BURATAI’S WARNING AND MATTERS ARISING

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The Army should investigate, arrest and prosecute all those involved in the security breach

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, last week warned army officers and soldiers to steer clear of politics, claiming to have information that some persons had been making moves to incite the military against constituted authority.

“This is to inform the public that the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General TY Buratai, has received information that some individuals have been approaching some officers and soldiers for undisclosed political reasons,” a statement by Brigadier-General Sani Usman, Director of Army Public Relations, said, adding: “On the basis of that, he has warned such persons to desist from these acts.”

Reminding the officers and soldiers that the army was a professional, disciplined, loyal and apolitical institution that has clear constitutional roles and responsibilities, Buratai said that those among them interested in politics should resign their commission or apply for voluntary discharge forthwith. Yet when pressed by THISDAY to name the individuals involved and clarify if arrests had been made, the army authorities declined.

Coming against the background of the sickness of President Muhammadu Buhari and the uncertainty that it has generated in the polity, Buratai’s statement cannot be easily dismissed because of its far reaching implications. It is, however, curious that an army chief received information on a breach of security by some of his men and all he did was to issue a threat and an advisory. Even in a democratic society that Nigeria is, this is an unusual procedure for handling high treason.

As Buratai has rightly said, the 1999 Constitution that is in operation clearly subordinates the military to the civil authorities elected by the people and mandates the institution to be apolitical. Indeed, our constitution and military laws regard the kind of security breach Buratai hinted about as high treason and the seriousness with which the offence is viewed is weighted by the punishment prescribed for it. While the former awards life imprisonment, the latter prescribes death penalty for the offence.

Buratai’s handling of this matter, therefore, makes light of a serious issue that requires firmness. This is particularly so because of the nation’s prevailing delicate political circumstances. Since President Buhari’s illness and frequent medical vacations abroad became subject of public discourse, reckless permutations have taken the centre stage so much so that some sectional politicians are already speaking of the possibility of an extra constitutional resolution of any dispute that might arise in the unlikely event that the president would be unable to conclude his tenure.

Although the constitution envisages the current political situation and has adequately provided remedial measures, we cannot pretend to be unaware of the high stakes and how far some desperate politicians could go to undermine the ground norm and precipitate a national crisis. Without a doubt, Buratai’s statement confirmed this tendency towards the use of high treason as a weapon for the resolution of political disputes. This, obviously, would not be acceptable to the vast majority of Nigerians who toiled to institute democratic rule in the country.

Meanwhile, it has been suggested in many quarters that given Buratai’s slap-on-the- wrist handling of what would amount to a clear act of treason by some political misfits and unscrupulous military officers, the army chief might be flying a kite. We think this is speculative and unhelpful. However, we also think it is important to send unambiguous signals to persons who might be misguided to believe they could trample on our constitution with impunity, that they will not only be vigorously resisted by the Nigerian people, but would also be brought to justice.

To deter such people, therefore, we ask the army authorities to urgently investigate this breach of security, arrest the culprits and visit the full weight of the law on them.