Uncanny Talks of Military Intervention

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In the expression of the virtue of gratitude, Most Reverend Matthew Kukah, by his own admission, is prone to the lapse of being superfluous. His funeral ovation at the burial of Joseph Danlami Bagobiri, Bishop of the Catholic Bishop of Kafanchan on Thursday, 15th March 2018 bears testimony and equally provided a heart wrenching insight into the ordeal of the Christian population of Southern Kaduna in Kaduna state. It is difficult to come terms with the revelations of institutional socio-political discrimination that holds the indigenous Christian population of the region in thrall and cast them as serially violated second class citizens. Lamenting the plight of the victim population, Kukah revealed

“After nearly thirty years of the creation of their state, none of them had occupied the seat of a Governor. None had qualified to represent the State as a Minister. They looked around and found a land barren of both federal and state government presence. There were no state television signals as we had to rely on Plateau State television for media coverage. There were no roads, not a single industry sited anywhere in the state.… It would take a combination of President Obasanjo and Alhaji Makarfi to change the course of the history of the people of Southern Kaduna. It was in 1999 that Senator Isaiah Balat was appointed a Minister to represent Kaduna State. Even then, the key northern Muslims protested saying that Senator Balat was a Christian not a northerner. Then came the historic appointments of both Lt. Generals Martin Luther Agwai and Yusuf Luka to the positions of Chief of Army Staff and for Agwai, Chief of General Staff. When I met President Obasanjo and thanked him for this, he said to me: There is nothing to thank me for. These two gentlemen were the best, they had the best career records and so we did not do them a favour. I felt sorry for General Obasanjo because he did not seem to understand that in the eyes of the mafia, merit, excellence, competence, was tied to religion and region and that in our case, being a Christian excluded you from certain positions”.

Before I go any further, I need to make a mental note of a phenomenon that illustrates the wide ranging comprehensiveness of the contemporary Nigerian tragedy. I extracted the above referenced excerpt to prove a point I wanted to make about the propensity of Kukah to lapse into superfluous gratitude. But the excerpt turned out to be quite revealing of the enormity of a different subject matter and makes it a compelling topic, all by itself, for this space. Now, the greater tragedy is that were I to make a commitment, here and now, to devote my next commentary to the eminently meritorious subject matter of Southern Kaduna, I would not be able to vouchsafe the validity of the commitment. The reason for this is that in the intervening period between now and the next due date, the probability is that Nigeria would have played host to another contending tragic occurrence or revelation of calamitous proportions. Such is the nature of the transition Nigeria has made between yesterday and today-akin to the biblical metaphor of the juvenile foolhardiness of king Rehoboham- “my father laid a heavy yoke on you, I will make it even heavier; my father scourged you with whips, I will scourge you with scorpions”

On this biblical note, let us return to the respected statesman-cleric. The relevant take away (for the purpose of today’s commentary) from this excerpt was Kukah’s encounter with President Olusegun Obasanjo and the sense of gratitude and appreciation he expressed over the career elevations of Lt.Generals Martin Luther Agwai and Yusuf Luka to the Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defense Staff respectively. Given the officers’ professional merit, Obasanjo saw no need for the gratitude. A totally untenable instance of this penchant was on display at the occasion of a public lecture with the theme: “How to make democracy work for Africa,”

Said Kukah “Democracy requires lots and lots of patience and hard work. And I think we are mightily grateful to ourselves as a people that despite the frustrations, despite the temptations, unlike before: we have witnessed 16 to 17 years of patience on the side of the military because if it were 20 to 30 years ago, we would have had at least three or four coups already. I think it is a measure of the faith of the military itself on the urgency of democratization that has kept them in the barracks. But I think the politicians and the political class cannot take this patience for granted. What we have experienced in the last few years has made us a laughing stock of other nations,”

I was surprised and mildly irritated that this sort of apologetic pandering to the Nigerian military can come from Kukah. The inevitable question that arises is-who appointed the military, judge and superintendent over our affairs? We had better be able to take their patience for granted because the last time I checked, anyone, including, especially the military, who seeks to overthrow or supplant a constitutionally elected authority, is liable to the crime of treason. Investing the military with patriarchal oversight over Nigeria is a dangerous and curious proposition and coming from someone not of Kukah’s good faith pedigree would have aroused suspicion of the ulterior motive of testing the ground for military intervention. Kukah himself knows that this language of expression of frustration with the governance of Nigeria is not tenable and amounts to a retroactive legitimation of the culture of coup d’états and military intervention.

Still I was not of a mind to join issues on the topic; and decided to rule the uncharacteristic bluster as unintended gaffe to which we must not lend unwitting orchestration. And then it transpired that within weeks of the Kukah gaffe, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekeremadu, would ultimately stoke a controversy on the subject matter. The first inkling I got was repeated disclaimers in the media to the effect that the remarks of Ekweremadu should not be misconstrued as suggesting that Nigeria’s escalating crisis of governance passes as condition precedent to military intervention. As one of the highest individual stakeholders in the contemporary civil democratic rule in Nigeria, any such suggestion (by him) portends a self-destructive military rule baiting.

Again I dwelt no longer on it until Professor Bolaji Akinyemi drew attention to the controversy in his interview with ThisDay ‘. “We don’t learn from history; not only politicians but even the public. That was really what Ekweremadu was saying: that the politicians –if the antelope decides to be so proud that it just marches with majesty and pomp and pride, it must remember that there are hungry lions around; that the field isn’t cleared. That’s all Ekweremadu was saying. Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear,” It was at this juncture that I finally decided that I would not only go in search of the full story of what Ekweremadu purportedly said, I will, in addition, take up the trending topic on this page.

According to Ekweremadu “The problem in Nigeria is that our democracy is receding. Who says army cannot take over, let us not joke with our democracy that is the issue. The house of a senator was destroyed in Kaduna state; we are talking about Kwankwaso who was stopped from going to his state where he ruled for eight years. In Kaduna, Shehu Sani cannot organize a meeting and we are about a democracy? On subsequent reflection and from the avalanche of reactions to this report, Ekweremadu must have learnt that employing the specter of military intervention as a bogey man (against degenerate politicking) is not such a wise public recourse for an elected incumbent-especially in Nigeria.

One of the critical lessons we have learnt from the history of military intervention in Nigerian politics is the opportunistic nature of such interventions. Military coup broadcasts in Nigeria invariably find justification in the logic and expressions hitherto employed by prominent civilian figures to denigrate and repudiate their collective misconduct. Coincidentally, Akinyemi himself became a figure of fate of this tradition when his appeal for an interventionist disannulment of the 1993 Presidential election was employed as the irresistible pretext for the intervention and perpetuation of the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha.

As it evolved from July 1966 (up until the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999), the received wisdom of the political history of Nigeria was that military rule interventions amounted to little more than the reversion of power to the military wing of the hegemonic Northern ruling class-which became the default mode of ascension to political power and control since the counter coup of 1966. As the guarantor of this hegemony, the military became the dominant wing who would decide when to intervene and when to restore civil democratic rule.

Extrapolating from our chequered political history, military rule interventions are precipitated and legitimized by governability crisis attendant on a burgeoning breakdown of law and order and in the specific experience of Nigeria often as a stratagem for the preservation of regional political hegemony. Put in less flirtatious language, the position of the aforementioned public functionaries is that these conditions have been met by the extant political reality of Nigeria. And if there have been no attempts by the Nigerian military to usurp power, explanations for the institutional restraint will be found in the following factors.

First was the self-de-legitimation of military dictatorship by the crisis of the annulment of the 1993 Presidential elections and its culmination into the brutal personal dictatorship of Abacha. Second was the relative professionalization of the military beginning with the decision by President Olusegun Obasanjo to purge the institution of politically compromised officers. Third were the political stabilization instruments of power rotation and the facility of a successful transfer of power from an incumbent President to the opposition candidate in the 2015 general elections. Fourth is globalization and its domination by triumphant capitalism; and the attendant values of liberal democracy. Going forward and running counter to this trend is the resurgent dictatorship in Russia and China-reinforced by the global economic ascendance of the latter.