Report of general concern over the warning on alleged destabilisation of the country issued by the Nigerian Army is understandable given the intricacies that have trailed the Endsars Movement, and the protest to end police brutality and poor governance policies. The fact that the protest was unprecedented in scope and in character is enough to worry government. Yet, the object of the protest was simple. The military therefore needs to clarify its alarm linking it to a plot to destabilise government.
After meeting with his Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), General Officers Commanding (GCOs) and Field Commanders in Abuja when the dust on the protest was settling, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai alleged that some unpatriotic elements were planning to destabilise the country in the guise of agitations. He vowed that the Army was ready to quell any threat to Nigeria’s corporate existence. The alarm by the military is uncalled for.
In one breadth, the Army Chief, who spoke through Army Spokesman, Col. Sagir Musa, said the detractors wanted to achieve the destabilisation through massive propaganda to discredit the military and the government. In another breadth, Buratai said, “these unscrupulous individuals and groups, and other undesirable elements have hijacked the peaceful EndSARS protests resulting in widespread violence, acts of wanton destruction and looting of public and private properties in many parts of the country.”
Indeed, the military has a duty to protect Nigeria from internal and external aggression. They have done it on several occasions in the past and are, no doubt, still capable of doing it again. However, it is doubtful whether the Military can gain public sympathy by generally branding the entire protest as an act of insurrection. Yet, in identifying who actually is seeking to destabilise the country, the public must not be alienated.
The Army must separate the whiff from the chaff of the grains. The peaceful protest by the youth, which lasted several days in decorum, featuring speeches, songs, dancing, feasting and cleaning of the protest environment should not be interpreted as destabilising. The fact that the protesters found wide support from the generality of Nigerians is a testimony that the youth’s agitation is legitimate and public-spirited. Nor can it be said that the use of the social media, even with its limitations and propensity for abuse, is aimed at destabilising the government. The social media is a potent tool of disseminating information quickly to people for many reasons, including demanding for good governance. The youths cannot be faulted for employing this medium of communication and information dissemination. And so any discussion point on banning social media in Africa’s most populous country is a disservice and indeed an insult to the people.
The Army should be concerned about why a peaceful and orderly protest for a legitimate and fundamental right suddenly lost its lustre, purpose and resulted in violence. Is it true as posited by some people, that the shooting of unarmed protesters at the Lekki tollgate spurred the violence, destruction, looting and ultimately the killings in the course of the protest?
What role, exactly, did the Army play at that #Lekki 20-10-2020? Isn’t there a need for a public apology to families of hapless Nigerians killed or maimed by gunshots? Shouldn’t the army or the Federal Government be more responsive to the plight of Nigerians caught in the firepower of soldiers on that fateful Tuesday? Should government not take responsibility for their failure to prevent such an occurrence, given the restiveness of the protesters? Who indeed ordered the shooting in Lekki; and is there any justification for the order?
For clarity, the wanton acts of looting, stealing, arson, destruction of public and private property embarked upon by hoodlums who seized advantage of the chaotic situation is reprehensible and totally condemnable. Indeed, the culprits, if found, deserve to face the full wrath of the law. This is one aspect of the protest that the military or other law enforcement agencies should have faced squarely but which they did not, until it was too late.
The use of “massive propaganda,” which the Army alluded to, is not necessarily a crime or an act to destabilise the government. As seen in the EndSARS protest, ‘propaganda’ can be used to highlight injustice in the polity, and to call government’s attention to redeeming it. It is less than impressive that the Army simply interpreted ‘‘the use of propaganda’’ by some Nigerians as a threat to government.
Tools of propaganda in all situations include the social as well as the conventional media. The government, including the Army also use these media to propagate their mission. Use of the media cannot be saintly when employed by government; and villainous when used by the people or protesters.
The military has its job cut out for it by the Constitution in Section 217, particularly sub-section 2(c) that charges it with “suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil society to restore order when called upon to do so by the President….” As an institution, the military must not remain static, but responsive to the constant changes in the society, particularly the adoption of democracy as a form of government by Nigeria, along with respect to the freedom that goes with that type of government.
Happily, the Army Chief of Staff was quoted as saying that, “the best form of governance is democracy and we must all ensure that Nigeria’s democracy remains stable and steady…” The Army needs to go further by acting and speaking in consonance with the norm in a democracy. They need to balance their traditional character with the freedom and rights of the people.
While being mindful of their duty to protect the country against all forms of aggression, the military needs to subject itself to civil authority and bear in mind that their goals of preserving the territorial and sovereign integrity of Nigeria is as important as the yearnings of the people for a better, more humane and more progressive governance.