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As the Army dances in the East!

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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Democracy as Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States of America (from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865), sees it, is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Since delivering this apt and profoundly philosophical thesis on the essence and wholeness of the concept and practice of democracy, both the message and the messenger have become iconic in the minds of millions of people in the world for many centuries.

Indeed, democracy has continued to gain traction, relevance, acceptance and popularity in leaps and bounds.

It is important to once more stress that the people are at the heart of the political process known as democracy just as all the institutional frameworks that delivers the objectives of democracy are invariably expected to be people centered.

Having made the above preliminary analyses, let us zero -in our minds to the democratic practices, processes and system that Africa’s largest political entity Nigeria has experimented with since 1999.

In doing that, we will also look at how the democratic principles and traditions have shaped the branding and re-branding of such an institution like the military which prior to the coming of constitutional democracy, was basically viewed as an obstacle to the practice of democracy because of the part played by some Generals in the Army of the past few decades in the governance process of the nation state culminating in the peaceful, constructive and transparent handing over of government in 1999 from the military to a civilian government.

For the purposes of this research and in view of the fact that our reflection is centered on the changing face of the Nigerian Army in the democratic dispensation, we will focus basically around some of the great innovations and policies already implemented by the Army through the current chief of Army staff lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai to be able to draw some conclusions.

The immediate realization that becomes apparent is the fact that gradually the Army that was dreadful and dreaded by the masses is beginning to be rebranded in such a revolutionary way that it is becoming clearer that the professionalization of the Nigerian Army inevitably consolidates constitutional democracy in such a way that the greatest percentage of the population would now view the Army as a strategic defender of constitutional democracy.

As a human rights focal stakeholder, the scope of this brief reflection is on some of the gains and milestones made already in some internal military operations like the ongoing operation Atilogwu Udo 1 which has shown the high commitment of the military towards mainstreaming respect for the human rights of the citizenry in line with the provisions of chapter four of the constitution and relevant global human rights laws. Before I continue, I must state here that members of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) are observing the exercise Atilogwu Udo 1 in the South East of Nigeria. Continuing this dialogue naturally leads us to how the ongoing operation of the Nigerian Army is being perceived by mist observers.

For instance, this is how an online newspaper viewed the rebranding of the military operation in the South East of Nigeria from python dance to Atilogwu Udo.

The online newsoaoer reports that the Nigerian Army has changed one of its 'memorable' code names from Python Dance (Egwu Eke) to Dance of Peace (Atilogwu Udo).

It recalled that in 2016, 'Python Dance' was given to the military operation covering parts of the Southeast and South-south.

‘Python Dance’ was designed to combat a spate of kidnappings, armed robbery, cult and communal clashes, among other sundry crimes, bedeviling the Southeast region of the country in particular.

At inception, ‘Python Dance’ ran into controversial waters when soldiers from the unit were accused of raiding and destroying the Abia home of separatist leader, Nnamdi Kanu, the paper observed.

The online newspaper Pulse.ng stayed that Nnamdi Kanu and his parents fled Nigeria soon after and nothing was heard of the secessionist for a year.

'Python Dance' soldiers were also accused of human rights violations and excessive use of force.

On the dance of peace this is how the Army announced it.

In a statement issued by the Operations Media Coordinator of the Nigerian Army, Colonel Aminu Iliyasu, the army says ‘Python Dance’ has now run its course.

The army however says all information relating to the exercise as contained in previous press statements and press conferences issued by Army Headquarters, remains unchanged.

“The Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai wishes to reiterate the commitment of the Nigerian Army in protecting the lives and properties of citizens particularly during these ember months and the fast-approaching Yuletide season.

“He also wishes to further solicit the support and understanding of all well-meaning Nigerians towards providing a well-secured environment for all and sundry,'' the statement added.

Operation Atilogwu Udo (Dance of Peace) is an Igbo coinage like the one before it.

Dance of Peace will cover Nigeria’s Southeast and South-south regions as well; and is designed to assist the police in keeping the peace among the civilian population.

The rebranding of the name of the military exercise in the South East of Nigeria did not only stop at name change. The Army has since stepped up several corporate socially responsible medical outreaches and the Army Engineers have indeed practically brought their skills to bear in such a way that they fixed some broken down portions of some of the Federal Highways in the East.

The rebranding going on in the Army under the current dispensation has to a large extent won many hearts and minds even as some celebrities including mainstream iconic actors like Chief Pete Edochie has reportedly identified with the social services the Nigerian Army has been rendering to the poor masses since November 1st 2019 that the operation Atilogwu Udo commenced.

This is a demonstration that the rebranding is not cosmetic but meant to realistically place the military institution in such a great height as a respected builder and defender of constitutional democracy and sustainable development.

The above developments perhaps were explained by Justas Markus, who on September 9th 2019 penned down a great piece titled “What is branding in marketing?”

“Branding is the process of creating a strong, positive perception of a company, its products or services in the customer’s mind by combining such elements as logo, design, mission statement, and a consistent theme throughout all marketing communications. Effective branding helps companies differentiate themselves from their competitors and build a loyal customer base.”

He asked why branding is important and said: “A unique brand can have a huge impact on your bottom line by giving you a competitive advantage over your rivals and helping you acquire and retain customers at a much lower cost. In eCommerce, where new companies (and therefore, new competitors) are springing up every day, an established brand can be an invaluable asset in bringing customers and generating profit.”

In the case of the changing faces of the Army, the profit is not in cash but in the revolutionary outlook that the people are beginning to see the Army.

In an editorial dated December 5th 2019, The Nation wrote that “The Nigerian Army has re-built the pedestrian bridge linking students’ hostels to lecture halls at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, Bauchi Sate, which collapsed In August, killing four students. The new bridge which can carry 60 tons of weight was promised by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai, shortly after the tragedy.”

But before the bridge’s collapse four months ago is eclipsed by the good news of its replacement by army engineers, we find the death of the students from the collapse of the bridge unfortunate. It could have been avoided in a context of adequate strategic governance and attention to physical infrastructure on the campus. Undoubtedly, the bridge must have been giving signs of increasing weakness long before it collapsed under the weight of the students. We urge managers of the university and similar institutions to pay adequate attention to the structures on their premises. Such vigilance is part of the stuff of which good leadership is made.

However, The Nation said they commend the army’s engineers for quick intervention and speedy fulfillment of a promise that could have fallen through the cracks of military bureaucracy. The appreciation of the work of the engineers by the vice-chancellor: “In all sympathy and condolences we received, one organization took its demonstration of love one step further. In all our wildest imagination, nobody in this community ever thought that practical help would come from the Nigerian Army” underscores the importance of what looks like a new perception or face of the Nigerian Army. This is a good face for the military to have and sustain amongst citizens. Such instance of corporate social responsibility should not be restricted to the army but extended to all parts of the armed forces.

Occasional intervention by the army in civic projects it says is not new. The army’s corps of engineers participated in building roads in Osun State during the administration of Chief Bisi Akande in the early 2000s. And the roads were hailed then as good and less expensive than similar roads given to contractors by the Federal Government at that time. Encouraging the armed forces to participate in adding value to the life of citizens in various sectors, especially in peace time, is growing globally.”

Declaring the event open, which heralded the commencement of the Atilogwu Udo 1, the Army hierarchy made it known that the job before the Army is to win hearts and minds of the people of South East of Nigeria and for the military institution to demonstrate her determination to continue to play her role as the defender of democracy and a respecter of the Constitution. The Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai urged the people of Southeast to fully welcome the Atilogwu Udo 1, literally translated as “Dance of Peace”.

Gen. Buratai, who said the launch of the Atilogwu Udo 1, was not targeted at any group or individual in the Southeast, explained that it was rather aimed at curbing issues of robbery, kidnapping, communal clashes and other security challenges, especially during the forthcoming Yuletide season.

Represented by the Chief of Training/Operations, Nigerian Army, Maj-General Enobong Udoh, Buratai added that the aim of the exercise was to consolidate previous exercises carried out in the region.

Explaining further that the summit was to keep the public abreast of the activities of the military; the COAS emphasized the need to galvanize media support for the military.

“The exercise is in line with our desire to keep the public well informed about our operations. The summit will serve as a means of improving civil-army and galvanising civil support for the army through the media”, he said.

He urged media practitioners to ensure proper information and education of the public on the exercise, without any form of biases and sensationalism.

Buratai revealed that, during the exercise, the military would embark on medical outreach, educational outreach, road construction and other such activities for the benefit of the civil populace in order to ensure cordiality and their support during and after the exercise.

“We had worst cases of kidnapping in 2016. The desire to curb this evil act by Nigerians brought about the Egwu Eke, and now transformed to Atilogwu Udo 1.

“The military will continue to have a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles,” he said.

He thanked the Igbo elite for supporting army operations in the region, even as he urged them to continue to partner with the security outfit in order to ensure that “we achieve a crime-free society.”

Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, represented by the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Prof. Simon Ortuanya, assured that the state government would continue to support the military and other security agencies to ensure protection of lives and property.

Ugwuanyi, who spoke on “The Need for Accurate Reporting in Times of Challenges” encouraged journalists to promote accurate and positive reporting of activities of the Army, especially in the face of security challenges in Nigeria.

He reiterated that Atilogwu Udo 1, was to create a better understanding and synergy among the civilians and the army, warning that inaccurate reporting or manipulation of information on the exercise would elicit negative impression or unwanted reaction from the populace.

The governor noted that “civil society and mass media reshape opinions” urging them to eschew negative reporting, which he said dampens the morale of the fighting soldiers.

The General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82 Division, Enugu, Brig-Gen. Lasisi A. Adegboye, said the summit provided opportunity to share ideas, as well as foster inter-agency collaboration in military activities.

Gen. Adegboye appealed for support from citizens for smooth implementation of the Atilogwu Udo 1, noting that the exercise would help to combat crime and tackle security challenges in the region.

He listed sanitation exercise, medical outreach, education support to schools and rehabilitation of orphanage homes, among others, as part of areas that the military would be interfacing with the people in the region during the exercise.

Dr. Ifeanyi Didiugwu, who spoke on “The Military, Media, Peace and National Development: Exercise Atilogwu Udo 1 in Perspective”, commended the army for adopting the most important aspect of human relations in getting the support of the civil populace towards the army operation.

He noted that the approach to the summit had been one of the ways with which the ancient African society addressed challenges.

He noted that without peace, there would be no development. He harped on the need to work collaboratively with the military, even as he urged citizens to shun unnecessary fear during the period.

Didiugwu, a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, called for massive awareness of the citizens to avoid misconstruing the entire exercise and regretted that the previous operations were perceived to be targeted at Ndigbo.

One of the participants and Nollywood actor, Chief Pete Edochie, praised the army for its new approach of integrating the civil populace in fight against anti-social vices.

Edochie, who was impressed by the whole approach, announced that he would volunteer to take the message of the army operation to the people, because “this is a campaign to correct bad impression”.

The prayer and aspiration of Nigerians is the regarding process in the Nigerian Army be sustained for a long time to come because a professional military is the best safeguard that guarantees sustainable democracy and the development of the polity.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com , www.huriwa.blogspot.com , www.thenigerianinsidernews.com .

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."