The lessons of the past week particularly in the South-east should not be lost on anyone desirous of a peaceful and stable future for our country. It started when the Nigerian Army sent notice of its preparation for ‘Operation Python Dance‘ (Egwu Eke 2), a supposedly normal routine of the Nigerian Army field training exercise meant to sharpen the skills of the participating troops in the conduct of Internal Security Operations (ISO). According to Col. Sagir Musa, Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, the exercise was being conducted to deal with the rising cases of kidnappings, farmers-herdsmen clashes, armed robbery, cultism, communal crisis, violent secessionist agitations, among others. The exercise was planned for September 15 to October 14.
However, few days to the September 15 date, the military launched what appeared to be a limited police action against the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and its fiery leader, Nnamdi Kanu. As would be expected, the development would stoke a raging debate on the propriety of deploying soldiers for what is primarily a police responsibility.
Many of course have argued that the action of the military was overkill, a case of an overbearing military seeking to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. Others have questioned the constitutional basis of the action. While the debate rages, the military has since announced plans to stage a similar operation – Operation Crocodile in the South-south and parts of South-west purportedly to address the same challenges of insecurity. Earlier in the year, the military launched Operation Harbin Kunama II covering the North-west and parts of the North-Central.
Beyond the emotive reaction to the latest development, there are a number of issues that cannot be ignored. First, as distasteful as the current exercises might be to some, the underlying basis of the actions cannot be discountenanced. To deny that country is adrift, or that an unprecedented anarchy is being let loose in different parts of the country on a scale that the military can ill-afford to sit and watch, is to play the ostrich. While democracy thrives on freedom and civic engagement between the ruled and the rulers, it speaks to the mood of the times that cultural and institutional restraints that would have been expected in civic, democratic discourses have, over the course of the past few months, yielded to hate and treasonable behaviors. That cannot and should not be allowed to continue.
More fundamentally however is that we cannot be seen to endorse what appears to be a systematic invasion of the civic space by the military. That is being unwittingly promoted as the new normal speaks directly to the militarization of the nation’s psyche – an exigency that is tolerated only because the country has little choice in the circumstance of the abject neglect suffered by the Nigerian Police under the military in particular – and which the succeeding democratic administrations have done pretty little to redress.
We certainly do not see the various crimes listed by the military as justifying the operations as anything that an adequate, well-equipped police cannot deal with. In fact, the operations are such that a restructured and well-resourced police would have rendered superfluous. The problem, as far as we can see, is straightforward: Both in terms of manpower and equipment, the Nigerian Police Force is worse than inadequate. With 219 policemen for every 100,000 citizens, Nigeria currently falls below the United Nations recommended threshold of 222 per 100,000 people – a problem further compounded by the stifling structure of centralisation leading to wastes, inadequacy and misapplication of resources, and corruption. As for control, the current structure has become too distant from the grassroots for any operational efficiency.
These are issues that a new security architecture can help address. In other words, we harbor no illusions that the unbridled militarization of the civil space will guarantee security; it will rather create an atmosphere of siege, and possibly abuse of citizens’ rights and in the end, breed mass alienation. Contrarily, a new security architecture, which allows for multi-level policing across the board, and which aligns with the demands of a truly federal constitution in theory and practice, and also well attuned to local nuances and sensibilities seems likely to prove far more effective in the long run. We therefore see state police as an idea which time has come.