Nigeria: Experts Worried About Interference of Armed Forces in Nigerian Civic Space

(file photo).

Experts say the proliferation of military operations across Nigeria has reduced the prestige of the armed forces

Nigeria must reduce the interference of the military in situations that should be handled by other security agencies, military officers and civil society actors have advised.

The military is currently carrying out operations in 34 states out of the 36 states.

This development formed a part of the discussion at the State and Civil Society Actors Conference on the Intersection of National Security and the Civic Space in Nigeria held in Abuja on Thursday.

The event, attended by top military officers and civil society organisations, was hosted by Whiteink Institute for Strategy Education and Research (WISER) in collaboration with the Nigerian Army Resource Centre (NARC).

PREMIUM TIMES monitored the event as it was live streamed on the virtual space.

While presenting his paper, Jibrin Ibrahim, a professor and senior fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), said Nigeria had to rebuild its armed forces.

"The armed forces must be rebuilt. As the State recovers, our traditional and religious institutions as well as civil society have a huge role in playing their part in the war against on-going insurgencies.

"Given the huge security challenges facing the country, it is important that Nigeria as a nation devises effective strategies that will stem the insurgency and create conditions for the protection of human rights and the deepening of democracy.

"The armed forces have a significant role to play in this regard. Nigerians are particularly concerned about the rules of engagement for military operations within the civilian population. There are military operations in virtually all states of the country. This means that the normal process of police being in charge of internal security issues no longer operates," Mr Ibrahim said.

But according to the scholar, the military is not traditionally trained to engage in this arena, arguing that "their rules of engagement might not be suitable for the new role thrust upon them.

"It is important in this context to publish, debate and revise the rules of engagement to ensure that they are in conformity with human rights principles. Finally, we cannot give up on the police. We must expand the police, train them and build their capacity for effective law enforcement," Mr Ibrahim said.

Another panelist, Godwin Omelo, a Nigerian Army major-general, decried the proliferation of military operations across the country, saying it has reduced the prestige of the force.

"Too much familiarity breeds contempt overtime. Very soon, the military will be doing the work of the police. If the military loses that aura, there will be a problem.

"I don't support military operations in 34 states out of the 36 states," he said.

He further advised that other law enforcement agencies be strengthened to discharge their responsibility.

Also speaking at the event, the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Ahmed Maiwada, blamed foreigners for Nigeria's failing security.

"One of the reasons why we have many people who are not citizens of this country participating in this conflict. There is no patriotism whatsoever."

He advised the country to revisit the ECOWAS treaties that encourage free movement at the borders with other African countries.

Other participants also canvassed a regulation of the civic space and religious leaders.

"I feel the civil societies must take modalities to regulate the civic space. When the civil society is not regulated, there is this threat to national security.

It is the responsibility of the civil societies to look inwards. Non- state actors are taking up the civic space," one of the participants suggested.

Commenting on the shrinking civic space, Saleh Bala, a brigadier-general and President of WISER, said the phenomenon, although intercontinental, is "spiraling into anarchy" in Nigeria.

"I cannot shake off the urge to add my little piece to the burgeoning debate over the 'shrinking of the civic space', which is not only a problem with democratizing nations, but very much both the advanced democracies, as well. Across Europe, professional footballers and football clubs commenced a social media boycott, because of the acrid and toxic throw ups which the platforms offer in the name of liberty and freedom of expression. Here at home, the situation is spiraling into anarchy," he said in his address.

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