National Guard: Not Again


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National Guard : Not Again



Oluwole Bright




culled from 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.


bulletBright is a retired Lieutenant-Colonel of the Nigerian Army.



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