By Defence correspondent, Tobias Lengnam
In Nigeria, like most countries of the world, the military is established for a significant cause; to protect its country from external
belligerence; quell insurrection; douse tension; protect territorial integrity and sovereignty on land and sea and in the air using Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air Force.
In addition to peace support operations at regional, continental and global levels, the Nigerian military has been a key participant in protecting the country’s sovereignty for external aggression and internal insurrection. Since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria has been facing various security challenges: Terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, cultism, herders, famers clash, cattle rustling and the rest. To curb these challenges, the military has been called upon to support the Nigeria Police Force in internal security operations.
Along these lines, the military is involved in various exercises and operations across the country for counter-terrorism, anti-banditry and anti-cultism operations, utilising platforms and boots on the ground at its disposal to not only deny the rogue elements freedom of action, regain territory, but also to crumble evil empire in the overall interest of the country. It is important to note that in carrying out the difficult tasks of protecting territorial integrity and restoring peace and order, sometimes there are some collateral damages usually unavoidable and unintended especially in crisis situations where criminal non-state actors operate among the people and even sometimes use people as human shields.
Also, in the process of carrying out this national assignment, some of the troops pay the supreme price. These men having taken the oath of allegiance to diligently protect Nigeria with their sweat, strength
and blood, and go wherever they are ordered to, in order to defend the unity by land, sea or air with all skills as professional soldiers. A world of “No retreat, no surrender, one for all, standby for one, no God no glory.” These men, Nigerian Army, pride of the nation are worthy of a long standing ovation.This constitutional obligation, however, comes with a lot of sacrifice – putting their lives and well-being, comfort and security, all in line for the freedom of its country while some even pay the ultimate price.
We must, therefore, as obtainable in other countries, recognise the humanity of the officers and men of the military and understand that human life is worth the same, precious and priceless – whether civilian or military personnel. Hence, Nigerians should always honour and respect our living and fallen heroes. What price can Nigeria and Nigerians ever pay for men who lay down to make sure Nigeria is whole and impenetrable by external and internal forces? Nigerian should recognise that the military suffers a lot of setbacks ranging from leaving behind loved ones to stay in the middle of nowhere, embracing all dangers and coming face-to-face with death. A lot of able-bodied and high-spirited men have been lost while some are left with varying degrees of deformity, all in the course of guarding jealously the Nigerian territories. Yet, these men are more condemned than celebrated, if celebrated at all. Sadly, the priceless and unquantifiable sacrifices being made by these troops everyday are barely appreciated by most critics and their associates. There is over generalisation and condemnation for the mistake of one personnel. It is common among some Nigerians to misinterpret and misjudge efforts by the military to help in keeping peace in the country which usually lead to derogatory statements rather than appraisal and encouragement on military personnel. One question for these critics is, is it preferable to allow adversaries unleash mayhem on the nation, or to carry out diligent and heroic operations to perish the insurrection with minimal collateral damage that may arise in course of operations? A case in point is the issue of Lekki Tollgate Shooting or ‘massacre’ as some critics and commentators would prefer to describe it during the #ENDSARS protest by the youth. Apparently, these critics chose to turn a blind eye to the circumstances that warranted the involvement of the military in ensuring that the violent protests did not spiral out of control. Similar situations unfolding in other parts of the country: In Benin City, there was a prison break orchestrated by the protesting youth, which allowed prisoners serving various jails flee and return to society. What do we expect from their return? What were the intentions of those who masterminded the jail break? Your guess is as good as mine; how do you fight evil with evil? How do you solve a problem by creating another? It is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience for any rational animal to fight evil with evil. In the same vein, men in uniform, personnel of the Nigerian Police Force (28 in the first two weeks) and few military personnel were killed, arms and ammunition were chattered away and police stations were set ablaze. Service vehicles belonging to security and para-military establishments were set ablaze across the federation.
Why was this tagged ‘massacre’ of security personnel by the rampaging youth? Or is it what a peaceful protest entails? Not to talk about the systematic attacks on private businesses, in Abuja, where a car stand worth billions of Naira was set ablaze; shopping malls looted in Lagos and ATM machines damaged and looted in Enugu by the youth in the name of peaceful protest. Media organisations like The Nation Newspapers, Television Continental and Nigerian Television Authority’s premises were set ablaze in Lagos state, in addition to private homes and other property belonging to private citizens as well as government officials. Do you solve problems by bringing down a business that has created job opportunities for a good number of youth or increasing unemployment and elevating poverty? This is the same argument we hold against the government. The Cross River state capital, Calabar, was not left out as a lot of criminalities took place using the protest as a shield. We should go back to the drawing board and ask questions.
What is the dichotomy between peace and violent protests? When do we say a protest is violent? Is it when the whole country is brought down to rubble? The protest was extremely violent and military intervention in aid to civil authorities was justifiable and commendable. Vilifying the military and calling it unprintable names, as well as alleging human rights violations in the course of discharging their constitutional responsibility to the nation is uncharitable, to say the least. It would be recalled that the military foresaw the dimensions the protest was taking in the early stages and in its proactive manner warned those it described as “subversive elements” to desist from acts that were capable of undermining the security and peace of the country. In a statement signed by the coordinator, Defence Media Operations (DMO), Maj.-Gen. John Enenche, at the Defence Headquarters, said: “The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies have observed with dismay, some violence related protests across the country; particularly the increasing number of attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs and miscreants. This unfolding event against peace loving Nigerians will not be condoned. Hence, thugs and miscreants are hereby warned to desist from engaging in violent activities against peaceful Nigerians henceforth, or face appropriate measures.” However, a critical and logical look at the situation would make one to believe that the organisers and leadership of #EndSARS protesters left so many things to chance, having allowed subversive elements to infiltrate its ranks and unleash coordinated attacks on innocent citizens and government institutions, At the point that they noticed that the protest was being hijacked by dark forces, what was done to curtail this? That is a serious leadership failure on their part. Recorded evidence does not support the propositions that the protest was peaceful. It started peacefully, no doubt, but turned violent and authorities were not expected to fold arms and watch the country burnt to ashes. It is undeniable that the protesters were ventilating genuine grievances as provided for by the extant laws of the country, but rights are not absolute. Right to protest does not give the right to impede on another citizen’s freedom to movement. Evidently, the Nigerian military supports democratic government of the country and enjoys citizens to exercise her freedom to a peaceful protest with no one’s life endangered .The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, at a meeting with his Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), General Officers Commanding, GOCs and Field Commanders, ordered reiteration to their subordinates that the Nigerian Army “is determined to ensure democratic stability in Nigeria as the only panacea for development and progress,” and described democracy as the best system of governance. He assured Nigerians that elements and destabilising agent in and outside the country would be curtailed and contained to ensure that subversive elements, detractors and other enemies of the nation “do not achieve their aims and objectives of destabilisation.” “The events of the past few days in our dear nation have shown the determination of some unscrupulous individuals and groups to destabilise Nigeria by all means. These individuals, groups and other undesirable elements have hijacked the peaceful #ENDSARS protest marches resulting in widespread violence, acts of wanton destruction and looting of public and private properties in many parts of the country. These acts led to the imposition of curfew in several states of the federation,” he said.
Therefore, Lekki Tollgate Shooting conundrum should not blindfold Nigerians to other efforts and sacrifices which the military make in keeping the country safe. The military high command, however, had urged citizens and all to remain calm for peace to reign as development can only come under peaceful atmosphere. In the North-east, North-west, North-central and South-south geo political zones, for instance, the military works hard by day and keeps vigil by night to deny bandits, insurgents, terrorists, kidnappers, and other criminal elements freedom of action. Gen. Enenche added that troops of Operation Delta Safe sustained the fight against crude oil theft, pipeline vandalism and illegal oil bunkering in the South-south zone with significant successes. He noted that within the period, troops of 146 Battalion discovered and immobilised three illegal refineries containing 8 storage tanks loaded with illegally refined oil products around Tangolo Susu, Oputumbi and Promise Land in Bonny local government area of Rivers state. As has been noted by General Eneche, the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies have continued their major operations across the country with vigour. The various operations have progressed satisfactorily in all the theatres. Despite all manners of distraction, the military has kept the momentum in all operations in all the six geopolitical zones of the country – namely, North-east, North-west, North-central, South-east, South-west and the South-south. Maj.-Gen. Eneche stated: “The Military High Command encourages the troops and personnel of other security agencies to remain determined and sustain the tempo in all the Joint Operations Areas. The High Command also reassures the general public of its untiring commitment towards securing the country. Members of the general public are enjoined to continue providing timely information on the activities of criminals in their various localities to the military and other security agencies for prompt and effective action.
“It is very clear that officers and men of the military and indeed other security agencies involved in various operations to ensure peace and security are giving their all. In doing this they live by minute and some in the process pay the supreme price. What they expect and deserve from Nigerians is not vilification and condemnation, but commendation and appreciation of their courage and bravery. It is time to show even the simplest act of gratitude which can boost the moral.
Please take the time to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the Nigerian Military. They are heroes deserving medals of honour!