An increasing siege on the Nigerian polity and society by the army has become evident in the last couple of weeks. The ostensible reason is that the wave of terrorism and other threats to national security has necessitated that more soldiers should show up in the streets and other places ordinarily reserved for civil populace. The most disturbing aspect of this increasing militarisation of our civil space is the ongoing clampdown on newspaper circulation and distribution operations across the country. In some instances, whole consignments of the day’s edition of some national newspapers were reported to have been confiscated or impounded by soldiers in full combat gear. In some cases also, the freedom of newspaper distribution personnel and their agents was interfered with through harassment and intimidation and even transient detention by overzealous soldiers. This is clearly unacceptable.
The tepid explanation by the army was that there were reports “indicating movement of material with grave security implications across the country using the channel of newsprint related consignments.” Most tragically, the Presidency weighed in to support and rationalise this anomalous operation without being conscious of the larger political implication of what is obviously a flagrant transgression of a major tenet of democratic culture.
It is indeed instructive that to date, there is as yet no report of seizures of any such lethal consignments through the ongoing disruption of newspaper distribution operations and assets. Yet , despite protestations from the leadership of the Newspapers’ Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the army insisted that this illegal and unfortunate exercise would go on until it was satisfied that its unclear objective is achieved.
Coming on the heels of this seeming assault on the media was another directive that private aircraft would not be allowed to land at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport for some unstated security reasons. Whatever may have been the motivation, it did not escape the attention of Nigerians that the curious order only came into existence after the announcement of the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as the new Emir of Kano. It is within that context that we also fail to understand the reason behind a recent directive by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) that “henceforth broadcasting stations must notify the commission in writing at least 48 hours before transmitting a political programme live.”
Clearly, we will be the first to admit that recent security challenges in some parts of the nation require more concerted efforts if we are to win the war on terror. Notwithstanding our overwhelming national security challenges, however, there is an urgent need for the nation’s political leadership to draw a line between its sworn obligation to protect and defend the country and mere attempts to use the defence and security apparatus at its disposal to pursue clearly partisan agenda. A situation in which the political leadership is increasingly allowing the military establishment to invade zones of civil freedom to make pronouncements on matters that impinge directly on citizens’ democratic rights and freedoms is dangerous to say the least.
Even more disturbing is an implicit politicisation of the army and professional regulatory agencies for allowing them to issue orders that coincide with the partisan interests and inclinations of the ruling party at the centre. This growing recourse to authoritarianism should be curbed forthwith. In the prevailing atmosphere of terror and fear, we insist that the theatre of war remains those places where terrorists operate. We insist further that the enemy in this limited war remains the terrorists and their sponsors or agents. To hide under national security to target and assault the democratic rights and freedoms of citizens is to turn the barrel of the gun against the very people ,whose taxes fund the military and the civil authority to whom they must remain subordinate.