By Dr. Nowa Omoigui



The profound question of how Nigerian civilians view their armed forces and whether they consider it a legitimate institution or merely "accept it" in the absence of an option is important.  One posits that it is linked to the larger question of the legitimacy of Nigeria itself and the degree of expression the state structure allows at local levels.  The military has to evaluate new ways of regaining trust and embedding itself in the primordial national mindset.     However, there is danger for civilians to think that the military has had its time and thus should be no one's priority at this time.   But this is a mistake.  In reality, the military is in complete shambles after so many years of neglect, much of it deliberately wrought by the destructive effect of factions of the military engaging in politics. While other professional sectors have also suffered degradation, the undeniable fact that the military's experience is self inflicted puts the military in a difficult position in negotiating for its corporate interests - although most of the individuals that were involved in previous regimes have since been shown the way out of the military.

What this means in practical terms is that even though it does not articulate it institutionally, some residual  elements within the military are eager for advocates in civil society.   Members of civil society and the political elite should thus pause, hold their breaths and listen. Importantly, more overt demonstrations of sympathy for its plight from the political class will help build confidence and bridges that may yet be critical to protecting democracy.   But it is a shame that even financial appropriation (or release of funds) for very elementary items poses difficulty. The situation with military pensions is a national indictment. Although it can rationally be argued that poor planning and pension fund investment is a contributory factor, many ex-servicemen wrongly or rightly feel being they are being unjustifiably punished. Rather than depend on annual allocations, which are easy to embezzle, we should create a system of pension fund investment portfolios carefully insulated from the sticky fingers of predatory bureaucrats.

In all the three services, the military requisitioning system has reportedly broken down. Instead of being supplied with logistics items, commanders are made to purchase items. Very often, the amount allocated is insufficient, so those involved tend to provide very little of what is actually required and then keep some of the money for themselves. This fraudulent system has been in existence for a long time and the military is experiencing withdrawal symptoms because guidelines issued since the advent of civil rule have reduced spending prerogatives. Service Chiefs, for example, can spend only one million naira.  Correspondingly, officers at lower command and staff rungs now have lower spending limits.  Ordinarily this should not be a problem; but there is no system in place to have materiel consistently available for units to carry out their duties.  In this vacuum, the potential exists that civil-military tension can result because of the national sub-culture of poverty and job insecurity.  Because of the absence of transparency in Nigerian society, military officers could be put in an awkward position to observe civil servants and politicians award contracts to themselves and line their pockets while military units in the field starve.  So they feel shortchanged.  Clearly - as was previously noted - the problem of widespread corruption should be more vigorously and honestly tackled.

An important element of professionalism is job satisfaction.  Different cohorts of officers need to be objectively assessed for job satisfaction. Inequities in personal and official accommodation, communication and transportation are the sorts of day to day irritants that undermine morale and degrade individual commitments to larger society.   As part of the legitimating process, we need to find out what it takes for a serviceman or woman to feel valued by society - independent of the physical threat that they can seize power.   We ought to conduct studies within the military to find out what it should be.  We need to re-equip the military and take credit for it, so that those in service realize the advantages of democracy over the military in power. Merely talking about it is not enough.  More sophisticated ways of enhancing the welfare of troops beyond the paycheck should be evaluated.  "Overhead" expenses like medical bills and transportation can be alleviated.  We should take a cue from the Nigerian Army before 1964.  It was very busy and very professional.  Idleness is dangerous. Troops need to be actually engaged in frequent exercises, carefully monitored by the intelligence services. It is not enough to say they are training.  They actually need to be training.  Training should be at individual and system levels.  It ensures that the military is capable of implementing its constitutional role and mission Early in the life of the current civilian dispensation, a military liaison officer sent to the National Assembly was rejected by legislators.  This may have been too hasty a decision.  There is merit in the idea. Similarly, there may be merit in appointing a military liaison officer to the Police. Such liaison officers may prove crucial in the long run in helping to negotiate consensus between stake holders in the civil-military discourse. Clearly, from a long term perspective, a negotiated understanding of the relationship of the non-military components of the state apparatus, the larger economy, and civil society to defence and military matters and how this relationship impacts on civil society is preferable to a non-negotiated fait accompli.    As a country, we need to clarify the role of the Nigerian armed forces in the 21st century. Are they designed for past, present or future threats?  In an increasingly global and integrated environment, how has the redefinition of geographical and economic notions of the nation-state affected Nigeria?  What collective and cooperative defence and security arrangements could Nigeria find itself in which would impact civil-military relations at home?  Can the Nigerian Armed Forces accept limits on defence spending proposed by international organizations like the UN as part of collective security bargaining?  In what acceptable ways can the armed forces be used domestically? 

Further, the nuanced differences between military loyalty to the State, the Constitution, the Government, the Regime or perhaps the "Country" or  "Nation" need to be negotiated and understood by the civilian leadership and the military in order to avoid ambiguity.   Appropriate language in the Armed Forces Act and oaths of loyalty taken by servicemen at entry should reflect a common understanding of which entity commands ultimate loyalty. In Nigeria, state security often means 'regime security' in the eyes of the political leadership and its supporters but such a view may not be shared either by the larger society or by factions in the military - a reality which has no doubt created tensions in civil-military relations in the past.

The civilian political elite should and must relate with the professional military in defining threats and then establishing  constitutional and institutional defence policies on size and complexity, recruitment, training, career planning, retention, retirement, budgets and acquisitions, force deployment and power projection, rules of engagement and human rights protection.    Other important areas include defence diplomacy, the relationship of the military to the international community, peace operations and regional security issues.  Such discussions should clarify the boundaries of acceptable involvement of the armed forces in national and international politics, its relationship with the media, NGOs, nascent environmental pressure groups and other new non-state actors.

The proposed dialogue between the military and civil society on civil-military issues can be greatly assisted by the media if they are appropriately trained on how it should be constructively achieved without the usual complicating Nigerian factors of ethnicity, religion, inaccuracy and plain mischief.  There have certainly been many situations in the past where opinions expressed in the media have affected military morale and even operations.     One very disturbing trend in Nigeria is the tendency for some news outlets to publish obvious falsehoods.

Lastly, sustained commitment of external actors to the democratization process can be very important, assuming that the frequent tendency on the part of international actors to focus on individuals rather than systems and institutions can be checked.    Often, aside from the domestic military, it is the only alternative check and balance to irresponsible behavior on the part of the political class. It also has ways of exerting leverage and enforcing international normative assumptions in the thinking and attitude of the military to civilian supremacy.

To be continued


 * This is an excerpt of a much larger publication by the author.

References will be listed at the end of the last installment