Politics of Generals in Nigeria

The military institution in any sovereign nation ensures the territorial integrity and survival of that nation-state. That nations are powerful derives more from their military arsenal, capacity and professionalism. That America is the only super power today is because of her awesome military might and economic clout. The American Armed Forces exert her influence and military superiority whenever diplomacy fails like in Iraq, Panama, Grenada, former Yugoslovia and Afghanistan. Largely due to American military hegemony and bravado Kuwait is today a free country, free from late Saddam Hussein’s iron grip and territorial expansionism. Ditto Kosovo from Slobodan Milosevic’s mindless brutality.

In Africa the military aids and abets political perfidy. Commanded at the helm by one of their own through whose instrumentality a junta is established in place of semblance of democratic or civillian governance or by a dictatorial civillian president the military institution in Africa has a lot of twisted tales and exploits. In a continent where might is right and where the military institution is made to feel superior to the civil society things would not have been any worse. Human rights abuses, suppressions and violations become the grounds upon which survival is measured and promotion based and dished out.

In Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s stranglehold on former Rhodesia enjoys the support of the military top hierarchy, if not, the octogenerian liberation struggle hero turned impervious despot would have been history by now. That Mugabe talks tough and listens to no one but himself is attributable to his conviction that the military is under his pocket. At his whims and caprices blood of the innocent are shed if only to maintain the aging fiery orator to his high position while the cost of living spiral out of control.

In Nigeria the Nigerian Armed Forces are more or less seen as an army of occupation. Its bastardisation and politicisation began with the Babangida era. Populated in the majority by crying she-Generals like Oladipo Diya, die-hard militricians like IBB and his boys (favoured, promoted and pampered set of officers who gained unfairly under Babangida’s ‘Maradonic’ benevolence) and English-less Hausa-speaking illiterate dark-complexioned boys from the north the Nigerian army is just finding its feet and respectability after decades of decadent political adventurism in coup plotting and counter-coup foiling.

As a General with high coup plotting pedigree IBB was at home weeding out those fellow Generals deemed rightly or wrongly “ambitious”. But that did not stop late Gideon Orkar and his men from striking nor did it deter Mamman Vatsa from trying his hands allegedly on unseating the ‘evil one’. The late Vatsa must have paid the supreme price for being more brilliant than Babangida in school! A lot of Generals were wasted in the Ejigbo plane crash during the Babangida disguised dictatorship. As a fake prophet who parroted “for their tomorrow we gave our today” IBB is till today held responsible for the rot in the military.

Recruited in their thousands by late old leaders of Arewa like Sarduana Sokoto, Aminu Kano and Ahmadu Bello these northern brute-force champions in the military were given automatic army uniforms to sustain the dominance of the north in the army. Today like yesterday this “vision” is still paying off albeit unpatriotically. What the north lacks in education and economy they have in military strength and unity of purpose. Add this to the census fraud which historically pegs the population of the ‘desert’ north as larger than the mangroves south then the clearer picture of the Nigerian federation fraud gets more exposed.

The politics of Generals in the Nigerian democratic evolution constitutes enough ground for one to be apprehensive. At every level in governance from the local to the federal government, one sees retired army men trying their hands on civil rule. Many retired Generals seek to return to power through the ballot with others playing the role of godfathers at the background. Though the current Chief of Army Staff, General Leka Yusuf by his utterances appears to be democracy-friendly one cannot vouch for other ‘political Generals’ around. In Nigeria of yore one obedient illiterate army recruit from the north could rise steeply in ranks to become a “General” depending (not on merit or his pedigree of wars fought or other military exploits) on his perceived loyalty and subservience.

Years ago during late Abacha’s evil era a visiting American General was “shocked” reportedly as his General colleagues were introduced to him. He was taken aback by the young men whose military background smacked of incompetence shaking his war-weary hands. He questioned his host why there was a proliferation of Generals in Africa. Unknown (or perhaps known) to the old American seasoned General that was the price of coup-plotting and the African constant military tinkering with civil governance. Besides Generals play politics here and there. Where he came from merit and competence count but where he was visiting connection and blind loyalty were the yardsticks for promotion and excellence!

In China, the Minister of Defence is a “Colonel” though he is not a youth. He must have served the Asian Dragon for decades before rising to that top position. Nearer home in Africa the former Ghanaian “revolutionary” leader Jerry ‘Junior Jesus’ Rawlings was a flight lieutenant. Rawlings never thought it wise or auspicious awarding ranks to himself even though he ruled Ghana successfully for almost 28 unbroken years as an air force officer and later transmogrifying himself into a civilian. The Libyan leader Muammar Ghadafi is still a ‘colonel’ in the Libyan Armed Forces he commands supremely.

In Africa three statesmen who can safely walk across the road in their respective countries without any bodyguard and return safely to their homes are former Presidents Nelson Mandela, Jerry Rawlings and Libyan Ghadafi the gadfly. While Rawlings could be described as the “father of modern Ghana” (unlike Olusegun Obasanjo who arrogates such appendage to himself) Mandela is celebrated the world over for his large heartedness and statesmanship. Ditto Ghadafi whose pan-Africanism rhetorics often expose him as one totally anti-imperialism and neo-colonialism. That’s beside the point that he is leading Libya well leaving only but few complaining despite his omnipotent style.

In Nigeria a whole lot of G

enerals had called the shots from Dodan Barracks to Aso Rock. But none had left the stage a hero! From Ibrahim Babangida, to Sani Abacha to Olusegun Obasanjo Nigeria continued the road to infamy. In the trio there seemed to be a competition for who would loot better than the other(s). Bereft of quality civic education but boastful of their military academy credentials these men sought to outdo each other in abusing conventional governance as we know it. In the end Nigeria has come out much worse. With hopes dashed, dreams aborted the prospects of greatness nursed at independence and at the discovery of the black gold in our shores has transformed into misery and despair for the silent majority.

The Bakassi Peninsula dispute which pitted Nigeria with Cameroun exposed our military’s professional mess. On many occasions the Camerounian Gendarmes and Army had swooped on our military’s positions dislodging them and taking some prisoners. Often we had heard accusations of French military assistance from the Nigerian high military command yet no one had told us why Britain should not be involved as our colonial masters. The Camerounian superior war strategy and fire-power was all too evident; the battalion of Nigerian soldiers posted there were busy warding off aggressions from Camerounian forces who were more desperate over Bakassi.

The good news is that today the Nigerian Armed Forces seem to be concentrating on their normal constitutional role and duty. Coup plotting seems today a taboo though the “Generals” are still very much active in politics. This culture of submission to civillian authority must be sustained for democracy to thrive. Otherwise the giant of Africa may be headed for the very worst. God forbid!

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