How Nigerian Army is Enriching Civil-Military Relations through Community-Relations Approach
By Chidi Omeje
Most corporate organisations across the world today are waking up to the responsibilities to their publics, especially host communities. By willingly embracing the act of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), they not only consider the altruistic essence of the practice but see it as a veritable means of ensuring a peaceful, harmonious environment conducive for productivity or achieving the organisation’s set goals or desired objectives.
As a matter of fact, CSR is increasingly becoming a top priority in the programme schedules of most corporate organisations, with a good chunk of their annual budgets committed to its execution. In other words, CSR is now a core element of the ethics of corporate governance, including the military, world over.
The Nigerian Army is not just waking up to this realization; in fact, it can rightly be described as one of the oldest champions and practitioners of CSR having been emphasizing on positive Civil-Military Relations over the years. Just yesterday, March 14, 2023, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Faruk Yahaya commissioned an ultra-modern 60 bed hospital ward at the General hospital, Kishi in Irepo Local Government Area of Oyo State. The health facility which was constructed and fully equipped by the Nigerian Army, contains female and male wards, children’s ward, labour room, doctors’ offices, nurses station as well as reception. Speaking at the commissioning, Gen Yahaya described the project as one of his special intervention civil Military Cooperation projects aimed at winning hearts and minds of Nigerians.
For a fact, the Nigerian Army’s numerous corporate social responsibility and quick impact projects are almost innumerable but can be surmised as follows:
(i) Involvement in managing crisis and emergencies that defy civil mitigation like bringing riots, sectarian conflicts, intolerable levels of violent crime and threats to lives security under control and leading search and rescue operations in disasters and other emergencies.
(ii) Establishment of military educational institutions (Command Schools, Army Children Schools, air Force and Naval Colleges), hospitals and other health facilities all over the country.
(iii) The opening of social and recreational facilities and activities in military establishments (officer and other rank’s messes, Tombola nights, WASA, sports facilities and other cultural and sporting events) to the civilian public. The mammy markets in military establishments all over the country which offer commercial opportunities to small-scale entrepreneurs.
(iv) The activities of the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA) which have helped in significant ways (establishment of maternity homes, clinics, event centers, nurseries, etc, and also involvement in charity works) to bring the military home to communities.
(v) The contributions of military to the leadership and citizenship training and development through the operations of cadet programmes that used to exist in selected public schools, the National Youth Service Corps programme, as well as the production of top sportsmen and women that have brought honour to the country.
(vi) The activities of military public relations units which have since gone beyond information management and image management to include partnership with various stakeholders including civil society organizations.
In spite of the above listed sterling contributions to the advancement of Nigerian society, the Nigerian Army once in a while is still confronted with harsh reviews and unsavory media trials. This is essentially because the military as a matter of constitutional obligation, is constantly involved in internal security management, and this has been a recurring engagement given the harvest of internal conflicts that have bedeviled the country since independence. It therefore means that it must also be challenged by how it can effectively manage its relationship and interactions with the civilian population particularly the communities where it is based or deployed for Internal Security Operation.
While exercising its statutory responsibilities, it is obvious that a certain level of interaction must take place between members of the armed forces and the civil populace and this is in spite of the fact that both of them possess characteristics that are quite different from each other in terms of organizational structure, orientation, modus operandi and response to control.
The military is controlled by the political authority and is often deployed to perform roles that involve use of force and coercion in order to achieve a set objective, like conflict resolution or restoration of peace and security in the society. In the course of doing this, a section of the public might kick against their presence for different reasons which might include a failure on the part of some personnel, being subject to human imperfections, may be accused of bias or excessive use of force. On the other hand, cases abound where there is obvious provocation of military personnel in operation by the civilian community.
Suffice it to say that the source of friction, mutual distrust and suspicion that occur in the course of this inevitable interaction between the civilians and the military in a particular milieu of operation, could be located in either side of the divide.
What is important however is to find an effective way of ‘winning hearts and minds’ with a view to evolving better relations between civilians and the military for the good of our nation and people. The task of obtaining, growing and sustaining cooperation and support is however, a difficult one that requires members of the armed forces to proactively respect and be subject to the imperatives of the rule of law, transparency and accountability, and respect for human rights. In addition, they need the skills of effective communication, negotiation and conflict management to complement the other efforts in the war to win hearts and mind. This is the essence of the community relations approach.
The approach underscores the fundamentality of human rights, rule of law, transparency, accountability and effective communications. Equally, it emphasizes the importance of negotiation and conflict management skills to community relations in particular and civil-military relations in general. The whole idea is to win the hearts and minds of the Nigerian people, and that is very important.
*Chidi Omeje is Editor, Security Digest (www.securitydigestng.com)
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