Last Friday, September 8, 2017, I watched, listened and read the intriguing statement of the Nigerian army made public by the Chief of Training and Operations of the Nigerian Army, one Major General David Dawandi Ahmadu to the effect that it was carrying an exercise code-named Exercise Egwu Eke II (Python Dance II).
The statement underlined the manifest function of the exercise that is: “emphasis will be placed on raids, cordon and search operations, anti-kidnapping drills, road blocks, check points, patrols, humanitarian relief activities such as medical outreach and show of force to curb the rising threat to national security in the South Eastern part of the country.”
However, the latent function is to pacify agitators for social justice and self-determination as the statement puts it, the exercise is “to transit into real time operations thereby fulfilling both training and operational objectives of sharpening operational skills of personnel as well as providing an avenue to conduct operations against violent criminals and agitators when called upon”.
Against the background of the ongoing agitation for self-determination and a previous eighteen month civil war, the statement of the Nigerian army and its effectuation amount to an occupation of South-eastern Nigeria, the land of the Igbo people. It is a clear demonstration of the fact that an ethnic cabal that largely controls the security apparatuses of the country sees the rest of country as a conquered territory and logically the people as subjects.
Whereas the army in its statement talks glibly about respect for human rights. Indeed the statement reads, “It is pertinent to mention that the security, safety and well-being of innocent and law abiding citizens of the states mentioned above have been adequately factored into the planning of the exercise. Thus, the rights of individuals as enshrined in the constitution would be respected and safeguarded”.
Irrespective of a play to the corridor of human rights, the sheer deployment of troops in peacetime to a region of the country begins the violation of their rights as citizens of Nigeria and creates a state of siege and unmeasured psychological trauma. The clash in Abia state commences the trail of violation. In civilised climes, security operations in peace time are underlined by collateral functions and sophisticated intelligence collecting.
Truly, Nigeria faces a lot of security challenges, the most potent of them is the vicious killings being perpetrated by the so-called Fulani herdsmen, a terrorist gang rated as the fourth deadliest in the world by the Global Terrorism Index. This ought to be the pre-occupation of the Nigerian army at this point of our historical annals. But rather, the same army and other security forces in the country have given unabashed partisan backing to the activities of the ‘herdsmen’.
To state in unambiguous terms, the current development is a perversion of civil-military relations and diminishes the image of the Nigerian army. The Nigerian army appears to be impervious of the contradictions of the Nigerian state which have been aggravated by those Prof. Pat Utomi referred to as the ‘Class of 1966’ and their incestuous heirs.
The current development only justifies the call by the Campaign for Democracy of old which led the agitation against military rule among other groups in the 1990s for the re-organisation of the Nigerian army along regional command in order to ensure structural balance of terror. A situation where the country’s armed forces are instrumentalised as an ethnic organisation is unacceptable to many of us and it must stop.
Force is the least enduring elements of nation-building. As the late British Historian, Eric Hobsbawm has warned, wars of the twenty-first century can no longer be fought by conventional forces. Nigeria in its present skewed structure cannot survive no matter the degree of repression. It will ossify even if no one raises a whimper. What progressive Nigerians are calling for is a reasonable conversation to right the wrongs. The inequity of the system, the dwindling resources and high consumption of the warped political class will push even the armed forces beyond what they already are, namely, “army of anything goes” to totally self-destruct.
Let us remember that history moves irrespective of our will, men intervene only to give it direction for social progress. Therefore, I join freedom loving Nigerians to demand the immediate withdrawal of the army of occupation from South Eastern Nigeria.
Sylvester Odion Akhaine is an Associate Professor and the Acting Head of Department of Political Science, Lagos State University.