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THE ROLE OF THE MILITARY IN ETHNIC RELATION, DEMOCRACY AND PEACE BUILDING being the text of the address delivered by Col Gabriel Ajayi (rtd) at the 2-day summit on Promoting Peace, Democracy and Stability in Nigeria through the Media, Socio-Cultural Institutions and Youth-Driven Community Based Groups organized by the Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER) and the FORD Foundation held at Berkeley Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos


  1. I sincerely appreciate the thoughtfulness and the concerns of the conveners of this program. I agree with the conveners that one of the greatest threats to Nigerians renaissance is the deep ethnic and religious divisions which have been leading to avoidable violent conflicts around the country. It is through this type of program that in-depth knowledge can be acquired to demystify the causes of such conflicts based on truth and exchange of information for only the truth can make the people free. Here in Nigeria we have so many pretentiously religious adherents without respect to the sensibilities of orders, near psychotic and divisive leaders pretending to be nationalist while encouraging dissentions underground. In such an environment conflicts become inevitable.
  2. I am to speak on the topic: The Roles of the Military in Ethnic Relation, Democracy and peace building. My choice to speak on this topic might have been informed by my pedigree as a retired hardcore infantry officer of 30 years’ experience in the military service of this nation. I can assure you that we will only exchange ideas for nothing is hidden from all Nigerians about what the military can do and what it cannot do. No doubt the Nigerian military has ingratiated itself with the civil society in Nigeria haven’t ruled the nation for more than half of her independent life. Even certain terminologies commonly used in the society are mainly of military origin. The need for sustainable development on promotion of peace and understanding among the vast and diverse ethno, religious and other social formations cannot be over emphasized. The military remains one of the strongest agencies/institutions of restraint in any nation. It is the power of the state to enforce its sovereignty over its people or any conquered/administered territories. The Nigerian military remains the oldest institution founded in Nigeria by Great Britain. Although as a person I have never subscribed to the notion that peace can be acquired through dialogue or consensus; Peace can be acquired by a balance of power or force. It is naive to think that a weak neighbour could peacefully coexist with a strong and sanguinary one without trespass. Peaceful co-existence could only happen when the weak neighbour submits him/herself to humiliating compromises.




  1. The aim of this paper is to highlight the role The Nigerian Military can play in ensuring peaceful co-existence among Nigerians of diverse, ethnic religion, social, cultural and political persuasions.


  1. All over the world the military is an organization that serves the public at large, often, although not necessarily, to the exclusion of the people who are the object of the organization’s endeavors. The military profession is a voluntary one since individuals are free to choose an occupation within it, yet it is also coercive in that its members are not free to organize into voluntary associations. They are confined to a bureaucratic – hierarchical situation. The military consist of highly trained skillful and dedicated leaders which form the officer’s corps and the disciplined men. They are special people with unusual mission to perform. They are those categories of people to be engaged in quarrels conducted between nations or internal insurgency/tumult by the use of force in a state of open hostility. This is when ordinary international laws, diplomacy and internal agreements may be ignored or suspended. The two qualitative variables of the military are Control and Skills. When you talk of the use of military in conflict resolutions it is still a weapon in the hands of one of the disputants.
  2. Historically, the most important attributes of the military are bravery and discipline. But today corporate military professionalism has widened the military’s social, political economic and religious horizon. As a bureaucracy the military today is closely linked to modern nation state whose technological advancement and orientation are revolutionary in both management and strategy. The propensity of the military therefore to intervene in politics, socio-economic and religion policy formulation is due to this bureaucratic roles and orientation. The military is trained and imbibed with discipline, loyalty, dedication, obedience, hard work, courage and overwhelming determination to fight under any climatic condition and terrain in order to secure/guarantee the territorial integrity of the country. The function of the military is to fulfill the will of the civilian authority and be apolitical, detribalized, upholding the compactness of their institution through esprit de corps. Let me add here that the military organization is a sort of fraternity, an unusual community as well as an instrument of power and bureaucracy. Today’s military plays an influential role in the making of national security and defence policies.


  1. The evolution of Nigerian Army presents one of those funny twists of history. The origin of the Nigerian Army is traced to a Constabulary Force organized in Lagos in 1863 from runaway slaves who had attached themselves to one lieutenant Glover of the Royal Navy. Glover’s boat Dayspring was ship-wrecked at Jebba on the River Niger. The Naval Officer after the incident decided to make it to Lagos by road. On his way he came across some unruly inhabitants mainly from the Northern part of Nigeria who were desperately trying to escape from the slave dealers. He took eighteen of them to escort him to Lagos. Due to the valour, strength and endurance displayed by these runaway slaves, Glover on arrival in Lagos used them as the nucleus to form a local force known then as “Glover Hausas”. He started using them to carry out British conquests and to protect British trade routes around the territory of Lagos. They were predominantly from the martial tribes of Northern Nigeria, notably the Kambaris, Godogodos, Zurus, Bachamas, Junkuns, Gongonbris, Kutebs, Idomas, Zunturungs, Kartafs, Langtangs, Panchins and Tivs. They were stark illiterates, but absolutely dedicated, loyal and amenable to military discipline. The proficiency in handling firearms has nothing to do with literacy.
  2. Great Britain the founder of Nigeria military did not allow the indigenous security architecture to grow simultaneously with the evolving political development. No steps were taken early enough to correct the image of Colonial military savagery conceived by Nigerians of the security system. Ironically and of course history abounds in ironies, the Colonial Nigeria military was not used to defend Nigerian territorial integrity from external aggression but to aid the conquering and subjugation of Nigeria nations by Great Britain. To be an impartial arbiter in a dispute, there must be some measure of trust in the arbitrators by the disputants. Unfortunately the foundational history of the Nigerian Army underdeveloped civil military-relations between the military and the civil society. This possibility was dealt a fatal blow at the formation of the Nigerian Army in that Lt. Glover recruited a force for the pacification of the people by their own people, an earlier realization of the Foster Dulles’ doctrine of using the Asians to fight the Asians. Thus, the chord of civil-military relations was snapped at its cradle. This is while the doctrinal direction within the Nigerian military has always titled towards identifying the people as the enemy of the country rather than external forces. Student’s movement, Labour Unions, pro-democracy forces were branded as internal enemies of the country. Elsewhere, these ‘internal enemies’ are the forces for national renewal. There existed only mutual distrust, suspicion and antagonisms since Nigerian Soldiers were serving a foreign power and were under the control of the British Army Council in London. This situation created the military mentality syndrome because the military institution introduced to Nigeria was primarily meant to be an instrument of oppression.
  3. The tragedy is that after Nigeria became independent on 1st October 1960, that military mentality was transferred from the Colonial masters to the indigenous military officers. This is why those who were supposed to be their political bosses or to be protected by them were labeled bloody civilians. Till date the problem exists on how to ensure that the military enjoys social legitimacy from the people in order to promote cordial civil-military relations. Our new government after independence failed to transform the military to think like average Nigerians. It was not considered expedient to ensure full understanding of the new independent ethno-political, socio-economic experiment in Nigeria. A force that fought the British wars and was used in Nigeria primarily against the interest of the natives needed proper re-organizations, re-orientation, and re-positioning to reflect the circumstances of the new independent nation. The new political elites left the military as a reserved demolition without demolition guards.
  4. Today the Nigerian military is a product of the Nigerian constitution with the following assigned responsibilities;
  • To defend the territorial integrity of the Nation by Land, Sea and Air.
  • To deter attack by any Nation, and should deterrence fail, to bring any ensuing war to a conclusion favourable to Nigeria.
  • To provide aids to civil power as at when necessary and if called upon to do so by the appropriate civilian authority.
  • To aid the African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), United Nations Organization (UNO), and any other bilateral arrangement which may be entered into fro time to time by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


  1. The Nigerian military has the profile to assist in solving problems associated with conflict management and putting down revolts both locally and internationally. We must start from the fact that the Nigerian military fought to maintain the territorial integrity, the indivisibility of the nation and the survival of the Federation. The military has continued to respond professionally to sectorial dissimulations around the country. It is on record that the Nigerian military intervened to restore peace, safe-guarding of innocent lives and properties in the former Western Region of Nigeria. The military also restored law and order in the Tiv province (now Benue, Plateau, and part of Nassarawa State) of Northern Nigeria. The military could also be credited with the crushing of Maitatsine and Makanikin religious uprisings in the North of Nigeria, while today the military is battling tooth and nail to suppress Boko Haram insurgency. This is a revolt against the Nation by a fringe religious organization domiciled principally in the North Eastern region of Nigeria. Nigerian military conflict resolution efforts have gone beyond the borders of Nigeria into other parts of the World.
  2. War is not an excuse for ignoring established humanitarian principles, which is why the military is capable of undertaking humanitarian activities in conflicts resolution. Let me state here clearly that when you talk about the military personnel, we teach them well to fight and to kill. That is their main job. Policing job is more complex than that. The police men are to be diplomat, social workers, arbitrators, and must be in physical condition to stop violence. They are the friends of the society. During the various socio political and religious upheavals in many parts of Northern Nigeria the military barracks became safe havens for many internally displaced persons. The impartiality and the neutrality of the military in handling the situation will boost the confidence of the disputants.
  3. The military can undertake psychological operations in the arena of conflicts resolution. The roles here includes some of the following;
  • Winning the hearts and minds of the people involved in the conflicts.
  • Provision of shelters for displaced persons.
  • Securing safe areas which have been clear for people to return to their homes.
  • Provision of water supply and distribution of released materials.
  • Opening up of routes, repair of damaged bridges and roads, etc. As recorded in the biblical book of Nehemiah “While we held the spear in one hand we built”.
  • Provision of medical facilities.
  • Provision of educational facilities for the displaced children in camps.
  • Provision of recreational facilities to relieve displaced persons of boredom.
  • Linking up of families who had lost contact as a result of conflicts.
  • Flag marches, that is showing of force not the use or application of force.


  1. Talking about military roles in conflicts management in our own peculiar environment is fraught with pitfalls due to the evolutionary history of the Nigerian military. A military that started as a Glover Hausas Force will not but suffer from what I call ‘Glover syndrome’. Right from its inception in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was used largely for the pacification of the indigenous peoples of Nigeria by the British for the British. With this past, will the use of the military in conflicts resolution not be tantamount to using Foxes to guard the Hens cage? After all the military has also been part as of the nation’s tragedy and foibles. God bless JODER and the Ford Foundation, sponsors of this programme. Thank you all for listening.


Colonel Gabriel A. Ajayi (Rtd) Acm, Fss Psc(t) FIIPS

Chief Operation Officer (COO)
Extreme Guards Nigeria Limited


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