By HASSAN GIMBA
Anyone conversant with Nigeria’s political history knows that politicians, both those in babban riga and khaki, handle government appointments and offices with politics in mind. In most cases, no one gives a hoot about merit.
Even in the First Republic when Sir Ahmadu Bello’s Northern People’s Congress (NPC) entered a political marriage of convenience with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigerian National People’s Congress (NNPC), and they came to the table to share the “spoils” of office, which went to which party, or tribe, was the top menu.
When General Murtala Ramat Muhammad got assassinated in a coup d’état on 13 February 1976, his Chief of Staff (a sort of deputy to a head of state in a military regime), General Olusegun Obasanjo, also the most senior army officer alive, took over. Of course, he did not have the stomach for it at first, but that was something else.
Obasanjo was a Christian succeeding a slain Muslim head of state. To have another Christian, even though from the North, as his deputy, was thought to be politically incorrect by General TY Danjuma, who should have been the beneficiary. He sacrificed the honour of being the second in command to Obasanjo. His junior, Colonel Shehu Musa Yar’Adua but of note is that he did not resign.
This rotating of offices to all parts of the country to “taste” what it is like has been the informal, guiding principle of our polity. Thus, it was that virtually all political parties “surrendered” their presidential tickets to the South West. This ostensibly to assuage the Yoruba who felt the system denied their son the office with the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
There should be nothing wrong with this arrangement so far as every tribe, every gender, every religion, every part of the country want the office to contribute its best towards lifting Nigeria higher. What we should frown at is if the rumble, fisticuffs, threats, intimidations, blackmails, etc, were purposely for people to corner an office to feather their nests.
One may think the latter reason may be it. People want theirs to be the president, service chief, minister, etc. Good, but I have never seen a people foaming in the mouth, promising fire and brimstone because theirs missed being appointed the Controller General of the Federal Fire Service. Or the Postmaster General of the federation. Or even the Chief of the Legionnaires. But they are all serving the nation greatly in their way.
The problem with us is that we all believe there is “something” in those offices we want ours to occupy. And we want ours to get our share. Though in most cases, we do not benefit as “ours” team up with like minds from the other side of the fence to enjoy their time.
This brings me to a sad issue for those who are discerning enough. Lt General Ibrahim Attahiru, the late Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and others, died in the nation’s service. Though saddened by their perhaps avoidable death, we believe what is bound to happen must happen. While we believe they are resting in the bosom of the Lord, the nation still mourns them. And it will take some time before we get over it.
The way things were panning out, General Attahiru’s short COAS’ lifespan is worth celebrating. Yes, because it has been a long while since the ordinary Nigerian felt the war against Boko Haram was making any headway.
After the civil war and up to some ten years ago, the military, especially the army, in the North at least, was seen as a profession that easily confers power on its members. You become a head of state, minister or governor when your civilian contemporaries were huffing and puffing, pounding the streets of survival.
An officer standing akimbo in a starched khaki evinces charisma and a magnetic alluring personality. The personification of power! A tin god who can be above the law because he was the law! God help you if both of you want to “lure” the same girl into matrimony. He will dust you, for sure.
But Boko Haram has demystified that aura. They have punctured that veneer of invisibility and invulnerability. They also made the adonis looking warriors real – made of flesh, bone and blood like every “bloody civilian”. And we realised that soldiers, too, cry.
Ordinarily, we should not see the office of the COAS as an office of “ours” and so it is our turn to enjoy the gravy train. The office should be an office that is noble because it is the face of the military if ever there was one. For now, it is also our hope for bringing an end to the insurgencies buffeting the nation from the shores of Lake Chad to the hills and valleys of the Ndi Igbo. Our buffer against the marauding forces from the fringes of the desert to our North West and the gathering storm from the land of Oduduwa in our South West. The occupant therefore must be an embodiment of duty, honour and patriotism.
All this considered, it was sad to see soldiers celebrating and clapping when their commander was announced as the new COAS less than a week after his predecessor’s gruesome death. That should not have been tolerated from the troops, other ranks who look up to officers for guidance. What they should have gotten was a gut inspiring homily.
Events immediately after the announcement of the new COAS should reflect the solemnity of the circumstances. This is a man following on the heels of someone snatched away from life, whose family and nation are still in a state of shock and grief. It was not an occasion for effulgence, least of all cheering from troops while the appointed stands in front of them exultantly.
He may not have to be a Giuseppe Garibaldi who exhorted his troops, “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor food; I offer only hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles, and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart, and not merely with his lips, follow me.” Garibaldi was an Italian general and patriot who contributed to the creation of the kingdom of Italy in 1848.
He could even have borrowed and adapted General Douglas MacArthur’s “Old Soldiers Never Die” address to the American Congress on 19 April 1951. It was a time to whip up morale, even sentiment, by letting the troops get fired by their patriotism to their country and its citizens, and rout the enemies of the state.
I would like to leave our army chiefs with the words of Sun Tzu in The Art of War. Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher who lived in the Eastern Zhou period of ancient China. The Art of War, which has influenced the philosophies, military thinking and strategies of both western and eastern nations, is considered one of the oldest of military treatises.
He said, “Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. It is only one who is acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.”
Lest I Forget!
Ordinary President Ahmed Isah, a human rights activist, an advocate of social justice for the oppressed and founder of the Brekete Family, is in the eye of the storm. The acclaimed philanthropist producer-turned proprietor of Nigeria’s first-ever human rights radio was caught in a fit of anger that any man of conscience can be guilty of. He lost his cool and slapped a woman who poured kerosene and set fire on the head of her niece, claiming she is a witch.
Though he has since apologised, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has suspended the radio station and has hinted that, henceforth, it must strictly adhere to certain rules. Such rules that would dull the sharpness Ordinary Ahmed has brought to bear in fighting for the voiceless.
But the radio station was not the culprit. NBC’s action is just akin to hitting a fly with a sledgehammer or throwing away the baby with the bathwater. The obvious explanation is that being a bone in the throat of oppressors and powerful people who believe they can ride roughshod over the have-nots, they have now found an excuse to muzzle the voice of hope and justice to the poor.
To say Nigerian institutions care for the downtrodden citizen should be a story for the birds. If Nigerian institutions were that swift in protecting the vulnerable, legislators who slap their colleagues and commoners, judges who attack security men in plazas should have been in the gulag. Chief executives and their spouses who torture aides over allegations of stealing would have since joined them.