Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

Okuama, Banex Plaza closedown and Army’s reputation management

89

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Stories have it that in the past, the hyena kept a respectable distance from the cock. The hyena believed the cock carried fire on its head, which is why it was afraid of it. The hyena, however, was reassured by the cock that there was nothing to worry about, as what he mistook for fire was only an erect red crest. The hyena verified that it was true. It was tender. The hyena quickly overcame the dread of the cock and proceeded to bite off its crest when he attacked.

This was the story conjured up in mind each time one reads about the violent encounters between the Nigerian army and ordinary Nigerians, whom they call ‘bloody civilians’. In human psychology, perception is by far more important than reality. The army is meant to be feared.

The Nigerian army has been regarded as one of the greatest in the world since colonial days. From the Congo during colonial times through the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, fought to prevent the country from collapsing to the present; so also their involvement in the First and Second World Wars and several peacekeeping missions are tales of triumph and glory.

The Nigerian military is today present in around 30 states, and the Federal Capital Territory is engaged in internal security operations due to the apparent shortcomings of the country’s police force. Long before three unusual security threats—killer herdsmen, Janjaweed bandits, and Boko Haram terrorists—took center stage, the Nigerian army has been part of carrying out the statutory tasks of the Nigeria Police.

The Nigerian military was also engaged in quelling militancy in the Niger Delta, suppressing insurgencies in the South East and South West, and managing the violent conflict between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt and beyond. This was even before the counterterrorism military operations in the North East and North West. As the ungoverned spaces extend and the violent confrontations intensify, no state or area in Nigeria is spared in the escalating armed conflicts with non-state actors.

Scores of soldiers have died in the largely asymmetrical battles that the Nigerian army has bravely fought to prevent the country from collapsing and crumbling. The army and military haven’t won the wars yet, but they regularly record impressive runs of victories on all fronts. There are still many security issues in the Middle Belt, North West, South East, and North West, and the volatility of those regions has made those living and visiting there quite unsafe. Many have paid the price as victims, both in terms of money and life.

Farmers are no longer able to work on their farms because of insecurity and fear of being slain or abducted, especially in many northern areas. Farmers now strike agreements and pay terrorists and bandits to gain access to their farms so they can cultivate and harvest crops in many different parts of the north. Citizens in many LGs also in the North now pay taxes to bandits and terrorists to remain alive, proof that Nigerian sovereignty is shared with non-state actors.

With over 230,000 active members, the Nigerian military is among the biggest uniformed combat services in Africa. But given the length of time, variety, and magnitude of the security challenges, this number is stretched thin and war-weary. They need a greater sympathetic understanding of the citizens for whom they put their lives on the line and the nation for which they defend its territorial integrity.

Thus, it was only fitting that national outrage followed the 17 soldiers’ deaths at the Okuama community in Delta State a few weeks ago. As was to be expected, the military struck back, besieging the town of Okuama for 38 days. That led to many deaths.

The latest is that two soldiers were assaulted a few days ago in Banex Plaza, Abuja, where they had gone to return a defective phone that one of them had bought. Acting under the tenet of “buyer beware,” the seller declined to cooperate, leading to the altercation and fight.

After the police freed the two attacked soldiers, they quickly returned with truckloads of their colleagues. The Banex Plaza, with dozens of stores, was closed. Similar to what they did in Okuama, the Nigerian Army is once again attempting to defend its image and reputation.

Even without criticising the Nigerian Army for attempting to preserve its good name and integrity, there are problems raised by this trend. Firstly, could these two instances have been handled any better by the Army and the Nigerian communities involved? The answer is yes.

Let’s look at the reputational issue. There is a role reputation plays in violence, which springs to mind. The truth is that every army in the world was taught to fight, to fight to the death, and to win at any cost. Ordinarily, the Nigerian government and people should be aware of this disposition and understand that the army is neither equipped nor trained for civil engagements and niceties. The army is a group set aside from normal society.

The Nigerian military, especially the Nigerian army, has to be better appreciated by the state and the general populace in Nigeria. The Nigerian nation cannot afford to have an army that has become a laughingstock due to its excessive involvement in domestic security operations and even its role in protecting some politicians. These days, the soldiers are everywhere; they’re perhaps much more visible than the Nigerian police. The army should be a rare sight to retain its inherent reputation.

There will soon be nothing particularly unique about the Nigerian army in light of this unwholesome exposure, which is why citizens can summon the courage to beat up a soldier. It’s quite strange and indicative of a dysfunctional state. The army is a source of strength and pride for a nation and serves as a symbol of a sovereign nation.

It will take some time for the Nigerian Army to regain its reputation if the institution strategically works on it. As soon as feasible, the army needs to be removed from internal security operations and serve as guards for politicians.

Locking down the entire Banex Plaza is a bit of an overreaction by the army in response to the attack on their personnel, and it can have the opposite effect. Given that the attackers’ shops or shops are known, only those should be locked and their occupants declared wanted by the police and hunted down. Locking the entire Banex plaza is holding everyone there responsible, which is wrong. It is a repeat of the army overreaction in Odi, Zaki Biam, and, most recently, Okuama, which left hundreds dead.

The Nigerian military, in particular the army, needs to do a better job of managing its reputation than it is now doing. The art of managing an organisation’s reputation involves positively influencing public discourse and stakeholder views of the organisation and its brands. It entails keeping an eye on attitudes and dialogues, reacting to risks to one’s reputation, and proactively grabbing chances to improve one’s reputation. This is not what the army is doing. The army seems to believe that fear alone is what will regain its suffering reputation and credibility.

The Nigerian army should always remember whenever they interact with regular Nigerians that citizens appreciate and cherish their sacrifices. Ubuntu, as the Zulus of South Africa would say, means “you are because we are.” That’s to say, without Nigerians, there would be no Nigerian army, and vice versa.

Like Margaret Thatcher said as prime minister of Britain, being in power is like being a lady: If you have to say you are, you aren’t. Respect is not demanded; it is commanded.

Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.