If you weren’t already aware of the urgent need to reform Nigeria’s security architecture, re-train its members, fire some, hire others, and pretty much start all over with a different way of thinking, the events of the past couple weeks or so have probably forced you into thinking about it too.
Here’s a brief recap: Undercover policemen of the Inspector-General of Police’s (IGP’s) Intelligence Response Team (IRT), a special unit created by a former IGP to go after the top echelons of organised crime were in Taraba state on a mission to arrest what the police call a notorious kidnap kingpin. They effected the arrest apparently without incident but, on the drive back to the state capital three of them and at least one civilian were shot to death by soldiers not far from a military checkpoint. The army, after the incident, claimed they were informed that the plain-clothed policemen were kidnappers transporting a victim and took steps to save the day. They also claimed the policemen ran a couple of military checkpoints without identifying themselves. Then a video which is too disturbing to be linked to surfaced showing what appears to be the dead and dying policemen being abused by a group of unknown men under the supervision of soldiers, one of whom clearly admits to having been shown the police ID cards. The Nigeria Police Force, via their Twitter handle no less, put some very tough and embarrassing questions to the army, noting several inconsistencies in the army’s version of events. The presidency then ordered the Defence Headquarters (which is the army’s stronghold) to “probe” the incident, in collaboration with police authorities and other agencies and headed by a navy rear admiral. A report comes out claiming several soldiers and an army captain have been arrested in connection with the murders, but the army puts out a statement denying the report. Finally, because this is Nigeria and nothing is ever complete without the absolutely ludicrous, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is reported to have ordered all his soldiers traveling not to do so in their uniforms but to wear civilian clothing in order to avoid potential reprisal attacks from policemen who, by the way, are everywhere. And now the police have re-arrested the alleged kidnapper and the military have “invited” them to a meeting, promising that soldiers found to be involved would not be spared.
Make no mistake about it, the fear of reprisal is a real and valid one. It would be a simple matter for policemen to waylay traveling soldiers away from communities (where witnesses might be), gun them down and blame it on any of Nigeria’s current bogeymen.
Are you fully caught up now? Good. First of all…
You’ve Been Here Before
As many have pointed out, this is not the first altercation between the police and the army which has ended in the shooting death of members of one group or the other, sometimes even both. Indeed, there have been clashes between armed personnel of the army and the police and air force over the years. It has become such a regular occurrence that it hardly makes the news anymore. What appears to have brought this particular case to the fore is the profile of the unit whose members were killed. This brief but informative article gives an overview of how the IRT came to be as well as some of its successes. After reading it, you can appreciate why the police authorities are not taking this one lying down, resorting to a Twitter war of such intensity that the army boss is concerned his men may be ambushed guerrilla-style.
Anyway, we can surmise at least three things from these recurring incidents:
- There is a fundamental problem in the structure of our national security architecture, as evidenced by over-militarism and the general deterioration of security in the country.
- The men and women in charge of ensuring each agency adheres strictly to its mandate and rules of engagement have, for some time, been failing to properly discharge their responsibilities as evidenced by serious disciplinary issues in our security agencies, including the military.
- Criminals have turned the entire system on its head and are having a ball, as evidenced by reports of “fake soldiers” et al. Indeed the army’s claim that the soldiers believed the men wearing police jackets were actually kidnappers is a consequence of the increasing impersonation of security agents to carry out criminal activities.
For this article, I will restrict myself to only the first issue. The others will be handled in subsequent articles and linked here.
Without going into a history lesson, Nigeria’s entire security apparatus has historically been designed to support and prop up a military dictator, specifically one from the army. When General Aguiyi-Ironsi forcefully took power from the Council of Ministers left after the murders of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister in January 1966, he changed Nigeria from a parliamentary system of government to a unitary system with himself as the head, ostensibly to make governance easier by changing the system to more closely resemble what he was accustomed to: everyone taking orders from the top dog. The general was flanked on one side by the very first IGP, Mr Louis Edet, thus not only lending police support to the military takeover but also subjecting the police to remain beneath the army. I’m not saying the police should be above the army, or even equal; I’m saying that policing is a completely different profession from soldiering and thus the IGP should probably have insisted on neutrality, in order to separate civil from military. Which brings us nicely to the next point: policing should be left to the police.
As many have already pointed out, having the military on the streets doing the job of the police is one of the factors responsible for the constant friction which results in unnecessary loss of life. And we are currently in a situation where naval personnel are deployed hundreds of miles from blue waters doing what is essentially police work. Admittedly, there are special circumstances in which the military may be required to assist, or even take full control of an area, but a responsible government can ensure it is done within the law, for instance by declaring a state of emergency which, amongst other things, alerts all citizens within the area to adjust their behaviours accordingly. It also acts as a heads-up to government agencies and institutions to implement (hopefully) already-laid out emergency procedures. Instituting martial law also alerts all security agencies that jurisdiction has passed to the hands of the military and they will also conduct their (lawful) activities with respect to that fact. But when a government feels free to deploy armed military personnel everwhere there’s even the slightest civil disturbance without following the due process of declaring an emergency, then it leaves everyone (including the military) confused. Who has jurisdiction? Have the rules of engagement changed for all agencies or have those of the military? Where are the bloody lines??
So why has this not been done? I suppose it’s partly because this administration would be loathe to declare a state of emergency first because the declaration invites argument, as the onus will be on the president to prove that the situation demands such drastic action and that he has an actual workable plan to arrest the situation. President Buhari and his handlers aren’t particularly adept at differentiating argument from quarrel so would likely struggle in that regard. Secondly, by law a state of emergency expires after one calendar year, whether the president likes it or not. This would force him to declare another state of emergency at the expiration of the first, an emasculating situation to be in, as President Jonathan discovered when he did exactly that back in 2014. Finally, the men currently in the corridors of power were in the opposition at the time Mr Jonathan declared states of emergency, and they were happy to protray the declarations as clear signs of failure on the part of the government at the time. Thus, to now be forced to make the same declarations that they so derided would indeed be a difficult pill to swallow. But I make so bold as to argue that if you care for your country more than your pride then you will shoulder the responsibility for which you hustled after and do the needful.
But besides the procedures and processes that ought to be followed instead of overlooked, the delineations within the security architecture would appear to be designed to fail. That is why I posit that the entire architecture was designed to prop up a dictator. Here’s my reasoning.
It makes sense that the reason all security agencies report to Abuja is because the centre is more concerned with keeping total control than keeping citizens safe.
First it’s a good part of the reason why virtually every senior security agent is effectively appointed by the head of state. Yes, I know, the IGP appoints state police commissioners and so on, but the system is designed such that the IGP does what he’s told. Think about it; if the president can appoint pretty much any officer he likes as IGP, in the process forcefully retiring everyone above that officer, it forces the president to think politically of his police force, even if he didn’t want to. It also turns the position of IGP into a more political position than should be comfortable in a democracy. Indeed, that scenario seems to have even contaminated the military, as I discovered when I came across an incredible article by a serving army captain, alarmingly titled “Nigeria Under Buratai’s Command“, and advocating for the re-appointment of the chief of army staff (COAS). Look, I’m of the conviction that a good commander should not only get the job done but also inspire the loyalty of his men but such an article printed so prominently in a national newspaper (which is difficult to achieve if you’re not already a regular columnist) is, for me, the very definition of “politicising” security matters.
Secondly, the obsession with total control of every man with a gun reveals that the center instinctively believes that power is won and lost at the barrel of a gun. Case in point: when Mr Buhari became President Buhari one of his first acts was to eject the Department of State Services (DSS) from his inner security ring and place his personal security in the hands of the army, a baffling act until you view it through the tinted glasses of a dictator at which point it becomes quite rational.
Take away this irrational fear and it’s reasonable to assume that the opposition to a more diversified security architecture will diminish significantly.
All Together Now…
It is my belief that the deployment of soldiers as is currently done is both unsustainable and also detrimental to the military itself. In engineering, two bits of metal which must work together even while moving independently of each other are usually affixed together with the aid of a piece of rubber or are cut in such ways to reduce friction (think gears). I see a similar scenario between military and civil affairs.
As history has consistently shown, constant exposure to civilian situations and corruption will erode the professionalism of a military and infect it through and through with corruption. This is an obvious consequence of soldiers from the lowest ranks having watched the top brass get fat off corruption while ordinary men and women are killed on the battlefield for lack of equipment that should have been bought with the money that the top officers have cornered for themselves. Combined with their exposure to a citizenry which is so used to corruption and the ways of the Nigerian police that paying bribes is a way of life that hardly requires a second thought, the ordinary soldiers are facing great temptation. That’s why you now hear of soldiers robbing their commanding officers or gunning down innocent civilians who refused to pay a bribe. It’s why they’re also brought in to settle civil disputes, an area which is out of their mandate. I have heard of soldiers being called in to settle (or, more accurately, force their preferred resolution on) a dispute between a mechanic and his client, of all things. I’m sure you have heard of even worse.
However, there are good officers who know better, as I found out during a dispute between a friend and another gentleman a couple of years ago. The matter came to a head and blows were exchanged in front of an Air Force base and the other gentleman invited the guardsmen to intervene, which they did. The air police sergeant on duty, when the matter was brought to his attention, advised both parties that he had no powers to adjudicate the matter but, if both parties acquiesced, he would serve as an independent arbitrator. If either party declined, however, he would be happy to direct the matter to the police station less than a kilometer away. The matter was eventually concluded, I think satisfactorily, at the Air Force base. That, in my view, is the way to go, if matters have to be brought to the military’s attention at all.
As a sergeant of the air police, the gentleman officer had obviously been trained to handle disputes and investigations and understood his remit. But, for the rank and file to resist temptations of corruption, it would be helpful to know that any transgression will be met with the full force of the law. But there isn’t that, is there? The pervading belief is that military uniform is a form of immunity; once you have it, you are not subject to any law or even social norms like politeness. It’s another consequence of our military dictatorship style of governance. In this manner, we have now created a system in which your lowly private sees his mates die because their bosses are corrupt, meets citizens willing to part with money for small favours, and has no reason to fear the law because it doesn’t apply to him.
As a matter of pragmatism, those of the military dictator’s way of thinking would be well advised to remember that extensively militaristic methods erode the effectiveness of said military and almost invariably end in disaster as fires pop up all over the territory and the military becomes increasingly inept at putting them out. Consequently, we either win together or lose together. Your ball.