By Patrick Dele Cole
THE USA and Nigeria each had a civil war. One was to keep the USA united and to end slavery. The USA through the civil war developed a healthy respect for the military. That also set in place the values which had promised the USA to be a nation of the free and the brave, where anyone and everyone could develop to the best of their potential.
All these are founding principles that formed their war of independence from the British in 1776. They also built monuments to remind all about these values for freedom/republicanism: the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial and the encapsulation of this freedom and values in their constitution.
The Nigerian civil war was not about freedom, although elements in the South tend to feel that their freedom was guaranteed by the federal cause. The Nigerian military has been unable to maintain the respect its counterpart in the US had sowed and maintained. The US military is regarded as probably the most venerable institution in the country, the epitome of service and sacrifice.
The Nigerian military had quickly squandered all the veneration it may have had. The US military has been at the service of freedom and democracy answering the call to quash autocratism, xenophobianism and the holocaust. The Nigerian military had also served with distinction in Israel, Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burma, Uganda, Tanzania, etc., but it has never caught the imagination of Nigeria the way the US military has done in the US.
In diplomacy and in the setting up the institutions to anchor peace after World War 2, the names of the US generals ringed with a halo- Eisenhower, Marshall, etc.
No Nigerian soldier, except perhaps Murtala Muhammed, has climbed up to the stature of great men. Maybe there were too many of them in the public space in so short a time that quantity devalued quality.
I may have read the military legacy wrong but I stand to be corrected. Perhaps, also time plays tricks on all of us. The US military that is so venerated today was also at some point the bastion of racism where segregation was practised until recently.
First Black four-star General, Colin Powell came only in the 1990s. But when the US wants to feel good about themselves, they turn to the army – their united veneration for a thoroughly professional service. Who do we turn to in Nigeria? Even if the US veneration of the military is an artificial construct – it nevertheless encompasses all the values the Americans are so eager to proclaim to the rest of the world. Why can’t Nigeria find a similar construct to venerate and raise Nigerian values?
The influence of the military in the development or lack thereof, of Nigeria, has been seminal, profound and continuous. In the 60 odd years of Nigeria’s independence, the military has been in power for nearly 30 years; civilians 30. But 16 of the 30 years of civilian rule, the country was administered by former military heads of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Muhammadu Buhari – thus providing a unique hybrid or a hermaphrodite in the pantheon of Nigerian presidents: men who can hunt with the foxes and play with the hare. This military dominance at the level of the Presidency – actually four civilians – Balewa, Shagari, Yar’Adua and Jonathan; military – Ironsi, Gowon, Muhammed, Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Abubakar. Civilians have ruled Nigeria since 1999 to date – 21 years, during which retired Generals – Obasanjo and Buhari – joined political parties and became presidents. Can a leopard change its spots?
Wole Soyinka has defined tigritude as the nature of a tiger. The political map of the origin of Nigeria’s presidents should be instructive. Same for the governors? Places of origin will be more interesting. The skewered dominance of the military on the second level power in Nigeria – the governors-is even more interesting.
Let us take three states randomly. Sokoto has had 18 governors: 10 militaries, eight civilians. Anambra, 20 governors: 11 militaries, nine civilians. Rivers, 16 governors: 10 militaries, six civilians. Come to think of it, what are Nigeria’s values? Do we know the values of Germany, France, Scandinavia, the UK – even Europe? Nigeria’s values? Would we go to war to protect those values even if we knew what they are? Should Nigerians not sit down to enunciate these values and to build a society that accepts them and are willing to sacrifice for them?
It would seem that in the US, Europe, China, Russia and Israel the people know their own values and have resolved to defend them. What plagues Nigeria as to values, plagues the Middle East and most of Asia, with the exception of North Korea, Japan, and China.
I do not believe that the military in India, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Afghanistan, etc, could point either to central military values or indeed national values worth fighting for, by values, exclude religion as one such unifying value: religion divides more than it unites.