Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Everything changes but remains the same

There is a famous photo of President Goodluck Jonathan taking the salute on Independence Day decked out in military attire. He himself was to later say that he was no soldier: - ‘Some others will want the President to operate like an Army general, like my Chief of Army Staff commanding his troops. Incidentally, I am not a lion; I am also not a general’ - and by common consent he looked ridiculous, what with his double-jointed, salute-cum-wave at the best of times.
The photo was subsequently forgotten as an unfortunate aberration until recently, when it surfaced again in the aftermath of last month’s gubernatorial election in Ekiti State. Not only was the state itself flooded with soldiers but they were also deployed on the expressways to turn back serving governors of the opposition come to support their ‘brother’. Prior to that, they were busy impounding vehicles carrying newspapers which had published stories alleging the courts martial of treasonable officers for aiding and abetting Boko Haram - which the same military is spectacularly failing to contain.
So we are seeing the growing militarisation of Nigeria as a civilian president struggles to contain the many war fronts he is busy ignoring but for the inconvenience of the unregulated social media, as in the case of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. Ironically, the reason for the military’s inability to contain Boko Haram also points to the reverse: the civilianisation of the military. We no longer have soldiers but supplementary police in battle dress, fit only for corralling civilians.

This was not to be avoided. Past military leaders always acknowledged their civilian sponsors and never tired of reminding us that they couldn’t have actually ruled alone, as their ministerial appointments demonstrated, not excepting the prominent newspaper publisher who served the worst of them and paid the price accordingly. By common consent, it was these civilians who showed our boys in uniform how to go about looting the treasury, the pen always being mightier than the sword in this as other areas.
All this has now resulted in a military-civilian cabal that rotates power within itself, power being its only objective. These are those who are currently in and those who are currently out. Many of the latter are busy scurrying between the two parties you couldn’t insert an ATM card between. The difference between Fayemi and Fayose in the recent gubernatorial election in Ekiti State was not between contending ideologies but contrasting personalities, the one enlightened, the other not. It is our misfortune that the latter predominate (and deliberately so), as perhaps we will see in Osun State next month with the triumph of another alleged murderer. President Jonathan’s apparent flirtation with a military he ostensibly commands but which is unable to secure the territorial integrity of the nation he presides over seems foolhardy, especially with all the talk in some quarters of the senate president heading a caretaker government to do...what, exactly? Restore sanity? Move the nation forward? End the nightmare of corruption that he and his like have made our way of life?
All of which raises the question of whether the Chibok schoolgirls are merely hostages to naked power come elections just six months away now. The military’s own endlessly repeated reluctance to invade the Sambisa forest in Borno State for fear of inadvertently causing the deaths of our daughters might or might not be operationally true, although one needn’t go further than the widely reported military operation in Baga in the same Borno State three months ago.
Baga residents told Human Rights Watch that soldiers ransacked the town after the Boko Haram militant Islamist group attacked a military patrol, killing a soldier. Community leaders said that immediately after the attack they counted 2,000 burned homes and 183 bodies. Satellite images of the town analyzed by Human Rights Watch corroborate these accounts and identify 2,275 destroyed buildings, the vast majority likely residences, with another 125 severely damaged.
But one needn’t rely on satellite images. Just last week in Lagos, where there is no war (or at least not yet), they showed us what they were made of when one of their number was accidentally killed by a BRT bus. Perhaps he was in the BRT lane at the time, like that other military fellow Governor Fashola was forced to publicly chastise; and we still remember the occasion when soldiers from Abalti Barracks burnt down Area ‘C’ police station at Ojuelegba because a bus conductor had been rude to a rookie out of uniform.
The phrase ‘bloody civilian’ was much bandied about in the military days. Perhaps that is how all militaries view the politicians they are compelled to take orders from. One sees their point. What does Jonathan know about hand-to-hand combat? He even chickened out of an announced visit to Chibok to commiserate with the aggrieved families until the recent arrival of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head for going to school, whereupon he changed his mind, only to be distressed by their refusal to grant him an audience.
But Nigeria was always a military state, only held together by force of arms, a fact which the president is belatedly acknowledging as he approaches his nemesis less than six months hence. This predates independence in 1960 to encompass the country’s genesis in 1914, the terms of which the bloody civilians – for which read colonial subjects - are prevented from interrogating, and never mind the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, which is just another fantasy in this cauldron called Nigeria.
©Adewale Maja-Pearce
This piece first appeared in a slightly different version in Hallmark newspaper, 15 July 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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