By Masara Kim

As an ordinary observer, I always prayed for a situation where military/civilian cooperation in Nigeria would return to the way it was in the days of old when orderliness was the order of the day in the Nigerian Armed Forces whether in crisis or orderly situations.
A friend told me of how he was brutally battered by some ‘men in uniform’ along with one other young man who eventually passed on after the drill and I started an aggressive campaign against military-civilian brutality to draw attention to the untoward situation.
My passion for this course grew even higher and stronger when an innocent son of a retired Police Inspector was unsuspectingly picked from his family residence in Jos by some military men supposedly to answer some questions about a certain offense involving some two young men who dropped him off and unknowingly drove along a restricted area while returning. The boy on arrival however did not get the chance to answer any question or even express himself as he was instantly subjected to radical torture by the men who happened to be members of the Special Task Force serving in Jos until he passed out and eventually gave up the ghost.
I always felt that the gratuitous use of force against unarmed civilians by men of the Nigerian Armed Forces was a gross violation of the rights of law abiding citizens of this country particularly in a non-violent situation but never had a close knowledge of what it feels like to undergo military brutality until I was lashed with a heavy mystifying slap by a so-called military personnel for attempting to express myself against an unprovoked harassment by another ‘officer’ supposedly working with him who tried thwarting me from walking along a gangway in a motor park even though others were. I humbly apologized and was walking away from the other side when he raised his voice and started hurling invectives saying “If you do anyhow you will see anyhow”, meaning, he was going to deal with me if I wasn’t careful. That sounded a kind of bewildering and very embarrassing knowing I had not in any way tried to challenge him so I tried to express my displeasure. The young man knowing he was wrong in the first place immediately maintained absolute calm but when a by-stander came inquiring what was happening and I was trying to explain, the next thing I realized was a hard landing slap on my face that sort of threw me out of balance for some seconds by a different character who just plunged into the scene. As a man, I was tempted to retaliate until a soft voice in me together with some onlookers tried persuading me to keep calm and respect myself in order not to create a scene.
Although I was able to hold control of myself and allowed no further situation of chaos, it took me a while to forget that day and hour. After all was said and done however, the only beautiful thing about the experience was that it exposed me to the practical reality of the military-civilian brutality that had always been talked about.
A conversation with a retired Military General (names withheld) however revealed that men of the armed forces are trained to behave ‘gentlemanly’ while coordinating themselves in an orderly manner at any given time. But what we see of late is a constant use of force both in violent and non-violent situations whereas in the real sense, the ethics guiding the operations of every Force member I understand clearly specify that force should only be used when it becomes critically necessary.
Additionally, in a crisis situation, there is no hard and fast rule to determine whether a particular degree of force would be reasonable. The commander on the ground is expected to be the one to decide taking the prevailing circumstances into account. He and his troops are responsible for their actions, hence the need to act in the spirit of humanity. Whenever a soldier uses force, it is important that he should be able to justify it and give reasons for the amount of force used in the circumstances as he may be required in a court of law to give his justification in great detail, hence the need to record events as they unfold, as actions taken at each stage are paramount to the justification for the use of force.
It should be noted also that it is the soldier that uses force himself rather than his superiors, who would have to make such justifications. The guidelines for the use of force as backed by Section 102 and 103 of the Criminal Procedure Code which are expected under “must” to be observed at all times maintain that force is unjustifiable unless the immediate effect can be achieved by using it within the soldier’s or policeman’s legal power. As aforementioned, even in violent situations, not all circumstances require force. In low-key protests for instance, there are non-violent methods of maintaining order which could involve oral persuasion, warning of the crowd through the reading of the Riot Act and advancing in strength by the troops towards the crowd as a show of force among others.
Article 51 of the UN Charter specifically states the customary international law principle underlying all rules of engagement, that is, the inherent right of individual and collective self defense against an armed attack. International law requires that any use of force armed or unarmed be in response to hostile acts or a demonstration of hostile intent.
I tend however to agree with the school of thought that suggests that most men of the Nigerian Armed Forces are either ignorant of the internationally acceptable rules of engagement in any operation or completely uneducated to be aware of the aforementioned. Otherwise, I see no reason for the wanton oppression and constant harassment of innocent citizens by men of the military. The gun and uniform in time past used to be an instrument of security for the unarmed civilian whose protection lies with the personnel, but now, it is being used to intimidate, extort and commit all sorts of crimes because the constitution has made it a crime to raise a finger against an “officer of the law”.
While my respect for the force remains integral with no equanimity against all odds, suffice it to say that if the present situation is not checked while there is still time, sooner or later, what is happening in other parts of the world where indigenous rebels are constantly fighting against constituted security operatives could be inevitable. Something had better been done because unlike before when the military was seen to be working hand-to-hand with the civilian citizens to advance the cause of peace-building and see to the provision of certain social services as demands the law guiding peace-keeping operations, the military in several situations have been reported to be culpable in certain attacks.
In Plateau State for instance, there has been a large outcry against the backdrop of military deficiency in the task of restoring peace and order since the civil unrest of 2001 which led to the death of many including women and children in the Jos and Bukuru metropolis. In 2010, women from all parts of the state came out in their numbers, dressed in black and staged a march around the city of Jos down to the Governor’s Lodge and Office in Jishe crying for the removal of the military in the State.
While the presence of the military in many crises riddled areas has somewhat brought calm and reassured the masses security wise to some degree, the fears that have continued to characterize the minds of many Nigerians as to the safety of lives and property in a military dominated area are long over-due for the desired action.
The President of the federation in his last independence message indeed charged the military operatives serving in different parts of the country to respect their rules of engagement just as is often emphasized to them in the parade ground, but since there has been no substantial arrangement to monitor and sanction the misdeeds of military personnel on field operations or anywhere else, the trend of unlawful oppression of innocent civilians has continued unabated.
The lackadaisical attitude of constituted authorities towards issues of non-compliance with laid down rules and regulations particularly the violation of the rights of citizens has left more questions than answers as to whether or not the government is serious about the security and rights of its citizens.
To this end, the fears of many as it affects their perception of the military have grown to translate into palpable anger and possibly hatred for the force that if not promptly and adequately controlled could culminate into a guerilla action against men of the military someday.
Having said that, suffice it to note here that everyone who faithfully and effectively executes his duties without any breach of the law certainly deserves to be commended. This therefore goes to say that while there is a need to set up a special monitoring mechanism for the regulation of the conduct and operation of military operatives at any given time, the need to identify and reward good works by men who distinguish themselves in their various areas of assignments cannot be overemphasized. This would go a long way in checking some of the unruly behaviours of some of the operatives who are most likely to be persuaded to do well and behave themselves anywhere they find themselves.
There should also be a provision for refresher courses and higher training programmes for men of the military in order to keep them abreast of global practices as far as military operations are concerned.