The recruitment of 400 members of the Civilian Joint Task Force in Borno State into the Nigerian Army has pitted prominent socio-cultural groups representing different regions of the country against one another on the proprietary or otherwise of the move.
While the Arewa Consultative Forum is fully in support of the decision, groups such as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, the Middle Belt Forum and the Pan Niger Delta Forum are against it on the premise that only persons from a particular area of the country are recruited into the Army.
The Nigerian Army had on Wednesday absorbed 400 members of the civilian JTF into its fold to assist in prosecuting the war against Boko Haram terrorists.
The men, among who are hunters, repentant criminals, are being enlisted into the Nigerian Army’s supper camp strategy in Borno State, the worst hit by the insurgency.
Governor Babagana Zulum, who commissioned the 400 men in the presence of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, said they formed the first batch to be recruited by the Army.
According to him, other CJTF members will be joining the Army soon.
The CJTF emerged in 2013 to support the security forces in the fight against Boko Haram and to protect local communities from attacks by insurgents and was formalised by the Borno State Government through a collaboration with the military.
The CJTF members were recruited, trained, kitted, deployed and paid monthly allowances to motivate them.
Reacting to the news, the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, through its National Publicity Secretary, Yinka Odumakin, accused the Federal Government of regionalising the Army.
He said, “There is no other name to call this than regionalisation of the Army for a section of the country without necessarily saying so.
The rest of the country is not daft about what is going on. There is no way you can build confidence in national institutions when you continue to paint them in sectional colours. And these are the same people, who said the South-West could not do Amotekun a few months ago.
“Borno is afflicted with the crisis the way other sections are and we cannot turn our supposed national Army into the outfit of a section of it in addition to the sectionalism and parochialism of this regime in the last five years.”
Similarly, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, insisted that the commissioning of the 400 civilian JTF members in Borno State into the Nigerian Army violated the federal character principle in national appointments.
It said the action of the Army leadership showed that the security apparatus of the country had collapsed.
The President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who spoke through his Media Adviser, Chief Emeka Attamah, condemned the action of the Army, saying it had negative implications.
He stated, “It is a clear vindication of those, who hold the view that a situation where civilians are now conscripted into the Army to fight Boko Haram is a big shame to Nigeria.
“It runs against the spirit of the federal character principle, which ensures equity in national employment. Can this be replicated in other parts of the country?
“Who has guaranteed the integrity of the people absorbed into the Army? Who is sure they are not even sympathetic to the Boko Haram cause?”
Similarly, the Middle Belt Forum faulted the recruitment of the civilian JTF members into the Army.
The National President of the forum, Dr Bitrus Porgu, who spoke with one of our correspondents in Jos on Thursday, said the action of the Nigerian Army negated the principle federalism being practised by Nigeria.
Porgu said, “We are not objecting to the absorption of the CJTF members into the military for assisting them in the fight against insurgency.
“However, there should be equity in everything we do as a country because we are a federation and are not supposed to do things haphazardly. So, if the Nigerian Army wants to recruit CJTF members into its fold, it should also bring in similar outfits in other parts of the country, so that there will be equity in representation in the Army.
“This is important because we have them all over the country, who are also sacrificing their lives to help in securing the country and working hard on their own volition without receiving salaries. Why single out an outfit in a region for recruitment?”
In order to strengthen Nigeria’s security apparatus, Porgu maintained that the absorption of the vigilantes should not be restricted to only the Nigerian Army, but should be extended to the police and other para-military agencies
He insisted that the establishment of state police remained the best option for solving the country’s security challenges.
Also, the Pan Niger Delta Forum said volunteers and vigilante members in other parts of the country should be commissioned into the Army like what was done with the civilian JTF in Borno State.
The spokesman for PANDEF, Ken Robinson, who stated this in a chat with one of our correspondents, said this would bring about fairness, adding that it would raise suspicion if what happened in Borno was not replicated in other parts of the country.
He added that the armed forces and the police were understaffed and would do with more personnel.
Robinson stated, “Obviously, the armed forces and even the police are understaffed. I don’t know the number of personnel we have immediately, but I know we have less than 500,000 police personnel policing a nation of about 200 million people.
“So, I’m sure that the situation with the Army won’t be different. If they are properly profiled and the so-called civilian JTF members are not the so-called repentant Boko Haram members that they are putting into the Army, then good and fine.
“But we need to interrogate that further to be sure that they are truly not the so-called repentant Boko Haram members because those stories and insinuations are everywhere that that is what is happening and that when that is done, they will most likely be posted to the southern parts of the country and become another terror gan
“So, we are conscious of that and we are a bit worried. If they are recruiting civilian JTF members into the Army, then they should do the same in other parts of the country.
“There are vigilante groups in almost all states. They should also get their members into the Nigerian Army to strengthen internal security. But, if they don’t do that and concentrate on doing so in the North, then it is suspicious.”
A Borno State elder statesman, Zanna Boguma, advised the Army to replicate the commissioning of volunteers into its fold in all states experiencing insecurity in the country to ensure fairness and balance in the system with the aim of achieving speedy restoration of peace and security.
He said the decision of the Army to recruit civilian JTF members in Borno State to help in the fight against insurgency was a global practice that allows volunteers to participate in the restoration of peace and order in different localities.
Boguma made the statement in Maiduguri on Thursday while responding to the recruitment of 400 civilian JTF members by the Army.
“These non-armed militias have been trained and trusted by the Army; they have been at the forefront of the counterinsurgency fight; it is only ideal for the Army to conscript these into its operations if it wants to effectively combat insurgency,” he stated.
He said the Army was supposed to recruit at least 2,000 volunteers considering the number of ideal youths willing to join in the fight, adding that the conscription of the civilian JTF members was not a ploy for regional recruitment into the Army as those engaged would only be used for the duration of the operation against insurgents.
“I know there is recruitment presently ongoing in the armed forces; the incorporation of these willing volunteers is just for the purpose of the Boko Haram fight. They will be disengaged as soon as peace and security are restored,” he added.
Boguma said with the wave of insecurity being experienced in the country, it would be wise for the Army to engage able-bodied volunteers from the affected states in order to combat such crimes, adding, “There is kidnapping going on in the country, and there is banditry in the North-West; pipeline vandalism in the South-South; the Army should engage volunteers from these affected zones, who know the terrain very well, to be at the forefront of the fight, so that they can achieve the desired result.”
He noted that the Army had been overstretched as a result of the multiple operations it was undertaking in the country, adding that it was slow in recruiting the civilian JTF members who had contributed to the restoration of relative peace in most local government areas of Borno State because of their vast knowledge of the terrain.
However, the pan-northern socio-political organisation, the Arewa Consultative Forum, said the conscription of 400 civilian JTF members into the military was normal in a war situation.
The ACF National Publicity Secretary, Mr Emmanuel Yawe, told one of our correspondents in an interview in Kaduna on Thursday, “We are in a war situation in Borno.”
Yawe said during the Nigerian civil war, many citizens were conscripted into the Army, adding that some were even given military ranks, but after the war, they were disbanded.
The ACF spokesman stated, “We are in a war situation in Borno. What you do at the waterfront should not be compared with that of peacetime or decisions taken in a peaceful environment. You embark on conscription and field promotion at the waterfront. All these are not normal military traditions.”
The Army spokesman, Col. Sagir Musa, did not respond to enquiries on the recruitment of 400 civilian JTF into the Nigerian Army and if there was any plan to extend the same gesture to vigilante members in other parts of the country.