics of friendship, togetherness and building a brotherâ€™s keeper relationship between the military and civilians.
In recent times, the relationship between the Nigerian military and the civil populace who pay the tax with which the military personnel are trained, quartered, kitted and taken care of, has been to say the least, that of cat and mouse.
Dating back to the days of military regimes when the military treated their civilian counterparts as second class citizens, when criticism of government policies by Nigerians or journalists in particular led to either closure of media houses, or outright detention and hounding of citizens, to the present day when such incidents though minimal, of brutalization and such, still rear their ugly heads, the relationship between the civilians and members of our armed forces have left much to be desired.
It is against this backdrop, that the military authorities commissioned a team of professors and members of the civil society as well as some ex-military personnel to go round the 36 states of the federation, meet the personnel at the root of most of these problems, hear their own side with a view to situating it with the complaints of the civil populace and fashion a way out.
Described as â€œAn Idea Whoâ€™s Time Has Comeâ€, the book thus encompasses the direction out of incessant friction, distrust, hate, and feeling of uncertainty between civilians and members of the Nigerian armed forces as well as how to prevent such imbroglio in the future.
Said Professor Attahiru Jega, vice chancellor, Bayero University, Kano, who took a critical look at the book, â€œFor countries such as Nigeria, with a remarkable history of military rule, but now involved in transition from military to civil rule and ultimately to democratic governance, a good framework for civil, military relations is crucial to democratic consolidation and prevention of authoritarian reversal.
â€œHow the military can relate with and be subjected to civil authority, and how it can regain respectability by rebuilding trust and confidence in its dealings with civilians, is an important concern. Matters have not been helped by the long period of military involvement in governance in Nigeria ; a period during which the military as an institution had its prestige, professionalism and image badly battered.
â€œFor, during the decades of military rule, intolerance and arbitrariness strived as illustrated by the infamous predilections of the so-called â€˜mad dogsâ€™. Human rights and the rule of law were violated with impunity by top functionaries of the regimes; and the so-called â€˜correctiveâ€™ regimes became essentially corruptiveâ€.
Continuing, Jega said, â€œThat is why today, over 10 years since the replacement of military rule with a civilian political dispensation, many Nigerians still hold the military as scapegoats for all the atrocities politicians have been committing under civil ruleâ€.
The vice chancellor posited therefore that â€œin order to reverse the negative trends and institutionalize acceptable and standard modes of behavior and conduct, by both the civilians and the military personnel, there is need for extra-ordinary effort, change of attitudes, as well as creative and constructive engagements by both the military and the civiliansâ€.
On the side of the military, Jega said, â€œConfidence building measures need to be deployed and entrenched in order to make cynical and increasingly apathetic citizens, and reckless politicians, to be much more appreciative of the need for well-trained, well-equipped and well-motivated armed forces, with crucial roles to play in national developmentâ€.
In his contribution, Professor Ebere Onwudiwe who, together with Professor Eghosa Osaghae, edited the book, noted that from the interaction and workshops carried out on the vexed issue of civil-military relationship, â€œthere was a clear recognition and acknowledgment that we all, the military and the civilians, need each other, and must care for each otherâ€.
Emphasizing that this message is most appropriate for not only for our civil and military communities, Onwudiwe said, â€œFor all our faith and ethnic communities in this trying hour of our turbulent national history, we need no oracle to teach us that peace among our many communities will put our country in a higher state of defence.
â€œI am not saying that there will be total agreement between our military and our civilians; what I know is that total respect between the two groups is possible and that it will ultimately strengthen the armed forces of Nigeria . This means that the kind of cordial relationship the CDS is seeking between the military and our communities is very possibleâ€.
Only few weeks ago, Dike had taken a step many including politicians have come to describe as the kind that will ultimately endear the military to the civilian populace and further lead to mutual respect among the military and civilian communities should suffice.
It was on January 25, 2010 and at the peak of the President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua illness saga and unrelenting pressures were being mounted on the hierarchy of the armed forces to use undemocratic means to fill the vacuum Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s absence had created.
The Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike, viewed the pressures way off the mark especially since, as chairman of ECOWAS Chiefâ€™s of the Defence Staff, he has had to criss-cross the continent warning officers who had usurped power by barrel of the gun that it was archaic, primitive and internationally distasteful to do so at this age.
He had said, â€œLet me use this opportunity to react to recent comments and innuendos about the armed forces by certain segments of our society pertaining to developments in our political scene. I am compelled to remind everyone of the constitutional role of the armed forces which is primarily anchored on the protection of Nigeria â€™s territorial integrityâ€.
â€œMeddling in political issues does not complement our constitutional roles in any way, shape or form. I therefore warn all members of the armed forces to steer clear of politics. Ours is a military that is mindful of its past, conscious of its present and hopeful of the future. The Nigerian armed forces will therefore not depart from its chosen path of honour.
â€œWe must always remind ourselves that politics is better played by politicians. Also, I must not fail to stress that regardless of the imperfections of our political experiments, democracy remains the only acceptable form of governance, and, as members of the armed forces, we must defend it at all costâ€.
Inspite of this charge, however, the CDS still feels the vast majority of the members of the armed forces, particularly the non-commissioned officers, needed to improve on their civil-military relations hence the initiative to come out with this book which, as he directed, should be given out free of charge to the end users.
His perspective on the issue, â€œFor the Nigerian military, which has the added challenges of professionalization as well as the need to gain citizens confidence and support in the aftermath of prolonged military rule, the importance of the community relations approach cannot be over-emphasized.
â€œThis is because rigid mindsets and perceptions have made it difficult for many in the civil populace to appreciate the noble roles of the military, especially its steady transformation into a pro-people, citizen-friendly and responsive institution. The costs of the attendant civil-military disconnect, which are well covered in the book, are too well known but they cumulatively subtract from the support and cooperation of our fellow citizens, leading to distrust and indifference.
â€œThus, even the exploits and a success of our armed forces in peace support operation all over the world, which have won global acclaim for our country, hardly resonates with the populace back home. Surely, this unpalatable situation cannot be allowed to persist because of its negative effects on the reputation and operational effectiveness of the armed forces.
â€œIt is against this background that we initiated the community relations programme to expand, complement, and strengthen our existing civil-military strategies. The approach underscores the fundamentality of human rights, rule of law, transparency, accountability and effective communications. Equally, it emphasizes the importance of negotiation and conflict management skills to community relations in particular and civil-military relations in generalâ€.
The CDS pointed out that â€œwhile the focus of and responsibility for positive community relations in the book targeted the roles of officers and men of the armed forces, it will be misleading to think that community relations is one way traffic.
â€œIndeed, it takes two to tango. In effect, civil-military relations, of which community relations are an integral part, are complementary, reciprocal, and depend as much as on the military as they do the civilians. This is a cardinal point of our community relations programme that will involve sustained engagements and interactions between the military and civiliansâ€.