The black South Africans restarted their deadly xenophobic violence few days back against other black Africans living in their country and thereby completely distracted Nigerians from the all-important story of the height of professional misconduct involving a serving Army captain, who allegedly masterminded the killing of three police operatives to save a kidnapper in Taraba State.
However, sandwiched between the ugly scenarios of black on black violence in South Africa is this uncommon public statement by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai on, the show of shame by the said killer, Captain Balarabe Tijani, who purportedly ordered the killing of three detectives and a civilian in order to free his friend, a suspected kidnapper named Hamisu Wadume in Taraba State.
Nigerians can recall that when this sad incident occurred about two weeks ago, there was this widespread insinuations that the Army authority and the Defence headquarters have plotted to scuttle the charging of the members of the suspected military 'death squad' headed by the captain before a competent court of law to be punished for the grave offence of colluding with a kidnapper and for mass murder.
The perfect dramatic setting for these widespread insinuations was the decision by the Defence headquarters to constitute a panel to unravel an incident that even the police had publicly tabled before the world and had showed verifiable evidence that contrary to the claim by the Army spokesperson, the killing of the police operatives may have been properly coordinated.
That hasty and erroneous attempt by the Army spokesperson to put up a defence for this atrocious act of unwarranted assassination of police detectives by soldiers to frustrate the charging of a kidnapper, seriously dented the institutional image of the Nigerian Army.
It was therefore the expectation of some of us, who truly desire a military that is thoroughly professional and competent, that the Army as a body would repudiate this hasty fallacy committed by its spokesperson to undermine a credible investigation of the bloody killing of the three cops and a civilian and the ferrying into safety just before his re-arrest of the baron of much of the armed kidnappings in Taraba and Benue.
Our yearning for what I call the Professor Chinua Achebe’s moment within the Nigerian Army was not long in coming except that the media reportage of this internal cleansing of the image of the Army was submerged in the hidden news pages due to the ugly reports coming from the xenophobia of South Africans.
Be that as it may, it will be well placed to bring this courageous step of the Army hierarchy to the attention of the world so it would be known unambiguously that the Nigerian Army does not condone such criminality that has happened in Taraba which as I write is yet to come before the competent courts of law and so there could be a closure.
Buratai played the Chinua Achebe’s card by calling a spade by its name and stating the obvious that the Army needs to carry out systematic re-orientation of the operatives and officer corps of the Nigerian Army so as to achieve service discipline and rid the institution of professional misconduct.
I call the leadership courage exhibited by the current Chief of Army Staff the Chinua Achebe’s card because the illustrious professor had in a very clear format stated the trouble with Nigeria and recommended that for Nigeria to get it right, we need to look at the leadership crisis.
He said, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character.
“There is nothing wrong with Nigeria’s land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility of personal example which is the hallmark of true leadership.”
At the risk of sounding like someone paid by General Buratai to blow his trumpets (which is not the case), I will state without equivocation that he has in the last four years adopted constructive steps to instil discipline and to infuse a high dosage of professionalism and competences within the Nigerian Army as an institution.
One of those measures is so concrete that even the blind has seen the impacts that a smooth and efficient running of that platform can bring into being in the area of cementing civil and military relations.
The setting up of the department for civil and military relations and the human rights desks in the Nigerian Army have the potentials of turning our Army into a robust national institution whose leadership and membership are composed of persons who respect the rule of law and constitutionalism.
What the Army needs to do is to further empower the department of civil and military relations to begin to practically interface with the civil populace and the civil society community as often as possible. Right now, the meetings are few and far between.
The Army needs to upgrade the services rendered by the Human Rights Desks in the Army to adequately enlighten operatives on their duties and obligations in the area of promotion and protection of the human rights of citizens and those of the personnel of the Nigerian Army.
If truth be told, Lieutenant General Buratai has however, set the ball rolling. He needs to get the players to keep playing the game by the rules, so Nigerians can feel the impact.
Another concrete effort the Army made in the last four years is the publication of a green handbook on the Chief of Army Staff policy directive on Nigerian Army comprehensive programme with domestic and international laws guiding the conduct of operations.
The Army chief, by getting this book published and hopefully distributed, has adopted a key step towards restoring normalcy and professional conducts of internal security operations by the military.
Key amongst the components of this green book are the following guidelines: a. All personnel of the NA comply with domestic and international laws to which Nigeria is a state party. Unless otherwise directed by the Appropriate Superior Authority (ASA), NA personnel will comply with the principles and spirit of the International Human Rights Law (IHRL) during all Internal Security (IS) operations and other Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA) operations that the NA may be deployed to in accordance with Sections 217(2) a, b, c, d, and 218(3) of CFRN 1999 (as amended). b. An effective programme to prevent violations and ensure compliance with domestic and international law is implemented by the NA at all levels of command. c. All incidents of violations of domestic and international laws committed by or against NA personnel, enemy, or any other individual are reported promptly, investigated thoroughly, and, where appropriate, remedied by corrective action.
Others are: The on-scene commander shall ensure that measures are taken to preserve evidence of incidents pending transfer to ASA. e. At all appropriate levels of command and during all stages of operational planning and execution of operations, NA Legal Advisers provide advice concerning domestic and international law as it relates to operations. f. As much as possible, NA commanders are to use their appointment and provisions made by the military justice system and the AFA, to investigate and sanction violation of international laws which in certain cases are also offences against Nigerian military law.
Back to what I have elected to call the Chinua Achebe’s card played by the Chief of Army Staff, the media reported Buratai as clearly stating that the law will take its full course in the matter of the alleged killings of cops by soldiers under the command of the Army captain who is currently in detention.
Buratai on Tuesday made his first public comment on the killing of three policemen and a civilian by soldiers attached to Ibi Unit in Taraba State, saying there was a need for the reorientation of the “junior cadre” in the military.
The army chief, who spoke in Abuja at the Second and Third Quarter Conference with General Officers Commanding, top commanders and principal officers, said the army had concluded its investigation into the Taraba incident and decisive actions would be taken.
Buratai ordered the commanders at all levels to educate soldiers on the need to adhere to the rules of engagement at all times, so as to avoid a repeat of the Taraba incident.
He said, “We should all note that the army, as part of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, is mandated to support the civil authorities and the Nigeria Police Force in internal security operations.
“However, recent occurrences have shown that there is a need for more reorientation on civil-military relations and inter-service cooperation at the junior cadre levels.
“Unfortunately, incidents such as the recent one at Ibi in Taraba State, which generated intense comments, are not healthy for the smooth cooperation and operation of our security forces. I hereby charge commanders at all levels to continue to educate personnel on the need to adhere to the rules of engagement at all times.
“They should respect all extant laws and the fundamental human rights of citizens as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.
“In this regard, efforts will be stepped up to ensure better relations between the Nigerian Army and sister security agencies while improved civil-military relations would be enhanced.”
Buratai also condemned the recent case of the alleged rape of a lady by a soldier and the shooting of a motorcyclist by another soldier in Abia State.
He said, “These are examples of events that must be guarded against. The army will not condone any form of indiscipline or actions that will tarnish its good image.”
I recommend the sustenance of this Chinua Achebe's scenario in the military so Nigeria becomes better and safer.
Emmanuel Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.com, www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.thenigerianinsidermews.com.