By Dele Sobowale
“Do you know what astounds me most about the world? The impotence of force to establish anything. There are only two powers in the world; the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind. “ Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769-1821. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 63).
I feel very sorry for the top army officers who ordered the raid on the offices of the DAILY TRUST in Abuja and elsewhere. For me, they merely revealed that like most African military officers they still live in the eighteenth century when soldiers thought that force alone is sufficient for them to win in any disagreement. Given the poor quality of education available in Nigeria, it is understandable that even the top brass of the Nigerian army has not yet understood that “Brute force without wisdom falls under its own weight.” (Horace, 65-8BC). Almost invariably, when the military wages a war against the media, they would win the first round. But, the battle that counts in any conflict is the last. The pen-pushers will always win that one. I can state that one authoritatively from personal experience during the Abacha regime.
A series of explosions rocked Lagos and some other places towards the end of 1997. Each one was followed by arrests of “suspects”. The ones that drew my attention occurred in Lagos when Marwa was the Military Governor. The first went off after Marwa’s convoy had almost passed by a spot in Opebi Link Road. Only the last vehicle was slightly damaged. The second exploded near the Governor’s office at Alausa – when Marwa was not even in the office. The third took place as a convoy of two Navy vehicles had started to climb the Ojuelegba flyover.
Nobody was killed in any of the explosions. Soon, articles appeared in some national newspapers and magazines with titles like WHO WANTS MARWA DEAD? I was not convinced that Marwa was the target. In fact, there was something fishy about the stories. So, like an old detective, I went to investigate by visiting the sites of the three incidents. I then made an unusual request of the VANGUARD Editorial meeting to write a Front Page opinion about the explosions. To summarise, I concluded that the explosions were planned and executed by trained military officers who wanted to create panic in the country. The article appeared on a Monday morning in 1998 and by 12 noon, I was in detention at the SSS Centre at Awolowo Road, Ikoyi.
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My interrogators wanted to know how I arrived at the conclusion despite the fact that the narrative made that clear. Again, to cut short the story, pressure from the US, European Community and Japan secured my release despite denial for several days by the regime that they were not holding me. I managed to get information out to expose that lie. But, that was not before I left my tormentors with a prophecy/warning. “You can do what you like to me and other media people now. BUT WE WILL WRITE YOUR OBITUARY. Abacha died six months after. We are still writing his obituary. Make no mistake about it, the media will write the obituaries of all the enemies of free flow of information – including the current holders of transient military power. The last battle that counts will be won by media – no matter how long.
The Justice Oputa Panel was established a few years after the unsuccessful attempt by Abacha’s goons to intimidate me. One of the startling revelations was made by one Sgt. Rogers, the inhumane leader of Abacha’s killer squad. He told the panel that the military government’s security agents were responsible for the explosions in Lagos and elsewhere in 1997-8 in order to implicate people in bogus coup plots and to use that as excuse to eliminate perceived enemies of the junta. Just before my release from detention, I was told that a list of individuals was drawn up, including journalists to be executed once Abacha became civilian President on October 1, 1998. Those on the list included our former great columnist Alhaji Kola Animasaun, late Pini Jason, Obi Nwakamma, Reuben Abati, Mike Nwosu, Oke Ndibe etc. I did not tell them because of my strong belief that nobody, however powerful, can determine another person’s death unless God wills it for his own reasons. There was no reason for me to sow panic in the media by informing the targets. Most of them are still alive today. Those who passed on, like Jason, did after Abacha had rotted away in his own grave.
Perhaps, we need to remind those who ordered the invasion of DAILY TRUST offices that some of Abacha regime’s top officers are still alive today – living in quiet obscurity. Most hide their faces in public when reporters are around – Diya, El-Mustapha, Bamayi etc. We still hold our heads high. That is what Napoleon was trying to drum into the thick skulls of satraps. Major El-Mustapha, the National Security Adviser, NSA, and the second most powerful man in Nigeria, spent almost ten years in prison and who was only rescued by the Judiciary for which he and Abacha had absolute contempt. The best part of his life had been divinely taken away in part reprisal for the crimes committed against humanity by the Abacha junta. He too has joined the forgotten yesterday’s men. The media remains.
However, the French Emperor, whose history I read extensively when collecting materials for the VBQ, had other lessons to teach military officers, especially when the war is going badly. Stated briefly, it says “you can’t bully reality.” An army in retreat or full flight cannot pretend to be winning the war.
“I have no army left. I have nothing but fugitives.” Napoleon I, 1769-1821.
After the French army received a shellacking from their misadventure in the invasion of Russia, a chastened Napoleon looked around at what was left of his mighty army and uttered those words for posterity. Each time an army suffers a serious setback – for whatever reason – the first thing that happens is disintegration. Instead of a disciplines force, one for all and all for one, what transpires is “everyman for himself”. That is when the fugitive mentality sets in. More reverses invariably result in soldiers not wanting to be posted to the war front. Some even fake injuries to avoid the combat which they presume will end in defeat. That has been the historical experience.
“Bring me the bad news quickly; I can wait for the good report.” Napoleon.
Another statement attributed to Napoleon by more than one historian was his standing instruction to all his field commanders was to tell him as soon as possible when things went wrong during a battle and to tell it truthfully. Blame or punishment will come later; but measures must be taken immediately to repair the damage and check its unwanted or unforeseen repercussions. On no occasion were civilians made to pay for the failure of the armed forces. That was greatness in action.
Because of that, the Nigeria Army which is venting its spleen on unarmed journalists and civilians (Operation Python Dance etc) is only wasting everybody’s time. The defeats suffered cannot be wished away; neither can they be covered up for long. Instead of invading newspaper houses and harassing journalists, the Army should actually cultivate their support in order to boost the morale of the boys at the front and to enlist them in getting more funds from government and the international community.
It might come as a surprise to the Chief of Army Staff, CoAS, that journalists actually want Boko Haram to be defeated so that millions of Nigerians can return to living normal lives.
The real missing ingredient is actually not superior weapons. It is superior leadership. From time immemorial men have learnt that the Commander In Chief can make a great deal of difference. Phocion, 402-317 BC, an Athenian statesman and general, once led his troops into battle with 5000 men against 7000 on the other side. A young soldier on his first expedition came up to the general to ask if the Athenians had a chance to win. “How many soldiers do you think I count for?” was Phocion’s reply. The Athenian’s won the battle.
A general is worth more than a thousand foot soldiers. He must be persuasive; make the warriors believe they can win. The biggest joke today is that we have many generals who are not worth one thousand soldiers. And our President cannot persuade people to take the risks necessary for victory to occur. He is no Churchill obviously; can never be. The English leader, during World War II, when Germany pounded Britain with U-2 flights first admitted to the people that Britain might have its neck broken like a chicken. But, he then proceeded to let the people know that the war was there’s also. When told that Germans were planning a landing force, he urged every Briton to be “Sure you take one with you. “He also changed the field commanders.
Buhari we know is not articulate. Like the President, the military are full of excuses for every setback and they want to point accusing fingers at others – while forgetting the four that are pointing back at them. Computers and phones belonging to the journalists were seized as if that was the solution to their problems. A few days later, the Maiduguri-Damaturu road was temporarily occupied by the insurgents. Travellers were trapped and movement came to a standstill until the army went to clear the road. But, Boko Haram had made its point. It aims for the encirclement of Maiduguri – the state capital. Thereafter Governor Shettima will have a co-Governor in Borno State. The man is not weeping for nothing.
Operation Python Dance and the illegal occupation of DAILY TRUST premises represent two sides of the same counterfeit currency. They proclaim cowardice. In fact, there is no qualitative difference between the two and a run of the mill armed robbery operation. A few armed men invade a place occupied by unarmed people and force them to surrender everything – including their rights to shout for help. They regard themselves as “tough guys”. But, once confronted by other armed men they become fugitives (Napoleon). One might ask, how many of those “tough guys” involved in the ridiculous dance would volunteer to go to Bama? How many will be willing to face real combat? But, they will readily go and dance in Umuahia or Orlu or Obolo Affor. That is their own definition of bravery.