Unknown Soldiers In Ogoni: At Who’s Order?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Condemnations have been prevalent in “nigeria4betterrule”, with the headline of the December 3, 2008, edition of TheNation newspapers being typical: “Two Killed as Soldiers Sack Ogoni Community”. And criticism has not only come from the obvious places–the Joint Taskforce (JTF) on Niger Delta and their military bunch-bag, the Rivers State Government, Shell Nigeria, The Nigerian Army Authority and elsewhere in the militants world–but also from Federal Government and beyond. There have also been some interesting exceptions to this trend within the militants’ world–notably Niger Deltans, leading some to speculate that this government encouraged or were even complicit in this operation. But even as the details are emerging, many are still baffled as to why this raid took place, and especially why now. As ever when it comes to the Niger Delta region, and especially where Ogoni is concerned, tantalizing and mischievous theories proliferate. Here is an attempt, then, to make sense of why this happened, and what the implications might be.

When should this Government Use Armed Force in Preemptive Self-Defense or Intervene Militarily in local communities? There are a lot of threats out there in the Niger Delta. Many of these can’t be lived with. One might suppose that, given the Niger Delta debacle, the corporate media might now be more reluctant to act as conduits and cheerleaders for reckless military action. While there may be some evidence of periodic skepticism, the authority’s lack of contextualization and adversarial investigative reporting has led to a recycling of half-truths and lies that instigated the disastrous military adventure in already-brutalized Ogoni community. First and foremost, one hears about the threat of a agitating-armed Ogonis without being reminded that most intelligence estimates put Ogoni’s development of a pains some 5-10 years away; when Abacha could not contain Saro-Wiwa. Moreover, as a signatory to the Niger Delta pursuit, Ogoni has been calling for a violence-free Niger Delta. Given the willingness of the presidency to support the robust “the-way-forward” programs in Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta States, the focus on region obviously is not about getting rid of arms proliferation alone. In fact, this government has deliberately tried to marginalize the oil-producing communities in the southern part of Nigeria because of its findings that Niger Delta was in “substantial compliance.” Instead, the Yar’Adua’s Administration has attempted to manipulate the UN Security Council into open antagonism against the region…his mission to Chatham House at United Kingdom, earlier this year!

The perverse — and dangerous — irony to all this is how differently Nigerian. Military officials consider the concept of freedom compared with the way that democracy views freedom. To the military, freedom means the “freedom” of Nigerian forces to operate without any external constraints whatsoever in order to protect the “security” of the nation. To them, such concepts as habeas corpus and due process of law are dangerous, horse-and-buggy constitutional technicalities that are unsuited in the new era of colour-coded emergencies and perpetual threats of terrorism. Their concept of freedom is the freedom of Nigerian officials to do whatever is necessary to deal with such emergencies and to “win” their so-called war on militancy.

The situation in the Niger Delta provides a textbook example of how Nigerian military officials, including their commander in chief, view the concept of freedom. Most all of them honestly believe that the Niger Delta people are now free. And the reason for believing this is that, in their minds, freedom entails the unrestrained power of the Nigerian military to do whatever it thinks is necessary for the “order” and “security” of a nation.

Approved that in the six months that the Nigerian Military has been in charge in the Niger Delta, there has been absolutely no attempt to set up a system in which there are independent civil magistrates whose job is to decide whether arrest warrants or search warrants should issue before raids are conducted on people’s homes and businesses. That’s the last thing that the military would think about doing, and the same applies to such due-process concepts as indictments, right to counsel, and jury trials. To the military, these principles would be dangerous and unwieldy impediments to the power of the military to do what is necessary for the “security” of the nation. In the mind of the military, the Niger Delta people are now free because the JTF military is “free.”

Can we restructure the Nigerian military organization and rethink the notion of security to the extent that it is based on democratic values and equality between individuals? What would the overall effects be on the military culture and organization if Nigeria realized the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325? Moreover, what does it entail for the organization when going from defending one’s own democratic nation to instead defending democratic principles, however in another part of the world?

In only 7 years, Nigeria’s military organization has gone through a massive restructuring, going from a large-scale defense force designed to protect the national territory to being small, flexible and focused on taking part in international operations. How does the international intention affect the gender mainstreaming intentions of Nigeria’s military organization? If peacekeeping forces are not rethought along the lines of seeing gender as a social process present in all human spheres of life, not the least in the military organization and in war “they risk contributing directly to the malign gender relations operating locally”. What they saw in their study was that the DEFENCE OFFICE, sent to JTF with the purpose of de-militating, was, in itself, simply a contradiction: “They (Chief of DEFENCE OFFICE) are a masculine force cast in a mode not dissimilar to the masculinity that has been implicated in the war. How can one militant masculinity defuse and neutralize another, rather than playing into it, ‘man to man’?”

Judging from the many scandalous actions committed by Nigerian soldiers and other JTF personnel in Niger Delta and elsewhere in the restive regions plus a number of scandals related to sexual exploitation and tribalism at the JTF peace missions, the military everywhere seems to be more or less a type of organization for historical or structural reasons entrenched by misogynist, homophobic, tyrannical, tribalist, non-democratic traditions both in action and frame of mind. If this is so, could there be any hope that the international community may ever reach the goal of a good, democratic-based authority with the right to use violent means to secure peace? My research on this question is in the initial stages, but tentatively one can conclude that what is being argued for, and in some cases also done along the lines.

We can educate away the problem. It is far more complex; layers of historical relationships such as the colonial past, tribalism, today’s country-wide, poverty, extreme unequal power relations on a global scale come into play here. Militaries need to work more, pay more attention to questions of sexuality. The idea of one particular form of masculinity as more valid, or higher-ranking, than all others, hovers over the military as a way of understanding this government and power. Is the pessimistic outlook on soldiers as needing more disciplining perhaps belonging to the same frame of mind as the thinking mentioned above that what is needed is simply more women soldiers? Does it tie in with the – at least in Nigeria – highly influential norm of the complementarily of the sexes, i.e. that the male and the female are two parts that together form a whole. Consequently that heterosexuality is the pillar of society. In this way, heterosexuality as a norm becomes an essentialist way of thinking about men and women, rather than seeing gender and sexuality as constructions and something that is performed differently throughout time and in different contexts?

Can this government fight Niger Delta restiveness alone? Or can they fight this war against militancy with only three or four, five or seven JTF? I would question whether they can. It is a nationwide war. Nigeria needs the active help of the Niger Delta and Ijaw-nation and Southeast Igbo-people in order to confront and defeat the network of militants active today. Indeed, antagonism toward Nigeria is currently generating new recruits for militant groups and will generate thousands of new militant cells. Militancy is a global phenomenon and needs to be confronted as such. Without the goodwill of other tribes, without authority in the indigenous communities, can we succeed in our quest to make the country safe from militancy?

We have one other problem. We will be able to fight in perhaps a few months. We will have losses, and there will be unintended consequences. It looks as though the economy of Nigeria will suffer a number of hits. But following that is a much more difficult, long-term problem, which is how to develop Niger Delta. President Yar’Adua speaks of creating the Niger Delta Ministry. Can Solution be imposed? Can you force development into another person’s land, another group of agitating people, and another tribe to be responsible and accountable? Niger Deltans say no. They ask for the chance to create their own wellbeing from what this democracy can offer. How does this government use federal might best to meet our goals and our needs—not just in the short term, but in the long term? And how will this affect how we address the imminent problems?

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