Inside lawmakers’ push for ‘Armed Forces Reserve Corps’

A bill, sponsored by Rep Muhammad Sani Abdu (APC, Bauchi), was first introduced on the floor of the House late last year and subsequently passed the second reading, titled: ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Armed Forces Act, to among other things, provide for specific duties for the Armed Forces Reserve in order to serve as a Rapid Response Mechanism with capacity to intervene in Emergency and Internal Security where the Nigerian Police is overwhelmed’.

A copy of the bill, obtained by Daily Trust, says the principal Act should be amended by substituting for the existing Section ‘3’ a new Section ‘3.’ The proposal says in the new Section 3 (1) that the Armed Forces Reserve Shall: (a) on the order of the President step in to maintain peace and order where on the joint resolution of the National Assembly or on the advice of the Service Chiefs that the Police were overwhelmed; (b) in collaboration with relevant security agencies protect and assist in rescuing of the civil population during the period of emergency;

It states in subsection (c) that the reserve will recruit and train able persons in counter terrorism, rioting, climate and other natural disasters; (d) on the president directives utilized to serve as a rapid response unit for counter terrorism, rescue mission on climate and natural disaster and (e) undertake such national and international assignment in furtherance of national security as the president may direct from time to time.

It proposes a new Section 3 (a), which says “The Chief of Defence Staff in consultation with other service chiefs may make regulations governing methods of recall of members of the Reserve, their payment and any other matters pertaining to the Reserve as may be deemed fit in the circumstance.”

The Reserve Force will have a full central command and control system with an experienced retired military officer heading it, and is for both retired officers and rank and file.

During the debate on the bill, Rep Abdu said the establishment of the Armed Forces Reserve in a country is usually aimed at providing alternative force to salvage civil population in periods of eventualities in which conventional security services offered by the police will not suffice to overcome devastating challenges that threaten human existence, or corporate survival of a nation. He said most countries of the world, especially the developed ones, have military reserves.

The US has about 1.1 million personnel in its reserve forces, which makes up over 45 percent of the total US military force. Abdu said the Nigerian Constitution has provided for the establishment and composition of the armed forces of the federation under Section 217, while Section 220 made provision for the establishment and maintenance of adequate facilities for carrying into effect any Act of the National Assembly providing for compulsory military training or military service for citizens of Nigeria.

The bill was proposed to fill the gap in the Armed Forces Act and make provisions through amendment for the establishment of the army reserves in response to emerging security challenges in the country which requires more sophisticated security intervention beyond the conventional services provided by the police force.

The specific objectives of the bill are to utilize the military reserves to provide rapid response mechanism to address emerging national security challenges such as kidnapping, insurgency, militancy; provide security support to the Nigerian Police in times of emergency and bearing security challenges beyond capacity of the Police Force.

It is also to provide trained and ever-ready qualified personnel for active duty in the armed forces during periods of eventuality; create opportunity to the National Assembly to exercise its powers of making laws for the peace order and good governance of the federation; create further opportunities for realizing the provision of security and welfare of the people.

At a public hearing on six bills, including the Armed Forces Reserve bill, by the House Committee on Defence, chaired by Rep Mukhtar Aliyu Betara (APC, Borno) on Tuesday, Speaker Yakubu Dogara harped on the need for restructuring the architecture of the Nigerian security agencies for efficiency.

Dogara, while reaffirming the commitment of the House of Reps to partner with the executive to provide proper funding, he called “for the proper equipping, staffing and training of the Nigerian Police, which is the civil authority designed to protect Nigerians in a democracy in the ordinary course of events”.

Dogara said: “The Armed Forces are doing a great job of assisting in maintenance of internal security currently as the Police is ill-equipped, improperly manned and too weak financially to perform its duties. It has also become necessary and urgent to re-examine the current architecture of policing in Nigeria to make it structurally strong and effective. The spate of insecurity, rampant kidnappings, terrorism, civil strife and threats to our corporate existence as a nation are too weighty and too important to be left unaddressed or to continue to be treated in a business-as-usual manner,” he said.

But the Defence Headquarters, represented by Air Vice Marshal Ibrahim Shafi, appeared to be silent on the proposal, although they made adequate submissions on a bill that seeks to make it mandatory for the National Assembly to confirm the appointment of service chiefs.

Daily Trust recalls that in February, 2013, the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd) hinted that the Nigerian Army would establish a force that would respond to emergency situations swiftly. He had said: “We want a situation where if there are some emergencies, we will have a force we can just call upon and immediately there will be response, whether the emergency is internal or external.”

But Ihejirika’s idea was to be comprised of serving personnel of the army.

Rep Abdu told Daily Trust in Abuja days after the public hearing that the amendment would go a long way in improving security. “What I simply did in my bill is to come up with the matter so that we can have a pool of retired men and women from all the armed forces, including the marine service, if we have it in future, to come and serve as a buffer to the military. What the bill seeks to achieve is for the reserve pool to be the first to be drafted to any place where there’s a disaster or crisis along with the police. It is when they can’t contain the situation that you can now think of bringing in the army and what have you,” he said.

On where the new corps would draw its budget from, Rep Abdu said: “They’ll draw it from the federation account just like the police, civil defence and others. This is the practice globally. The idea is to restrict the military to their core area of operation, which is defending the country’s territorial integrity. It will be called the ‘Nigeria Armed Forces Reserve Corps’ and they’ll go for normal training regularly and will be paid allowances so that they’ll be ready for any disaster or crisis.”

“Ultimately, if we have the Armed Forces Reserve Corps, it will help in quelling internal insurrection, create employment, reduce corruption in the military and a lot of other things,” Abdu explained.

Only recently, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris, during a public hearing by the House Committee on Police Affairs on the Police Trust Fund Bill, explained how the work of the police could be efficiently enhanced without much hassle. “I am tempted again to particularly mention the 2008 M. D. Yusuf Reform Committee report whose recommendations includes an estimate of N2.8 trillion to effectively reform and transform the Nigeria Police Force for a five-year period. The sum translates to N560 billion annually. Compare this to the N16.1 billion allocated to the police in 2016 for capital development which only N10 billion was released.

Some serving and military officers said no serious country will toy with strong, efficient and vibrant military reserve even in times of peace.

“But the situation is different here in Nigeria because nobody is talking about it. Even those in active service are battling to have essentials,” said Mohammed Abdul, a retired colonel. “In places like the United States, both the rank and file as well as officers in all the strata of defence, including Army, Navy and Air Force who have exceptional qualities are never let go even after they reached age of retirement.”

A serving officer in the North-East said this is the time the services of retired but active soldiers are needed. “Most of the fighters in the field these days were enlisted in the army relatively recently, without real battle experience and are finding it difficult to acclimatize,” he said. “But we have many retired soldiers who’ve fought in wars and served in peacekeeping operations both here at home and abroad.”

However, Ahmadu William (not real name), a sergeant serving in the North-East, said he will not serve as a reserve after retirement. “I loved the Army when I joined, but it is difficult here in Nigeria. I’ve been wearing uniform for many years and would love to remove it soon and fully join my family. What I now get as salary does not actually take care of my basic needs; how much would I be getting as a reserve?”

A serving captain told Daily Trust that he believes Nigeria must build a formidable reserve because of its strategic importance, not only in Africa but the world. “For instance, this is the right time to deploy reserve forces in the North-East. The military is overstretched by issues in almost all the six geopolitical zones.”

But the Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, believed that there was no need for the reserve force. “There are a lot of arrangements we have that accommodate internal crisis. You have the police and civil defence, which carry out such responsibilities. If you look at their mandates, you’ll find out that they perform similar functions. I think they are okay for now. It’s more a of not having adequate personnel for police, army and the rest,” he explained.

The Executive Secretary, Centre of Crisis Communication, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas (rtd) said the provision for armed forces reserves in the constitution is vague. He said the constitutional amendment should make specific objectives for establishing the reserves while retiring soldiers and officers should know how long they will be placed on the reserve list. “In some countries you are placed on the reserves list for up to three or five years after you retire,” adding that, “usually you are invited twice within a year to report.”

However, he said in Nigeria when you are leaving nobody tells you anything, “nobody mentioned it in my letter of retirement and that is almost four years ago, nobody has called me.” He added that the aspect of the reserve force needs clarity, noting that the normal practice is that officers on the list are invited for training and capacity-building.

Reserve forces around the world

In Israel, reserve service is mandatory, and considered part of national life. However, the percentage serving in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) reserves has significantly dwindled. It now consisted mainly of soldiers who served in one of the IDF combat units during their initial compulsory service. The reserves constituted the backbone of the army’s manpower needs. It is not rare in Israel for two generations to be serving simultaneously in the army.

The United States Army Reserve (USAR) is the Federal Reserve force of the United States Army. Together, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard constitute the Army element of the Reserve components of the United States Armed Forces. The Army Reserve was composed of 205,000 soldiers as of 2009. Reserve soldiers perform only part-time duties as opposed to full-time soldiers, but rotate through mobilizations to full-time duty. When not on active duty, reserve soldiers typically perform training/service one weekend per month, currently referred to as Battle Assembly, and for two continuous weeks at some time during the year referred to as Annual Training (AT).

For Britain, during total war, the Reserve is incorporated by the Royal Prerogative into Regular Service under one code of Military Law for the duration of hostilities or until de-activation is decided upon. Army Reservists normally have a full-time civilian job or career. All Army Reserve personnel have their civilian jobs protected to a limited extent by law should they be compulsorily mobilised.

In Egypt, the constitution mandates conscription but provides a variety of options for national service. Conscripts may be required to serve either in the police force, the prison-guard service, or in one of the military economic service units. Although 519,000 men reached the draft age of 20 each year, only about 80,000 were conscripted to serve in the armed forces. Conscripts serve three years of active duty after which they remained in reserve for an additional period.

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