By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“If spider webs unite, they can tie up an elephant.” -Ethiopian Proverb.
THE rather untidy involvement of the military in the relocation of villagers around Jos to enable operations against identified terrorists has thrown into sharp relief the current engagement and disposition of the military in the affairs of the nation.
The fiasco which attended the relocation order amidst deep suspicions and recriminations, some of them targeted at the military itself is yet to settle down.
An institution which exists essentially to wage war, the military has been left virtually alone to conduct sensitive public relations, separate warring communities, provide relief, and undertake confidence-building measures while it plans an operation against what it says are identified terrorists.
Ordinarily, the operation around Barikin Ladi and Riyom should have been preceded by sound legal advice and guidance on relocating the villagers and the manner in which their basic rights may be protected or shielded from undue assault.
The National Human Rights Commission should have had a say in this. The National Refugees Commission should have been involved in all stages of the relocation, documentation and provision of relief once the movement became necessary. The National Emergency Management Agency would also have been involved in mitigating hardships and further threats to the I.D.P.s.
The Plateau State Government would have been involved in every stage of the exercise. Ward, Village and District Heads and other community leaders would all have been involved right from the beginning in every stage of the controversial movement of thousands of Fulani villagers and herdsmen who were deeply suspicious of both the Plateau State Government and the military.
The military operation itself should have been preceded by professional collaboration to gather intelligence. If the process of intelligence-gathering had worked well, building on the cooperation of the community and local-level vigilance as well as the capacity of the police and the SSS to monitor suspicious movements, this rather laboured approach to flush out terrorists detected through air surveillance may very well have been avoided. As it was, the military may very well have had to rely entirely on its own means of detecting the enemy, and choosing its mode of engagement.
The pervasive role of the military in dealing with severe challenges to internal security and threats to law and order has been a feature of our nation’s approach to handling national crises. Because the police and other security agencies were not involved, the military’s brutal efficiency in suppressing internal challenges to security have left indelible marks in Zaki Biam, in Udi, in Maiduguri, in Kano and many parts of the north today.
Every spectacular impact of the military represents a major setback in the capacity of our police and other security agencies to do their jobs well. Every major involvement of the military leaves behind it massive wreckage of rights of citizens and communities, huge collateral damage in social and economic assets while they raise new political problems in place of security issues.
Military’s professionalism casualty
The military’s professionalism has been an early and costly casualty in the manner it has been stretched and stressed to perform every task in the name of security, law and order.
An outfit which has achieved international acclaim for peace-keeping and peace-building, our military has been put in a situation where it closely resembles our police. It was intimately involved in fighting militancy in the Niger Delta, but was suspected to be actively involved in large-scale bunkering and crude theft.
It has been accused of connivance to commit electoral fraud. It has been used to suppress civil protests, separate warring communities, enforce curfews, provide physical security for V.I.Ps and protect key and vulnerable points routinely.
Now it is involved in fighting terror, and appears to be alone in this. Once the police withdrew its hundreds of checkpoints in town and highways in the north, the military was left alone and exposed. Soldiers mann checkpoints, and behave the same way the police did. Opportunistic agencies such as F.R.S.C, N.I.S and N.D.L.E.A set up shop close to military checkpoints to stop, search and make brisk business.
This is no way to treat an otherwise vital national asset. The more the military performs tasks or responsibilities which should be handled by other agencies, or should be performed jointly, the less likelihood there is that these agencies’ capacities will be improved enough to enable them to do their jobs properly.
The military is not likely to yield ground to the police and SSS in the fight against JASLIWAJ (Boko Haram) it will claim it earned it with valour and blood. With the frightening amounts being spent on security by state and federal governments, as well damaging rivalries between the security agencies, the nation may not see the end of the insurgency as early as it wishes.
The pivotal role of the military in all internal security, law and order matters today is a severe indictment of the police and intelligence agencies. The reality is that the average Nigerian has no faith or confidence in the police to do the most basic of its jobs.
Still, making the military do police work as well as its own is not a solution. President Jonathan should be more active in finding solutions to the JASLIWAJ insurgency and other internal security challenges, so that he can address the fundamental issue of the collapse of the Nigeria Police, and reversing the damage done to a professional military in the last few years.