Commander-in-Chief Flex Your Muscles

by Sheyi Oriade

It is interesting as well as instructive that in the periods in which Nigeria was the focus and subject of the serial adventurism of ambitious military putschists, that those amongst them who emerged, in their different turn, to become the nation’s chief helmsmen, often placed in the styling of their official designations, practical and titular emphasis on the ‘commander-in-chief’ aspect of their forcibly acquired positions, and for good reason.

For paramount in the minds of these military helmsmen, was the awareness that their acquisition of political power was based, in its entirety upon the use of lethal force, as indeed was its retention. Thus, it was in their interest and to their advantage as well as crucial to their survival, to issue frequent reminders of this fact to potential rivals and prospective dissidents entertaining notions of unseating them or of destabilising the nation, that the pursuit of such folly, would be met with the stiffest resistance. For them there was to be no pretence or ambiguity about the fact that in force was a rule of force underpinned by forceful means.

However, in the present civilian dispensation, political power is acquired in consequence of a loan, of, and from, the people granted on trust, to elected recipients, to exercise it on their behalf for specific purposes and specified periods. Given the basis of this transactional exchange of political power between electorate and elected, it is no wonder that, in contrast to the military helmsmen of time past, the present high representative of the people, naturally inclines towards placing titular emphasis on the former, rather than latter aspect, of his official designation.

Indeed, this inclination was evident not long ago when a statement attributed to the vice-president (since clarified) revealed that the rendering of the president’s official title had been truncated stylistically with the ‘commander-in-chief’ aspect dropped; although responsibility for the same was retained as part his constitutional function. Perhaps the decision was driven by the top team’s desire to put an end to the national political fascination and obsession with titular titillation, choosing rather to tilt towards titular simplicity.

On the face of it, the decision appeared to be well reasoned and intentioned, but on reflection it was actually flawed in basis and formulation. For it betrayed an unsound understanding of the functionings of the national psyche and the importance of appearances to it. For in its possible consequence, it was liable to create the impression that the high representative of the people was – either ambivalent or uncomfortable – with that aspect of titular responsibility. Such a misleading impression could easily have led to a misconstrual on the part of the military constituency as to its relevance in the prevailing scheme of things.

Although the president’s legitimacy and security of tenure do not derive or depend upon the exercise of lethal force, it is, nonetheless, important from a stylistic, as well as a practical perspective, that he sticks to the proper rendering of his title and ensures its constant repetition in the public ear. For such repetition will on a conscious and subconscious level remind the president and the people of the extent of the powers embedded in his office. Such repetition also serves to send unambiguous warnings to would be miscreants intent upon perpetrating and perpetuating the sort of mayhem that is occurring and recurring with disturbing regularity in our nation at present.

It would, not be amiss, also, to reinforce these reminders by staging periodic public displays of the might of the nation’s armed forces, to underscore the fact that civilian authority is backed up by military strength, in order to dissuade those of the persuasion that it is acceptable to foment and inflict indiscriminate and mindless violence upon sections of the nation’s citizenry.

Placing emphasis on military might in a civilian dispensation may appear somewhat antithetical, but against the background of the recent bombings in parts of the nation, including the attack on Police HQ and the United Nations Offices in Abuja, it has become necessary to do so. Furthermore, given the nature of the attacks, it seems impossible to escape the conclusion that some sort of declaration of war has been made against the State. A declaration underpinned and compounded by the unconventional methodology adopted by its makers as demonstrated by the sporadicity of their attacks and selection of targets.

In view of this, it is clear that the government cannot depend on its regular policing agents and their conventional methods to deal with this problem. It has to establish a separate security force comprising gifted personnel drawn from the Armed Forces, the Police, and Intelligence Services working in tandem and reporting to the National Security Adviser in order to combat this menace. This approach must be complemented by the development and implementation of medium and long term strategies geared towards identifying and resolving the underlying factors fuelling this outrage. It should be embarrassing enough to the government that its citizens are the subject of such intermittent attacks of violence and even more so that international citizens within our borders are also exposed to such dangers.

The president as high representative of the people must begin to adopt a posture of power and authority and project an image of strength and confidence to inspire the people. He must demonstrate the fact that he is not only in command of his brief, but also of his territory and in particular, the nation’s capital city. His much vaunted attributes of humility, simplicity, and approachability are all commendable and have their place in the general scheme of things. But the present scheme, demands a display of presidential resolve, decisiveness, and courage, coupled with the presence of mind to act quickly and correctly in a definitive manner to bring things under control. Falling short of this objective will serve to diminish whatever is left of the people’s and international community’s confidence in the ability of his government to secure itself and the nation’s territory.

So, Commander-in-Chief, it is time to flex your muscles, clench your fingers, and launch your fists of authority to prevent those intent upon imposing a climate of fear and death in our nation from doing so.

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