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Are our army troubles back?

By Ochereome Nnanna

Have you noticed the gradually increasing and worrisome political notoriety of some elements of the Nigerian Army?

Shortly after President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua assumed power and posted core Northerners to high and sensitive command positions, certain high-powered elements started inching the nation’s supreme force back to some of the behaviours which in the past occasioned the massive campaign for a return to democracy.

When the pressure on the National Assembly to implement the Constitution was on, as it had become clear that President Yar’ Adua was no longer capable of returning to office, the Governors Forum gathered in Abuja on Tuesday, March 2, 2010. They were expected to pull the trigger that would force the Federal Executive Council, which was to meet the following day, to raise a medical panel pursuant to Section 144 of the Constitution.

Had this taken place and we practised that section of the Constitution successfully, we would have scaled a major hurdle to convince the world that we mean business in our venture in democracy and constitutional rule.

However, certain invisible hurdles suddenly appeared, and the governors emphatically announced that the sleeping dogs must lie undisturbed. Incapacitated or not, Yar’ Adua must remain as President while Dr Goodluck Jonathan must remain as Acting President; a total constitutional phooey.

When criticisms mounted on this hectoring conduct of a governors’ forum that had no constitutional relevance, Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State defended his group by saying that the state chief executives had access to certain privileged information which were not at the disposal of the general public, and that was why they caused the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Assembly to side_step the Constitution.

I wondered to myself: what could such “privileged information” possibly be? The only possibility that came to my mind was that the same group within the Army that moved troops at night to bring in the ailing President at the airport without informing the Acting President, let alone obtaining his directive to proceed, might have made it clear that if Yar’ Adua was removed they would truncate the democratic order.

The successful coups in Guinea and Niger Republic must have warned the governors to back off or they and other elected individuals would lose their plum jobs. This could be the threat that quickly persuaded the leadership of the National Assembly and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to announce the maintenance of the status quo.

It was also during this period that some bad eggs in the Army were severally accused of partisan roles in the several riots that broke out in Jos, sometimes allegedly siding the Christians/indigenes and at other times reportedly siding the Hausa/Fulani Muslim settlers.

Though no official investigation has conclusively proved these allegations to be true, a tell-tale sign of something fishy showed up in the manner in which the Federal Government set up the General Emmanuel Abisoye probe panel, which was condemned by the Nigerian Bar Association as unconstitutional.

It also manifested in the visit of the presidential emissaries to Jos led by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Abdulrahman Danbazzau in November 2008. They visited the camp of mainly Muslim displaced persons and avoided paying the usual courtesy calls on the paramount ruler of Jos and the Governor of Plateau State.

This behaviour was reminiscent of the partisanship exhibited by top elements of the Federal Government and Army top hats during the Zangon/Kataf riots of 1992 under General Ibrahim Babangida and the Ogoni riots of 1994 under General Sani Abacha. The armed and security forces were used in manners that suggested they were out to carry out the wishes and sentiments of people from a section of the country.

This partisan perception of the armed and security forces, which have been accused of being used to seize power whenever it suited the political interest of a section of the country, was squelched by General Olusegun Obasanjo a couple of days after he took over power in 1999. He swept away nearly one hundred officers from the armed forces who had either tasted politics or were politically_inclined. That single action helped to safeguard our democracy for eight long unbroken years. During that period, on not a single occasion were the armed forces accused of engaging in any action that pursued the perceived political, ethnic, regional, religious or sectional agenda of any part of the country.

When Yar’ Adua took over, he gradually undid the balanced and nationalistic structures of critical sectors of the nation’s power, bureaucracy and security system (though this did not appear to affect the Police). Perhaps he saw today, and knew the “wisdom” in re_sectionalising the security system, in order to entrench personal loyalty rather than loyalty to the Constitution and the nation.

The Armed Forces appear to have been put in a situation in which they can once again threaten our democracy at will. We are beginning to see vestiges of partisanship, which often in the past led to sectionally-motivated coups d’etat and extreme acts of impunity such as election annulment.

Nigeria of today is not the Nigeria of the immediate post_civil war decades of 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. We are now in a new millennium and in no mood to return to the evils of the past that stopped the country from developing and moving closer to nationhood. We will not tolerate ethnic or sectional domination; neither will we stomach, even for one hour, the use of the military to undermine our democracy and fulfil diabolical sectional political agenda.

The armed forces must be restored to the nationalistic model in which Obasanjo left them. They must remain the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, operating with unalloyed loyalty to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Nothing less is acceptable!

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