from Africa in Transition

Nigerian Army Guilt–Another Perspective

November 1, 2012

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In response to my post of Nigerian Army Guilt, an expert on the Nigerian military has written me a thoughtful note which he has allowed me to share. 

Despite what Nigerian law and regulation may say, the reality since the end of the civil war is that the main mission of the Nigerian Army is to maintain domestic order. General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Division Major-General Garba Wahab confirmed this when he recently stated that, "the army has the mandate to do whatever within the ambit of the law to provide security where necessary and ensure that the country remains united."

The current structure of the army’s divisional headquarters evolved out of the civil war. This is noteworthy because the main divisional HQs–Kaduna, Ibadan, Jos, Enugu, and Lagos–are dispersed among all major regions, and subordinate battalions associated with each division are spread out to cover territory in these broad regions.

Perceptions of external threat, typically a military’s concern, do not appear to have influenced this deployment pattern so much as the civil war experience, which fostered recognition of the need for military presence throughout the country; in case Biafra-style problems arose again.

If there is one constant thread in Nigerian history since 1970, it is that the military is the guarantor of national cohesion; its mission is to ensure the continued existence of the country. Outsiders focus on the police because they extrapolate from the experience of the countries they live in, where police are responsible for, and usually can ensure, domestic order. Nigeria is different in this respect. Police play only a limited role. Maintaining national security, meaning domestic order, remains the responsibility of the army. Consequently, for years observers worried about possible splits in the military. Not because it would leave Nigeria vulnerable to external attack, but because it would undermine domestic order.

From 2005, the beginning of escalating disorder in the Delta, and extending to Boko Haram’s destabilization of the North, those long-term anxieties about the cohesion of the military have sharpened; with good reason. Reported involvement of high-ranking military officers with Delta militants evidenced a deterioration of the army’s cohesion, while presently one has to wonder if some army personnel are sympathetic to Boko Haram.

This is the form that divisions within the military have taken in recent years. These types of splits were not envisioned years ago because observers were strongly influenced by events in the past and seem to have anticipated something similar to that in the future. It is important to recognize that this form of military splits appears to emulate the broader global trend in which conflict gravitates toward the domestic gap between rich and poor. That is alarming because it cuts across the old ethnic, religious, regional fault-lines we were all taught to look at, giving domestic battles more power and scope.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Corruption

Wars and Conflict

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