October 7, 2017

Nigeria: ls The Military Strong Only Against The Weak?

Operation Python

Operation python dance

By Magnus Onyibe

On December 12, 2015 in kaduna state, north central Nigeria,the  military allegedly attacked hundreds of Shiite Muslims who allegedly tried to obstruct their path. Till date, their leader, Ibrahim El zarzaky and his wife are still in detention, although authorities like to sugar-coat it as protective custody.

While Nigerians are still mortified by that horrific event in kaduna , a military exercise code named operation Python Dance ll, was launched on September 15, 2017. The stormed south eastern Nigeria – Umuahia and Aba- in particular. There were casualties, resulting in sorrow,tears and blood.

Operation python dance

Coincidentally, in the 1980s, after a fierce and unfortunate encounter with the military, which led to the death of illustrious Mrs Fumilayo Kuti, mother of the High-life music maestro, late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the radical musician had released a hit song, aptly tagged   ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood, them regular trademark.’

Events in the recent past have confirmed that Fela’s odious characterization of the military was on point.

The same army dealing with civilians is being given a bloody nose by the religious insurgent group Boko haram, in the north east.

It is common knowledge that Bornu and Yobe states were practically turned into killing fields by the terrorists and citizens have remained exposed to being raped, kidnapped and sold into slavery or killed for nearly ten years without adequate protection.

Rather than carry out their military drills in the dreaded Sambisa forest where Boko haram holds sway, urban centers such as kaduna, Umuahia and Aba are their preferred training grounds.

What a paradox?

The disappointing performance of the military against Boko Haram which had been regaining momentum through increased spate of bombings and steady return to acclaimed safe territories prompted the then acting president , Yemi Osinbajo to order the military high command to return to their central command base in Maiduguri. And upon his return from medical vacation in London, in August, president Buhari endorsed Osinbajo’s decision by renewing his call on the military to defeat the insurgents without further delay. Despite the presidency’s marching order to the military , Boko haram is still a significant threat to life in the north east, sometimes making incursions into Internally Displaced People, IDP camps and educational institutions like university of Maiduguri whose students and lecturers recently became their victims.

In fact,the National Bureau of Statistics , NBS and Central Bank of Nigeria,CBN attribute the current high cost of food partly to displacement of farmers in the north east due to acts of terrorism which has been preventing them from tiling the soil for food.

Before the Kaduna tragedy and the recent Umuahia debacle, there were massacres committed by the army against unarmed citizens in Zaki Biam, Benue state and Odi, Bayelsa state in November 1999 under the watch of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.

Curiously, these heinous crimes against civilian population occurred during the watch of former military dictators who later became presidents in democratic settings.

A quick trend analysis reveals that under the regime of other democratically elected presidents like   Umaru Yar’Adua of blessed memory   who succeeded Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, whom Buhari succeeded, although civilians rubbed off the military on the wrong side, such irksome Nigerians were not sent to their early grave by deadly military force as has been the case in the two instances earlier cited.

What that indicates to me is that no matter their claim to the contrary, once a soldier, the nihilist orientation   never really dies, even when they replace their khaki uniforms with Agbada frocks as they exit the military jackboot arena and step into the tough but civil political turf.

Arising from the forgoing scenario, I have come to the conclusion that the claims of being reborn democrats by former soldiers when they are trying to engage in politics , are actually mere gimmicks meant to beguile the gullible voters who they lure into voting for them to get into office, only for their fangs to become unbridled soon after they have captured political power.

Going forward,given what we know now, before choosing their leaders, l suggest that Nigerians should apply the cautionary measure that lawyers refer to as caveat emptor-buyer beware.

Before the military writes me off as a black leg who betrayed his constituency by virtue of being an old soldier’s son , allow me quickly share a fascinating wisecrack: A crab was once running on a shore and admiring it’s beautiful foot prints. Suddenly, a huge wave splashed and washed away the foot prints. The crab said to the wave “l considered you one of my best friends, why did you do that to me?” The wave replied. “A fisherman was following your footsteps, that is why l wiped them off”. The moral of the story is   that sometimes when we believe   some people are hurting us, they may be helping us.

In the light of the forgoing, here is hoping that the military understands that my chastisement is in its best interest.

As a public intellectual, l have taken, without equivocation standing up for the voiceless as a sacrifice that must be made on behalf of the hoi polloi who by every stretch of imagination are presently detained in a sort of political Intensive Care Unit, lCU due to the inclement and precarious socio-political atmosphere which pervades all strata of society.

It may be recalled that a couple of years ago, a group of American social scientists including a former USA ambassador to Nigeria authored a damning report that Nigeria as country may split up before 2019. Rather than looking at the report dispassionately to identify the underlying factors that could trigger such an unpalatable outcome, authorities denounced the report and dubbed it a satanic work by enemies of Nigeria.

Today, given the deafening noise from the saber rattling of separatist agitators from the south east, south-south, south west, and the middle belt, if adequate and urgent precautionary steps are not taken, and the panaceas recommended by the authors of the report are not heeded, Nigeria would remain on the precipice.

The military need to know that as an institution of government, it is owned by all Nigerians and not just by those who lead it.

The men and women of that inestimable and highly valuable organization that is meant to be an instrument of national defense and stabilization, must subject themselves to scrutiny and criticism as the executive, legislative, and judicial arms of government and even the fourth realm of the estate-the media do.

Put succinctly, they face same criticisms just as Nigerians criticize politicians in parliament , governor’s, ministers and commissioners in the executive arm as well as judges in law courts when they fall short of expectations. Civil servants, medical doctors as well as nurses endure the ascetic tongues of Nigerians when they perform below expectations; because they have thrown themselves into the public arena. The military must be ready to absorb public criticisms if they flounder.

Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist and alumnus of the Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts USA is a former cabinet member of Delta state Govt.