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Army’s conflicting signals

By Umar Yakubu Aliyu
IT is good that the Nigerian Army has once again pledged absolute loyalty to the Constitution and all legitimately constituted authorities in the land.

The latest pledge was made in reaction to an allegation that the Chief of the Army Staff stated that his loyalty was only to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who has in over three months been suffering a failing health and has consequently been confined to the bed.

In a strongly worded and detailed statement, the Director of Army Public Relations challenged those who have been peddling the allegation to state where the statement was made, the time, to whom it was made or any person who witnessed it or any communication medium which carried it.

The Army chief may be the benefit of the doubt. The purported statement is one of the several dangerous rumours which frequently makes the round in Nigeria, including on websites dominated by Nigerians. In his latest book, You Must Set Forth At Dawn, Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel Prize for literature, denounces the outrageous propensity of Nigerian people towards rumours.

Still, as the aphorism goes, there is no smoke without fire. What gave rise to the allegation that the Army chief vowed that he would take orders from no-one except the very president who appointed him to the high office?  Much as the claim is untrue, it will be wrong to dismiss it as being utterly baseless. One or two related major events in recent times would seem to provide the foundation for the suspicion in some quarters that the Chief of the Army Staff might have said so.

One was the President’s return to Nigeria at about 2am on Wednesday, February 24, 2010, after 93 days at a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he was treated for acute heart and kidney conditions. The Acting President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, was not in the know he was coming back.

He got to know like most other citizens, that is, after Al Jazeera, the Arab news channel based in Doha, Qatar, broadcast it and other global broadcasters like the CNN International took a cue from it.

The President’s arrival was heralded by a huge military presence at the airport, even though no ceremonies was scheduled to be performed. Soldiers and officers of the Brigade of Guards were drafted to the airport and even deployed to streets in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja principally to shield the President from being seen by his own people, including journalists.

He was not a wonderful sight to behold. Nigerians are very emotional and if they had caught a glimpse of their leader in such a pitiable condition they would have developed far greater sympathy for Yar’Adua as a fellow human being going through personal turmoil than most of his aides and family members could have possibly imagined.

Yet, his family and kitchen cabinet blew this opportunity for fear that it would be obvious to even the blind that the President has become too incapacitated to continue with his presidential duties. This would mean a quick and formal end to the Yar’Adua presidency, and with it, all the perks, authority and power of office.

The other reason why the public believed the rumour that the Chief of the Army Staff said that he was only loyal and answerable to Yar’Adua has to do with the conduct of presidential aides on the day the President was furtively brought back to Nigeria in the dead of the night.

Both the President’s aide de camp and Chief Security Officer were reported to have gone to the Federal Executive Council chambers a few hours after the President arrived and stood behind the President’s regular seat apparently to see if Dr Jonathan, as Acting President, would dare sit there. Every step was taken by security operatives to intimidate the Acting President.

The next day, the President’s Special Adviser on Communications, Olusegun Adeniyi, issued a statement where Dr Jonathan was addressed throughout as the Vice President, and not the Acting President. Put succinctly, the Yar’Adua office and family had refused to recognise Jonathan as Acting President, even though he was elevated to the office by resolutions of both chambers of the National Assembly and the federal cabinet, to say nothing about the decision of the state Governors Forum, or the position of Arewa, or that of Ohaneze or Afenifere or that of all elder statesmen in Nigeria or all non-government organisations or the media.

The question every Nigerian has been asking since February 23 when Yar’Adua was smuggled into the country is: who deployed the troops to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and streets of Abuja without the Acting President being aware? The official explanation is that within the competence of the Brigade of Guards to receive the President or see him off at the airport without reference to anyone.

This explanation would have been persuasive if the situation were normal. But in a situation where the President was returning after being away for as long as three months on grave health grounds was very unusual. Could the Commander of the Brigade of Guards have deployed the troops without the Chief of the Army Staff knowing?  Unlikely.

All the same, the nation welcomes the statement by the Chief of  Army Staff that he is loyal  not to individuals but to the Constitution and legitimate authorities. We hope that the nonsense of attempting to use the military to intimidate the Acting President should not repeat itself in any circumstance.Enough conflicting signals from the Army.

Mr. Aliyu, a commentator on  national issues, writes from Lagos.


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