Those who whipped up ethno-religious sentiments in the run up to the 2015 general elections certainly knew what they were doing. Far from the wider misconception of seeing those unguarded hate comments as desperation of some people to see their candidate win the presidential election, the reduction of national issues to jingoistic street level jibes was deliberate. I recall that the doomsday scenario painted should a particular candidate lose the vote was backed by the “America’s” prediction that Nigeria will disintegrate in 2015.
We are now halfway into 2016 and I am still a citizen of a one indivisible Nigerian, even though there are current security breaches that must be tactfully handled to thwart the contrived crises that are aimed at achieving what the election tension could not achieve. Terrorists and militants have formed groups that are threatening the socio-political, economic and territorial stability of the country if only to make a show that their election period threats were not mere posturing. But this too has failed in its objective and purpose because it took only a short while for the militants to realize that blowing up oil installations is nothing short of the Niger-Delta region and its allied South-East region committing suicide by instalment.
The strategy has now shifted to new grounds with a routine retirement of senior officers in the Nigerian Army being twisted out of context to revive the persecution syndrome that the same forces behind the aforementioned breaches want to ride on for achieving personal ambitions. The military authorities adequately explained that the retirements were the result of service exigencies – there were investigations that indicted these men of being partisan in the 2015 General Elections while others were indicted for stealing public funds through defence contracts. Had a rating or junior officer committed any of these infractions in violation of the relevant oath same would have been fired and jailed without any media organization wasting as many as two sentences to report it. But then that is the danger of pursuing political balance because had the authorities court martialed and jailed these men we won’t be having this conversation.
The conversation is an ugly one. The first reaction to the retirement was that loyalists of former President Goodluck Jonathan have been sacked from the Army without going into the details of their misdeeds. Perhaps, the realization that a military officer whose sworn allegiance is to the Federal Republic of Nigeria shouldn’t be a GEJ loyalist forced a change in tactics. The sacked officers became “mostly” from the South South, South East and a few from the North Central but this too was soon discarded, possibly because while the claim is not true it would have also confirmed that the fired officers played the ethnic card instead of working for Nigeria.
People who wanted to discredit a national institution were thus in a quandary. The disaffection being whipped up in some quarters must be sustained and the sack of rouge officers is the only cannon fodder available. Under 72 hours, the narrative of the forced retirement was to change again. The last round of change was that they were loyalists of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, former President Jonathan and his National Security Adviser, retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki. Like the previous interpretations of the sacks, this one too fell flat because the former military men signed up to serve their country and not politicians.
There are also the simple questions that are not being asked. What did these people do while in office? For instance, if the aides of Dasuki took part in the criminal theft of money meant for buying arms to fight terrorists should he be excused simply because he hails from a particular part of the country? If a military officer on national assignment on a president’s staff were to supervise the distribution of bribes to rig elections, should he be left off the hook simply because his them principal is of a certain ethnic stock? We must also be brave enough to interrogate our system and agree whether or not commanding officers should abuse the support the military provide during elections should be converted to a rigging spree and intimidation of the opposition? Should the sacked officers have been rewarded with promotion when the theft of defence contract money meant that other gallant soldiers and officers died for lack of equipment? If the military becomes populated by career thieves and ethnic apologists can we still boast that we have a military? Why would any group or persons want Nigeria to have a compromised military? We cannot in good conscience answer in favour of any of these questions because that would portray us as dysfunctional society that has no hope of growing out of it.
We therefore summon the courage to find out what we stand to gain by politicizing the military to the extent that some people now want the very process used for ensuring ethical standards and professionalism to become the subject of external inference. To say such mindset is irresponsible would be an understatement. The military must not for any reason be politicized. Those who think politicizing events in the Nigerian Army could be exploited for their sinister motives of building support for secessionist groups should have a rethink as this is an institution whose function is too crucial to be jeopardized by ethnic thinking.
As they did with beating drums of war in the name of electioneering, as they did in propping up terrorists, as they did in attempting to sabotage the economy, the detractors of Nigeria got it wrong again by trying to bring ethnic politics into the sack of compromised officers. Instead of sounding like the whimpers of a victimized underdog they actually ended up snarling ferociously, a declaration of war on peace loving Nigerians.
Declaring war on the state whether directly or through proxies is not known to be acceptable in any state so a day of reckoning will arrive for those beating the drums of division and war. When that day comes, those waging this low intensity insurrection against the Nigerian state owe the rest of us valid explanation. They should therefore save the energy being dissipated on demonizing the military and channel same to articulating their reasons for troubling the nation.
Contributed by Sunday Attah.
—Attah is Secretary General, Stand Up Nigeria and contributed this piece from St. Don Bosco, Beirut, Lebanon.