Nigeria's Constitution And Militocracy


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Nigeria's Constitution And Militocracy



Uchenna Osigwe



culled from 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 Obasanjo government".

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 the country.


Osigwe is a doctoral student of Philosophy at Laval University in Quebec, Canada.



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