It will be very interesting to know what the military establishment thinks about the conclusion of this policy brief on the topic. It is not so much about whether the military establishment agrees or disagrees with the conclusion of the text but as an input to a more unimpeachable inference. Without that input, the conclusion and the policy brief could be standing on one leg.
Nothing, however, reduces the timeliness of the subject matter or the right of civil society/activist oversight on the military or even the author’s arrangement of the content. They are all very interesting cut in typical of Prof Chris Kwaja, the Peace scholar who authored this policy brief. Kwaja is of the Modibbo Adama University in Yola, Northeast of Nigeria.
The key question is whether a case of conflict of interest can be substantiated between the military’s core obligation as the backbone of the modern state and the recent trend involving the military as investors, with a clear calculus to make profit. Can the two go together without one suffering?
The author takes a specific approach to the question. It is that the Nigerian military has, of recent, become a key player in direct, corporate investment in oil and gas, aviation, real estate, agriculture, steel fabrication, drugs production and even shipping, amongst others. The author tells us it is a major transformation.
Although it is not peculiar to the Nigerian military as this is what has happened in one form or the other in many other countries – Indonesia, Turkey, Russia, Pakistan, El Salvador, etc – the key questions are still there.
Under the guise of ‘Restricted’, the everyday operations of the military are not open to tracking and scrutiny by civilian controlled regulatory institutions. That is one broad problem that arises with military commercial exploits. Accountability is a closely connected dimension of it and it is sensitive because they are using public resources appropriated in the budget which is a law and has its own regimes and practices. Also mentioned is the question of what is left for defence and security matters if the commercial investments consume a huge chunk of available resources. Given that businesses can fail, this dimension has a scary edge to it.
For these and the other reasons listed and explained in the text, the Brief concludes that there are major concerns about a military that is lost to the profit calculus. Not the least of these concerns is the distraction that comes with securing the nation and securing profit simultaneously. The last segment of the ten page Brief offers some considered ways out. “The pursuit of profit and the risks of corruption by military personnel are key threats to military professionalism that needs to be checkmated urgently” rings out the conclusion.
It is a conclusion some readers would regard as a sharp one just as some readers would consider it too categorical. Both sides would be correct to the extent that a policy brief is not really about being correct or incorrect but whether it provokes thought. In other words, the key question about this text is about people getting it to read so that they can make up their mind on the question. And the topic can be given more expanded treatment.
Recently, some retired diplomats argued that a Military-Industrial-Complex approach to foreign policy should guide President Tinubu. That is a business model approach and it touches on this issue of how industrialisation around military hardware can keep the military and Nigeria from war mongering. The more debates these provoke, the better for Nigeria. In that case, kudos to CISLAC which organised the publication.