Editorial Board 

The recent killing by men of the Nigerian Army of three police officers in Taraba State has continued to shock many a Nigerian. As has since come to the fore, the details of the incident are indeed quite traumatising. The police officers, drawn from the elite corps of the force, were in the state to apprehend an allegedly very notable kidnapper, Alhaji Hamisu Balla, Wadume.

They had succeeded in their task and were returning with their prize in handcuffs when a pursuing band of soldiers caught up with them and in spite of their protestations that they were officers on lawful duty, were overpowered and killed, even as the already apprehended kidnap kingpin was mysteriously left to walk away.

In an initial statement of defence, the Army had insisted that they had acted on a tip-off and that the police officers had defied attempts to stop and question them. To be sure, situations of inter-agency clashes within the nation’s security sector have been long-drawn. So, also is the charge of members of the armed forces not subjecting themselves to the laws of the land.

As things continued to deteriorate, a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Salihu Ibrahim was forced to confess that Nigeria had plainly come to have ‘An Army of anything goes.’ Taking the narrative further, his colleague, General Chris Alli, titled his biography: ‘The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army, the siege of a nation.’

At the recent National Assembly ministerial screening, Brigadier General Magashi had said there was a breakdown in command structure. Others have mentioned the non-adherence to stated and identified professional rules of engagement, lack of inter-services cooperation, turf wars, rivalry contests, disregard for rule of law as additional burdens.

In a very notable way, the emergence of the incumbent President as a major contender for the top-most office in the land had revived concerns over what some regarded as the yet naked possibility of a return to the jackboot days. So serious was this concern that his handlers were to arrange for him to go to Chatham House, UK to publicly pledge that he had become a reformed democrat.

Events since 2015, and more recently in incidents like the Taraba cops’ killing have however led some to conclude that the overall goal of subordinating the military to wholesome civil, democratic rule has clearly not been realised. In the current milieu, not a few commentators say that the challenge may very well be that viscerally we may have a situation of an administration that may have wilfully adopted the military as a core part of its power base and is presently now reflexively sharing power with it.

In the midst of all, it must yet be remembered that the armed forces is a much prized symbol of the nation. It is the last chain in the defence and sovereignty and a nation is indeed as respected as its military is seen to be sturdy, disciplined and resilient. If the Police are at the moment feeling so vulnerable before the armed forces, what then is the fate of the civilian segment of the citizenry? As the Holy Bible says, ‘if the foundations be destroyed, what will the righteous do?’

Indeed, we are clearly being confronted with a scary situation in that the sceptre of Nigeria as a potentially failed state beckons. History is our guide as it is near-similar paths that Congo, Libya, Somalia and more lately Sudan, have trod to their grave hurt.

Very sadly, the Nigerian Army has grown to be notorious over the years in respect of its being associated with unprofessional conduct. There are stories of military personnel pursuing commercial bus drivers to punish for not paying ‘tolls’ at check-points, which do not convey the best impression of the institution. Ditto the high-handed clamp down on pro-Biafra campaigners and the Shiite Movement. In the 2019 elections, and notably in Rivers State, the conduct of the military was seen by many an observer as seemingly partisan, if not unprofessional. It also did not speak well of the institution.

Increasingly, voices are being raised that there is a looming failure of the civic order and the threat of a return to a primal order where life is ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ It is also particularly worrisome that things have been allowed to deteriorate even at a time when the nation is led by a Commander-in-Chief with a military background and who was elected, above other considerations, to restore and enforce discipline in the system.

But rather than bringing his wealth of experience to bear, what we find is that very inexplicable additional challenges have crept further into the text. The technically degraded Boko Haram remains to all intents and purposes a murderous pest. Bandits lay siege over large swathes of our territorial space.
Our forests across the country have become relative safe havens and operational fields for kidnappers almost like never before and almost every other day, the nation is greeted with tales and accounts of criminal lapses and breaches that appear to be confounding the existing leadership of the security systems.

In the midst of these, the president now routinely bypasses the chain of command to issue direct orders, passes vote after vote of confidence on the security sector leaders that many are persuaded should have long been fired; promising over and over again to deal ruthlessly with purveyors of crimes and their sponsors, but things do not get better and some are getting away with the impression that we may presently be saddled with a Commander-in-Chief who has unwittingly become hostage to the system and as such cannot enforce the much needed discipline, let alone chart a renewed strategic direction for keeping the nation safe!

Evidently, part of the challenge is traceable to the decades-long deterioration in policing and the inability of the Force to tackle the soaring security crisis in the land. At a point, the National Assembly reported that as many as 28 states were having military deployments.

But the military not being a civic force in itself, its interventions are necessarily fraught with the danger of potential abuse, particularly in our current situation where the executive is seemingly appropriating to itself the exclusive right to be the final arbiter on all questions of national security, and irrespective of whether the rule of law is seen as being breached. Unwittingly then, we are thus being saddled with a political environment that is inflexible and unable to encourage the use of alternative, non-military conflict resolution options.

Clearly something is deeply wrong with the system and it is the painful duty of this newspaper to warn that if the situation persists, it may very well be welcome to the highway to Somalia.