If we talk now, dem go brand us “Enemy of the State” and start chasing us upandan with police, DSS, Customs, Immigrations and even vigilantes. But how do you criticize the deployment of soldiers to the private residence of a man without incurring the wrath of the presidency?
I have an idea: blame it on the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai; blame it on Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin – for those two must be in the know before troops are deployed within and outside Nigeria. We can take the blame for this aberration a little higher. How about laying it at the doorstep of President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari? Wouldn’t he have been the last person to know before the president himself knew? Buratai would have communicated his plans to Olonisakin, who would, in turn, have asked Abba Kyari for a meeting with the President so he could brief him. Abba Kyari would likely have just given the go-ahead in the name of the president because Mr. President was indisposed, or just didn’t have the time to see everybody and every file all of the time. Right?
Wrong. In this day and age, nations don’t send soldiers chasing after their own civilian citizens. Responsible nations spend too much money on the training and welfare of their soldiers for them to be deployed on such trite mission as “show of force” on the street of a rabble-rouser. That is so Hitlerian; so tyrannical and so out-of-date. The blame lies squarely at the doorstep of President Buhari. And as the saying goes, the buck stops at his desk.
I understand that section 217(2) of our Constitution authorizes the president to deploy troops to any part of the country to support the efforts of other law enforcement agencies in order to help suppress “insurrection.” This is akin to what the U.S. National Guard, which is under the command of individual state governors, does in the U.S. But where is the insurrection in Abia State?
One definition of insurrection is: “an act or an instance of rising in revolt, rebellion, or resistance against civil or an established government.” Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), who, obviously, was the target of the military deployment, had threatened all of the key elements that define insurrection; “threatened”… but not yet carried them out. He has promised to burn down Nigeria more than once. He has promised to prevent elections from taking place in Anambra more than once. He has promised to carve out Biafra from Nigeria more than once. But he has yet to actualize any of those threats.
What he has done is flagrantly violate some of the conditions for his bail. In April of this year, when virtually all the elders from the east pleaded for his release from detention, ostensibly because his health was failing and he was at the point of death, Justice Binta Nyako offered Kanu 12 conditions for his release, and the continued enjoyment of the temporary freedom. Those conditions included, but were not limited to, the following: he must not be in a crowd of more than 10; he must not hold rallies; and he must not grant interviews. But what did he do as soon as he was released? He not only got in a crowd of more than 10, he held rallies. Apparently, his health got better as soon as he exited the court premises in Abuja. He not only granted interviews; he threatened to burn down Nigeria. For those alone, all that government needed was a court order to re-arrest him. And because of his notoriety – the touts and the hoodlums with whom he has surrounded himself and the nature of his threats against Nigeria, the government probably needed a hefty dose of a combined police/DSS operation. No reasonable person would have argued against that because it would have been lawful. That would have been an appropriate show of force.
So, why send a platoon, company or battalion of soldiers to intimidate him? The answer is simple. The Buhari government, like all the ones before it, and like most African governments, is afraid of empowering the police like it is done in the western world. The ideal thing would have been to allow the states to have their own police. Those who argue against that cite the potential for abuse by some of our vindictive and petulant governors, and the general “immaturity of our democracy.” If we are leaving the police as it is under the federal government, it needs to be numerically strengthened to accurately cover the whole country (stop assigning police officers to all manners of political office holders); improve their general welfare – salary, training, weapons – and truly empower them to carry out law enforcement duties across the whole country.
It is an onerous, almost revolutionary task that requires laser-focus attention from the president. But it is wishful thinking on my behalf. Knowing the bushman, brute force mentality of our military, I can’t imagine a police officer enforcing the law on a military officer. A good example of the subordination of the military to civil rule is the U.S. military, which boasts of some of the most lethal men and women in its forces. Yet, those highly trained members of the military are some of the most humble, most deferential and most respectful individuals when you see them about town. Other than members of the National Guard whom you’d see in town with arms during natural disasters, I have never, in 30 years, seen armed American regular soldiers in town. Even when going from their bases to training grounds, they move about in such a way as to not draw attention to themselves, using civilian license plates on their plain-colored vehicles. Even wearing the camouflage uniforms in town is often discouraged. The idea is to protect the crown jewel of the American power – the soldier. Would you be surprised to see an American police officer arrest an American soldier? It happens all the time. Such a thing can happen in a society where the military is completely subordinated to the civilian leadership. Can that happen in Nigeria? No. Our military is still tethered to its inglorious past of dehumanizing jungle-justice treatment of the so-called bloody civilians.
In its characteristic lethargic attitude to important matters, this government dilly-dallied on this Kanu matter until the fellow became a martyr for the Biafra cause. Kanu was charged to court for some of the most egregious offenses you could commit against your country; one of which was treason. The man was seen and heard all over the world on video and radio openly soliciting contributions for the acquisition of arms to wage war against Nigeria. With two passports at his disposal – Nigerian and British – the man entered Nigeria illegally without a British visa on his British passport and without an entry stamp on his Nigerian passport. Now, why did someone like that get put in detention for over a year without his trial moving an inch? Where is Attorney General Abubakar Malami on this issue? Isn’t the APC government the government of “Change” the one that promised an overhaul of the judiciary?
So, why send the army to harass Nnamdi Kanu? Could it be that our soldiers don’t have much to do anymore? Is Boko Haram now completely crushed? Have we traversed the entire Sambisa forest and mapped out every inch of it? If not, shouldn’t those soldiers riding around in Umuahia be deployed to Maiduguri?
Who does not know that the Nigerian Army is by far the superior bet in a showdown with IPOB and Biafra? It has to be the suicidal goons following Kanu around. And I think there is something in the water or food they are consuming over there that makes them think they can stand toe-to-toe with the Nigerian Army. I saw some of them on video armed with cutlasses, machetes and bottles, throwing stones at the military convoy. I heard warning shots being fired by the soldiers and saw the idiots still moving in the direction of fire. If you look in the dictionary for the definition of stupidity, it would be illustrated with the picture of a mob armed with sticks, cutlasses and bottles attacking a military element protected with body armor and armed with semi-automatic weapons, fully-automatic weapons and grenade launchers. Don’t come crying to me when you are blown to smithereens.
I have never been a fan of armed soldiers dressed in combat uniforms dealing with civilians in town. I have so much respect for the military that any misuse of them, any scorn and derision thrown their way makes my blood boil. Even the “ineffectual buffoon” and “bloody civilian” had enough sense to declare a state of emergency in the northeast before sending soldiers there. I expect our sage and former general to know better…unless his sentience is in question.
Abiodun Ladepo writes from Ibadan, Nigeria. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.