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Rumbles from the Senate chamber

By Rotimi Fasan

THEY say he is now a visiting andsenior mentoring scholar of E-Governance and Strategic Government Studies at Southern University, Baton Rouge in Louisiana, United States of America, for which reason he now qualifies to be addressed as ‘professor.’ Only last year, he bagged a doctorate in law from the University of Abuja. That’s quite a leap- from doctorate to the professoriate in less than a year! But I don’t suppose Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, intended his apparently well-intentioned statement about the military not being gone forever to be taken as a professorial declaration that brooks no questioning. Yes, Mr. Ekweremadu did warn at a session on the floor of the Senate that the Nigerian military is not too long gone from governance as to have forgotten it was once in charge of the affairs of this country. The military could still stage a comeback if the present class of political leaders continues in their self-destructive ways that can barely tolerate opposition views.

What the distinguished senator (all our legislators are distinguished anyway) is in effect saying is that his colleagues ought to be careful in the way and manner they manage our adolescent democracy in which political leaders randomly hound one another and employ their powerful positions to make life difficult for their colleagues, including members of the same party. This or it would be the fire (or is it the military?) next time. Is that your meaning, Mr. Deputy President of the Senate? Yes, Ekweremadu has clarified that he was only out to warn against an avoidable peril. And I suppose many would agree with him. I’m talking here of those charitable enough not to read ulterior motives to his utterance.

His was a thankless advice. Or so one supposes even when one also realises that there are ways politicians speak that only their likes can understand. We might need to approach Senator Ekweremadu to explain even further in very clear, unambiguous terms, what he means by his statement since some members of even his own constituency of lawmakers think he overreached himself with his remarks. That would, however, be another time when the present controversy has blown over. But hardly had the man finished speaking when consummate interpreters took the words out of his mouth and proceeded to give it every possible twist imaginable, with all boiling down to a simple proposition: an invitation to the military to start dusting, ironing and starching their khaki for a  take over of the polity.

Expectedly, this has set the alarm bells ringing and not a few have since upbraided the lawmaker for irresponsible utterance. They want some pound of flesh for what they see as an act of treachery to the democratic cause by someone they believe should know better than ‘heating up the polity.’ And Ike Ekweremadu has been at pains explaining that his words have been taken out of context. But would his attackers listen? Not even the military is listening. A statement from the Nigerian Army spokesperson, Agim John, chides Ekweremadu while pledging the allegiance of the Army, I suppose on behalf of the other arms of the military, to present civil authorities.

This must be the second time in recent months that the military would be compelled to deny rumours of a coup or an attempt to invite it back to the centre court of governance in Nigeria. Passing oblique remarks about the possibility of a military takeover would appear to be one way politicians try to put the scare on one another when they see some of their own as demonstrating tendencies for intolerance of opposition, conduct often to be found in a military regime. Why not go for the original rather than a mere copy, such remarks would appear to be suggesting. Rather than have a civilian pretending to be a soldier, why not invite the soldiers themselves? Of course, such statements often come with the clear undertones that opposition politicians won’t tolerate any recourse to military tactics by their kind. Otherwise there would be chaos and chaos would mean a breakdown in civil order which only a military regime could restore.

This is the unspoken subtext of Ekweremadu’s statement which was not, however, lost on his political friends, colleagues and other Nigerians. It is the reason many of them are scared out of their wits by such ‘open’ invitation to the soldiers. Not many in the political class could have forgotten too soon just what the current president and his ilk did to politicians of a past era, dragging them into detention and slamming multiple jail terms on them.

While Ekweremadu’s statement may appear innocuous, it is the nightmare it portends that his critics are scared of. Ekweremadu himself cannot honestly wish for the return of the military. He was apparently only issuing warning to some bulldozer governors and politicians who have turned the property of their opponents to targets of demolition; banned others from visiting their home states on pain of God-knows-what and sent security operatives hounding others. Aren’t these tactics of totalitarian regimes? the Deputy President of the Senate appears to be saying. But while it may be necessary for our politicians to tread cautiously, let the military not fool itself into thinking it is still such a welcome option even in a Nigeria that is in the throes of insecurity of the worst kind. What insecurity could be worse than that which permits the abduction of innocent school girls by a supposedly vanquished insurgent group?

Yet, this should not be grounds for another ‘corrective’ regime. Nigerians should by now know better than sending any invitations, direct or otherwise, to the military. A military that would accept such must be truly a reprobate institution. Which may explain the outrage with which the Army establishment appears to have received any hint or suggestion of such nonsense. Any such invitation must be based on the notion that the military is full of foolish officers and men. Such cannot be an organisation of people with any claim to intelligence. This must be why the Army considered the supposed call which Ekweremadu has roundly denied to be denigrating. If true, Ekweremadu cannot have any respect for the personnel of the military. The world at present has no place for adventurers in khaki or others of a military cast of mind even when garbed in embroidered agbada. No, Nigerians have no place for the military. We do not need a megaphone to announce this to the world. Even when our current politicians have shown themselves no wiser than their predecessors, perhaps even worse in terms of their preparedness for office, we are more than tired of taking a step forward and twenty backward.  We have no place for soldiers.

 


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