By Yinka Odumakin
THE Nigerian Army has of late been behaving like what Max Siollun in his classic “Soldiers Of Fortune” called “a government-in- waiting”. I saw on Channels TV on Saturday an advertisement by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai on his proposed “empowerment programme for internally displaced persons”.
I tried to get it but I couldn’t. IDPs are in camps where they have no access to television.This ad vert is therefore not for them. Is Buratai contesting elections and wants to win voters’hearts?
I saw the same Army Chief on BBC “Hard Talk” a few months ago and wondered what he was doing there. We can understand a former commander-in-chief exposing himself to all kinds of assault on such a hot seat,but a serving Chief beats all imaginations. Well, a former Chief of the same Army in his farewell in 1993 said it had become “an army of anything is possible”. It is now 24 years after he spoke and a lot of dirty water has since passed under the damaged bridge.
The way the Army has been gaining visibility lately reminds one of 1983 when the Shagari government sent solders to north-eastern border region to prevent infiltration by armed rebels from the neighbouring republic of Chad.
The exercise was successful as the Major-General Muhammadu Buhari -led troops cleared the Chadians from the border area and advanced several kilometres into the Chadian territory. The civil authority ordered the troops back but the falcon could no longer hear the falconer.The troops only returned after Shagari enlisted superior officers Lt Generals Jalo and Wushishi to order a pull back. Shagari regime became history a few months after.
Less I am accused of crying wolf where there is none, let me state that General Ibrahim Babangida has trained us to watch our men’s actions when he confessed :
“We could have toppled that government in 1982, before the (1983) elections. But then, we said no, because the people might go against us. We knew damn well that they were not going to conduct that elections freely and fairly, and, therefore,we waited for the right time.You see, to stage a coup,there is one basic element that everybody looks for; there must be frustration in the society. So, by 1983 when we voted, everybody was not happy ; there were complaints over this and that. ;and the frustration built gradually.We found the coup easier when there was frustration in the land (Femi Ahmed. Domkat: A Biography of Domkat Bali,Page 134)
What occupied the conspirators against Shagari in the intervening period was “coup baiting” a term employed to describe preparations for a coup by civil and military political opinion.
In his memoir Beckoned To Serve, Shagari accused Gen. Obasanjo of being part of the “coup baiting ” by criticising him in order to incite the military against him. Gen. Babangida confirmed this charge and that they reached Obasanjo with a promise to make him Head of State when plotting the coup :
“It is true. But to be fair to General Obasanjo, he rejected the offer (to be made Head of state). He said it would destroy his integrity. That he handed over to Shagari and that it is not right for him to get involved. But he (Obasanjo) said he was not stopping us from going ahead”(Pointblanknews, 25 January 2008).
I have gone this length as pertinent background to the embarrassment the Nigerian Army is causing the government at present and for which no one is calling them to order. And this has to do with the unsolicited “medical mission” our men in green have embarked upon which is causing panic in the land. From the entire South East through Rivers,en route Ondo and down to Borno states we have seen worrying images of school children “pick am for race” at the rumours that soldiers were approaching their schools to vaccinate them. Parents are not left out as they rush to schools to take their children home. I saw a woman scaling a fence that even men will have difficulty climbing in order to get hold of her child.
Rumours have spread across cities that the Army was carrying out vaccinations aimed at killing school children by injecting them with the latest affliction in town-monkey pox.The rumour went further that there was a plan to reduce the population of certain sections of the country. Given the recent Operation Python Dance which allegedly inflicted horrors in the South East and “Operation Crocodile Smile” in South West and South-South,which has reportedly claimed some casualties in South West,the rumours became some referendum on the loss of faith in the Nigerian state.
Explanation by the Military In Enugu, that the free medical outreach was not aimed at depopulating the region fell on deaf ears .
Deputy Director, Public Relations, 82 Division, Enugu, Col. Sagir Musa (Sagir Musa !) in a statement on said the free medical outreach, being conducted by the army as part of Operation Python Dance 2, “was not harmful to anyone”.
The statement read: “The free medical outreach is not a vaccine intended to infect South-East people with monkey pox or any major contemporary or emerging disease.
“The exercise is part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued into the overall Exercise EGWU EKE 11 (Operation Python Dance 2) package to the people of the South-East region which is the area of responsibility of the 82 Division, Nigerian Army, and is also the theatre of the exercise.
“Instructively, the free medical services in the region started on September 18, 2017, in Nkwaagu community of Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
“The wicked, ill-motivated rumour is the handiwork of unpatriotic elements who can go to any lengths to discredit the noble services of the Nigerian Army in the region, and they will not succeed.
“The public is hereby requested to disregard the wicked rumour for the good of the people.”
The rumour mongers of course succeeded because the Nigerian state already lost credibility with the people.
The idea of medical mission by the military is not totally alien. It is usually done by the military in conflict situation for civil populace when it is difficult for medical personnel to reach such places. And that has to be with the permission of authorities in the areas concerned .There is no such situation in most of the communities the exercise had been carried out. And that there was no consultation with local authorities with the statement issued by the Anambra Government when the panic hit the state.
Anambra State government spoke on the incident, through the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Professor Solo Chukwulobelu, directing the suspension of the exercise so that the people would be made to understand that it was part of Army’s social responsibility to members of the public. “Strong apprehension among the populace has followed the exercise leading to withdrawal of students from schools by parents, misconception of the actual motive behind the exercise by stakeholders, community leaders and a general reservation by the public for whom the outreach is intended”.
“To this end and to ensure no further escalation of the situation, His Excellency the Governor, Chief Willie Obiano has contacted the Army Authorities and advised for immediate stoppage of the medical outreach until wide sensitisation is conducted to reassure people of its intentions and benefits. The exercise has therefore been put on hold.”
How would an Army that has been accused of shooting at people, soaking them in mud and beating people blue and black not expect the people to believe the worst rumour about it when it suddenly turns to “medical missioners” in the midst of hostile operations against locals?
A sensitive Army should have suspended this operation immediately,especially when it is not the country’s Health Ministry. And if it cannot read the mood of the public,the political authorities should order a call-off.
The Army has however stubbornly continued with the exercise.I saw its spokesman on Channels TV on Thursday defending the exercise and vowing they will fish out the rumour mongers and punish them. I shook my head that this gentleman was not getting the message.
The point is that a wide segment of the populace are showing hatred for the government and its military is being seen as an army of occupation. The spontaneous revolt by students, parents and guardians shows forfeiture of confidence. The more assurance the government offers, the stronger the public hostility.?
The question that is not being asked is why should the army insist on giving medical service to a public that says it does not want? Is the military in charge that nobody can call it to order? Can’t the government see it now has a lot to do to win back the trust of the people?
I just don’t get it!