Applying better civil-military relations for stable democracy: Challenges before the Nigerian army
By Kingsley Omonobi, Abuja
When the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Onyeabor Azubuike Ihejirika assumed office last year, one of the innovative actions he took, which was very germane to the image of the army and which would play a crucial role in the army’s confrontation of the contemporary challenges facing the nation, was the establishment of the department of Civil-Military Affairs.
Before the establishment of this department, the media both electronic, print and even online publications had been awash of unending quarrels, confrontation, abuse of human rights, intimidation, harassment and outright manhandling of Nigerians by an army trained by deductions from the tax payers they molested.
Stories of how some of these army personnel rated themselves superior citizens that other Nigerians created enmity between them and the people they were supposed to protect. And even after the country had witnessed uninterrupted democracy for 12 years, the mentality of military rule did not get out of some army personnel.
Against this backdrop, the Army Chief settled for no less a person than Major General Bitrus Kwaji, the former Chairman of the Military Pensions Board to head the department of civil military affairs and to spearhead the daunting task for transforming personnel of the army into falling in line of a new dawn of relationship between the army and the civil populace.
General Kwaji it was that turned around the once irritating military pensions board that made thousands of ex-soldiers and many senior citizens in the military profession who had been denigrated to the level of beggars, to the extent that many of them turned under the bridges in state capitals to their abodes while fighting to get paid their benefits after sacrificing for the nation.
Ihejirika’s charge to the department was that it should serve primarily as an interface between the Nigerian Army and the civil populace as a major component of transforming the army into a force better able to meet contemporary challenges.
Towards this end, the department would serve as a strategic national institution for introducing and transmitting the core elements of effective civil/military relations in the areas of human rights, rule of law, negotiations, liaison and conflict management.
It is also to ground officers and men of the Nigerian Army in the core civil/military relations areas and integrate civil/military affairs in the curriculum, doctrine and training of Nigerian army personnel through systematic and continuous engagement and practice.
To give impetus to achieving this goal, the General Kwaji not only embarked on a sensitization tour of army formations to drum the new thinking in the force, his department organized workshops, seminars and demonstrations on what effective civil/military relations entails as well as the gains for the country in terms of improved security.
To further expand the scope and convince the civil populace that the decision to embark of better civil-military relations was not a flash in the pan, the department organized an interactive session between the army, the mass media, civil society groups, the academia, students of tertiary institutions, the national assembly and other Para-military organizations among others in Abuja.
Among papers presented at the 2-day event were ‘Civil-Military Relations in the US Army: An Overview’ during which a US Army personnel, Capt. Kerri Leber, took participants through the important roles of the civil/military branch of the US army and made every one understand that aspects of search and rescue, interventions during crises periods like outbreak of medical catastrophes, flooding, building of bridges, providing community service.
There were also papers on ‘Media-Security Agency Relations: issue for National Security’, ‘Military and Democracy in Nigeria: The Essence of Civil and Civilian Control’ as well as Disaster Management in Nigeria; the Way Forward’.
In his contribution, Major General BVT Kwaji, said the Nigeria Army of today should no longer be seen as a force concerned about the defence of the territorial integrity of the country, participation in global peace support operations and internal security duties at home.
“Though these operations have enhanced the professional standing and reputation of the officers and men as major stakeholders in national and global peace, the Nigeria Army is also a corporate entity that recognizes the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility”.
Disclosing that many humanitarian assistance and quick impact projects have been, and will continue to be embarked upon by the army in her areas of operations”, Kwaji said, “Reconstruction and rehabilitation of burnt and demolished houses at Ayakoromo town in Delta state early this year”, is a case in point.
“Construction of the 102.5m length bridge across River Rima linking university of Sokoto and the surrounding communities in Sokoto state in September 2010 following the collapse of Lugu Dam, due to the release of excess water from Goronyo Dam is another vivid example of enhancing civil military relations”.
Furthermore, he said, “The Nigerian Army participated in the clearance of a 64.5km NNPC right of way from Warri to Excravos using men of the army engineers” adding that “Just recently; the National Assembly tasked the army to reconstruct the collapsed Dogon-Waya Bridge in Gashaka Local government area of Taraba State for the host communities cut off by flood”.
“We (Army) carried out provision of free medical services by the men of the army medical corps at the Uyo township stadium, during the 2011 Nigeria army Day Celebration held in Akwa Ibom state; with such medical services also provided to several communities sharing the same vicinity with our formations across the country.
Senate President, David Mark who was an active participant in the interaction, though represented, said, “It is obvious that the civil populace blames mostly the armed forces for the past years of political upheavals and instability in the country”.
Recalling that “The image of the armed forces went through various phases of battering in the public perception, as succeeding military regimes either encouraged or totally disregarded civil military relations”, Mark said, “It is hoped that these negative perceptions will be addressed by this interactive session.
“The Nigerian National Defence Policy (NNDP) Chapter 7 Paragraph 1 states that ‘civil-military relations refer to the hierarchy of authority between the executive, the national assembly and the armed forces, as well as to the principle of civil supremacy over the forces” he said.
“It further averred that cordial civil-military relations shall be premised on the doctrine of civil control over the military or the principle of subordination of the military to civil authority” he said adding, “This provides an avenue for the military and the civil populace to interact together and to serve as a platform for good relationship between the military, Para-military, security agencies and members of the civil populace”.