The Nigerian Army, a constitutional creation by and for the peoples of Nigeria recently issued a stern warning to some Nigerians that it desrcibed as ‘subversive elements and troublemakers’ in the wake of the ‘EndSARS’ protest that engulfed the nation over the last few days. At first, the warning seems right in line with the accustomed but aberrant involvement of Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies in partisan politics in Nigeria.
However, on close scrutiny of Nigeria’s extant Constitution, nowhere in the flawed but nonetheless operant document was the Nigerian Army saddled with the responsibility of internal security. Rather, the Nigerian Army is specifically tasked by the Nigerian Constitution to defend Nigeria’s sovereignty from any external land attack or aggression.
The Constitution also empowers the Army to provide aid to civil authorities whenever it is called to do so. Importantly, responsibility for Nigeria’s internal security rests squarely with the Nigeria Police under the Constitution and any other security agency in Nigeria acting that role does so in support of the Police.
Therefore, for the Nigerian Army to so brazenly issue a statement that it would defend Nigeria’s democracy at all cost in the face of legitimate protests by Nigerians against police brutality amounts to sheer Sabre rattling and an attempt to prevent the Nigerian people from exercising their constitutional rights.
If anything, such statements would have rightly come from the Nigeria Police Force and in the event that the so called subversive elements’ and ‘troublemakers’ carry their troubles too far beyond the capacity of the Police, then and only then can the Nigerian Army be involved. Even on such occasions, it has to wait to be called upon by appropriate civil authorities.
The Nigerian Army and indeed the nation’s Armed Forces ought to know by now that they have no business in civil matters, least partisan politics. All they can do under our Constitution is to ready themselves first for the defence of Nigeria’s sovereignty from external aggression by land, sea and air. Concomitantly, they can also be in shape to assist the Nigeria Police to uphold internal security of the nation only when necessary.
They cannot under any circumstance usurp the role of Government’s spokesperson or the position of the Police to make public statements on internal security matters. For avoidance of doubt, let the Nigerian Army know that the ‘EndSARS’ protests are by Nigerians and their Pro-SARS counterparts are equally by Nigerians; whether or not sponsored by the Government. All of them are exercising their constitutional rights and if any or both parties overstep the bounds of their individual and collective rights in a manner as could breach public peace and security, it still remains the duty of the Nigeria Police to prevent or suppress such.
It is out of place for the Nigerian Army to take upon itself the duty of defending democracy cos it’s not part of their constitutional assignments. If by aiding civil authorities the Army helps to protect Nigeria’s democracy, so be it but that does not give the Army the right to make threatening statements like the one it just issued.
Let Nigerians demand that their Armed Forces stay out of civil matters and politics permanently. And let them instead evolve non-intrusive ways of supporting legitimate activities of the Government without being seen or perceived to be harassing or haranguing those opposed to certain policies on behalf of the Government.
Our day as a nation has far broken and we must move forward as a nation through transparent, accountable and inclusive governance please.