The Nigerian Army’s brief siege to the premises of the Media Trust Newspapers in Abuja and Maiduguri on Sunday January 6, 2019, was another worrisome show of increased martial visibility in the nation’s normal daily lives in a democratic environment.
Only recently, the Army had threatened to expel the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the international human rights non-governmental body, Amnesty International whose activities, the Army alleged, posed threats to the security of the country.
The siege to the Media Trust offices was blamed on professional overdrive and graphic reportage of the sudden upsurge in the activities of the Islamist insurgents, Boko Haram, in the North East; particularly the intimate plans by the military to retake some towns captured by the terrorists who are now chiefly driven by the Islamic State in West Africa, ISWA.
We can understand the sentiments behind the Army’s actions, which is that the exposure of its perceived military plans of action could endanger the lives of our heroic combatant forces. We also agree that it is part of media responsibility to inform the people truthfully and accurately, and yet know where to draw the line in the overall interest of the nation’s security.
However, we firmly disagree with the method the Army employed in reacting to the situation. Given the quick response by the Presidency in getting the soldiers withdrawn from the newspaper’s premises, we are left to wonder whether the action was authorised by the Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari, in the first place.
The Presidency also similarly made the Army drop its plans to expel UNICEF shortly after it issued the threat on December 14, 2018. This manner of direct intervention by the military in our civic affairs is unacceptable and inexcusable in any genuine democratic environment in which the military must operate fully under its constitutional mandates while allowing other stakeholders to freely operate theirs. We call on the authorities to do something about it because it is not only unhealthy, it also sends very negative signals about the state of our democracy. The war against Boko Haram is a collective challenge to all Nigerians. We must all join hands to ensure the earliest end to this challenge to the sovereignty of our nation. The Army and the rest of the civilian stakeholders cannot afford to be pulling in opposite directions. That will play into the enemy’s hands.
The Federal Government should take firm control of the situation and ensure that the Armed Forces and the people (as represented by the media and other civic stakeholders) work together towards our common purpose. It is highly dangerous for the Presidency to keep coming into the picture after the system has been ruffled.