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A seaman in exile from the sea

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By Joesf Omorotionmwan
TODAY, we remember the Polish-born English intellectual giant, Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). We owe today’s title to his expose in his famous novel The Secret Agent – Lord Jim: “His incognito, which had as many holes as a sieve, was not meant to hide a personality but a fact.

When the fact broke through the incognito he would leave suddenly the seaport where he happened to be at the time and go to another – generally further east. He kept to seaports because he was a seaman in exile from the sea”.

Whether one is talking of desertion from the military or about government officials who want the job but hate the work, Conrad is relevant in today’s Nigeria, from top to bottom.

The penultimate week, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. KTJ Minimah, apparently at the point of frustration, cried out: “But we need to have a thorough recruitment because mind you, there is high level of unemployment on ground; most people want jobs and if that job means joining the army, fine. It is a source of employment. However, when the reality of the military service comes, he drops his rifles…”.

Clearly, they want the job but hate the work. This phenomenon is not new. Far into the Nigerian civil war, the Chief of Army Staff at the time, Gen. Usman Katsina, kept telling us that we were engaged in police action, not war.

A bulk of the youth who had been attracted into the army by the glamour of the uniform and the posturing of the average soldier in Lagos only began to realise what they had signed for on the way to the war front. Many of them bailed off between Ore and Benin City.

In times of war, our soldiers would rather prefer postings to Pay and Records where, as hostilities intensify, the fewer people that eventually appear alive for their pay, the better for them. They would pay some and roll some into their pockets, hence the appellation “pay and roll”.

Ideally, a soldier should know that the moment he signed for the army, he has signed for war; and he has signed for death, in the same tradition of the Lebanese student who, while writing his exams with a pen on the right hand, would have the fingers of his left hand glued to the trigger of his gun.

A way out of the type of predicament facing Minimah could be to domicile the army recruitment as near as possible to the war zone, such that anyone being recruited could be hearing the sounds of war.

By nature, the human element is basically hedonistic. He is always seeking pleasure and avoiding pains. But a man must look the role he wants to play.

At the top, what do we say about a man who has virtually firmed out all the flavour of the highest office in the land?

We have written extensively on the value of the State of the Nation Address, which would have provided a unique opportunity for the President to x-ray the political, economic and social health of the nation. It would present the President a golden opportunity to showcase himself and his administration’s policies and programmes.

Before now, the moment a Nigerian President was sworn in, he looked forward, with enthusiasm, to every opportunity to appear before the National Assembly, in just the same way that an American President looks forward to the opportunity to appear before Congress to deliver his State of the Union Address. Even in times of ill-health, we have never heard of the Queen of England delegating the delivery of the Message from the Throne to anyone.

Our Presidents have suddenly developed a phobia for appearing before the National Assembly to present their annual budget estimates. It started from President Umaru Yar’Adua. The 2007 and 2008 proposals suffered more than four deferments each in the dates of presentation before they finally limped into the National Assembly.

Since Goodluck Jonathan became President, the default on the issue of budget presentation has grown incrementally worse. We lost count on the number of deferments suffered by the 2011 and 2012 appropriations.

By 2013, the entire thing got to a head: Jonathan advanced various reasons, many of them ludicrous, for the foot-dragging. When he said he had been informed that a section of the National Assembly had planned to boo him, this column reminded him that booing had since become a veritable instrument for expressing opposition in parliament. We drew his attention to some turbulent sessions of the British, Canadian and other parliaments. While the Prime Ministers were being booed, they waded through with their presentations and were finally applauded by the government bench. That’s leadership!

President Jonathan finally delegated the presentation of last year’s budget to the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Besides whittling down the glamour of the supposedly highest office in the land, we are being denied the opportunity of hearing, first hand, the policy direction of the administration.

This power erosion must be checked before it degenerates further. Were the doctrine of Separation of Powers to function properly, we would soon get to the point where the National Assembly could delegate the Sergeant-At-Arms to receive the budget speech from the Minister. Happy riddance as our nation glides into obscurity!

We lost the leadership long ago. Our President once claimed that he knew so much about the insecurity question but he would not speak out for fear of being attacked. And we have no business going to Sambisa forest when we can safely wait to dance “azonto” with the girls after their release! Is anyone still looking for those who want the job but hate the work?

In the footsteps of Minimah, we must all begin to cry out that those who are supposed to be our leaders are always behind like the tail of a horse. In the life of a nation, nothing portends graver danger than this!

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