Insecurity, Buratai and election losers

ON Wednesday May 15 while hosting members of the 10-man committee of the House of Representatives on Army who were in Maiduguri, Borno State, on a two-day oversight function, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, announced that the army had strong evidence that those defeated in the 2019 general election were sponsoring kidnapping and banditry. Buratai made the remark after laying a wreath in honour of fallen heroes. According to him, the sponsorship of kidnapping and banditry was a sort of “revenge” by election losers for their rejection by Nigerians. He said: “There are political class interests; politicians in particular who saw their defeat as a way of trying to revenge, sponsoring these criminal activities; even the banditry and farmers and herders’ clashes. There are strong political undertones and strong political influences, including kidnapping.” Buratai then called on members of the House of Representatives to prevail “on some of these politicians to really look at national interest first before any political or sectional interest.” He added: “We have some strong evidences, but we are still being cautious so that we don’t get it wrong. But the best is to advise these politicians.”

In response to Buratai’s admonition, the leader of the Coalition of Human Rights Groups in Nigeria, Maxwell Gordon,  appealed to defeated political players in the last election to use legal proceedings in expressing dissatisfaction with election outcomes without resorting to bloodletting. He emphasised that what General Buratai disclosed was not new. According to him, “Political support for Boko Haram is something that our coalition expressed concerns about shortly before the elections. The favour General Buratai has done for Nigerians is to confirm that the threat from politicians that lost election is real. The Chief of Army Staff, by virtue of his position, has access to the best intelligence about the dynamics of the politically motivated acts of terror being committed against Nigerians by those that want to take over the government at all costs.”

We are alarmed at these dispositions to politics on the issue of insecurity. It is indisputable that terrorism, kidnapping and banditry were already rampant and prevalent in certain parts of the country before the election. It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari was in Zamfara State two years ago to launch an operation against banditry. Similarly, in 2017, the president ordered a military crackdown on bandits operating in rural communities in the state following fresh attacks in some communities in Shinkafi and Maradun local government areas. To enable the army to carry out this directive, the president approved the request of the Minister of Defence, Brigadier-General Mansur Dan Ali (retd), for the stationing of a full battalion of Special Forces in Zamfara State and the operationalisation of the newly-established 8 Division of the Nigerian Army in Sokoto State in the new Order of Battle. He also approved the movement of the 1 Brigade of the Nigerian Army from Sokoto to Gusau, Zamfara State, upon the take-off of the 8 Division.

Buratai himself had in fact launched several operations in various parts of the country to address these security challenges. For instance, the army’s Operation Sharan Daji was conducted to tackle armed banditry and cattle rustling in the North-West, in 2016. Operation Python Dance I &II was carried out in the South-East to stem the activities of armed criminal gangs who operated as armed robbers, kidnappers and violent secession agitators last year. Operation Crocodile Smile III, an exercise of the army, particularly the 13 Brigade, was designed and carried out to tackle kidnapping, armed robbery, militancy and other crimes in Cross River State. Eight hundred security personnel drawn from the army, Nigeria Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) participated in the one-month exercise. Thus, the outcome of the 2019 elections cannot be put forward to account for banditry, kidnapping and terrorism in northern Nigeria.

Buratai’s solution to the problem is also very worrisome given the claim that he has “strong evidence”. He simply asked the chairman, House Committee on Army to “prevail on some of these politicians to look at national interest first before any other political or sectional interest.” This amounts to an outrageous trivialisation of his responsibilities in the name of being “cautious”. Kidnapping, banditry and related crimes are very serious infringements on law and order; they are often life and death matters for victims. They have adverse effects on peace and social stability. An environment in which such crimes are prevalent is not good for the economy.  Those found to have catalysed, participated in, aided or abetted such acts must be prosecuted. General Buratai knows the process to follow in getting suspects to trial. He must do that appropriately.

Furthermore, these pronouncements of the Chief of Army Staff have made more people to allege that the military has become politicised. There were several allegations of misconduct against the military officers that participated in the administration of the 2019 elections. Allegations of partiality and abuse of human rights during the elections were so widespread that the Nigerian Army had to set up a committee to investigate the allegations of misconduct levelled against its officers. The report of the committee is yet to be made public. The military must be apolitical, respect human rights, and abide by the rule of law in all its official engagements. Buratai must be wary of the gradual transformation of this national institution into a partisan political organisation.  The army must remain a professional army. It must be insulated from politics. The leadership must work hard to make it so.