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For the Nigerian Army under Buratai, loyalty to Buhari comes first before allegiance to nation

IN a keynote address during the opening ceremony of the Directorate of Army Physical Training (DAPT) Officers Training Conference, ‎2020, in Zaria, Kaduna State, on November 3, Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, for the umpteenth time, declared the ‘loyalty’ of the Nigerian Army to President Muhammadu Buhari.

In a speech read on his behalf by the Commander Infantry of the Nigerian Army, Major General Stevenson Olabanji, Buratai said, “I want to humbly express my profound gratitude to Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, for his continued and invaluable support to the Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.

“Therefore, I wish to pledge the commitment and unalloyed loyalty of officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army to the President and the defence of our democracy.”

However, the import of Buratai’s speech, which suggests that the Army’s loyalty lies first with the President before allegiance to the Nigerian ‎state and its constitution, is at odds with the spirit of the Armed Forces Oath.

The wordings of the Nigerian Armed Forces Oath puts loyalty to the country first, before loyalty to the President. ‎

The Armed ‎Forces Oath reads, “I… swear by Almighty God that in the service of my country, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces at all times. I will truly and faithfully serve the Federal Republic of Nigeria as by law established as a…. and will as in duty bound so serve for the period of my engagement or re-engagement, as the case may be, and go wherever ordered by land, sea or air and I will observe and obey commands of the Government of the Federation of Nigeria as by law established and of officers placed over me. I will always perform my duties diligently and efficiently and will not engage or be involved in any activity in conflict either directly or indirectly with this pledge. ‎I will, in the performance of my duties, eschew and expose corruption and will not corrupt others or aid or abet corruption in all its facets. ‎I will not discriminate on the basis of religion, tribe or cult or practise any form of partiality in the performance of my duties and will always follow the path of justice, honesty and concord amongst all the people of Nigeria in all I do. ‎I will subject myself to all Acts, Laws, subsidiary legislation and service regulations which now are or shall from time to time be in force and applicable to the Arm in which I am to serve during the period of my engagement or re-engagement, as the case may be. ‎So help me God.”

In the same vein, the wordings of the ‎Oath of Enlistment of members of the Armed Forces of the United States, from whom Nigeria copied it presidential system of government, also put loyalty and allegiance to country first.

The US Armed Forces Oath reads, “I…, do ‎solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

‎Remarkably, the Nigerian Army, under Buratai, has had cause to declare loyalty to Buhari on several occasions in recent times. And, in all such instances, the Army put loyalty to the President before loyalty to the country and the constitution.

As the recent #EndSARS protests gathered steam across the country, and moved from just demanding the scrap of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad ( SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force to questioning bad goverance, the Nigerian Army issued a statement, on October 15, labelling the protesters as ‘subversive elements’, ‘trouble makers’, ‘agents of disunity’ and ‘anti-democratic forces’.

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The statement, signed by Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa, also pledged the Nigerian Army’s ‘unalloyed’ loyalty and commitment to Buhari.

“As a responsible and law-abiding organisation, the Nigerian Army reaffirms its unalloyed loyalty and commitment ‎to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the constitution of the country,” the Nigerian Army statement said.

Buratai also pledged the Army’s ‘absolute’ loyalty to Buhari during a working visit to the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON), in June 2020.

Noting that, following a directive from Buhari, the Nigerian Army was on course to becoming self-sufficient in the production of arms, ammunition and other military hardware, Buratai added, “I assure President Muhammadu Buhari absolute loyalty on his intention to secure Nigerian territorial integrity. The Nigerian Army and the Armed Forces will always support his programmes.”

It was a similar case on September 25, 2020, ‎at the graduation ceremony of participants of Warrant Officers Course 36, at Jaji Military Cantonment, in Kaduna State.

Buratai, who was represented at the occasion by the Commander, Infantry Corps, Major General Stevenson Olabanji, told Senior Non-Commissioned Officers: “Your loyalty through the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria must not be in doubt.”

Buratai had also put loyalty to Buhari before loyalty to the constitution when he declared open a seminar for commandants, bursars and administrative officers of the Nigerian Army on August 1, 2019, in Abuja.

He said, “We need to remain absolutely loyal to Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is a non-negotiable part of our profession.”

Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Abubakar Sadiq, had also followed Buratai’s example by pledging the loyalty of the Nigerian Air Force to Buhari.

On May 25, 2020, at an Eid-el-Fitr luncheon for troops in the North-East, in Yola, Adamawa State, where he was ‎represented by Air Commodore Muhammed Yusuf, Commander 153 Base Services Group, Yola, ‎the Chief of Air Staff assur‎ed Buhari of the loyalty of the Nigerian Air Force.

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“Let me assure our loyalty to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, for his constant support to the Nigerian Air Force,” the Chief of Air Staff said.‎

Some legal practitioners who spoke to The ICIR on the development faulted Buratai for pledging and declaring the Nigerian Army’s loyalty to Buhari.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Koyinsola Ajayi, noted that the Nigerian Army should be loyal to the “constitution and the nation” and not just to Buhari as the President.

Also, a lawyer, Barrister Chukwuma Nwachukwu, noted that it was not proper for the Chief of Army Staff to place the Nigerian Army’s loyalty in the person of Buhari.

Loyalty to Buhari could raise concerns that the Armed Forces would be willing to do the President’s bidding, even if it is contrary to the country’s constitution.

‎Under the Nigerian Constitution citizens have the right to protest, albeit peacefully, but a high level meeting over the #EndSARS protests, convened by Buratai and attended by Principal Staff Officers, General Officers Commanding and Field Commanders of the Nigerian Army on October 26, ended with the Army pledging its loyalty to the Buhari-led Federal Government after the military authorities claimed that the protests were aimed at toppling Buhari’s government.

While it is a welcome development that Nigeria’s military authorities are loyal to the country’s democratically elected government, Buratai’s incessant declaration of the loyalty of the Nigerian Army to Buhari‎ is coming against the backdrop of strident calls by Nigerians on the President to remove the service chiefs, who have already overstayed their tenure in military service.

The service chiefs – COAS, Buratai; Chief of Air Staff, Sadiq Abubakar; Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok Ekwe Ibas; and Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin – have been ‎due for retirement having already spent more than 35 years in military service.

Despite worsening insecurity in the country, Buhari, for unclear reasons, continues to retain them, first extending their services by two years in 2015 before renewing the extension in 2017.

Calls on Buhari to sack the service chiefs re-echoed on Monday, November 9, when the Coalition of North East Elders for Peace and Development asked Buhari to sack the military leadership for ‘deploying massive strength against #EndSARS protesters in various parts of the country while leaving the zone (North East) at the mercy of Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists’.

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The North East coalition, in a statement signed by the ‎chairman, Mr. Zana Goni, said gaps left by the military gave the terrorists the opportunity to operate unchallenged in many communities, leading to many unreported deaths and destruction of property.

‎The coalition also appeared to express concerns at Buhari’s seeming loyalty to Buratai and the other service chiefs. “We are concerned that our President Buhari, who is so passionate about leaving an enviable legacy of a prosperous nation in all respect, has remained adamant, as far as the military heads are concerned. This position is despite the unanimous resolution by the Senate and the House of Representatives requesting the sack of the Service Chiefs,” they said.

The Nigerian Army, under Buratai, had engaged in a running battle with global rights group, Amnesty International, over reports accusing Nigerian troops of extra-judicial killings.

Recently, AI released a report which said the Army killed at least 10 persons during the attack on #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos on October 20.

Following the report, a group, ‎Centre for Africa Liberation and Socio-Economic Rights (CASLER), said to be sponsored by Buratai,‎ asked Amnesty International to leave Nigeria within seven days.

‎”It’s (AI) staffers will be treated the same way that innocent policemen lynched by mobs were treated,” Princess Ajibola, convener of the group, CASLER, said during a press briefing.‎

Buratai, who appears to be untouchable, in a recent statement issued by‎ ‎Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa, suggested that the Nigerian Army was not afraid of the International Criminal Court.

‎Reacting to reports that some civil society organisations and individuals have petitioned the ICC over the Army’s role in the Lekki shooting and other incidents during the #EndSARS protests, Buratai stressed that ‎”none of the Principal Staff Officers, GOCs, Field Commanders and other officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army should be afraid of the ICC for carrying out their legitimate duties”.

‎Rather than soften the Army’s brutal approach when threatened with ICC prosecution, Buratai, according to the statement issued after the meeting of the top management of the Nigerian Army at the Defence headquarters in Abuja on October 26, gave soldiers what amounted to a ‘licence to kill’ by directing troops to respond “quickly and decisively”‎ to attacks.

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