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Buratai Years : Internal Security Operations



 Buratai Years Internal Security Operations

1.0 Introduction

For over five years that Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai held sway as the Chief of Army Staff,  a recurring thematic discussion was how he managed to mainstream the respect for fundamental human rights of citizens by the men and officers of the Nigerian Army. Under Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai,  the Department for Civil and Military relations worked actively to bridge the gaps between the civil populace and soldiers who were carrying out internal security operations across the Country.

However, the recent one year anniversary of the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters by Nigerian soldiers and the ongoing operation ‘New Dawn’ in the south east of Nigeria has brought to the fore again the controversial issue of soldiers being used to quell civil protests and the need for the military high command to abide by rules of engagement, respect for Human Rights of civilians and adherence to the principles of Rule of law in their military exercise.

No doubt, as the need for higher level of aggression continually reveal itself in Nigeria, Military involvement in internal security operations (ISOPs) has become inevitable. Although this has been the case ever since Nigeria was formed and it also continued throughout the colonial period, the recent occurrence of terrorism and agitation witnessed in the country has further justified the need for military participation in ISOPs.

This move however is not without challenges of its own as the military is not particularly trained for ISOPs unlike the civil security authorities and as a result, consistently engage in acts which are not civil enough.

This Research work discusses the involvement of the military in internal security operations by looking at the applicable laws, the instances of military ISOPs in Nigeria, extent of utilization as provided by legal instruments, ISOPs challenges, and derogation from legal provisions and ISOPs prospects.

2.0 Definition of Key Terms

2.1 The Nigerian Military

The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria which provides for the military in its section 217 makes it clear that the duties of the military, that is the Army, Navy and Air force will be to defend Nigeria from external aggression1, maintain its territorial integrity and securing its borders from isolation on land, sea or air,2 suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of National Assembly3. The military is also to perform such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly4.

Although the main functions of the military is to protect the nation against external aggression or threats, occasionally the military may be required to assist the civil authorities to deal with internal violence and suppress internal tension. For instance, the military may be required to assist the police in restoring law and order in any part of the country.

Section 217(c) of the 1999 Constitution forms the basis of the involvement of the military in Internal Security Operations (ISOPs) in Nigeria. It provides thus in relation to the functions of the military in Nigeria:

“…suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of National Assembly.”

Section 8(1) of the Armed Forces Act5 provides that the President shall determine the operational use of the Armed Forces. Operational use is further defined6 thus:

“In this section, “operational use of the armed forces” includes the operational use of the Armed Forces in Nigeria for the purpose of maintaining and securing public safety and public order.”

2.2​Internal Security Operation

Internal Security Operations (ISOPs) are those acts carried out by the domestic security agents such as the Police, Customs Service, Immigration Service, and others, for the purpose of containing domestic threats to the security of the country. These threats often relate to dire cases of riots, demonstrations, strikes, communal clashes, terrorism, and the likes, which normally fall outside the constitutional duty of the military.5

For instance, it is the duty of the Police to maintain law and order within the society. Section 4 of the Police Act provides the general duties of the police as the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged.

ISOPs are designed to handle internal conflicts in a country. In Nigeria, communal/ethnic clashes, religious conflicts and recently acts of terrorism and agitations have necessitated the involvement of the Military in ISOPs.

3.0 Applicable laws for Internal Security Operations

Domestic laws usually apply in internal security operations, but this is however influenced by the rules and standards of international law. Domestic laws provide the basis for military involvement in internal security operations while international human rights law regulates the conducts of operations, military or otherwise in those situations.

3.1 1999 Constitution ​

In Nigeria, the first law is the Constitution which empowers the President to use federal forces to combat domestic disturbances. These disturbances only serve as threats to the rights of some individuals or group in some particular areas of the nation, these are not threats to the national security. Section 217 of the 1999 Constitution is to the effect that the military, under the directive of the President can act in the aid of civil authorities to restore law and order.

Pursuant to this section, the military has often been called upon to suppress acts of riots, demonstrations and terrorism in order to restore peace, law and order. Section 305 of the Constitution which empowers the President to issue a proclamation of state of emergency is another basis for military internal security operations. This section provides that state of emergency shall be declared in the following situations:

• When there is actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the federation or any part thereof to such extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security.

• Also, if there is clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the federation or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert such danger,

• Or there is an occurrence or imminent danger or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity affecting the community or a section of the community in the federation, or there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of the federation.

These provisions above all refer to the breakdown of public order and public safety and the need to restore same. Although the duty to restore of law and order within the country is that of the civil authorities which is the Nigeria Police, the provision of Section 217 of the 1999 Constitution comes in handy here as it is to the effect that the military can be called upon to aid civil authorities to restore public order in any part of the country.

In line with these Constitutional provisions, the military always performs internal security operations when a state of emergency is proclaimed. The 1999 Constitution also safeguards human rights by providing for the rights to life, right to personal liberty, right to privacy, right to human dignity.6


3.2​International Human Rights Law

International laws do not contain provisions for when the military can perform internal security operations but they provide regulations for the conduct of ‘actors’ during such periods. International human rights law applies both during armed conflicts and in peacetime. This also applies to both armed conflicts of international and domestic nature. Its aim is to protect the rights of individuals against State authorities.

Those rights are set forth in international treaties such as the ICCPR, and in regional conventions such as the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights. The rights listed in these international treaties apply at all times except under some special conditions whereby a state may derogate from them by notifying the relevant authorities of its derogation. These special conditions include in the event of a public emergency threatening the existence of the nation. Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai went as far as publishing the standard guidelines for internal security operations which encompasses all the safeguards against the violations of the human rights of citizens.  The current Army Chief Lieutenant General Yahaya Faruk has on more than one occasion tasked his operatives to adhere strictly to the Rules of Engagement and respect the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens as provided for in the Constitution and international laws. It is expected that the human rights department and the officebof Chief of Civil Military operations will continue to deepen the dialogues and constructive engagement with the civil populace for the purposes of promoting and protection of human rights of all.

4.0​Challenges With Operation Of The Nigerian Military During Internal Security Operations

The Nigerian military has engaged in peace keeping operations in foreign countries on a number of occasions and has been commended for its noble conduct during those occasions, Sierra leone and Liberia are good examples. It is wondered why this is not the case when internal security operation is concerned. This is because there have been of recent, a lot of misgivings regarding the conducts of some operatives engaged in internal security operations.  During the era of Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai,  there were internal mechanisms for dealing with acts of indiscipline and professional misconducts committed during internal operations and this writer is aware that the current dispensation has continued with this illustrious tradition of dealing decisively with criminal acts and professional misconducts by soldiers. It is expected that transparency and openness should be the watchword so Nigerians know that the Nigerian Army is a professional institution that does not tolerate acts of professional misconducts. However, there are areas of concern that the hierarchy of the military needs to look at and bring effective redress.

The problem of high handedness and insensitivity to the nature and characteristics of civilian dominated areas is always pointed out as a flaw. A number of features are associated with the Nigerian military engaged in internal security operations most of which are negative. These are discussed below:

4.1 Excessive use of force

The use of excessive force is against the precepts of human rights. Excessive force is a force generally beyond that which a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer would use under the circumstances.

Article 51(5)(b) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

The military engaged in internal operations has been reported on several occasions as using excessive force. The case popularly known as the Odi Massacre provides an illustration of this. An attack carried out on November 20, 1999 by the Nigeria military on the predominantly Ijaw village of Odi in Bayelsa State.

The attack came in the context of the conflict in the Niger Delta over the indigenous rights to oil resources and environmental protection. Prior to the Massacre, twelve (12) members of the Nigerian police were reportedly murdered by a gang of restive youths near the village of Odi. In an apparent revenge, the military acting on the directive of the Federal government, invaded the village and raided it. This attack was characterized by intense and excessive use of force. The attack on the Oguta, Imo State community by the Army is a case in point in the most recent time. This must be thoroughly investigated. I’m not in support of killing of soldiers whilst they are on duty but at the same time, when any soldier is killed, it is a crime against humanity for the Army to invade the community where the dastardly act happened to unleash devastating violence on the community.

4.2​Extra judicial killings

Military in internal security operations have also been characterized with extra judicial killings. In April 2013, the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, said that over 100 people were killed in Baga during a clash between officers of the Joint Task Force and insurgents. Residents of the village said they buried 185 people after the battle, while the Red Cross has said 187 people were killed.9

The human Rights Watch also reported that during a military operation which began on October 22, 2001, soldiers from the 23rd Amored Brigade of the 3rd Amored Division rounded up villagers at Gbeji (in Zaki Biam area of Benue State) in what turned out to be a “ployed‟ meeting.

The soldiers made the villagers to sit on the ground, separating thereby men from the rest and opening fire on the men indiscriminately.10 There have also been several reports on extra judicial killings by the military in Nigeria.

4.3. ​Degrading Treatment Of Citizens – Rape, Torture

Under normal circumstances, soldiers are not supposed to be seen all over the place but there is a departure from this in situations where military perform internal security operations as they are deployed to affected areas. Soldiers reportedly extort citizens after intimidating them. It is now a norm for soldiers to ask defaulting car drivers on the high way to do ‘frog jumps’ as a form of punishment. Women and girls are raped on a number of occasions whether or not during a conflict. Some girls were reportedly raped in Abuja by soldiers under the guise that the girls were prostitutes. During the time of Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai,  these issues came up in the North East and it was gathered that certain disciplinary measures were taken by him to punish alleged perpetrators.11

4.4. ​Arbitrary Arrest

Soldiers involved in internal security operations also effect arrest arbitrarily. For instance, at Odi and Zaki Biam, many young people were arrested and falsely accused of being masterminds of the killing of security personnel. At Onitsha, a number of youths were arrested and falsely accused of being members of MASSOB.12

Three weeks ago, Nollywood actor; Chiwetalu Agu was arrested and dehumanized by the Army because he allegedly advertises for the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) for putting on a cloth that has the flag of the defunct Biafra Republic.

5.0​Recommendations For Military Involvement in Internal Security Operations

The increasing roles taken by the military in internal security operations have been criticized by people who are of the opinion that the military are not trained to manage internal operations like other civil authorities such as the police.

However it must be said that the involvement of the military in internal operations has had its advantages notwithstanding the negativity associated with it. The military will also go a long way in providing aid to civil authorities if the proper mechanisms necessary for civil protection and internal operations are put in place. To this end, the following recommendations are proffered:

1.​It is necessary for there to be domestic legislation which will regulate the operations of the military during internal operations. The Rules of Engagement of the military should be given a legal status and stop operating as mere guidelines.

2. ​There should be operational training for soldiers who will be involved in internal security operations. Training in riot control drill is of the utmost importance.

3. ​There should be a re-orientation of the soldiers involved in internal operations and the populace as well. The military has been tagged with the label of terror and an average Nigerian encountering soldiers on the road is likely to be subjected to unnecessary and

unwarranted fear. The fact that soldiers do not mingle with the day to day life of the people unlike the police is responsible for the fear.

4. ​Soldiers should also be knowledgeable in conflict management.

5. ​It is thus necessary that soldiers engaged in internal security operations have more of defense equipments although depending on each case.

6. ​The military should be made to undergo trainings geared towards internal operations before engaging in same.


6.0​Evaluations and Conclusion


The military will continually be involved in internal security operations notwithstanding the negative practices associated with their involvement. The Constitution serves as the main domestic law safeguarding the rights of the citizens thereby indirectly regulating the conduct of the military during operations. The Army should be commended for preventing the kidnapping of the respected Bishop of Orlu Catholic Diocese. There is the need for broad-based synergy between the military and the civil authorities and the public so the internal security operations of the military are not used to dehumanize the civilian populace or for some civilians to view the military as unfriendly.

There are also international conventions and treaties in which Nigeria is a party to. However, there is no domestic legislation which specifically regulates military interventions in internal security operations. The Rules of Engagement of the military only serves as guidelines to the military and do not have any force of law per se.

This contributes to the lack of respect for human rights exhibited by the military during some internal operations. It is necessary therefore to regulate their operations during these periods through a domestic legislation specifically enacted for that purpose. We in the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) hereby call on the National Assembly to legislate into law a national operational standards and codes for the Armed forces of Nigeria to provide for specific penalties for deviations and disrespect for the human rights of the citizens.  It is expected that the HUMAN RIGHTS DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WHICH WAS VIABLE AND VIBRANT DURING THE LIEUTENANT GENERAL TUKUR YUSUF BURATAI’S YEARS IS KEPT ALIVE and the office of the Chief of Civil Military Relations continues to interface with credible civil rights advocacy groups such as the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).



1. Section 217(2)(a) 1999 Constitution

2. Section 217(2)(b) 1999 Constitution

3. Section 217(2)(c) 1999 Constituion

4. Section 217(2)(d) 1999 Constitution

5. Okoli, Al Chukwuma, Orinya, Sunday “Evaluating the Strategic Efficacy of Military Involvement in Internal Security Operations (ISOPs) in Nigeria” IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 9, Issue 6 (Mar. – Apr. 2013), p. 22

6. Section 33-37 1999 Constitution

7. See Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

8. Dr. Robert O. Dode “Nigerian Security Forces and the Management of Internal Conflict in the Niger Delta: Challenges of Human Security and Development” European Journal of Sustainable Development (2012) p. 411

9. Ola Audu “Borno Governor says ‘over 100 people’ killed in Baga; orders distribution of relief materials” (Premium Times Newspaper online 23 April 2013) accessed on 23rd August 2013

10. (Human Rights Watch, October 25, 2001)

11. “Nigerian Soldiers rape Women in Abuja” (CKN NIGERIA on Thursday, 17 January 2013) accessed on the 23rd August 2013 .

12. Okoli, Al Chukwuma, Orinya, Sunday “ Evaluating the Strategic Efficacy of Military Involvement in Internal Security Operations (ISOPs) in Nigeria” IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 9, Issue 6 (Mar. – Apr. 2013), p. 23.




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