Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria has witnessed different conflicts ranging from sectarian to ethno-religious crises, insurgency, hostage-taking, arson, cattle rustlings, terrorism, large-scale kidnappings, pipeline vandalism, crude-oil theft, civil unrest, and ritual killings.
In response to these challenges, the federal government, has continuously deployed the military on Internal Security Operations (ISOs). In effect, the Nigeria Army is fighting many local wars, thereby stretching the one hundred and fifty thousand army thin.
Section 217 of the 1999 Constitution states that the duties of the military will be to defend Nigeria from external aggression, maintain its territorial integrity, secure its borders on land, sea, air, suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.
It is this last provision that has created a loophole for government to deploy the military to every IS challenge. This has made the military assume the position of the first line in internal security.
The regular engagements of the military on ISOs, which most times disregard the Military Internal Security précis, a document that is supposed to guide military engagement in internal security situations, have exposed the shortcomings of the military.
These include personnel, training, equipment and logistics deficit, human rights abuses, and corruption. This has demystified the military. Military orientation dictates that a potential threat is an enemy and as such should be eradicated. Having this type of mindset during internal operations could be dangerous.
Defence against external aggression should be differentiated from operations against ‘enemies’ within. Some soldiers are of the opinion that they have a more-noble role than merely defusing tension. They think they have been called upon because of the incapacity and inefficiency of the Police in maintaining law and order.
The result is that the military usually take over operations from the Police instead of aiding the civil authorities as provided in the 1999 Constitution. Since the primary function of the military is to defend the country in times of war, military training is usually based on inflicting maximum damage and destruction on their opponents and defeating them in the shortest possible time. Internal security operations only require restraint and the use of minimum force which contrasts with what is usually required of soldiers in conventional warfare.
Minimum force is required because they are maintaining law and order among their own people. The arbitrariness associated with the military while in internal security operations can be attributed to the kind of training undergone by the soldiers.
This fact was also acknowledged by the Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Onyeabo Ihejirika acknowledged this fact when he said that the Nigerian Army must refocus its logistics training to cater for internal security operations in aid of civil authority.
The Nigerian military has been accused of excessive use of force in internal operations. Excessive force refers to a force that is above that which is reasonable, and a prudent law enforcement officer would use under normal circumstances.
Then Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, said in April 2013 that over 100 people were killed in Baga during a clash between officers of the Joint Task Force and insurgents. Residents of the village said they buried 185 people after the battle, while Red Cross said 187 people were killed (BBC News).
By convention, soldiers should not be seen all over the place. But there is a departure from this in situations where soldiers perform internal security operations. They extort citizens after intimidating them. It is common for civilians to be seen frog- jumping at check points. Women and girls are sometimes raped.
Soldiers involved in internal security operations have also been accused of arbitrariness. For instance, in Jos, many young people were arrested and falsely accused of being masterminds of the death of some security personnel. The increasing role taken by the military in internal security operations has dire consequences on the national security architecture.
We recommend domestic legislation to regulate the military operations during internal operations. There should be a re-orientation of the soldiers involved in internal security operations.
Soldiers should undergo training on internal security operations before engaging in same. Also, they need training to meet with the challenges of contemporary global threats.
The military is one of the most resilient national institutions. We must nourish it and ensure it does not imbibe the negative attributes of the Nigerian Police, which internal security operations expose them to.