The military must put its house in order

A contingent of Air Force personnel recently invaded a university in Osun State and left a trail of broken heads and bloodied bodies. Soon afterwards, another contingent of naval personnel invaded and razed a police station in Cross River State, leaving two dead policemen and scores of injured civilians. Not long ago, Ikorodu in Lagos witnessed a similar experience. In the South-east, dealing with the “Biafra” organisations has become an excuse for multiple human rights violations. This sort of behaviour is clearly unacceptable and the military authorities must deal with it.

One of the major challenges facing the military in our country today is the lack of public trust. And the problem can be traced to basic discipline which ought to define their professional identity. Whatever may be our national challenges, we are not at war with ourselves. Above all, civil democracy prescribes certain irreducible code of conduct for all the men and women in uniform. The arms they bear on behalf of the state are meant to protect civil rights, liberties and public assets. Ideally, when soldiers are compelled by national emergency to undertake security roles in a democracy, they actually take orders from civil authority represented by the police. That is the way it is in most advanced democracies.

As at today, British soldiers are out on security duties in London and Manchester, following recent terror attacks. But they are actually taking orders from the police and the political leadership in the discharge of their duties. They are not in any way behaving like armies of occupation and they respect the rights of citizens. That unfortunately is not the case in Nigeria wherever there are security challenges and the military is called upon to deal with the situation. It is almost always as if with their presence all laws are suspended. It is that sort of institutional behaviour that is perhaps responsible for the lawlessness that is now commonplace in the military.

Last week, the Nigerian Army General Court Martial (GCM), sentenced Lance Cpl. Hillary Joel to death, for murdering a civilian he thought was a Boko Haram terrorist during a cordon and search operation in Damboa, Borno State. “The prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. It is clear that the accused committed the offence, contrary to the Armed Forces Act. The court has found you guilty of the offence of murder. We have also listened to your plea. But the court considered the need to maintain discipline and sanity in the system, especially as our anti- terrorism war continues. You are hereby sentenced to death,” said the GCM.

Although the sentence is still subject to confirmation by the military authorities as provided for by section 141 paragraph I A of the Armed Forces Act, Joel was said to have set ablaze a civilian, Mr. Wawi Lawan, during a military cordon and search operation in Damboa, on January 26, 2015. The GMC also sentenced Chima Daniel, a Private, to 15 years imprisonment, for aiding and abetting murder. Daniel was said to have used pepper on a minor, who was under interrogation for the alleged theft of a mobile telephone.

While we appreciate the role the military is playing in the current security challenge we face a as a nation, having a preponderance of soldiers who behave like licensed thugs is a threat to national security. A military whose personnel could whimsically take the life of an innocent citizen cannot be said to have achieved a level of professionalism and discipline which is the hallmark of such institutions in other climes.