by Cheta Nwanze
“There’s a reason you separate the military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”
The above quote was made by the fictional character, Rear Admiral William “Bill” Adama, in the 2004 mini-series, Battlestar Galactica, and it is absolutely true.
On the morning of Thursday, 5 February 2014, a battalion of Nigeria’s Army went on a road walk around the Ikoyi area of Lagos. Now this, I have seen with my own eyes only a few times, and each time I have seen it, is during a time of tension.
On the morning of Saturday, 7 February, the parade was even bigger. This time involving armoured vehicles. I saw some of them, a friend who stays in Lekki claims that they got to his neighbourhood, and there was some shooting to boot.
The conclusion this leads to is that “our” military, something we all know anyway, is not much more than a police force that exists to enforce the will of the ruling elite. But then is that not the way it has always been?
The British colonists set up the Royal West African Frontier Force as a tool to suppress the populace of what became Nigeria. When the British withdrew in 1960, the Army fell into the control of politicians, who used it to police the people when they decided to play games during the farce of 1964/65. Ultimately, the Army decided to take power for itself, and effectively remained in power for another 33 years.
During that long period in power, one thing that was learned by the man at the top, was to get a close pal to be the head of the Army. For some, a “close pal” means a kinsman. Witness how Lt. Gen. Dambazau, as Chief of Army staff, did everything to protect the presidency of Umaru Yar’Adua, even though it was clear that Yar’Adua was on his way out. Witness how Gen. Ken Minimah has used the Army, to ensure that an election will be postponed.
Make no mistakes about this, yesterday’s announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission was made because a gun was figuratively put to the head of Attahiru Jega. Jega himself made that abundantly clear in his speech before formally announcing the postponement of the elections. If the armed forces cannot provide security, in an environment such as this, then it will clearly be the height of irresponsibility, for INEC to go ahead with the elections.
Sadly, there are questions that arise almost immediately: since the given reason for the threat that lead to the postponement is that there is a need to tame Boko Haram, and it will take 6 weeks, what will happen if in 6 weeks Boko Haram emerges stronger? Will we shift the elections again? The slippery slope here is that we could shift the elections ad infinitum. Essentially prolonging the tenure of the current government.
The second question, which seems to have slipped by almost unnoticed, comes from the fact that realistically, the Nigerian Army, unlike sixteen years ago, no longer has a monopoly of violence within our territory. Witness how they’ve been fought to a standstill by Boko Haram. Witness how the Niger Delta militants, a few years ago kept large portions of the army tied down in the South-South, and adversely affected Nigeria’s oil production. So, what other groups, quietly growing, away from the public eye, has seen yesterday’s travesty, and is capable of causing great trouble?
More than anything though, yesterday’s incident has shown us the need to urgently decentralise our country. The country is too large, and with too many interest groups, to have a very powerful centre.