The Nigerian Army has described the recent #EndSARS protest in many parts of the country as a ploy by unscrupulous elements to discredit the Federal Government, incite the public against the army and destabilise the nation. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, who made the allegation in his remarks during a meeting with Principal Staff Officers (POS), Commanding Officers (GOCs) and field commanders in Abuja, alleged that the army lost over 10 AK-47 rifles during the protest. He equally insisted that the development was unacceptable.
Buratai, who told the Commanders that there would be no room for disloyalty amongst all officers and soldiers, directed them to reiterate to all their subordinates that the army is determined to ensure democratic stability in Nigeria as the only panacea for development and progress. “We will not allow any force, elements or destabilising agents in or outside our country to set our beloved country on fire,” the COAS stressed. He encouraged officers and soldiers not be afraid of global agencies as the International Criminal Court (ICC) in carrying out their legitimate duties as stated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and other extant laws, rules and regulations of Nigeria.
Buratai’s directive came on the heels of untoward activities by hoodlums and other fringe elements who had hijacked the peaceful rallies by youths against the brutality of the police, to unleash mayhem on Nigerians. There is no doubt that the criminal elements who infiltrated the protests wreaked havoc on private property and public institutions. Aside the Army, which claimed attack on its men and loss of rifles, other segments of the society had various tales on the mismanagement of the protest. In Lagos, at least six policemen were killed and 38 others wounded during the crisis. Similar stories of attacks on innocent Nigerians, security operatives and wanton destruction of business premises headlined the protests. It was against this backdrop that the Army interpreted the protests as a ploy by its promoters to set the country ablaze.
Buratai’s directive could be strategic. He may have spoken with the best of intentions. Experiences in neighbouring countries are awash with mismanaged protests turning to national crisis and in some instances resulting to undemocratic change of government. This could be what the COAS wanted to avert. The constitutional role of the military is not only to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state against external attacks, but also includes helping the civil security and the police, within the provisions of the constitution, to keep law and order. The Army Chief may therefore have good reasons for his remarks.
However, we think the timing for the order is wrong, considering the mood of the day. Given the stress the country has gone through lately, we need soothing words to calm frayed nerves. Nigerians have been sufficiently rattled by the trauma of the protests that any directive that can be interpreted as threats by the military is unnecessary.
There are fears also that overzealous commanders and their subordinates may go to the extreme in implementing the order. Already, the country has an unpleasant profile of civilian-military relationship. The nation is yet to recover from the October 2001 Zaki Biam killings in Benue State in revenge for 19 of their colleagues allegedly abducted and murdered in the community. We can recall the November 1999 Odi killings in Bayelsa State. There have also been instances of soldiers going beyond bounds in reacting to youths’ protest in some parts of the country.
These unconventional tactics by soldiers in addressing civil matters have resulted to loss of life and property. They also account for the country’s poor human rights records abroad. We recognise the need for peace at this point in time. However, we believe that lasting peace can also be achieved when civilians and the security operatives work in concert to ensure the security of all Nigerians. The security agencies should see the citizens as partners in progress in their resolve to secure the country and rid it of destabilising agents. Everything should be done to bring down the current tension in the country and not to heighten it.