By Rotimi Fasan
MANY of us thought that we have moved beyond this stage, that stage when the military imagined itself as the saviour of the commonwealth. We are talking here of that era when every civil disagreement among politicians was seen as an open invitation to the military to take over governance- whether by self-invitation or at the invitation of politicians directly or indirectly involved in the contest for power.
But for some people, people whose minds are held in a time warp and locked in the past, the military still has a role to play in civil governance beyond their constitutionally assigned duty of the defense of the territorial integrity of the country. For this category of Nigerians their personal interest approximates the interest of the nearly 200 million Nigerians that will bear the brunt of a return to military rule, a blighted epoch that some in exasperation wish for in an access of romantic delusion.
The note of alarm was first raised by Tukur Buratai, a lieutenant general and Chief of Army Staff. He warned about an unholy communication, an alliance between some politicians and elements in the military who are being invited to intervene in the governance of the country. Buratai wanted Nigerians to know that there is no longer a place for such adventurers in power politics in the Nigeria of today.
The point needs to be repeated over and again that there is indeed no place for such retrogressive thinking in the Nigeria of the 21st century. Yet, reminders and warnings cannot be sufficient deterrents for the demented minds contemplating any kind of return of the military. Soldiers cannot be saviours in this instance. They have been and continue to be part of the reason Nigeria has lain prostrate as a country whose founding dreams have remained in the realm of aspiration.
More than a mere reminder therefore, the authorities must actively go after the purveyors of the idea of the military returning to power and effectively take them out of the system in the interest of our common good. For all some of us care, however, the military might just be testing the waters to know where Nigerians stand at this time on the issue of military rule.
That anyone can contemplate a return to military rule is a curious proposition. This is at a time some Nigerians from the north of this country have been sounding angry at any suggestion that Muhammadu Buhari might be obliged to hand over power to his deputy in the event his health does not permit him to continue in office. The alleged invitation to the military, as indicated by Buratai, follows the usual pattern of civilians approaching the military.
Naturally the soldiers would decline the invitation or so they would claim, before going on to accuse the politicians of attempts at diluting military professionalism. They would pledge their loyalty to the civil authority, a fact that has not necessarily stopped them from intervening in the past. Muhammadu Buhari as the most senior army officer gave his word to Shehu Shagari before the 1983 coup, just as Sani Abacha gave his own word to Ernest Shonekan and MKO Abiola in 1993. But in both instances the military still struck. There is therefore no reason why Nigerians should take the word of the military for it even though the army and even the Nigerian Airforce among other arms of the military have pledged their commitment to the country’s elected leaders.
It is indeed both strange and crazy that some people can think in the direction of the military in the present circumstances in which Nigeria finds itself. Given the modest gain the country has made in terms of civil governance which now approaches its second decade, time during which power has twice been electorally transferred from one elected president to another with the unprecedented feat, in the second instance, in which an incumbent was defeated. It is most strange indeed that some people could imagine a direct role for the military in the governance of the country. But there is nothing blind ambition and greed for power cannot lead to. It is Nigerians themselves that must rise to defend their country from any rapist in military uniform.
Any move in the direction of the military constitutes a great setback for this country- even the thought of it to say nothing of it actually happening. No reason can justify it. At the best of time even a seemingly good reason for military rule looks dubious. But at this time especially there can be no justification for military rule. Nigeria has moved beyond the era when a few people in military gear have a monopolistic control of the means of violence.
No thanks to the military and their civilian collaborators there has been, to the grief of this country, a serious democratisation of access to the weapons of mass violence. No longer can a group in uniform claim such monopoly. Not in this era in which militias of different variations (ethnic, religious, sectarian) are everywhere and where our military have a hard time confronting them when they are not roundly defeated. No, these are not the times when a part can lord it over others. Only those desirous of the permanent dismemberment of Nigeria can hope to see the military back in power.
There cannot be any sound explanation for military intervention at a time when the health of President Buhari has become a polarising issue between Nigerians from the north that have been insisting that whether his health permits or not Buhari must remain in power, and their counterparts from the south who are saying the fate of a country of 180 million people cannot be tied to that of one man. Any intervention by the military now would be seen as a ploy of the north to hold on to power in the absence of Buhari.
Any move in that direction would be read in the context of the saber-rattling by those northern politicians who have argued that Yemi Osinbajo cannot be Acting President in the absence of Buhari to say nothing of him completing Buhari’s term and going for another term of his own as the constitution permits. Let those contemplating a coup remember that Buhari was not ill when he presented himself as candidate for president and Nigerians who voted for him never envisaged the situation that has effectively sidelined him from governance in the last three months. A military coup cannot be the right answer for Buhari’s incapacitation. If we must short circuit constitutional provisions each time things do not appear to go our way then we are in trouble and there is no way we would grow as a nation. Let all coup mongers watch it!