Posted by News Express | 15 June 2016 | 2,850 times
Although it is safe to say that the different segments of the Nigerian military is headed by men who have understandably made tremendous contributions to the growth of their professional institutions, it is also a fact that the administration of the military in a highly politicised and complex society like Nigeria is tough and highly demanding.
These are very unkind periods for the Nigerian military, for many reasons not unconnected with some centripetal and centrifugal forces threatening its unique institutional role as the stabilising force that has kept Nigeria as a united country, although at grave costs. To say these are trying periods for the Nigerian military is a way of depicting the many operational challenges and the public image bombardments that the institution has undergone. The Nigeria Army, for some time now prior to the emergence of the current dispensation, has always been in the eyes of the critical members of the public, especially from the United Kingdom-based non-governmental organisation: Amnesty International. But the hierarchy has always provided sound responses to the range of criticisms trailing some of its internal security operations.
Since the last five years, the Nigeria armed forces has had to contend with waging relentless counter-terrorism war, which originated in the North-East of Nigeria that has led to the gruesome murder, by the Boko Haram Islamic terrorists, of over 25,000 innocent Nigerians. There is no doubt that the Nigeria military has taken a little more time to combat these rebellions waged by these terrorists, no thanks to certain logistical and manpower challenges. But Nigerians are appreciative of the monumental strides the military has achieved in the counter-terrorism battles. In the current dispensation, the military has reportedly pushed back these terrorists to the fringes of the international borders between Nigeria and Niger Republic. The technical and funding assistance – galvanised by some members of the international community especially the United States of America, United Kingdom and France – has tremendously led to the taking off of a joint military task force made up of some sub-regional countries: Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger to strategically confront, progressively degrade and destroy the operational capacity of the armed Islamists. It is noteworthy to mention that under the direct command of the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, and his team members in the North-East. The deadly bombing campaigns of Boko Haram terrorists have been considerably reduced and thousands of civilian lives saved through the professional efficiency of the army chief. Amidst these milestones and challenges, the Nigeria Army has of recent come under increasing focus and criticism, particularly for the recent gale of retrenchments of top officers of the ranks of colonels and major-generals.
On Friday 10th June, 2016, the Nigerian Army, through the office of the acting director of public relations hinted that scores of top level officers of the army have been thrown out of their military career and professional soldiering jobs, after series of carefully considered mechanisms which found them wanting and ethically challenged to continue to remain in service. The press statement did not state the exact number or names of those officers compulsorily retired nor their specific offences, but some of them were said to have been implicated and indicted by the presidential panel that investigated the alleged diversion by the immediate past national security adviser of some princely amount of over US$2 billion, reportedly meant for procurement of weapons to confront the armed Boko Haram Islamist insurgents, when they began their murderous terrorism.
Innocuous as the announcement by the Nigerian Army is, it has however ignited a cacophony of political confrontations in the media, with criticism trailing the action from southern part of Nigeria, which says that the action amounted to ethnic cleansing of the Igbo and the South-south officers from the Nigeria Army, because these geopolitical zones voted massively for the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which conceded defeat at last March 2015 presidential elections to the All Progressives Congress (APC) of President Muhammadu Buhari, who hails from Katsina, in the North-west. Professionally, I think the media release from the army left so much room for speculation, even when it is a known fact that the current Chief of Army Staff, Lieut-Gen Buratai is a thoroughbred professional soldier. Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman, who signed the statement, is one of the finest officers of the Nigeria Army. This writer is yet to find out whether it was a deliberate act to leave out those salient components of the press statement that would have minimally doused the tension that may result from its full disclosure.
The press statement was deficient in a number of issues such as the particulars of those retired from the army and the specific reasons for their early retirement. It is not enough to just issue a vague press statement in which a lot of room is left for speculations in a-politically charged environment like Nigeria. Nigeria is a complex society made up of a multiplicity of groups which is the reason why the constitution in section 14(3) makes provision for a Federal Character Principle thus: “The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”
Besides, the casual way that most media outlets reported the press statement left much to be desired, because what a reporter ought to do upon receiving such a hazy statement is to find out from the issuing authority why facts are made scanty. One of the television channels lackadaisically reported it thus: “The Nigerian Army has said quite a number of senior officers were retired from service on Friday.” In what appears so unprofessional narration of the entire scenario, this television station further told their audience that the information on the mass purge was revealed in a press statement by the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sani Usman. The television station then rehashed the press statement as it was issued: "Those retired were mainly some Major-Generals, Brigadiers-General, Colonels, Lt- Colonels and a Major.” This particular electronic medium stated that Col Usman said that their retirement was based on service exigencies, noting that during the 2015 general elections, some officers were investigated for being partisan. “Similarly, the investigation by the Presidential Committee investigating defence contracts revealed a lot. Some officers have already been arraigned in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).”
He added that the military must remain apolitical and professional at all times, and must also applaud and support the laudable and bold initiative by the government. The social media in Nigeria is on fire with most people still spreading the story that what President Buhari did was to retire all those military commanders who oversaw security in those places whereby the opposition All Progressives Congress lost to the Peoples Democratic Party. The Minister of Defence, Gen Mansur Mohammed Dan-Alli (rtd), who is now a partisan politician also dabbled into the fray by saying that those officers retired were guilty of political corruption.
However, General Buratai perhaps provided a profoundly excellent perspective into the retirements in the army, when he paid a courtesy call to the minister of communication. The army chief explained that the military high command exhausted all the processes, according to the rule of engagement in the military, before arriving at the decision to sack some of its senior officers. Buratai denied that the army was embarking on what people described as “ethnic cleansing” in the army. He noted that the army ensured that no innocent officer was affected by the exercise, allegedly carried out to remove those who in one way or the other jeopardised the fight against insurgency and other issues bordering on national security. “Why not now? There is no better time than now. It took us painstaking procedures to ensure that we don’t pick innocent ones and sack them. So, we started with inquiries first of all. After that, we subjected it to legal review. After that, we forwarded our findings to the higher authority for consideration. So, just like court processes, the military has its own processes too.”
My take in all of these is to remind the media of their gatekeeper’s role and the social responsibility they owe Nigerians to transparently present news items without unduly insinuating inter-ethnic and inter-religious rivalries. As pointed out by Michael O'Shaughnessy and Jane Stadler in the Media and Society, the media must be sensitive to the complexities that make up our nation-state. This is because societies consist of a complex network of groups with different - sometimes competing, sometimes overlapping - interests. In Nigeria, some of these groups are advantaged (in terms of such social goods as housing, education, and life opportunities) by virtue of their birth, their wealth, their class position, their skin colour, and their gender. Consequently, there are advantaged and disadvantaged groups in society, or, to put it another way, dominant and subordinate groups. The media in Nigeria must realise the facts disclosed in the aforementioned book that there are three major areas of social division namely class, gender, and race, although in some contexts religions, age, sexuality, caste, and education can be equally divisive in ways that are often closely related to these three primary categories. As profoundly presented by the authors, it is clear that the media play an important role in the process of representing and communicating political policies and issues.
Everything humanly possible must be done to safeguard the professional integrity of the Nigerian Army and shield it from political interferences. I’m prepared to trust the professional character and integrity of the Chief of Army Staff, and to state without equivocation, that he is a highly detribalised military officer who have dedicated friends that cut across ethno-religious configurations.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via email@example.com
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