Home ViewpointOpinion Emmanuel Onwubiko: Army: Maintaining professionalism is a must

Emmanuel Onwubiko: Army: Maintaining professionalism is a must

Emmanuel Onwubiko: Social media: Only the guilty are afraid

Nigeria’s democracy is passing through a very trying time. The Times are indeed tough and practically in all spheres of human endeavours, Nigeria that prides itself as the giant of Africa has been stretched beyond human imagination. Apart from not having a robust political engagements through which the economy of the millions of Nigerians can be improved significantly, Nigeria’s human rights sector is facing tumultuous challenges just at the relationship between the military and the civilians has never been this sour to an extent that a lot of the media products that millions of Nigerians receive on daily basis are substantially and increasingly looking like there is a war between the military and the rest of the citizens.

As the lead facilitator at the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), i took a lot of time and energy to understudy the media contents around the issues of the waning relationship between the military and the civilians. From most of the reports, it would seem that there is the urgency of the now for both the heads of the military and stakeholders in the organised civil society community in Nigeria to begin and deepen the process of conversations about how best to ensure that the Nigerian Army and the entire military completely and totally become professional because by so doing, the complaints of the multiple issues of human rights violations committed by some soldiers against the citizens will be minimized. This is because organizationally, the military is subordinate to elected civil authorities and these persons exercising authority as civil authorities can not possibly do so without the mandate of the people of Nigeria and it is this popular mandate of the civilians and indeed all of NIGERIANS that confers the legitimacy for them to exercise these essential authorities to shape the wellness and wellbeing of the nation State.

I think it was the realization of the indubitable fact that the military is subordinate to the civilian authority that motivated the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai to consolidate and strengthen the conversations between the military and the civil society which culminated in the establishment of the department for Civil and Military Relations which is normally headed by a Senior General to underscore the excellent and phenomenal respect that the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army holds for the constitutional rights of the citizens especially given the overwhelming knowledge within the circles of the hierarchies of the military that constitutional democracy has come to stay. Constitutional democracy is unrealistic without respect for the fundamental human rights of the citizens. This salient message was also reiterated by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur when he decorated some three dozen newly promoted military Generals. The Army Chief by emphasising the primacy of constitutional democracy has also by extension adumbrated on the essence and necessity of mainstreaming respect for the fundamental human rights of Citizens in all internal security operations and this point needs to be constantly repeated to the hearing of the other ranks who are the people that do come in close contacts with the masses and they are the persons fingered for violating the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms of the citizens.

The Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur emphasised the strategic place of constitutional democracy thus: “Democracy has come to stay. We will not tolerate any agent of destabilisation. The years of military misadventure in politics have never carried us anywhere. It is over,”.

“Do not hobnob with politicians. At this rank of two star generals, do not lobby for appointment. If you want to lobby for appointment, lobby the Chief of Army Staff and you can only do this through hard work, discipline and loyalty. The crop of officers (39 Major Generals) decorated yesterday will never be dragged into any interest that is contrary to the sustenance of democracy in our nation.”

“All our eyes are on you. We know there are several moves to get your attention. You must make sure that whatever you are doing, and when some persons approach you, you must act within the confines of the constitution.”

The reference being made to the Constitution by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur shows the relevance of respect for the fundamental human rights of Citizens because Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria remains the fulcrum and the barometer for measuring the democratic viability or otherwise of a Sovereign State. Constitutional democracy without the dominant thematic areas of adherence to the sanctity of human rights is autocratic regime and not a democracy. The North Atlantic Treaty organization is one of the greatest coalition of military powers from democratic nations.

Major General H. Kujat wrote a seminal work that was published by NATO on its Website on “The Role of the Military in a Democracy”. His piece was powerfully articulate and conveys all of the things that we need to stress in our conversations about the place of the Nigerian Army and constitutional democracy vis- a -vis the watchdog roles of the media which should vigorously monitor the democratic institutions to ensure that the respect for the fundamental human rights of Citizens is not jeopardised or compromised or diluted.

He wrote as follows: “First, I would like to say that I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you today. Your country is still in a difficult state of transition, which poses new and different challenges every day. It is, therefore, important that people like yourselves have a positive attitude and the dedication to shape events in the years ahead. This is an indispensable prerequisite to help your country normalize its relations with the rest of Europe and beyond and to become a functioning member of the family of nations that make up the Euro-Atlantic community.
With my presentation on “The Role of the Military in a Democracy” I want to offer you some ideas and food for thought which might be of use to you.”

The top General states thus: “Let me start by mentioning that the Role of the Military in a Democracy is an ever-relevant concern which was already raised by Plato 2500 years.

The principle of political control of armed forces as we know it today is rooted in the concept of a representative democracy. It refers to the supremacy of civilian institutions, based on popular sovereignty, over the de-fense and security policy-making apparatus, including the military leadership.”

Democratic control, he said, should always be a two-way process between armed forces and society. In a democracy, firm constitutional guarantees should protect the state – including the armed forces – from two types of potential dangers: from politicians, who have military ambitions, and from military with political ambitions.

He wrote also that: “There is no common model of how to establish armed forces in a democratic society and how to exercise control over the military, says General Kujat.

There is, however, a number of shared principles. They include indispensable prerequisites to organize and to guarantee a proper civilian direction and control of armed forces. These are essentially
the existence of a clear legal and constitutional framework, defining the basic relationship between the state and the armed forces. A significant role of parliament in legislating on defense and security matters, in influencing the formulation of national strategy, in contributing transparency to decisions concerning defense and security policy, in giving budget approval and in controlling spending – using “the power of the purse” in issues related to “the power of the sword”

The General submitted that those models also include the hierarchical responsibility of the military to the government through a civilian organ of public administration – a ministry or department of defense – that is charged, as a general rule, with the direction and supervision of its activity. Other aspects of the place of the military in promoting constitutional democracy are:

*the presence of a well trained and experienced military corps that is respected and funded by a civilian authority. It acknowledges the principle of civilian control, including the principle of political neutrality and non-partisanship of the armed forces.

*the existence of a developed civil society, with a clear understanding of democratic institutions and values, and, as a part of the political culture, a nationwide consensus on the role and mission of their military.
the presence of a reasonable non-governmental component within the defense community capable of participating in public debate on defense and security policy, presenting alternative views and programs.

He then summed them up thus: “I assume that this is a solid and comprehensive yardstick for the measurement of armed forces in a democracy and their political control, which allows us to turn from theoretical considerations to reality taking my own country as a first example.
The relevant articles of the constitution foresee in summary the following missions and roles for the Armed Forces:

They defend their own country and participate in the collective defense of the Alliance

They provide humanitarian aid

They perform search and rescue missions

They provide assistance in disasters

They provide assistance in accidents

They participate in maintaining public order, with and without arms, by providing administrative assistance performing protective functions assisting the police in emergencies.

To avoid any misunderstanding – in the latter case, armed forces are the ultima ratio when police and border guard forces are not able to handle the situation in a common effort.”

The Constitution, he says, explicitly prohibits any action, which could disturb the peaceful togetherness of nations or which supports the preparation of any aggression. Worth mentioning is also that the rules of the International Law predominate over the Basic Law. This results in specific responsibilities and obligations for the government, the citizens and especially the soldiers. These models he listed out for member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty organization fully applies to the Nigerian Army.

Last weekend, the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) organised a townhall meeting for the South East of Nigeria in Enugu whereby the civil society community in Nigeria and the media met and brainstormed on what needed to be done with the Military. The theme of the meeting addressed by two top Mass communications and political Science scholars of the Enugu State University of Technology and the Institute of Management and technology Doctors Chidiebere Ezinwa and Nwanze Emeka, was also attended by Youths and Students from South East of Nigeria. Chidiebere Ezinwa, LLB, BL. PhD, listed out the following roles for the media so as to ensure that the Nigerian Army remains thoroughly and comprehensively professional.

On the SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY THEORY, he wrote thus: “This is a product of United States of America’s response to the abuse of free press by sensationalism and commercialism which threatened the stability of the country with the setting up of the Hutchins commission in 1947. The emphasis in this theory is that press freedom should be exercised with a sense of obligation to the society. It holds that the press has the right to criticize the government and institutions but also has certain basic responsibilities to maintain the stability of society. The press should not be used to destabilize the society but rather serve as an instrument for the recognition and promotion of public interest. The Commission after observing the frequent failings of the press recommended the following journalistic standard that the press should seek to maintain:

• ‘a responsible press should ‘provide a full, truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s event in a context which gives them meaning’

• it should serve as a forum for the exchange of comments and criticism’ and be a common carrier of public expression’

• The press should give a ‘representative picture of constituent groups in society’ and also present and clarify the goals and values of society’

The commission frowned at the limited access granted to voices outside the circle of a privileged and powerful minority; sensationalism of the press and the mixing of news with editorial opinion.

Following from the postulations of this theory, the logical question to enhance our understanding of the issues at stake in the present work is to ask whether the Nigerian press seek and maintain the above standard. A negative answer simply implies that the press is not effectively engaged for achieving national interest, goals, values and aspirations. This will form the basis for our discussion on how to engage the press to achieve a responsible, accountable and professional armed forces in Nigeria. It is only a responsible press that can boast of this feat; a press that shares in the national interest and consciously sets out to pursue it in all it does. A press that fails to cover a vital institution like the army properly and adequately the with aim of making it responsible, accountable and professional especially at this time our national life cannot claim to have contributed meaningfully to nation’s interest and goals.

A responsible, accountable and professional army would no doubt contribute to a stable society.”

On FRAMING THEORY, he wrote as follows:

“Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communication text through repetition or by associating them with culturally familiar symbols (Entman, 1993, p.52). According to Hague and Harrop (2007, p.130) “The journalists words, as much as the camera operator’s images help to frame the story, providing a narrative which encourages a particular reaction from the viewer”. Repetition and association technique of persuasion could be used to achieve this.

The media can also frame itself through the reports it carry about itself. According to Uwakwe (2010, p.187) “media framing means that media coverage shapes how people see issues”. In other words, media can shape people’s perception of reality. Pavlik and Mcintosh (2011,p.292) opined that “traditional news media often decide how they will frame a story before the reporting is completed and sometimes before it has even begun”. This means that a journalist may beforehand decide how he/she wants an issue, a person or an event to be perceived by reporting them in a particular way or by using certain words, images or symbols in the report. Balnaves, Donald and Shoesmith (2009, p.68) explained that “framing makes certain information in a news story salient and depresses the importance of other information”. It is unarguable that the journalist can manipulate the audience perception of an event, issue, idea or person through framing.

It is also noteworthy that the way the media frame event, issue or ideas in their reports inversely influence the audience perception of media coverage. The media may be perceived to be fair, biased or otherwise as a result of their framing of an issue or event. In other words, the media could be judged based on the way they frame an issue, event or idea.

Pavlik and Mcintosh (2011,p.292) describe framing as one of the biggest problems of journalism today as the facts of a story are frequently forced to fit into the frame, or angle regardless of reality. Similarly, Lippmann cited in Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch (2009, p.179) observed that “of public affairs, each of us sees very little, and therefore, they remain dull and unappetizing, until somebody, with the makings of an artist, has translated them into a moving picture”. This is why experts believe that media people are in the business of selling meanings. Thus, Entman, Jorg and Pellicano (2009, p.176) rightly observed that “some communicators engage in framing strategically, seeking to exert power over outcomes by inducing target audiences to accept interpretations that favour their interests or goals”. These communicators, according to them, are politicians, bloggers, political satirists, editorial writers and pundits. They are however of the view that reporters and news editors in main stream national news media normally engage in framing without intending to push any particular policy or political goal (with the exception of certain party affiliated newspapers and government-owned broadcast newscasts in Europe). Pavlik and Mcintosh also believe that journalists are often not even aware that they are framing stories but only reflecting reality.

The idea here is that the frequency and pattern of media reports on a given issue make the public consider the issues important. This is currently known as the “first level” of agenda setting’. It focuses on the amount of media coverage an issue or topic receives. The concern is the influence of the media on which objects are at the centre of attention. The “second level” of agenda setting considers how the media discuss those issues or objects of attention. The interest here on how people understand the things that have captured their attention. The quantity and quality of information made available to the citizens about the Nigerian Army will influence their attitude and behaviour towards the army. This theory further demonstrates the power of the media and its capacity to be employed in achieving a particular goal. What picture do you have in your head about the Nigerian army based on media report? What is your attitude towards the Army based on these reports? This shows that the media like a double edged sword could be engaged to achieve a desired goal, whether positive or negative.


Freedom of expression and the press is not absolute in any society including the advanced democracies in the world. The crucial nature of this right notwithstanding, it is limited by public interest. Thus, the right to freedom of expression and the press granted by Section 39(1) and (2) is limited by Section 39(3) which states as follow:
Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –

a. For the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony , wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or

b. Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigerian Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.

Other limitations to this right could be found in other enactments such as-

Section 51(1) of the Criminal Code Act which prescribes punishment for seditious publication;

Section 396 and 398 of the Penal code law which provides for the offence Criminal Intimidation and insult;

Section 373 of the Criminal Code which defines Defamation; Section 1(1) of the Official Secrets Act which defines classified matter;

Section 1(1) of the Cinematograph Act which prescribes film censorship;

Section 156 of the Penal Code Act and Section 117 of the Criminal Code Act which define Perjury”.

On his THOUGHTS ON JOURNALISM PRACTICE IN A NIGERIA he said: “Obasanjo in his book MY WATCH observed that some sections of the media still cannot be credited with integrity and objectivity in their comments and reactions to issues, or in their criticism. As a result they do incalculable damage to the media in general and to themselves in particular. This he attributed to the adversarial press mentality of the colonial times which has persisted in Nigerian journalism practice.

In the same vein, Liad Tella, a regular contributor to the National Concord, in an article titled, “Taking a cue from the Western Press,” he said, “The critics (in the western press) are usually from informed positions loaded with facts and they are usually made in a manner that will lead to higher attainment of national goals rather than the destruction of the establishment.” However, Tella observed that it was the contrary in Nigeria, saying, “Unless you are violent in your criticism of government action, no matter how genuine the underpinning reasons necessitating the action, you are not a good journalist or a reporter. When you criticize with enlightened disposition you are labelled establishment reporter forgetting that the essence of criticism is correctness not destructiveness. What do we and the nation gain by such approaches?” he asked.

Obasanjo contended that, some media reports must be checked and crosschecked; some must be taken with a pinch of salt and yet some with a bag of salt. One must seek to know the ideology, interest, orientation, prejudice and bias of the writer, editor, proprietor, or organisation. He further opines that anybody can write any piece and get it published in almost any Nigerian media outlet if he can pay the price. He emphasised that,” with most media organisation, if the price is not right or you are not favoured, your statements or actions may not be printed or they may be misinterpreted, distorted, or misrepresented”.

The Owelle of Onitsha, the doyen of the Nigerian press, in a speech, “Pioneer Heroes of the press,” advised that, “The modern press in Nigeria should place more emphasis on its use for the public benefit. He explained that, by twisting facts, by telling half-truths or untruths, the Nigerian press can mislead a great number of innocent people and thus distort our national image. By presenting facts to suit their purposes, journalists desecrate the tradition of a historic profession.”

Given the enormous power wielded by the press, it could be safely stated that a responsible press has the capacity to reform the Nigerian Army. A press that places the national interest, goals and aspirations over and above any other consideration can work harmoniously with the army to attain them.”

He attempted a response on the central question of the day which is: WHAT TO DO WITH THE NIGERIA ARMY?

Then he says: “As a part of the executive arm of government, the army is also under the watch of the Media as the Fourth Arm of government or the Fourth Estate of the Realm. This watchdog function is clearly assigned to the media under Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as follows:
The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.

By this section, the press is expected to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government and by extension the Army, to the people. Section 14(2) (b) specifically states that, the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. The press has a crucial role to play in that regard. The watchdog function of the media is paramount here because the provision of this chapter is non – justiciable according to Section 6 (6) (c) of the constitution, under which these objectives are declared to be outside the jurisdiction of the law courts. These objectives are said to be fundamental because their progressive realization defines the essence of government and where they are abandoned, there might as well be no government at all. The question is: has the government done all it should do to ensure that the Army is well disposed to secure the citizens? For instance, it was reported by PR Nigeria that the facilitators of the foreign military contractors that supressed Boko Hara in preparation for the 2015 election has vowed not to return to Nigeria because of the humiliations, persecutions and prosecution of foreign mercenaries along with their Nigerian counterparts who participated in the operation after the emergence of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. They complained that some of their payment are yet to be made and classified and highly coded transactions were exposed as corruption. They further expressed disappointment and regret that some Nigerian military and intelligence officers who participated in the operation were not only retired but also prosecuted and convicted. They complained of difficulty in working in a country where operations, strategy and thinking were exposed to the media and judicial processes.

Hence, the media has a duty of ensuring the realization of these fundamental objectives by reporting the wrong doings and failures of government and its agencies, thereby making them accountable and responsible for their misdeeds and ineptitudes. The media practitioners need to understand this part of the constitution deeply to appreciate the enormous responsibilities placed on their shoulders. This section of the constitution clearly defines the essence of government and would no doubt provide material for proper interpretation of government actions and omissions especially with respect to the the welfare of the citizens.

A deep understanding of this part of the Constitution and the doctrine of Military subordination to civil authority points to the need for the media to look beyond what the Army is doing to consider why they are doing what they are doing. The reaction of the Coordinator Defence Media Operations John Enenche to the call by North East governors to engage foreign machineries in the fight against Boko Hara attests to this need. He said it is the decision of the government and the people, not the Army. He is indirectly telling the media to focus their attention on the people and the government. Security is everybody’s business and the Army cannot do much without the government and peoples’ support especially in democracy. The handicap and dilemma of the Army is also reflected in his reaction to the statement by the Bornu state governor that the Army is overstretched. He said: “it is not for the military to say we are overstretched; I am not overstretched. If I say am overstretched, that means I don’t want to work. And if I say, I am not overstretched, that means, I am underutilised”. This is a very tactical way of acknowledging helplessness.

Reporters should look deeply into the allegations that the some leaders and communities in the Northeast are supporting Boko Haram and the terrorist are better equipped than the Nigerian Army. This may explain why the soldiers abandon their duty post or show less concern about the situation in the Northeast. The efforts of government needs to be thoroughly examined.

The media need to realise the sensitive nature of army operations with respect to security which requires that certain information should be kept away from the public. This remains a conflict point between the army and journalists. The chief of Army staff, Buratai had complained that some media reports give the terrorists advantage over the army.

Media practitioners must realise that national interest were clearly established overrides every other interest.

Nwagbaoso rightly observes that, “while the public has a right to know how they are being governed, they are not supposed to know everything as that may have grave security implications”. In the same vein, Jakande declares that “matters of security are not for a market place.” The American Newsweek of October, 1990, reporting on US pre-invasion policy, stated that “the same day, the State Department stopped the Voice of America from broadcasting an editorial warning Iraq that the United States was strongly committed to supporting its friends in the Gulf.”

Embedded journalism is advocated in Nigeria at this point to reduce the friction between the Army and journalists, even though it will take a long time to build the type of trust and confidence needed for this kind of reporting. America embraced this genre of journalism following complaints of access denial by the Army during the Gulf War. The press should collaborate with the Army when national interest is at stake such as the current effort at restoring peace and order in some parts of the country due to internal security threat.

Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution cited above also forms the basis for investigative journalism. This is important to engender reform in the Army. By digging into s issues deeply in its various dimensions, in a police like manner, and contextual interpretation, this type of journalism would no doubt equip the army, the government and citizens with the necessary information to grapple with the internal insecurity in different parts of the country. Journalists by the nature of their job and training are closer to the people and can elicit useful information for the army, the citizens and the government.

Credible investigations need to be conducted into the allegations of human rights violation by government security forces including the army. Cases of human rights violations involving the army if properly investigated, reported and followed up would help to establish the truth. Trial and punishment of culprit if reported would serve as a deterrent.

This is not a classified matter that should be shrouded in secrecy. As this would give room for rumour and further smear the image of the army.

The army in the course of carrying out their constitutional function get into conflict with the civil society. The media can also provide a platform for the army and the public to express their grievances and settle their differences. The media should give both parties equal opportunity to state their stand during such conflict. The media can also help to broker peace through their reports. Journalist should shun reports with the tendency of aggravating conflict.
Journalists can help promote understanding between the army and the civil society through human rights education. There is wide spread ignorance about the concept of Civil – Military relation in Nigeria. The citizens need to know the extent of their right while relating with the army. While the army need to appreciate the fundamental human rights of the citizens. Today, the army is used even in civil matters involving private citizen such as settlement of debts or bills. Army serve as personal guards of some influential private citizens.

Journalist should understand and promote the core values and traditions of the army such as discipline, respect for rule of law, subordination to civil authority, regimentation, command and control structure, service, loyalty, spirit de corps, deterrence due to status and a pride of being. The media should constantly remind the army of these core values and traditions. The media should equally remind them of the importance of a community driven approach to security. They need the trust, confidence and acceptance of the people to succeed. The civil society should be educated on the need to support the Army with relevant information. This is obviously not possible in the absence of mutual trust and confidence. The media must consciously promote such cordial relationship.

Journalists must earn the trust, confidence and respect of the army by upholding the time honoured canons of journalist practice such as truth, objectivity, balance, fairness. Journalists must be seen to be responsible.
Media should help build consensus on issues of national interest so as to guide the government in directing military operations. They should help defining and promoting national goals.

Right –based approach to reporting is also advocated in the present situation. This implies that the reporter sees human right as rights not needs to be fulfilled by a benefactor but as a duty owed to humanity by all levels of society including families, civil society, the media, the government and other stakeholders such as the law enforcement agencies. Thus the reporter assumes the position of a duty bearer well placed in the society to help ensure the realization of human rights as contained in relevant national, regional and international legislations. They are expected to advocate for and promote human rights by highlighting the need to respect, protect and fulfil those rights. The reporter investigates, humanizes and interprets his/her stories with human rights at the centre.

The guiding principles in this type of reporting are accountability, universality, indivisibility and participation. The reporter holds all duty bearers accountable for all infringements on human rights in the society. No right is more important than the other, all rights must be attained. Every voice must be heard.”

The summary of the TOWNHALL MEETING OF HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) was to remind both the media and the Army, about their strategic roles towards promoting and respecting the fundamental human rights of Citizens because it is by so doing that the Army will maintain her professional status and both The civil society and the media should be constructive partners to the critical national institutions that make our constitutional democracy viable and globally respected such as the Nigerian Army.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA). He blogs@www. thenigerianinsidernews.com, www.huriwa@blogspot.com.

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