By Emeka Umeagbalasi and Chidimma Udegbunam
What is presently called “Nigerian Army”, a major component of the Nigerian Armed Forces, appears to be speedily transforming into an ‘Ethnic Army or Militia’ and unless urgent steps are taken and transformative efforts made, the Nigerian Army will irreversibly end up as an ethno-religious conclave in this country.
History is replete with many instances: In former Yugoslavia, its national army (Yugoslavia People’s Army) under Slobodan Milosevic was sectionalized and used as oppressive and suppressive instruments against other ethnic groups and in the end, it lost its national identity and followership and became an ethnic army for the Serbs following the country’s 1991-2001 civil wars and was disbanded.
In former Zaire (Congo DRC) under Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-1997), its national army lost its nationality and followership and became an ethnic army for Bantu/Bangala tribe and was disbanded in 1997 following the emergence of Joseph Kabila (a rebel leader) as new leader.
In Rwanda under Gen Juvenal Habyarimana (1973-1994), the Army lost its national identity and followership and became an ethnic militia for Hutus and was disbanded in July 1994 after the genocide.
In Liberia, the Armed Forces of Liberia under Samuel Doe (1980-1990) lost its national identity and followership and became an ethnic army for Krahn Ethnic group during the Liberian civil wars and was disbanded in 1997.
In Uganda under Tito Okello (July 1985-Jan 1986), the Ugandan National Army lost its national identity and followership and was disbanded in 1986 following the emergence of Yuweri Museveni (a rebel leader) as new leader.
The Armed Forces of Sierra Leone under Joseph Momoh (1985-1992) also lost its national identity and followership and was disbanded in 2001.
Our consistent mirroring of the present ‘Nigerian Army’ commanded by Lt Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai (as he then was) since 2015 particularly its composition, command structure, operational conducts or activities including sectional soldiering and horrible human rights records such as alleged ethnic profiling, peacetime sectional killings, abductions, torture and sexual offenses including rape and related abuses, etc all glaringly point to the fact that the Army is losing its national identity and followership.
From the look of things, too, the Nigerian Army is losing regional acceptance and legitimacy especially among citizens of the Old Eastern, the Mid Western Nigeria and the Old Middle Belt who are mostly of Christian faith. The loss of regional acceptance and legitimacy by the Army is also gradually creeping into the Southwest, and as a matter of fact, the Army is on ‘borrowed or mechanical legitimacy’
Loss of national identity and regional acceptance and legitimacy by the army of any country is a serious problem and can lead to same being perceived by majority of the ethnic nationalities in such country as illegitimate and sectional army. This is easily the case particularly in a heterogeneous or multi ethnic and religious country and can further be fueled by citizens’ radicalism or resort to violent self help, with capacity of transforming such army from ‘army of all to an ethnic militia of an ethnic group’ in a situation of intra state armed conflict. Therefore, signs and triggers are in the air in Nigeria and unless urgent steps are taken to rescue and reform the Nigerian Army, it is likely to end up as an ethnic militia or army.
It saddens our heart therefore that despite being unable to quench the flames of insurgency in all the regions of Nigeria, the Nigerian Army is still talking tough and issuing threats of elimination to Nigerians particularly unarmed citizens and activists who are calling on their ethnic nationalities to rise in self defense of their persons and properties including territories and boundaries as clearly provided in Section 258 of the Criminal Code and Section 59-60 of the Penal Code-strengthened by Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution (right to life) and; yet the same Nigerian Army is looking the other side concerning invasion of natural territories of other ethnic nationalities by armed local and imported jihadists, including Fulani herdsmen and Shuwa Arabs.
The same Nigerian Army is also threatening unarmed self-determination agitators with elimination but says nothing when a group of jihadists openly claimed responsibility for assassination attempt on the sitting Governor of Benue State, whom they are still threatening to kill or assassinate.
Today, the incompetence, partiality, conspiracy and complicity of the Nigerian Army has led to emergence of at least 20 main and splinter Muslim controlled and led insurgencies in the Northeast, Northwest and North-central. As at May 2015, the three regions played host to only Boko Haram, emerging jihadist Fulani herdsmen and “Zamfara Bandits”, but today, there are full blown Fulani Herdsmen and their imported counterparts including armed foreign Fulanis and Shuwa Arabs. There are also Boko Haram and its two splinter groups, Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), Movement for Emancipation of Muslims in Black Africa or Ansaru. It is difficult to count but some of these groups and bandits have splintered into not less than 13 scattered in Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto, Katsina, Benue and Niger States.
In the South, the government is also vicariously, if not directly, responsible for movement and violent settlement of militia men and their kidnapping units inside the forests, bushes and farmlands of the Southeast, South-south and lately Southwest.
Combined with violent crackdowns, ethnic profiling and hate soldiering by troops against mostly Christian citizens of Southeast and South-south who are defenseless and unarmed, the two regions are already bearing undeniable signs of new insurgencies with sophistication in shape and color.
In the Southwest and Old Middle Belt, the menaces of Fulani militia have already risen to maddening and intolerable proportions, and signs of radical self defense measures, including intractable insurgencies are all over the place. As a matter of fact, embryonic insurgencies are already rearing their ugly heads in Southeast, South-south, Southwest and Old Middle Belt Nigeria, capable of speedy transformation into full blown insurgencies; and only God knows where the Nigerian Army will get professionalism and capacity to withstand them.
The totality of these is an indication that Nigeria, an explosively populated country of over 200 million persons is steadily heading to the nadir of implosion and explosion.
We, at Intersociety, hereby call for rescue and reformation of the present Nigerian Army. It is the moral duty of the Association of retired Generals or senior Army officers particularly those that left the Army from 1980s to 2014, to be assisted by other stakeholders to congregate as a matter of uttermost urgency so as to intervene and rescue the Army before it becomes extremely late or reaches the point of irreversibility.
▪︎ Umeagbalasi and Udegbunam are Board Chair; and Head, Campaign & Publicity International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law, otherwise known as Intersociety.