News that the rules of engagement for the Nigerian military would be reviewed is one that should cheer one up but that is only after the guarantee has been given that all the pros and cons shall be taken into consideration and that only what serves the best interest of the country would be done.
A statement from Acting President Yemi Osinbajo's spokesperson, Laolu Akande described the proposed move as something that would cut across the nation’s security system, and take into considerations human rights issues.
The imperatives are high for this review considering what Nigeria has lost and has passed through on the strength of the way international partners had rated our military's conducts as they pertain to adherence to human rights benchmarks. The dismal scores assigned to Nigeria in this regard formed part of the excuse given by countries that refused to sell arms to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram and went further to block willing countries from doing so.
Fortunately, a return to sterling military rules of engagement under the current set of military chiefs had seen the rights records of our fighting forces rising even in the middle of intense counter-insurgency operations. This is not to say there are no whimpers and grumbles over the current records as typified by the regular outbursts by the likes of Amnesty International and their domestic affiliates that the military has repeatedly dismissed as cooked up reports meant to achieve objectives that are different from what the public is allowed to know.
The forum at which Acting President Osinbajo made the promise, during a meeting with members of the United Nations Security Council, UNSC who are on a visit to Nigeria, calls for circumspection. There has been too many times that we totally lose it and sign up to trouble once we are in audience with foreign players and the prayer in this case is to hope that the promise of a review was not informed by the stature of the United Nations Security Council. By the way, the UNSC waited until now, years after the start of the insurgency and at a time damages had been done before deeming it fit to visit.
The first thing that should make us cautious is that our previous experience has shown that we repeatedly lose each time we jump on international bandwagon simply for the kick of complying. There are too many instances where sectors of the national life have been reformed to comply with "global standards" only for those same thing to come around to bite us. This happens not because those global standards are particularly bad but because we fail to make the changes they demand within the context of our national realities.
For instance, in complying with the requirements of a regional body like ECOWAS we ended up with a situation where entire industries relocated to other member states to the detriment of our economy. We inked deals with World Trade Organization (WTO) that effectively left us unable to protect local industries from unfair competitions from their foreign counterparts with optimal factors of production. We have signed up to international environmental deals that leave us unable to explore the coal we have in abundance for generating electricity that we desperately need. We have endorsed monetary terms that make it impossible for us to subsidize sectors that require subsidies to survive and make life easier for Nigerian citizens. We must therefore in the light of this ask: "How much of this promise to the United Nations Security Council would leave us unable to defend ourselves from terrorists and other threats in the course of appearing good to the world?"
Secondly, when we say rules of engagement we should take a moment to ask, whose rule? It is antithetical that the people for whom we are drafting this review of the military's rule of engagement are the same countries that have no recollection that such concept exists. United States and United Kingdom routinely target and use drone strikes to execute their own nationals fighting on the terrorists' side in the morass they created in the Syraq. The logic is simple, if these terrorists return home they constitute risks to the larger population so they are summarily taken out with Hellfire or Brimstone missiles. For them, the imperative of safeguarding the larger population trumps the human rights of the terrorists that would threaten the safety of that population. That is rule of engagement.
Furthermore, even where we conclude that we are not befitting of taking decisions in our national interest the review being sought must take cognizance of extant laws and regulations. The Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in section 17 is clear on what body should drive the review being sought as it clearly states that "17. The (National Defence) Council shall have power to advise the President on matters relating to the defence of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria."
Fighting Boko Haram is about defending not just Nigeria's territorial integrity but also the life of every citizen. To change the approach towards how we contain terrorism simply to please a world body that has never cared two hoots about us would therefore be suicidal. Members of the United Nations Security Council Mission to the Lake Chad Basin would have returned to being safely ensconced in some high brow area of New York by the time Boko Haram fighters and other separatists would be unleashing havoc on the rest of us if we did anything silly in the name of complying with best practices.
One must however make allowances for the possibility that what the government has in mind is taking a tougher stance against terrorists. As quoted by the statement issued from his office, Acting President Osinbajo said “We need to re-examine how to deal with these individuals (terrorists) according to law.”
It would be a welcome development if what the Acting President was referring to is similar to the French approach to terrorists. Counter-terrorism and security agencies in France have, in all the terror incidents recorded in recent times, simply kill the menacing terrorists and rely on digital footprints to track accomplices who are also mostly neutralized on location without being taken in. It saves the cost and drama of lengthy trials, eliminates the potential for terrorists to abduct citizens in hope of prisoner swap and it keeps the country safe until the next sicko attacks. Interestingly no one is breathing down the neck of French authorities to review the rules of engagement, not that they will listen anyway because they will not give up what works for them.
The rules of engagement used by the Nigerian military is therefore way more tame than the aforementioned countries, Russia was not even mentioned. So before we go scrambling to fix what is not broken we should ask ourselves what it is we are trying to create. Certainly not chaos. Definitely not scenarios that will make us into modern day slaves to those driving the insurgency in the first place.
Madu, a Security Expert writes from the Badagry Leadership Institute, Lagos.