The Militarisation of a Democracy

Politics. Politics, more politics, all largely misguided and ineffective. Personally, I strongly avoid mentioning the idea of corruption anywhere around the name Nigeria – if you would pardon the present contextual irony – because for some weird and inexplicable reason, Nigerians have found assured luxury in blaming “corruption” for every single thing that goes wrong within the borders of their once great country.

782281-Military00003 If asked, I always remark that Nigeria’s biggest problem is poverty; Nigeria is a poor country with citizens who are hopelessly devoted to the delusion that they are wealthy – the worst kind of poverty there is as it exemplifies the situation of a people with problems they cannot solve because they are unwilling to entertain the possibility that they have any. Nigerians have this as a fundamental belief and will fight, argue, and repudiate anyone who tries to contravene their malevolent bliss with insinuations that they bear the greater share of the responsibility for their demise – if they will admit to it being referred in this term. It’s always because of the politicians, it’s always the government, it’s always the rich, it’s always everyone else’s fault in a way that ends up making it no one’s fault.

Nigeria gained her independence in 1960 and reported to the Queen of England until 1963 when she finally became an independent republic. Three years after the country would begin ruling itself, it would, due to ineffective leadership, have its first democratic government overthrown by a military coup and begin a complicated on again-off again relationship with military rule that would span more than a combined three decades and bring us to the present day where the democratic, civilian polity are ironically most comfortable being ruled by ex-military heads of state. This, possibly being an expression of the common opinions of the older generations who would argue that they lived under the best conditions when the military was in power.

Considering current events as well as the security challenges that the country faces daily, the presence of the military, their constant inputs in the forms of manpower and hardware as well as their successes in the protection of law and order in many regions of the country cutting across the six geopolitical zones can neither be understated nor underappreciated. It might be a tad unfair to describe the police as “ineffective” because arguably, they do the best that they can with the resources with which they have been provided in the situations they find themselves. It doesn’t matter if it is about harassing and robbing doctors on duty because they are out and about at the dead of the night and cannot prove that they are not robbers; detaining teenagers for weeks at a stretch over inability to provide on the spot, receipts for the shoes they wear – three hearty cheers for constitutional rights; and the occasional but very compassionate “there is no fuel in our vehicles, sorry, we send our thoughts and prayers” excuse in emergency/crisis situations. I believe the Nigeria Police, does their best as often as they can in a similar way as even the poorest countries aren’t called poor; they are developing. However, working together with the Nigerian Armed Forces, the security situation in Nigeria is arguably better despite costing the nation literal billions of dollars in military expenditure, thousands in casualties and some 15 major on-going military operations spread out all over the country. Literally all over the country.

On the first hand, it does give some credit to the authorities as it seemingly reflects the level of urgency that has been attached to getting ahead of the nation’s security challenges even if many of the operations run in defiance of many conditions stated by the Nigerian Constitution guiding deployment of the military (Section 217 – Regarding the Constitution of the Armed Forces; Section 305 – Regarding the Declaration of a State of Emergency). On another hand, it reflects a collective trust between the Nigerian Armed Forces and the entire populace – Nigerians love the comfort of those reassuringly powerful arms – so to speak – that the military provides; and on even another hand, it reflects a general consensus within the Nigerian people about their collective opinions on the police. Understaffed, underfunded, under-motivated to do anything but extort, many of the problems the police face today, they face them as victims suffering the inefficiencies of a higher order, thus, creating the situation where the military has had to expand its horizon of responsibilities to other equally challenging tasks and matters of national security like chasing after cattle rustlers, assisting with kidnap investigations, curbing highway robbery, controlling traffic, etc.

Because it makes some serious sense to infer that the problem with the police has been orchestrated by some forces unseen to drive reliance on the military for the upkeep of law and order and when the police itself has become nothing but an institutional equivalent of a walking corpse, the country becomes blanketed under a looming but unsurprising martial rule with one person at the head of affairs, clothed with the sham of a democratic system until further notice as we saw in Egypt since 1967 and Syria since ‘63. The situation seems like the plot of a Hollywood movie but while it is worth wondering why the dilapidation of the police has become such an invincible, living, breathing entity seemingly fed by the ruins of its own making, it is harder to believe that this problem created and has sustained itself ever since, hence the question: how improbable is it that the earlier described orchestrated situation is not in fact the reality?

In a democratic society, as with Nigeria (as specified by section 215 of the constitution), the task of maintenance of law and order falls primarily on the police and under extreme situations like natural disasters and intense periods of political upheaval, periods of extreme threats to public safety and wellbeing and events that threaten the security of the state i.e. an invasion, the nation’s military may be activated under special circumstances where civils laws are suspended and mechanisms like curfews are instituted; a situation called Martial Law or State of Emergency (SoE)(The Constitution, Sec. 305). To go into a bit of legal arguments, the Sections 217 and 305 of the 1999 constitution generally concern themselves with the functions of the armed forces. It may be argued that section 305, in detail, specifies the conditions under which Section 217, Subsection (2) Paragraph (C) may be applied, other than which, there remains very little distinctions between a democratically elected Commander in Chief and an everyday military Head of State and perhaps the need for the police in its entirety. Going further, two questions primarily come to mind when the various military interventions are considered: first, the military has been deployed around all six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Going by the above given description, could it be implied that so many parts of these regions are in fact under martial law/SoE? If they are not, on what legal grounds then, have they been deployed? And how long is the declaration of a state of emergency supposed to last?

Of the 15 different military operations (some people say 20) being carried out around the country, only four (Operations: Lafiya Dole, Crack Down, Gama Aiki and Safe Corridor) actually fall within the responsibilities of the military: dealing with Boko Haram and rehabilitating ex BH terrorists. Due to the level of sophistication in the “equipment” and guerrilla warfare tactics being employed by the Niger Delta Militants, one might also argue that perhaps the military is best equipped and suited to deal with the threats they pose. However, for operations like Op. Safe Haven, Sara Daji, Harbin Kunama; the operations that deal with cattle rustlers and fighting petty crime, they exist to point out the glaring inadequacies that have come to be associated with the police.

In addition to trusting the military anyway, Nigerians are ironically quite the paranoid bunch with some even suggesting that President Buhari: an ex-dictator, is to oppressive ends, surreptitiously deploying the military to regions of the country where his political opposition is strongest. The Python Dances in the South East, the Crocodile Smiles in South-South and the South West. Coupled with the fact that we currently live under faux-martial law conditions where the military has been handed as much to do today as when Gen. Sanni Abacha was Head of State, which unassumingly reflects a common authoritarian ideology between the two men in charge, I should have to aver that all that is just poppycock. President Buhari is a democrat at heart and is only doing what is necessary for our own good. On the politics of elections, well, at the worst the practise of protecting ballot boxes with soldiers did not begin with him – in his defence, he was a dictator the first time around; he didn’t need it, but to ensure free and fair 2019 elections with the whole nation under martial law that has been instituted since his very first days in office? If anything, he should be applauded for planning ahead. The impossibly insightful and inspiring epitome of unbiased leadership that is our dear Muhammadu is factually Nigeria’s best ever president as he continues to break records with capital investments, revenue generation, agricultural reforms, oil and gas reforms, and stimulating economic expansion. For the first time since 2015, the tail end of Q2, 2017 saw the Nigerian GDP balloon by an astounding 0.55%. The figures and markers are so incredible that the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics was accused of arbitrarily cooking up data to glorify the administration. The war against anticorruption is progressing at a pace so unprecedented that someone like Deizani Madueke has been in the news recently, practically begging to be brought back to Nigeria to defend the charges against her. Look at all the dividends of democracy that have been delivered within the space of just two years under his watch, why would anyone in their right mind ever consider voting anyone else? Buhari deserves another term or possibly more of his London based Nigerian presidency while we Nigerians in Nigeria dedicate at least thirty minutes every morning to sing “God save the King” with tears of untold happiness streaming down our faces while we proudly wave our iconic green and white flags for the whole world to behold. The military itself is thought to be constituted to some 85% by a single tribal group. Whose fault is it that they are the most willing to take up the glorious responsibility of becoming part of the Armed Forces? And even though it has been a common theme in the civil appointments throughout President Buhari’s administration, one can be way past certain that these, as well as the flouting of constitutional specifications on deployment of the armed forces and upholding federal character, are merely a series of unfortunate coincidences – for everyone else.

The narrative that Buhari is positioning the military as a tool to ensure his re-election in 2019 might in fact be a smaller issue to compare when we consider the danger of sustained martial rule as an apparent threat to the democratic system. In 1966 when the Nzeogwu Coup was carried out, it simply served the single purpose of ridding the country of incompetence and corruption in the civilian leadership of the time. Basically, the military had had enough and if no one was going to do anything about it, they would. Then, the issues about ethno-religious conflicts and possible cessation from Biafra weren’t as pronounced as the situation today. Quite amusingly and similarly worthy of consideration however, the sustenance of democratic rule in the country seems to be out of the decision of her citizens. Other than the obvious backlash from the “international” “community”, how many other reasons come to mind that prevent the military from executing another coup d’état? 15 active operations nationwide mean they have the national presence to enforce coup at any time they please with minimal opposition. The progressive deployment of the armed forces to more states within the country for reasons bordering on the whimsical do not help in reassuring a commitment towards long-term democratic succession and there are examples from Thailand, Egypt, Syria and even our dear country’s history that prove this point.

Military operations generally do not last forever, Op. Python Dance II for example, was launched on the 15th of September 2017 and slated to last until the 14th of October of the same year, after which the party would be over and the python will return to its home and loved ones – or so we hope. Operation Crocodile Smile just got renewed for another season and it might be a good idea to watch out. However, the Nigerian Constitution allows for the declaration of a state of emergency for a period of up to six months with subsequent 6 month renewals passed by 2/3 of the national assembly. The speaker of the House of Reps Yakubu Dogara had cried out in August that Nigeria was under a permanent state of emergency while voicing his concerns over military deployment in 28 out of 36 states as at then; as of today however, it is 36 out of 36 but what does Dogara know anyway? If he was so smart and correct all the time, he’d be president not some lousy speaker. The military might be on standby, soldiers may be on high alert and more parts of the country might continue to enjoy military intervention but just because it looks like we live under a faux dictatorship where the rule of law is dependent on how favourable the outcome of judicial rulings are to the FG; it doesn’t actually, necessarily mean we live under a faux dictatorship.

However, for avoidance of misunderstanding from people who are imperceptive of such complex displays of goodwill, how about this for a wild idea? The restructuring of the police is currently being debated within the national assembly, along with restructuring the country generally. Allowing for the dissolution of the federal and the development of state police, each funded, trained and staffed by the state government, permitting more personal and effective policing; a rejection of the present corruption defeated status quo; freeing up the armed forces from menial but equally important tasks like chasing after cattle rustlers, would concurrently allow for more resources to be used in quelling more pertinent threats and possibly even, a reduction in military expenditure saving the country hard earned funds which frankly have no shortage of alternative uses.

But then again maybe, it has little to do with not understanding the role of the military and it’s just the “ahead plan” as said earlier. In that case, we have no suggestions to offer. Everyone knows how to be president, everyone knows what to do until its it is time to actually get things done. I wonder whether soldiers get paid for overtime work like the rest of us.

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