For Nigeria’s military, times have never been this challenging. Plagued on the one hand by the fiendish activities of some twisted minds that have taken over a vast cut of the country’s northeast region, it is on the other assailed first by the charge of corruption against its leadership by no less a group than many of its own low-rung soldiers, and then an imputation of obvious interference in the electoral process by the civil society and the main opposition party, All Progressives Congress.
But let us for now skip the question of corruption allegedly perpetrated by the top hierarchy of the military and face the issue of clear bias in favour of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party as underscored by the civil society and the APC.
The former has pointedly asked the military chiefs to resign for the contemptibly partisan role they played in forcing the Independent National Electoral Commission to postpone elections earlier scheduled for February. While on its part, the latter through its chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, openly accused the Military, especially the Army, of working unremittingly with the presidency and the PDP with the aim of rigging the March/April election for the PDP.
And how has the military responded to this weighty accusation? While he’s silent on the call for the service chiefs to resign, defence spokesman Chris Olukolade, Major-General and Director, Defence Information, in his first reaction dismissed Oyegun’s assertion by offering the familiar tepid and clichéd defence of the military as an institution operating solely to protect the constitution and safeguard the country’s territorial integrity, warning that the army should not be dragged into politics. And in his latest statement, he has pledged the military’s commitment to the defence of democracy. He painted a picture of neutrality, but what is on the ground says otherwise.
As expected, the Military’s response has done little to erase the thick cloud of partisanship surrounding the Defence Headquarters. Besides, Olukolade’s warning that the army should not be dragged into politics provokes nothing but amusement – amusement because that fervent caution is wrapped in unmistakable self-denial. The General knows that the warning was unnecessary. He knows it too well that the Nigerian military is already drenched in politics, from cap to boot. However, he should be consoled by the fact that the politicisation of the military did not begin with this government, yet he should certainly be saddened that under this government, the politicisation has taken a turn for the worse.
Otherwise, how do you account for this: Just three days before the Council of State meeting at the Aso rock villa to which the chief of defence staff and the service chiefs were also invited, the military top brass had at a meeting with the political parties given their word to provide nationwide security for the general election to hold on the scheduled dates. But when they turned up at the villa meeting, they completely reversed their position, citing security challenge. Nigerians would like to hear Olukolade explain the dramatic security challenge that enabled a sudden postponement of elections, within 72 hours of the promise of protection made by his bosses.
Nigerians would also like to hear from the army concerning the audio tape released by one of its exiled officers, Captain Sagir Koli, detailing how the Presidency and the Army High Command last June used the military, led by Brigadier-general Aliyu Momoh, to connive with the PDP to rig the Ekiti state gubernatorial election in favour of Ayo Fayose of PDP.
Listening to the tape, one was overcome by a terrifying sense of horror at the way very senior PDP members holding top positions in government schemed to decimate then APC government and subvert the will of the people, using the army and other security agencies. Olukolade should bear in mind that the chief of army staff was mentioned in the tape by Fayose as the one who supplied General Momoh’s cell phone number and, according to the Ekiti governor, certified him capable of ensuring the success of the rigging. Fayose said he didn’t know General Momoh before. Surely, the army wouldn’t think Nigerians don’t deserve any clarification on this matter.
One felt thoroughly outraged, as every right-thinking Nigerian who listened to the tape should, at the numbing brusqueness, not to talk of the demeaning condescension with which ‘bloody civilians’ like Musiliu Obanikoro, then Minister of State(Defence); Abduljelil Adesiyan, Minster of Police Affairs; Iyiola Omisore, Osun State gubernatorial candidate and Fayose addressed a whole brigadier-general of the Nigerian Army, to the extent that General Aliyu himself, at a point, had to protest with some measure of fury that he was not a ‘small boy.’
The above are just the two among many incidents showing lack of neutrality in the democratic process on the part of the army. And then one wondered whether this was the same dignified army of yore, an army which one had romanticised in his late teens and twenties, and in which one had fancied a worthwhile career. Unfortunately, events so far have conclusively proved the opposite. This, definitely, is not that army.
It is embarrassing enough that countries like Niger, Cameroun and Chad are today sending troops into Nigeria’s territory to come and help our military ward off the Boko Haram insurgents. But for the same military to lay claim to impartiality when its actions in the country’s democratic process clearly countermands that proclamation, seems to indicate a military that seems to be gradually losing its raison d’etre, and as a consequence, the confidence of the people.
Views expressed are those of the author.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org