Friday, January 16, 2009

Soldiers and the use of sirens and horse whips

THE Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Marshal Paul Dike, recently issued guidelines to improve the conduct of military personnel in and outside the barracks. According to him, his dispensation is out to make a difference and he particularly zeroed in on the use of sirens and some other misdemeanours, such as the use of horse whip on the public often attributed to military personnel, whether on duty or not. The CDS should be commended for his response to these issues that have tended to damage the image of the Nigerian military and create a serious backlash from the public.

The whole of the guidelines handed down by the CDS fundamentally addresses basic indiscipline of the military and seeks to improve the relationship between the military and the Nigerian public, whose interest soldiers are expected to protect in the first place. Military men and women should be respected because they have vowed to lay down their lives for the country's sake. However, when the same people are accused of perpetration of inhuman behaviour and nuisance, something is basically wrong. Perhaps this is not the first time a military chief has addressed this problem. But it is the first time a striking paraphernalia of military conduct in public has come under very serious hammering.

Surely, any military personnel visiting violence on an innocent member of the public should not be allowed to go scot-free. It is not enough to condone such behaviour with the explanation that soldiers are not supposed to live close to the civilian population. Whether or not they do, the fact remains that they are after all human beings and professionals who must adhere strictly to the rules of decorum.

The use of sirens has never been an all-comers' privilege in the military. But the impression has since been given over time that military personnel are superior to civilians and must be given the right of way in traffic situations. This mentality does not only permeate the psyche of military personnel, unfortunately the people themselves accept this to be a tradition. This should not be so and while our military must be accorded due respect, they must be made to realise that the rights of the people are also sacrosanct.

At the same time, the Nigerian society must realise that the bad eggs in the military are duly to blame for the ugly perpetration of violence on innocent civilian population. The CDS has now restricted the use of sirens to only the service chiefs. Does this extend to their relatives when a service chief is not present in a vehicle? And what of GOCs, and other principal officers who may need to use the siren for security purposes? There is certainly a need for clarification. Otherwise, the guideline will be subjected to foul interpretations that sideline the original objectives.

Obviously, the CDS must seek to encourage improved military-public relations whereby military personnel are seen as friends and defenders of our rights and freedom. The people must also realise that military men and women are trained people with intelligence, many with high Intelligence Quotients (IQs) in a noble profession and therefore they deserve our respect. The people must at the same time have easy access to a means of reporting cases of military misdemeanour to the relevant authority. In this way, no soldier gets away with a violation of his code of conduct. Most of what we see today in this respect is the result of the hang-over of decades of military rule. This is why military personnel will benefit from regular re-orientation.

All this notwithstanding, military authorities should resist the temptation to enforce discipline on the pages of newspapers other than pleading with the public for collaborative partnership in enforcing discipline of the personnel. There ought to be Military Community Relations Committees across the nation to ensure mutual understanding and assistance, with identifiable complaints desks. The old mindset of mutual subjugation and destruction should stop and an era of public-military partnership should be encouraged for the benefit of the nation.