Constitution And Militocracy
GUARDIAN, May 08, 2005
Those who are familiar with the documentary movie on Patrice Lumumba,
first Congolese Prime Minister, would recall a scene where the Belgian army
officer in charge of training the local military was disobeying orders from
Lumumba. Lumumba asked him if he could disobey orders from his Prime
Minister in Belgium and he said no. He then wanted to know why he was
disobeying his orders.
The Belgian officer told him that the Congo was not Belgium where things
were done differently, implying that they were indeed two worlds apart. This
is a very crucial point many people, especially military apologists, miss
when they began to argue that since army officers in the West, like General
De Gaule, went on to become great political leaders, army officers in Africa
could do the same. The fact that military rule in Africa, from Liberia to
Togo, Nigeria to the Congo, have largely been unmitigated disasters, seems
to escape their attention.
I want to argue here that the historicity of the military institution in
Africa and particularly in Nigeria where we have had several military and
quasi- military governments, has not prepared them to be political leaders.
The point will become clearer as I trace, albeit, briefly, the origin of
what is known in Nigeria as the "Military Mentality" (MM). When the military
dabbled into politics this mentality metamorphosed into militocracy - a word
Fr. Kukah liked to use. Before coming back to the military syndrome, I think
a word on professionalism is in order.
During the Abacha reign, when university teachers were agitating for
better working conditions, including better salaries, a prominent member of
the ruling clique pointed out that if the professors wanted to be rich
people they should not have chosen their profession in the first place. At
the risk of playing the devil's advocate, I want to point out that there is
some truth in what the man said even though it is certain that his statement
was not born out of the truth. The statement was right in pointing out that
those who want to be rich should not go into the academia. However, I do not
think this fact is lost on the professors themselves. I mean, nobody goes
into the academia in order to become rich.
It is a known fact that hardly any academic features in the list of
millionaires anywhere in the world, including the United States. The few who
may have a couple of millions are those who have won the Nobel Prize or have
published books that have sold millions of copies or who have through
research produced innovative works sold to big commercial companies. So,
pecuniary reward is the least of the glories of the academic profession.
Academics are those who want to break new grounds in knowledge and write
their names in the intellectual and scientific map of the world. Seen from
this perspective, the statement that if you want to be rich you should not
go into the academia is right.
But on the other side of the coin is that nobody embraces the academia or
any profession for that matter, in order to be wretched for life. It is this
wretchedness that the Nigerian academics were protesting against and are
still protesting. They need a decent salary to take care of their basic
needs, including the need for leisure, as well as good working conditions to
carry out their teaching and research. It is because this enabling condition
is lacking that our education system is in such a mess and genuine academics
are profoundly worried about it.
The point I want to stress here is that each profession has its glories
and limitations. The statement about university professors not seeking to be
moneybags points to that fact. This leads us to the main point here which is
the glories and limitations of the military in the Nigerian context. What is
true of the academic profession is equally true of the military institution
but in Nigeria it is unfortunately not the case.
I pointed out earlier that the problem with the military in Nigeria is
what is known as the "Military Mentality". The genesis of that mentality is
to be found in the colonial enterprise. We all know that colonialism could
not have succeeded in Africa without the use of military might by the
colonisers to kill, maim, subdue the colonised, and keep them subdued while
their resources, including human resources, were systematically plundered.
The worst was that the colonisers did not consider Africans as being fully
human and treated them accordingly.
In the West, the military takes orders from the civilian rulers and its
primary task is to protect them and all the citizens, as well as protecting
their territorial integrity; in Africa they did the exact opposite. In other
words, the military institution that was introduced into Africa was
primarily meant to be an instrument of oppression. It is in this context
that we have to understand what the Belgian general told Lumumba. Africa, in
their mentality, was a conquered territory and was treated as such. The
tragedy is that after we got our "independence", that military mentality was
transferred from the colonialists to the indigenous military officers.
Those who are supposed to be their boss or protected by them are labeled
"bloody civilians". General Paul Okuntimo, the leader of the military
occupation of Ogoniland in the 90s boasted that he knew of over 200 ways of
killing and torturing people. He had tried only a few of them on the "bloody
civilians" and was eager to try the rest. It is only a military institution
in which the mentality is not that of protection but rather of oppression
that one hears such swanks. Kofi Annan, when he was the head of the UN peace
keeping missions was so appalled by this mentality that he once declared
that African governments do not send troops to peace keeping missions
because they need them at home to continue to oppress their own people.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti was one vocal and articulate Nigerian who was
continually at the receiving end of this military mentality. He once
declared that all parts of his body had been battered many times by the
military and the police and his property pillaged and loved ones maimed and
killed. It was the shame of a nation seeing an icon in the mould of Fela
being paraded in chains by the military, a few months before his death, on
the excuse that he was caught with marijuana. Fela, it was, who took a long
and hard look at Africa's politics and summarised it in four profoundly
prophetic words: "Soja Go Soja Come".
He asked in a rhetorical question whether there could ever be a military
coup in the West, that is, in the home of those who brought us
"civilisation?" Fela was quite specific. He asked if we had ever heard that
the army had taken over in London. The fact that there have been military
coups and military governments in Africa is due to what I described above as
the military mentality that is found in Africa and particularly in Nigeria.
It is this military mentality, implanted in our land by the colonial
masters, that has made all the military and quasi-military eras in Nigeria
quite disastrous and horrific. It has nothing to do with the military as an
institution per se. Again, the British knew that they were an occupying
force in Nigeria. It was the consciousness that made our independence
possible. But the Nigerian military governments never saw themselves as an
occupying force. The tragedy is that you cannot see yourself simultaneously
as one who conquers, oppresses, subdues and keeps the people subdued while
plundering them and also claim to be their leaders. Even those who
transformed themselves into civilians did not - and not - by that very fact
alone shirk that military mentality.
It is almost impossible to have somebody with that mentality subject
himself to the democratic process, especially to constitutionalism and the
rule of law. If this is not the case, how do you explain the fact that
President Obasanjo has simply refused to obey a Supreme Court order to
release the money due to Lagos State, money that he should have had no
business with in the first place, choosing instead, as Reuben Abati rightly
pointed out, to re-inteprete the judgement to suit his mind set?
How also do you explain the invasion of Odi and Zaki biam and recently
Odioma where unarmed civilians, including market women and children, where
massacred in broad daylight under the pretext that some military men and
police were killed by some local militias? Also, the president has not told
us the source of the funding for the ongoing confab, giving the impression
that he rules by decrees. Some elected governors are under threat of being
removed as if they are military administrators.
These are some of the reasons why a man with military background, who
understands the military mentality in Nigeria well enough, suggested that
the military should steer clear of politics in Nigeria. I am talking of
Colonel Abubakar Umar, the former military governor of Kaduna State. Let us
not forget that Umar is an ardent fan of IBB, the man who is scheming
viciously to take over from Obasano in the true militocratic tradition of "Soja
go soja come". Umar, quoted in The Guardian of July 19 2004, said that "The
Armed Forces is an apparatus of war, their language and style is that of
force, the authority they wield rests on force as experienced in present-day
I was therefore very delighted to learn that the present political reform
conference headed by Justice Niki Tobi may give Nigerians a new
Constitution. Despite genuine misgivings, I wish to appeal to the delegates
and to any group who may be writing the next Nigerian Constitution to find a
way of countering this destructive military mentality in our political
arena. Specifically, I am suggesting that it be enshrined in our
Constitution that henceforth nobody who has been in the military should be
allowed to contest for any elective office in Nigeria, for the next 100
years at least. The reason is simply that the spirit of the profession in
the Nigerian context does not prepare them to take on such responsibilities.
The time being suggested would be enough to inculcate the democratic
spirit in the institution. It is there for all to see that where the
military has taken on democratic responsibilities in our country, it has
been invariably disastrous. Among such disasters is the way many Nigerians
(military and civilian) threaten to "deal with" their fellow citizens at the
slightest provocation, with little or no regard to the rule of law. Another
devastating result is the plundering of the nation's resources.
Because of this plundering they have amassed so much money that they are
today the richest group in Nigeria, at the expense of the suffering masses.
With their money they have bought over all the major political parties in
the country. Even the original founders of the PDP are lamenting this
development. It is very worrisome that all the major presidential
candidates, a large chunk of the governorship and national and state
assembly candidates in the last election were military people, with their
military mentality. No wonder there was such widespread rigging. It promises
to be worse in subsequent elections.
It is time we politely, but firmly, remind the military of the glories
and limitations of their profession in the Nigerian context. One of such
limitations is that they should steer clear of politics as one of their own
has advised. This is because their military mentality, if allowed to take
root in the Nigerian political scene, as it is already doing, can only lead
to one result: anarchy. Even as one admires some military officers, they
should not be encouraged to be in politics. It is a fact that they have to
come to terms with, sooner or later, if they really care for the welfare of
Osigwe is a doctoral student of Philosophy at Laval University in Quebec,