Before the beginning of this fourth Republic which has endured for more than two decades, majority of Nigerians regarded Nigerian soldiers with a great deal of respect. That was when the soldiers were confined to secluded areas and were rarely seen on the streets on good days. The respect people had for them was an admixture of admiration and fear. Ironically, that was even the period the military people were in leadership of the country, either as Heads of State or self-styled President.
Indeed, even when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was President, from 1999 to 2007, except for the deployment of military to Odi and Zaki Biam, the soldiers were mostly confined to their barracks. The two cases were of course, isolated, even though, they really portrayed the danger involved in using soldiers for civilian population in peace time under any excuse.
Funny enough, the current leadership at the helm of which is President Goodluck Jonathan, appears to have found the comfort in using soldiers for civilian society under the cover that looks so enticing. The military personnel are obviously now to be deployed to man and secure polling centres, on election days. The system has been tried, in fairness, successfully, in the governorship elections conducted in Anambra, Edo, Ekiti and the recent one in Osun state. There is no doubt that the presence of these soldiers, in one way or the other, ensured peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections in all such places.
The successes achieved through such deployment of soldiers of course, have now emboldened the government of President Jonathan to begin to dream that the best had come in a way election should be conducted and supervised in the country.
As a matter of fact, sound and successful as the use of military in election has so far been, and encouraging as it had turned out to be, has been this nudging fear of the accumulated negative implications of where it may be leading the nation.
The dangerous signal on this matter came from the unusual quarter; the spokesperson of the Directorate Of Security Service (DSS), Marylin Orga, who confessed that unnamed politician (s) tried to bribe top officers of the security operatives in the recent Osun governorship election, for the purpose of turning the wishes of the electorate away from reality. In other words, it was meant to make them to rig the election in favour of the giver (s) of the bribe.
Yes, the officers resisted such temptation, “because they are being well paid by government” according to Orga, but the gist here is that politicians are ever lurking around to find soft spot in the security system to bend the game.
As a matter of fact, it is becoming clearer that the closer Nigeria gets to the 2015 general elections, the more it appears dangerous that desperate politicians would want to corrupt everybody that has anything to do with such elections, including of course, the soldiers.
While on the issue of corruption and corrupt tendencies, a few soldiers are already caving in, as they openly, these days, asked for gratifications from “big people” that as much as have anything to do with them. Reports are rife that some young military personnel manning checking points around the federal capital territory, Abuja and other parts of the North have been in the habit of openly demanding “something to buy pure water” from motorists, the same way the Police would traditionally ask motorists “wetin you carry.”
Yes, the idea of using soldiers particularly to man polling centres during elections has proved very portent and successful, especially from the point of view of the exigencies, but, the long effect of it may undermine the strength of the nation’s security system. In other words, when, gradually the soldiers fall for the “Nigerian factor” as they are first and foremost Nigerians, the nation would go into the danger of a civilinised soldiers; not hard core soldiers trained to fight war and war only.
And above all, the idea of using soldiers for elections and other civil operations is clearly an indictment on the nation’s police force and other security people trained specifically to take care of doing civil security duties.
It has a way of spelling doom for Nigeria if we muddle up the security systems for the purpose of attaining some temporary success in one section of the societal challenges at the expense of long term working for an excellent system that would ensure success in general security operative systems within and without.
In other words, if the government sends soldiers into the open Nigerian public and they are eventually roped into the corrupt system, they would have qualified to join the supposedly discredited police, and it would be bye bye to soldiering!
The government should rethink then, about what comes first: a clean election for which special training can be given to selected police to handle, leaving the soldiers out of it entirely or going ahead with soldiers being fully involved and face the future consequences, of losing what real soldiering should be? [myad]