National Guard : Not Again
GUARDIAN, September 5, 2005
A recent report in some newspapers indicated that Governor
Makarfi and some military and government functionaries, were of the view that
the establishment of a National Guard outfit would help to combat crisis in any
part of the country, thereby strengthening the nation's security. The occasion
at which the recommendation was made was at a national conference on "crisis and
conflict management in Nigeria" organised by the Nigerian Defence Academy.
Though the reasons given by the governor in support of the
proposal were not enumerated by the newspapers, but then there has always been a
school of thought which believes in precluding the military from internal
security operations. It is the belief of this school of thought that the
military should rather concentrate on training and conditioning, mentally and
physically for the battlefield.
There is also the public outcry that trailed the
military's handling of internal security operations in some communities notably
in Odi, Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Benue State. Though some countries such
as France, Spain, Italy and Japan have effective paramilitary elements strictly
for internal security functions, but there are also countries that rely on their
armed forces as the last line of defence in quelling violent demonstrations. For
instance, both the National Guard and the armed forces could be used to quell
incidents of civil unrest in the United States. The National Guard in the United
States is a part time voluntary military force with a primary mission of
training for the wartime defence of the USA.
Elements of the guards are also currently in Iraq with
other segments of the US armed forces. Maintenance of law and order in Britain
is strictly the responsibility of the British police, but the British
authorities were compelled to deploy the British Army in Northern Ireland since
1969 to combat the violent activities of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and
restore order. The army was only asked to pull out of Northern Ireland recently,
following what has been dubbed as the "Good Friday" agreement. India also relies
on her armed forces for the restoration of peace in troubled areas. One of the
most memorable internal security operations carried out by the Indian Army was
"Operation Blue Start" during which hundreds of heavily armed Sikh extremists
had to be dislodged from their golden temple in Amritsar on the north west of
the Indian frontier.
It is instructive to note, that at the time General
Babangida was establishing the National Guard during his tenure as the Head of
State, there was no credible effort made to equip the armed forces. There was
also a general clamp down on all forms of major exercises, all in a bid to
prevent the regime from being overthrown. The resultant effect was that the
armed forces withdrew into cocoons of impotence. And so at the inception of the
democratic government in 1999, the legacy inherited by the Obasanjo government
was a military hardware that was not only unserviceable but also obsolete.
According to the former Minister of Defence, General T.Y.
Danjuma, since the government could not afford the colossal amount required to
equip the three services the second best alternative left for the government was
the upgrading, retrofitting, repair and maintenance of equipment and weaponry in
the three services. For the same government to make a turn around and establish
a paramilitary outfit would not only be a disservice to the nation, it would
also create an unnecessary, unhealthy and avoidable rivalry between the armed
forces and the new outfit. Rather than expend scarce resources on establishing a
new outfit, such resources should be used to strengthen, revitalise and equip
the armed forces and the Nigerian police since they have vital roles to play in
internal security operations.
Governor Markafi's cost-cutting suggestion of manning the
new outfit with military and police retirees is not only ridiculous, but also
unworkable except we are thinking of a doddering outfit of Methuselahs. There is
no doubt, that even before now there has always been a raging controversy as to
whether the military should continue to be involved in quelling civil
disturbances. Those opposed to their involvement can always cite Odi and Zaku
Biam as examples of the military's high-handedness in the quelling of
disturbances. Another argument in opposing the use of the military in internal
security operation, arises from the military's primary responsibility; the
protection of the state through the employment of the military in time of war.
It is however necessary to emphasise that there are several reasons why the
military should continue to be a standby force, for quelling civil disturbance.
Firstly, under the 1999 Constitution section 217 (2) (c)
the armed forces have the statutory role of suppressing insurrection and acting
in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the
President. Secondly, the intensity and frequency of violent eruptions may reach
a stage where the Nigeria Police may not be able to cope, either in terms of
being overstreched or in the sophisticated weaponry being used by the rioters.
Moreover, the ease with which oil bunkerers, ethnic and militia warlords
masquerading as pressure groups have had access to sophisticated weapons should
be a cause for serious concern to all Nigerians.
Thirdly , the argument that soldiers are not trained for
internal security operations is an untenable one. Training for internal security
operation is an integral part of military training in all arms of the Nigerian
armed forces, and one of the guiding principles emphasised during training is
the strict application of minimum force during internal security operation.
Fourthly, units of the Nigerian Army are currently stationed in almost all the
states of the federation, this has the double advantage of not only acquainting
the units with the areas that they domiciled but they are also able to monitor
any likely crisis within such area from its embryonic stage.
In conclusion, it is pertinent to recall that the National
Guard was first established by the evil genius himself and later laid to rest by
the late despot. It should no longer be allowed to see the light of day, rather
it should be consigned to the garbage heap of history.