Thursday, 19 June 2014

Militarising Nigeria

The former MD of Nigerian Breweries recently called for the return of the military. Festus Odimegwu doesn’t seem to be a man much given to hyperbole so we must take him at his word, as indeed those various others voicing the same opinion. It should be said at the outset that his reasons are cogent enough. ‘Our leaders don’t understand what leadership is all about,’ he opines and few would disagree. As I write, the president and the newly appointed Kano State emir are forgiving one another their kleptomania; meanwhile, the vice-president, whose reputation for avarice is second to few, has descended on Ekiti State to beef up the ‘war front’ in the ruling party’s determination to ‘bring back our stolen mandate’.
This is what happened in Ekiti State during the infamous 2007 elections that made the courts finally overturn the results in favour of Dr Kayode Fayemi, the incumbent now hoping for a second term:
This writer was in Ekiti State during the re-run elections and I saw how dangerous and desperate they were. The entire state resources were deployed in order to keep the loot. The Nigerian press had a bitter lesson to tell and the documentation of raw deal newsmen suffered in Ekiti State. I saw Oni’s men and women going berserk and mad just to remain in power. Senators Ayo Arise and Omisore took the fight personal because they know that if Oni loses their position will be on [the] line. Senator Ayo Arise and Omisore...physically mobilized thugs to main and kill innocent people with impunity. The delegation from Abuja led by the Dimeji Bankole, the Speaker of the House of Representatives provided a shield for the Oni’s army to unleash violence on the people of Ekiti without caring a hoot.

With the new gubernatorial election just two days away, Fayemi has already expressed fears for his life following the death of a supporter from a police bullet during an otherwise peaceful rally. He also alleged police complicity following an altercation between OC Mobile and his own police detail that is the preserve of state governors but not schoolgirls. Meanwhile, we are now hearing that several turncoat governors have been denied entry to the state by soldiers at checkpoints. Given all this, it is hardly surprising that Mr Odimegwu should claim that Nigeria is ‘not ripe for democracy’, but calling on the military to stage a coup is both infantile and mischievous.
Mr Odimegwu has evidently forgotten the trauma we all went through during the long years of Buhari, Babangida and Abacha but he misses the central point, which is that military rule never really ended with the so-called enthronement of democracy in 1999. The military-civilian oligarchy which has governed this nation since 1960 simply swopped khaki for agbada and continued business as usual. The only difference between then and now is the veneer of freedom without the ‘with immediate effect’ decrees which, for instance, banned newspapers, yet a president who now feels threatened by the same press which fought the longest and the hardest to bring about our so-called democracy sends soldiers to impound newspapers and arrest vendors. That this is being done under the guise of that catch-all, national security, only underlines the sinking feeling of déjà vu.
At bottom, Mr Odimegwu fails to understand that the problem with Nigeria is structural. It isn’t a matter of the head of state’s dress code, hence the clamour at the on-going national conference for the true federalism we attempted to practice for the first six years of our independence until it was truncated by the very military he would now invite back. Mr Odimegwu himself knows that Nigeria is a failed state - ‘Nigeria as a state has failed already. We cannot be saying it may fail,’ he opines – but fails to understand that this is so because it is designed to fail given the politics we play.
Or, more accurately, the politics we are allowed to play by the military-inspired Constitution we have been labouring under since 1979, as amended. According to this Constitution, ordinary citizens like you and me, i.e. the common man and woman, are forbidden from contesting for any elective post from local councillor to president unless we belong to a ‘national’ party duly registered by the misnamed Independent National Electoral Commission. The reasoning, if it can be so called, is to foster unity in a diverse nation but we all know that the real reason is to enable those already in possession of the money – the money-bags – to continue to perpetuate themselves in power in order to acquire yet more money.
No one doubts Nigeria’s diversity. Indeed, a case could probably be made for calling it the most patchwork country in the world which would never have become a nation in the first place but for the European imperial adventure. The many religions, languages and ethnicities had lived cheek by jowl for centuries without seeing any need to come together in any formal way. Well, we got our independence and those who were privileged to decide these things thought it best we remain as one. Since then, they have been reiterating our indivisibility like a mantra, even declaring it a ‘no-go area’ whenever they get up yet another conference to map our future.
In fact, the only way Nigeria can cohere is by celebrating the very differences that we have turned into our biggest problem. And this will only happen when each of its component parts – however large or small – is able to control its own affairs (including its own resources) within the larger context of a federation they have freely agreed to be part of. Under this arrangement, any citizen anywhere in the country would be able to stand up and decide to vie for any position without recourse to one or other of the permitted behemoths currently parading themselves as political parties.
Until that day, looking for Mr Odimegwu’s strong man will only guarantee that the country remains the ‘war front’ that is currently being enacted in Ekiti ahead of the greater conflagration awaiting us next year.
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
This piece first appeared in a slightly different version in Hallmark, 17 June 2014
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

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