- While welcome democratically, we must avoid the fatal irony of a relapse into violence
After a meeting of the National Security Council with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential Villa, Abuja, on Monday, one of the major decisions announced was the impending withdrawal of military internal security operations in various parts of the country, to pave way for the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to take responsibility for maintaining security of lives and property in such areas.
Addressing the press on behalf of the Service Chiefs on the issue, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-EteIbas, explained that the internal military operations in various zones such as ‘Operation Puff Adder’, ‘Operation DiranMikicha’, ‘Operation SharanDaji’, ‘Operation Python Dance 1 & 11’ and Operation Crocodile Smile’, among others, would be wound down from the first quarter of this year.
In taking this decision, the military high command is obviously satisfied that the level of insecurity in many parts of the country has been sufficiently reduced to a level that the NPF can effectively cope with. Stressing that the military’s primary responsibility is to protect the country’s territorial integrity from external aggression, he said that the military’s involvement in internal security operations was an aberration.
In his words, “Basically, most of the internal security challenges that we have are supposed to be the responsibility of the military authorities, the police in particular… In the circumstances that the military has to come in to stabilise the situation, it is only right and proper that once one area has been dominated by the military and the situation has returned to normal, that the Nigeria police take over the responsibility”.
Some of the factors that informed the decision, according to the CNS, include the recent strengthening of the police through the recruitment of 10,000 new men, the procurement of new equipment for the military that will enable it to effectively deploy more technology for effective surveillance and operations without needing massive presence of boots on the ground, and the non-sustainability of continued military involvement in internal security operations with negative implications for its ability to secure the country from external attacks.
It is, of course, only natural that there have been various reactions, particularly from governors in affected states, to the development. While the Plateau State governor, Mr. Simon Lalong, has welcomed the decision, saying withdrawal of troops signal restoration of normalcy to his state, his Benue State counterpart, Mr. Samuel Ortom, contends that it is premature as the troops are still needed to prevent a relapse to widespread violence in his state.
The governors of Zamfara State, Bello Matawale, and Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, on the other hand, oppose the withdrawal of troops in their territorial jurisdictions.
On his part, the Adamawa State governor, Ahmadu Finitri, supports the withdrawal of troops in less violence-prone areas where the police can efficiently ensure security but he wants a further reinforcement of troops in the North-East, which is the epicenter of the terrorist insurgency, especially in the light of the reported renewed cooperation between Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) to intensify the destabilisation of the zone.
It is thus clear that there is need for greater consultation between the military high command and affected state governors to determine where such troop withdrawals are feasible now.
There are a number of factors that must be clearly considered before the planned withdrawal of troops. Are the 10,000 new recruits into the NPF sufficient for the task at hand, or do we need to expand the police force more extensively?
Has the NPF been sufficiently trained and equipped to undertake the new responsibilities? Is there not the urgent need to withdraw the large numbers of policemen deployed to secure very important personalities so that they can face their core policing duties?
Withdrawing troops to enable the police undertake their internal security responsibility is a welcome idea. However, if it is not well planned, phased and coordinated, it can further worsen the country’s security challenges in the long run.