By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Nigeria’s democracy is passing through a very trying time. The times are indeed tough and practically in all spheres of human endeavours, Nigeria that prides itself as the giant of Africa has been stretched beyond human imagination. Apart from not having a robust political engagements through which the economy of the millions of Nigerians can be improved significantly, Nigeria’s human rights sector is facing tumultuous challenges just at the relationship between the military and the civilians has never been this sour to an extent that a lot of the media products that millions of Nigerians receive on daily basis are substantially and increasingly looking like there is a war between the military and the rest of the citizens.
As the lead facilitator at the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), i took a lot of time and energy to understudy the media contents around the issues of the waning relationship between the military and the civilians. From most of the reports, it would seem that there is the urgency of the now for both the heads of the military and stakeholders in the organised civil society community in Nigeria to begin and deepen the process of conversations about how best to ensure that the Nigerian Army and the entire military completely and totally become professional because by so doing, the complaints of the multiple issues of human rights violations committed by some soldiers against the citizens will be minimized. This is because organizationally, the military is subordinate to elected civil authorities and these persons exercising authority as civil authorities cannot possibly do so without the mandate of the people of Nigeria and it is this popular mandate of the civilians and indeed all of NIGERIANS that confers the legitimacy for them to exercise these essential authorities to shape the wellness and wellbeing of the nation State.
I think it was the realization of the indubitable fact that the military is subordinate to the civilian authority that motivated the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai to consolidate and strengthen the conversations between the military and the civil society which culminated in the establishment of the department for Civil and Military Relations which is normally headed by a Senior General to underscore the excellent and phenomenal respect that the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army holds for the constitutional rights of the citizens especially given the overwhelming knowledge within the circles of the hierarchies of the military that constitutional democracy has come to stay. Constitutional democracy is unrealistic without respect for the fundamental human rights of the citizens. This salient message was also reiterated by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur when he decorated some three dozen newly promoted military Generals. The Army Chief by emphasising the primacy of constitutional democracy has also by extension adumbrated on the essence and necessity of mainstreaming respect for the fundamental human rights of Citizens in all internal security operations and this point needs to be constantly repeated to the hearing of the other ranks who are the people that do come in close contacts with the masses and they are the persons fingered for violating the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms of the citizens.
The Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur emphasised the strategic place of constitutional democracy thus: “Democracy has come to stay. We will not tolerate any agent of destabilisation. The years of military misadventure in politics have never carried us anywhere. It is over.” “Do not hobnob with politicians. At this rank of two star generals, do not lobby for appointment. If you want to lobby for appointment, lobby the Chief of Army Staff and you can only do this through hard work, discipline and loyalty. The crop of officers (39 Major Generals) decorated yesterday will never be dragged into any interest that is contrary to the sustenance of democracy in our nation.”
“All our eyes are on you. We know there are several moves to get your attention. You must make sure that whatever you are doing, and when some persons approach you, you must act within the confines of the constitution.” The reference being made to the Constitution by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur shows the relevance of respect for the fundamental human rights of Citizens because Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria remains the fulcrum and the barometer for measuring the democratic viability or otherwise of a Sovereign State. Constitutional democracy without the dominant thematic areas of adherence to the sanctity of human rights is autocratic regime and not a democracy. The North Atlantic Treaty organization is one of the greatest coalition of military powers from democratic nations.
Major General H. Kujat wrote a seminal work that was published by NATO on its Website on “The Role of the Military in a Democracy”. His piece was powerfully articulate and conveys all of the things that we need to stress in our conversations about the place of the Nigerian Army and constitutional democracy vis- a -vis the watchdog roles of the media which should vigorously monitor the democratic institutions to ensure that the respect for the fundamental human rights of Citizens is not jeopardised or compromised or diluted.
He wrote as follows: “First, I would like to say that I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you today. Your country is still in a difficult state of transition, which poses new and different challenges every day. It is, therefore, important that people like yourselves have a positive attitude and the dedication to shape events in the years ahead. This is an indispensable prerequisite to help your country normalize its relations with the rest of Europe and beyond and to become a functioning member of the family of nations that make up the Euro-Atlantic community. With my presentation on “The Role of the Military in a Democracy” I want to offer you some ideas and food for thought which might be of use to you.”
The top General states thus: “Let me start by mentioning that the Role of the Military in a Democracy is an ever-relevant concern which was already raised by Plato 2500 years.
The principle of political control of armed forces as we know it today is rooted in the concept of a representative democracy. It refers to the supremacy of civilian institutions, based on popular sovereignty, over the de-fense and security policy-making apparatus, including the military leadership.”Democratic control, he said, should always be a two-way process between armed forces and society. In a democracy, firm constitutional guarantees should protect the state – including the armed forces – from two types of potential dangers: from politicians, who have military ambitions, and from military with political ambitions. He wrote also that: “There is no common model of how to establish armed forces in a democratic society and how to exercise control over the military, says General Kujat. There is, however, a number of shared principles. They include indispensable prerequisites to organize and to guarantee a proper civilian direction and control of armed forces. These are essentially
the existence of a clear legal and constitutional framework, defining the basic relationship between the state and the armed forces. A significant role of parliament in legislating on defense and security matters, in influencing the formulation of national strategy, in contributing transparency to decisions concerning defense and security policy, in giving budget approval and in controlling spending – using “the power of the purse” in issues related to “the power of the sword” The General submitted that those models also include the hierarchical responsibility of the military to the government through a civilian organ of public administration – a ministry or department of defense – that is charged, as a general rule, with the direction and supervision of its activity. Other aspects of the place of the military in promoting constitutional democracy are:
*the presence of a well trained and experienced military corps that is respected and funded by a civilian authority. It acknowledges the principle of civilian control, including the principle of political neutrality and non-partisanship of the armed forces. *the existence of a developed civil society, with a clear understanding of democratic institutions and values, and, as a part of the political culture, a nationwide consensus on the role and mission of their military. the presence of a reasonable non-governmental component within the defense community capable of participating in public debate on defense and security policy, presenting alternative views and programs.
He then summed them up thus: “I assume that this is a solid and comprehensive yardstick for the measurement of armed forces in a democracy and their political control, which allows us to turn from theoretical considerations to reality taking my own country as a first example.
The relevant articles of the constitution foresee in summary the following mis-sions and roles for the Armed Forces:
They defend the own country and participate in the collective defense of the Alliance
They provide humanitarian aid
They perform search and rescue missions
They provide assistance in disasters
They provide assistance in accidents
They participate in maintaining public order, with and without arms, by providing administrative assistance performing protective functions assisting the police in emergencies
To avoid any misunderstanding – in the latter case, armed forces are the ultima ratio when police and border guard forces are not able to handle the situation in a common effort.”
The Constitution, he says, explicitly prohibits any action, which could disturb the peaceful togetherness of nations or which supports the preparation of any aggression. Worth mentioning is also that the rules of the International Law predominate over the Basic Law. This results in specific responsibilities and obligations for the government, the citizens and especially the soldiers. These models he listed out for member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty organization fully applies to the Nigerian Army.
Recently, the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) organised a townhall meeting for the South East of Nigeria in Enugu whereby the civil society community in Nigeria and the media met and brainstormed on what needed to be done with the Military. The theme of the meeting addressed by two top Mass communications and political Science scholars of the Enugu State University of Technology and the Institute of Management and technology Doctors Chidiebere Ezinwa and Nwanze Emeka, was also attended by Youths and Students from South East of Nigeria.
Onwubiko is the Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)