Opinion: Retired Military Officers – Nigeria Needs Damage Control by Israel Abiodun

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Opinion: Retired Military Officers - Nigeria Needs Damage Control by Israel Abiodun

The Nigerian Military finally worked up the courage to purge itself of political officers with the announcement that swept out several of such questionable officers. Details are still emerging but the sack which has the approval of the Army Council was attributed to “service exigencies”.

Even though a statement issued by the acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman did not specify the crimes of the sacked military officers, the affected persons have done a lot of massive self- reporting to confess their crimes. Details of their crimes were outed in online media platforms that are sympathetic to their cause or serving the same principal as the affected persons.

One of such sites went to town with the screamer, “FG Sacks 200 ‘Pro-Jonathan’ Military Officers”. The site thankfully went on to confirm that “loyalty to former President Goodluck Jonathan during the 2015 general elections” was the alleged grounds on which they were sacked. Nigerians must be reminded that the military is sworn to protect the country and the office of the president symbolises the country but nothing in that oath of allegiance mandates any officer to pursue the political ambition of the individual occupying the office. That would be playing party politics and it is clearly forbidden even if done in furtherance of the current office holder’s interest.

The responsible media organisation provided better insight that linked the sacked officers with defence contracts. The Presidential Committee investigating defence contracts had of course made indictments with of these sacked persons already being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) just as another panel that investigated military partisanship during the 2015 general elections made its own indictments.

The veiled threat to the nation contained in how the retirement of these officers was reported by their media allies therefore showed that not only were they culpable of what they were indicted for they have also shown no remorse about it and have continued along the same track by presenting the consequences of their ill thought actions as political witch-hunt.

For instance, the headline cited earlier followed with a narration that “The list showed that they were mainly from the South East, South South and a small percentage of them were from the North Central region of the country.” The impression created by this is that the South West, North East and North West zones were not affected because officers from these areas were-not pro-Jonathan. This line of thinking failed in its deficit of reasoning to realise that it is indicting the South East, South South and a small part of the North Central as the parts of the country that produce unethical and unprofessional officers who are also kleptomaniacs that cannot keep their hands out of the public till. All the decent Nigerians from these areas, including former military officers who served meritoriously, should rise up and condemn this callous criminalisation of their ancestry.

But to a more serious dimension. The Army waited too long before acting as the issue was one that threatened and has continued to threaten our democracy. If the delay in showing these errant officers the way out was to allow for thorough investigations, then that is fine. But what must be avoided going forward is tarrying on crucial decisions because of political consideration as this amounted to playing the game on the terms of the rogue officers. In the time between when they were investigated and when action was finally taken, they have been able to poison more minds within and outside the institution, which is why their media were able to claim that the development was causing ripples in the military.

I dare describe them in harsh words because of the jeopardy they put the country into. The military is an institution and the Presidency is an office with clear cut constitutional provisions guiding the roles of each. The personnel of the institution and the holder of the office swore to suppress personal interests in the discharge of their duties in the various capacities. For some personnel to have acted contrary, driven by ethnic and pecuniary interests, equals to treason. Had they succeeded in their political foray, wouldn’t we today be under a military government by proxy contrary to our collective avowal for a representative democracy? The concept of separation of powers must be clearly adhered to for the insulation of our military against partisanship.

In recent history, countries whose military officers became openly political like the sacked ones here have been plunged into intractable crises. This fact is what these card carrying members of political parties should bear in mind whenever they are tempted to delude themselves into thinking they have been unfairly treated. What would have happened if officers from the other regions had also been unprofessional and backed an alternate political party? It would have been the perfect trigger for a civil war. Purging them out of the institution would no doubts bring about a strong and apolitical military. This is a great achievement and if it is the only thing President Muhammadu Buhari can do for Nigeria then we should be very happy that our journey to nationhood has started.

The cheap attempt at blackmail does not detract from the reality that crimes were committed – violation of oath of allegiance, breach of laws relating to elections, theft and other crimes. The relevant agencies must therefore commence their trial while the military makes public a declassified version of the report that indicted them for Nigerians to appreciate the need to get rid of these compromised officers. In fact, anyone of them that feels he was unfairly fired should take advantage of a trial to reverse the situation.

The military and the Federal Government must however be proactive in dealing with a bigger problem. The sacked officers must be placed under constant security watch because of other prevailing variables. As at the time these officers were committing these heinous acts, miscreants in the South South and South East were making threats of a break up against the country if the permutation goes against their shared interest. Today, the threats have given birth to terrorist separatist groups that are killing security agents and destroying economic assets. Even from within the Niger Delta, some ex-militants have identified some sacked politicians from the previous dispensation as sponsors of the attacks.

This is why we must be vigilant because the sacked officers were neck deep in politics and the billions stolen from defence contracts means they are also stupendously rich. A combination of their military experience, diverted weapons and stolen money flowing into an already problematic South South and South East regions would produce another monster, something like “Military Avengers ” that will either intensify the blowing up of oil and gas pipelines or even print the currency for one of their separatist groups to secede. The objective would be nothing less than the ridiculous demand from some regional leaders that charges be dropped against people standing trial for attacks in their areas to stop. The sacked persons, some of them also standing trial, would be additional incentives for more attacks.

As a country, we must now immediately begin damage control while hoping that it is not too late. While we were all focused on nation building these elements were busy perfecting their plans for the breakup of the country – the separatist groups have activated and their well-trained military counterparts may be on the way to joining them in insurrection with all their wealth of experience and material if nothing is done to neutralize their capacity to sink the country as they had promised.

Abiodun contributed this piece from Ibadan.

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