The recruitment of Civilian JTF into the Nigerian Army

Last week, Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, announced that the Federal Government had recruited 250 members of the Civilian JTF into the Nigerian Army. This is the civilian group of volunteers working with the military in ensuring the safety of residents living under the vice grip of Boko Haram terrorists. According to Governor Shettima, he had begun the process of liaising with the Federal Ministry of Interior to ensure that none of the volunteers would be left out of the recruitment. The recruitment, Shettiam said, was based on the sacrifice the volunteers had made in “defending the state and the nation.” Leader of the new soldiers, Solomon Benjamin, pledged that the new recruits would be good ambassadors of Borno State and promised to urge the Chief of Army Staff to similarly absorb his other former colleagues into the Nigerian Army.

Governor Shettima and the Nigerian Army authorities who conceived the need to reward the hard-fighting volunteers for their complementary role to the Nigerian military in the onerous fight against Boko Haram insurgents need to be complimented for their thinking. The concept of reward for national sacrifice has been highly mutilated in Nigeria, and consequently, the thirst to serve the nation in its hour of need has been completely quenched in the average Nigerian. Therefore, giving recognition to deserving patriots is certain to put the nation on the path of rectitude. However, Governor Shettima and the Army authorities deserve national reprimand for overstretching the bounds of national reward and, in the process, committing a gross infraction against the constitution while equating recruitment into the nation’s army with reward for group favour.

The gross violation of Section 217(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which implicitly states thus: “The composition of the officer corps and other ranks of the armed forces of the Federation shall reflect the federal character of Nigeria,” is obvious. Section 219(b) of the Constitution, giving fillip to the earlier section, gives the National Assembly the power of determination of this recruitment. According to it, the parliament shall “establish a body which shall comprise such members as the National Assembly may determine, and which shall have power to ensure that the composition of the armed forces of the Federation shall reflect the federal character of Nigeria in the manner prescribed in section 217 of this Constitution.”

It is obvious that the goal of the constitution drafters was to have a national army that is representative of all the ethnic groups in the country, so that it could be apposite to call it the Nigerian Army. In training recruits, care is taken to ensure that they bond together, developing personal friendships and thus melting whatever accumulated ethnic wariness they brought to the training ground. When recruitment into the national army deviates from this national credo and becomes an off-handed reward for the personal sacrifice of an ethnic group, it loses the savour of its name and could as well answer to the ethnicity of its recruiters. Indeed, such a recruitment poses the danger of producing a factitious national military.

Certainly, unilaterally recruiting soldiers without abidance by this requirement is not only a flagrant disobedience of the constitution but a recipe for chaos. The most fundamental of the chaotic implications of this one-legged recruitment is that the recruiters, in cahoots with Shettima, are establishing a dangerous precedent which poses precipitous implications for Nigeria’s fragile nationhood. If recruitment into the Army is based on assistance from individuals and groups, assistance tomorrow from any other ethnic nationalities to the Army, even if in a different way, would make the army to be morally bound to follow its precedent and absorb such people into the Army as it has done for the JTF volunteers. How more reckless can a military get?

More instructive is that the Army that is thus composed of a section of the country would no longer bear the name of the Nigerian Army in truth and verity. When you recruit national soldiers that way, you are already telling the other ethnic groups that the national umbrella cannot accommodate them. Is Shettima, in concert with the army recruiters, trying to say that private militia service is a necessary requirement for recruitment into the military? What does this say at moments when soldiers are deployed to crisis areas outside the confines of their ethnic nationality? Would they not come across as foreigners, reflecting anything but the nation’s diversity? How grievous is this recruitment’s blow to the concept of Federal Character which ought to reflect on such an exercise as this? Can personnel from other nationalities have a sense of belonging in the Nigerian Army after this unilaterally skewed recruitment?

The nation is currently erupting with allegations of northernization of the core echelon of the military. This current move further adds to the existing ill broth. The regional recruitment will wedge in the hammer of division into a national institution that is supposed to hold aloft the torch of unity at a time when nationalism is suffering very serious ethnic blows in Nigeria. We recommend that in the interest of the unity of the Nigerian nation and the need to water the withering flowers of unity, both Shettima and his co-travellers in the boat of this misplaced reward should demobilize the 250 JTF volunteers. It is a potentially divisive and poorly thought out exercise with grievous implications.