By Jibrin Ibrahim
Cordial civil military relations is the base on which the modern state is constructed. Military might in the modern state is conceived as a tool for protecting members of the society from external aggression. In this context, the military are seen and appreciated as protectors of citizens and the community. This relatively new conception is a radical departure from the previous approach where power and the use of military might was conceived as being an instrument for the gratification of the ruler. Indeed, for most of human history, rulers and the law were synonymous. The law of the land was what the rulers wanted and the exercise of power was rooted in arbitrariness. No wander, the French King, Louis 14th could pronounce the state in whose name laws are made was synonymous with him “l’Etat c’est moi” – he was the state.
The modern state is able to promote cordial civil military relations on the basis of the exercise of the rule of law. It was J-J Rousseau who first made the point that the new human being is a citizen and citizens don’t like obeying human beings, they prefer obeying laws. The rule of law therefore developed in the context of the transition from authoritarianism to democratic culture. The new tradition is rooted in the new departure signalled by the French revolution of “liberty, equality and fraternity” so eloquently expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man (we would add Woman) and the Citizen of 1789. It led to the abolition of privileges, the assertion of the legitimacy of representative institutions and the rule of law. Rule of law is simple; it affirms the equality of all before the law.
One of the major principles of political science is that although force is a central element in political systems, it cannot on its own sustain a polity. Rousseau reminds us that even the strongest is never strong enough to remain the master unless he is capable of transforming force into law and obedience into duty. It is important to recall that in Nigerian history, the colonial security apparatus was established to control and extort the people and not to protect them. Not surprisingly, the security culture that developed within the traditional actors was one of repression with an emphasis on coercion and general lack of civility towards the civilian population. The result has been corruption within the services and an attitude of serving the power elite rather than the people. Following independence, the first democratic regime lasted only six years before the military took over.
This meant that democratic culture did not have enough time to impregnate the security forces. The Second Republic too was short lived and the Third Republic was still born. The Fourth Republic, which has lasted over eighteen years so far, has been our opportunity. We must not allow it to become a lost opportunity. The Fourth Republic started badly, the first President, Olusegun Obasanjo, was from the military tradition and tried to force through a third term in office thereby sustaining military authoritarianism. Since then, we have had a succession of Presidents, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and now Muhammadu Buhari who defeated a sitting president thereby creating a theoretical opportunity to deepen our democracy. The problem however has been the deterioration of the security situation in the country, which has presented new challenges due to the growing insecurity.
The Nigerian citizen has long endured a culture of intimidation by the country’s security forces. Law enforcement agents have since colonial times developed a culture of reckless disregard for the rights of the people. The legal framework has not helped matters given our colonial heritage of laws against vagrancy, illegal assembly, wandering, and illegal procession. The state is constructed as an edifice against citizens who are assumed to have a natural tendency to break laws and must therefore be controlled, patrolled and constantly surveyed. Not surprisingly, citizens learn to fear and avoid law enforcement agents. The ordinary Nigerian sees security agents as potential violators of their security rather than providers of their security. The reality of state security for ordinary people then becomes the perception of insecurity.
Nonetheless, it is universally acknowledged that security is a good thing; it is a value that all societies seek to provide. It is the function that guarantees that people and states are free from violence at the local, national and international levels. Security is conceived in modern states to provide the framework that guarantees that the ordinary people are free from external aggression by enemies of the community and internal subversion that can ruin their lives. This means that the purpose of state security is not to protect the people who occupy positions of state power but to protect the ordinary people. Developing the culture of the rule of law and accountability is the path towards guaranteeing genuine security to the mass of the people. The rule of law is an affirmation of the principle that the governance of human society should be based on law rather than the whims and caprices of human beings.
The protection of civil and political rights is an integral part of the rule of law. The Nigerian Constitution in its Chapter 4 on fundamental human rights integrates these rights into our principles of the rule of law. In understanding the rule of law, citizenship is an important notion because it defines the constitutive elements of the democratic state and spells out the relationship between state power and individuals. It spells out procedures and sets of practices defining the relationship between the nation state and its individual members. Citizenship implies that power must not be used in an arbitrary manner and those who control force and arms in society cannot use it to their own advantage. State security must be reconceptualised to enhance the consolidation of democracy.
It is important to continue to remind Nigerians that the key features of a democratic state are that sovereignty lies with the people and there is civilian oversight of the armed forces. Popular control of decision-making process by the people is accepted as a common value and regular, free and fair elections are organised. In addition, the political opposition is allowed to operate without hindrance or molestation. The democratic state is therefore one in which all persons are subjected to the law and persons in authority are accountable to the people who express the sovereignty of the political community. One of the central challenges we face, as a nation is to move away from the culture of militarism, which we have inherited, to these new sets of values.
Over the past two decades, the level of political tension has been rising dramatically. There has been militancy in the Niger Delta and armed gangs of ethnic and youth militias have emerged throughout the zone. For years, the Boko Haram insurgency has waged a very sophisticated insurgency initially targeting security personnel (police, soldiers, and prison warders), and subsequently expanded its targets to almost everybody. The insurgency in the North East has had a devastating impact on life in the zone. Public safety has been challenged fundamentally and peaceful inter-community relations have broken down. The activities of Boko Haram and the security forces have resulted in massive killing of citizens, many of them innocent. The killing spree in the country has spread with the growth of rural banditry, cattle rustling and violent conflicts between herdsmen and farmers. Every street and every home is today living in fear of armed robbery and kidnapping. The latest kid on the block has been the rise of Biafran agitation under the leadership of IPOD.
Security forces are getting overstretched, tired and angry and their gut reaction is to ban the troublemakers. Over the past years, we have witness the growth and activities of a Shiite religious movement known as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). The movement has had persistent conflicts with the majority Sunni religious groups on the one hand and security agencies, in particular, the army on the other leading to a major clash in December 2015. The response of the security establishment has been to ban the movement and push them outside the law. This week, the same fate fell on IPOB. Nigeria cannot ban its way out of growing insecurity. We must return to first principles. Our Constitution defines the purpose of the state as the protection of the security of Nigerians and the pursuit of their welfare. If Nigerians begin to feel that their security and welfare matters, their inclination to arm themselves and engage in self-help might reduce. Improving civil military relations is the first step.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim is Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria. Follow him on twitter @jibrinibrahim17
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