IBB is Wrong – We Must Blame Military
Dear General Babangida
Last week, you granted an interview in which you asserted: “It is silly to blame the military for Nigeria’s problem”. Well, General, lest we become guilty of what we accuse others of doing, it is important that we take time to clearly, firmly, and directly tell you that you are wrong. If we want to be honest with ourselves, then there is no other way to put it than to bluntly tell you that your position on this issue is historically wrong, logically flawed, and intellectually unsustainable.
Dear General, I know you are an avid reader and aficionado of rhetoric and semiotics so I have no doubt that whilst some of your fans and loyalist might be upset with me for not listing your efforts and achievements in this epistles, you the addressee will see through my chosen style of rhetoric and chuckle. I must also add that you are getting this missive also because you, more than any other past military ruler, have decided to place yourself as the symbol of military rule in Nigeria. The consequence of such positioning is that in outlining the sins of the military, the blames will be directed at you as a symbol of all military regimes.
The first offence that the military committed and for which it must be blamed lies in their entrance into politics through seizing power with the use of boots and bullets the country bought you to safeguard and protect the country from external danger. There is no amount of corruption, internal squabbles, unrest or division that justifies a coup. It must be emphasised here that the moment the military decided to seize power with our guns they were violating the most sacred covenant of the republic: The constitution.
That singular violation is for me the origin of all other sacrilegious acts in Nigeria, for it created, embodied and justified the precedence of the jungle law by which might is right and violence or threat of violence is an acceptable means of engagement.
Let us be clear, I hold that like all other citizens the military has the right to have a say in governance but the way to do it, the civil and fair mode to have such voice, is to have clear demands and to lobby those jostling for power in the democratic arena to take into account the demands, views and interests of the military.
To make matters worse, once in power, you quickly displayed how ill-equipped you were to manage the complex system you grabbed by force. An embodiment of such recklessness is in the Unification Decree No. 34 of May 1966 with which you scuttled a well-thought arrangement and balance that held different nations of Nigeria together in a regional system of government. Regardless of how noble your intentions were, it is now clear to all that you made the wrong call with that Unification Decree and the consequences of that call are still here with us today.
By the way, you were able to do that devastating decree because you had destroyed democracy and disbanded the representative and consultative bodies that are the pillars of democracy. Let us be clear, I do not believe that democracy in itself equals good governance but it allows for consultations and deliberations and through consultations and deliberations concerns, interests and aspirations are tabled and arrangements are reached.
Another major blow that you dealt the Nigerian system was the destruction of the certainty in the lives of families and careers of professionals. Up until 1976, people could predict their path in life and their career could be banked on. With the 1976 purging of the public-service ministries, universities, parastatals, and other government agencies at the federal and state levels of individuals labelled as corrupt, indolent, or inefficient with no probe or trial, things fell apart in the civil service of Nigeria and with that started the annihilation of the middle-class.
I have argued elsewhere that uncertainty is one of the major causes of corruption, let me add here that studies have shown that many people reduced their loyalty and dedication to the Civil Service and other Agencies of government because they realised that nothing was certain for them there and that any officer could come into power change things, sack them within a twinkle of an eye without following laid down rules and with no way of defending themselves. Contrary to what many think and say, the tendency for civil servants to have businesses by the side, award contracts to themselves via proxies and to privatise government assets for self, started in 1976 as an aftermath of that purging.
It goes without saying that only unelected and unaccountable administrations can go on a purging rampage with no care for law and due process.
Some have argued for you and with you that civilians were the ones acting for and advising the military. That argument is weak, General and even amusing. Those civilians were not there based on a social contract with the people and they were accountable to only you. In the rooms where civilians discuss and advise the military someone had guns someone did not, someone had access to the guardroom and could order detention another could not so guess who was truly in charge.
In the over three decades of military rule, part of the sins of the military is that they were not able to turn Nigeria into a regimented society with the advantage of being extremely organised and orderly rather your regimes created a society of exceptions built around bizarre values of military idolatry where soldiers think they can jump the queue. Till today, private security guards think they should stand at attention when they see soldiers and the police will think more than twice before arresting military personnel.
Dear IBB, you are wrong, let’s keep smiling but we must blame the military for these and many more Nigerian errors.
Join me if you can @anthonykila to continue these conversations.
Prof Anthony Kila is Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos.