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Whose army?

By   /  February 23, 2015  /  No Comments

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During the June 12 saga, my former editor and once dean of Nigeria’s columnists, Lewis Obi, wrote an unforgettable piece. He titled the article “The Caliphate’s Army,” and he posited that the army had held democracy and Nigeria spellbound because it belonged to the heirs of the Sokoto Caliphate. The Hausa-Fulani elite, that is.

Recent events compelled me to contemplated Obi’s thesis, and I tried to cast the army of the June 12 era to the present.

In the June 12 era, the Hausa-Fulani elite was smug, peacocky and ruthless, even in spite of the tempests of protests and resistance. They supposedly held power and controlled the army, including the puffy officers. Today, the commander-in-chief and the chief of army staff are from the same tribe, and it is not Hausa-Fulani. The proverbial table has turned, and the most vociferous critics are from the Hausa-Fulani stock, who have been accused of looking back to their glory days with a royal sense of entitlement.

But this is not a Nigerian army. It is an army of carpetbaggers. It is because we do not have an army born and bred Nigerian. It is fragile like an orphan. Anyone can own it today, and another tomorrow. That was the thought that overwhelmed me when I read the interview in this newspaper last week with Captain Sagir Koli. He unveiled to our eyes the tale of the Ekiti Election, and how a general (Aliyu Momoh), a buffoon politician now governor (Ayo Fayose ), a businessman (Chris Uba ), the presidency (that implies Goodluck Jonathan) and a raft of Yoruba renegades like Adesiyan and Obanikoro, sat to rig the Ekiti polls. No matter what may have been written about the so-called stomach infrastructure, no one can say with absolute certainty that Fayose won the election. Some have said Fayose won given the acclamation on the streets. If an election is close, that is always a possibility. When soldiers take over polling stations, muzzle the opposition and allow the politicians a free rein, anything is possible.

When the army holds sway, the civilian is at its mercy. We may now recall the takeaways of the governor of example, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, in which he asked basic questions. One of them was, how could Fayemi have lost in all local governments? It reminds me of the pamphlet titled Commonsense by Thomas Paine during the American Revolution. Captain Koli’s core revelations, not denied by anyone, only show how the army has been captured by the cabal in power.

So, is it still the caliphate’s army? Not today. It is Jonathan’s army and whomever he puts in charge, including Uba who cruised brazenly into Ekiti with officers while elected governors were shut out.

I recall some lines from the best war novel ever, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. “We came to realize – first with astonishment, then bitterness, and finally indifference – that intellect apparently wasn’t the most important thing… not ideas; but the system; not freedom, but the drill. We had joined up with enthusiasm and with goodwill; but they did everything to knock that out of us.”

Those lines must mark the disillusionment of Captain Koli. He had the naïve dignity of an officer. He still soared with the ideals of soldiery. Reality choked him into hiding. He should have read the history of the army. Some societies have army with a state, while others have state with an army.  The western societies often began with the elite and they formed militias, including the United States. Once the states are established, the military is canonized as an integral part of society. It marked the transition from feudal to capitalist democracy. The rule of law subjected everything and everybody under the state. Hence no army officer can defy his president and no president can defy the law. Since the law is based on higher values, no group or individual can manipulate the law at the expense of the higher social mores. That was how the developed societies were formed. Even in Ancient Greece and Rome, where all citizens were soldiers, everyone had a sacred sense of their responsibilities. Tensions have existed between the civilian authorities and their generals, but the civilian leader prevailed only within the social values. Lincoln and Macllelan, Churchill and Montgomery, Truman and macArthur. Once al Haig challenged Reagan, and the president proclaimed, “I’m in charge here,” before firing the general. Not hanky-panky of the sort we see today with the service chiefs.

In 19th century Europe, however, following the hurly burly of the French revolution, some societies, especially Germany under Bismarck and Austria under Metternich, had armies with states. That martial ardour gave us two world carnages – First and Second World Wars – and today they have tucked the bloodthirsty excesses under the clear-eyed vigilance of the rule of law.

Armies are made to defend societies against external enemies. In West Africa, our soldiers are rooted in the psychology of putting down internal rebellion. The military under the so-called West African Frontier Force in British colonies or Senegalese Sharp Shooters in French ensured that after independence, the soldiers and police did not belong to the country but those who formed them. So when the colonial masters left, the military fell into the hands of the nationalist elite, the politicians, who became the new leaders. Just as civil servants, teachers, city dwellers felt some disconnect with the new state, so did the army.

W all inherited a post-colonial society. The state was too artificial to belong to anyone. Tribes and tongues differed because there was no brotherhood. Without brotherhood, bonds failed. The only bond – that is, the state – was abstract and distant. Consequently, the army in spite of its discipline and name did not segue into its classic role in a modern state.

Tribal elites in the cloaks of politicians scrambled for control. We witnessed the struggle in the First Republic between the Hausa-Fulani and the Igbo, and that precipitated a 30-month civil war. Since the Hausa-Fulani prevailed, they ruled the nation until June 12, 1993, which inspired Obi’s seminal piece.

So, this is not a state with an army. Neither is it an army with a state. Philosophers speak of strong and weak states. Ours is often described as weak. It is wrong language. We don’t have a Nigerian state yet.  We have what Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci calls the political society. Even soldiers when in power acted more like politicians. We have the politician’s army. The state is so artificial that it exists in names, symbolisms, protocols and documents; a state in body but not in spirit.

That explains why we even debate whether soldiers should play a role in elections, even when the constitution forbids it and a judge frowns at it. An army denies its former leader’s qualifications because it has a new loyalty. Boko Haram could be born in Nigeria because politicians nurtured it in its infancy. The militancy in the Niger Delta also fattened on politicians. Every politician sees force as a quality of being. He casts the military in his own image. This is a stylized Hobbesian state. So, why was it a surprise that the service chiefs pitched their tents with Jonathan over putting off the polls? It is because we still don’t know the historic disconnect between the army and the artificial state of Nigeria. It is not the army alone, though. Civil servants pillage resources because they don’t feel they are destroying their own societies. That partly accounts for why students damage their labs during riots.

The national conference held recently only recapitulated all we have said from day one in this country. We need a people’s constitution that will define the roles of the army, the law maker, the teacher, the parent, the use of resources, the schools, etc. After that, the army can fully play its role as a legitimate defender of the country, and not a tool of a section of the political elite.

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