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MILITARY PERSONNEL AND CIVIL SECURITY DUTIES

By NBF News

The Federal Government's plan to tackle increasing security concerns in the country with the engagement of military personnel in purely civil security matters, undoubtedly, underscores Abuja's growing frustration with Nigeria's intractable security problem.

President Goodluck Jonathan, in Oghara, Delta state, said the measure had become necessary because of the growing insecurity in the country. He, however, assured that the military men will only be involved in civil security matters that do not require bearing of firearms.

We share the president's concerns on insecurity in Nigeria. The problem has reached such an alarming state that extra-ordinary measures are required to tackle it. Armed robbery, assassination, kidnapping and other unwholesome activities have sorely stretched the capacity of the police to deal with criminality and guarantee security of the people.

The plan to involve military personnel in civil security duties, on the surface, looks good. With their martial training, there is no doubt that the military have the grit to tackle daunting security challenges.

However, the orientation of the military is not ideal for civil security services where they have to directly engage members of the public. The military have a command and obey structure. They are trained to defend the territorial integrity of the country. Asking them to engage the civilian population is likely to throw up some cognitive dissonance arising from their orientation towards violence and aggression. The challenge will be how to help soldiers to make the transition from armed defence of the country against external predators to interfacing with the public in a civil setting.

There might be some merits in the government's plan if the military personnel are to be solely engaged in the battle against armed robbers and kidnappers, but the president has said they will be engaged in civil security duties that do not require the bearing of firearms. Of what use then, is a military official, without his firearms? If they do not carry arms, how are they expected to enforce security? To what extent will civilians, and more importantly, armed robbers and other potent threats to the security of the people, respect them? How effective will they be in the task of improving security in the country, without their arms?

It is arms, and the prospect of their deployment, that make people to obey security officers, including the military. Well-armed security personnel are a deterrent to criminals, but in the absence of arms, what will the military use to enforce their authority and ensure their own safety?

The proposal by the presidency has some loopholes. President Jonathan should take a second look at the plan to ensure that it can achieve the desired effect.

The intractable security problem is also another reason to take a second look at the lopsided nature of our federation. Let the government reconsider the issue of decentralization of the police. If decentralization will make the police more effective in the battle against crime and insecurity in the country, Nigeria may be better off adopting that option.

For now, it is okay to deploy military personnel wherever there is breakdown of law and order to assist the police to restore peace. But, to permanently engage military men and women in civil duties, will need to be carefully considered.

Deploying them without firearms is risky, as it whittles down their effectiveness. Soldiers should not be engaged in civil security duties as primary assignments, but for emergency services, and other special assignments, including road accidents, air crashes, insurgencies, fires and armed robbery.

Any plan to engage the military in civil duties on a permanent basis has to be well thought-out. The proposal should not be institutionalized for any reasons. Nigeria should, rather, keep a fit and trim military, that is effective, well trained and efficient in discharging its primary responsibilities. Instead of engaging the military in civil security duties, Nigeria should strengthen the police, especially the mobile force, with equipment, training and logistics, to enable them perform duties that are being considered for the military. They need to be empowered to change the present situation in which the crime level in the country appears to have overwhelmed them.

In addition, the public should be enlightened to cooperate with the police with regard to security information. All hands should be on deck to help the police to succeed in the daunting task of ensuring security of lives and property in the country.