Something is not right in our security arrangement and anyone that is sincere will admit it. It doesn’t require one being a security expert to gauge or have a sense of what is amiss. In the past few weeks, just as we are almost heaving a sigh of relief that the sadistic Boko Haram terror group has been degraded to the point of being wiped out, trouble reared its head in the Niger Delta with the emergence of the Avengers group and several other iterations. The bad news around all these is the seeming sabotage of the military’s capacity to respond to these breaches.
The sabotage is itself the product of the politicisation of the security circuit. Its travesty is that those politicking with security matters may be unawares of the risks they are exposing the rest of us, the country, to unwittingly or selfishly.
The Investigative Panel set up by the current government clearly indicted some officers for being politicised. Why the politicized officers are still in service when they were indicted for being corrupt and deeply involved in politics is something that has been blamed for the inability of the military to counter some of these emerging breaches. They remained in service despite hues and cries from various quarters in addition to the startling revelations by the military investigative panel of inquiry on involvement of service personnel in politics and electoral malpractices during the last general elections.
It must be noted that this same politicisation of officers of the services underpinned the trivialization of security issues, which was in turn was largely responsible for the ascendancy of Boko Haram under the previous administration. Issues that should be X-rayed dispassionately were instead subjected to political, religious, ethnic and sectional permutation such that it was either no decisions were taken or the worst possible factors dictate what decisions were arrived at.
Had only the political class been involved in this unpatriotic shindig it wouldn’t have mattered much since the professionalism of the military would have tempered their errors and we would have come out fairer than we did. But commanders and officers of the Air Force, Navy and Army were drawn into the morass. One needs not talk about what happened to the other branches of the security circle, which were all but reduced to civilian lackeys and their operatives were almost issued political parties membership cards.
It wasn’t the first time the military services were mired in politics. Years of military rule once made military officers into politically exposed persons contrary to the statutes and international conventions. Beyond the benefits of self-expression and self-determination accruing from being a democracy, non-politicisation of security and defence issues is the incentive for keeping the military out of politics. Logic would thus dictate that we also keep politics out of the military.
At the dawn of our present democratic journey in 1999, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo acted wisely based on this concept as he ensured the exit of all the politically exposed military officers. That our democracy has been sustained this far is in part attributable to this foresight. Had these officers who had become politically conditioned remained in the services it would have been like a domesticated predator cultivating a taste for flesh and blood – it would kill for food out of instinct at some point, same way these officers would have used their military advantage to bid for power.
Allowing the military in politics and introducing politics into the military under the previous government therefore pushed the country to the precipice without us realising how close we got to disaster. The Ekiti election audio saga, much as it shocked the population for its brazenness and depravity, was but just a tip of the iceberg; military officers allowed themselves to be used for intimidating political opponents, some became official spokespersons for candidate and their political parties. Worse beyond comprehension were those that sexed up security reports to justify political decisions as well as those who became conduits for theft of public resources including that meant for procuring equipment in furtherance of military operations.
Disciplined officers would have made adjustments once the administration that condoned such excesses was out of the way but having been contaminated with political involvement such addiction could be impossible to break. Some of such officer thus find accommodation in the political interests of appointees in the security sector, who want to continue the practice of politicising security matters for their own ethno-religious and economic interests.
This singular risk is why President Muhammadu Buhari must again repeat what was done in 1999. The Investigative Panel set up to probe military involvement in politics is already a step in the right direction. What is needed is the will to bite and bite strongly based on the recommendations the panel, which had indicted several officers for their ignoble roles in the last general elections.
The indicted officers who acted against our democratic process, growth and security must be shown that it is not acceptable and must not only be shown the way out but must also be punished as provided for in the laws. The military must remain apolitical and professional at all times and that is the crucial message here.
Kolawole PhD is a University lecturer and contributed this piece from Keffi, Nasarawa State.