The Nigerian civil war, which lasted for all of 30 months and took thousands of lives, especially women and children, principally, was the result of mismanagement. In the beginning, civilians were bickering over rigged census figures, rigged elections etc. Soldiers of the Nigerian army took over a situation of civil unrest (operation wetie and killings in the wild wild west), and in their hands this relatively simple situation escalated into a civil war, that raged for years.
The recent furore over the role of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Nigeria’s finance Minister during and immediately after the civil war has nudged me to put down these thoughts which have nagged my mind all these years. Soldiers, but not the institution called the Military especially the Army in Nigeria, have done and continue to do untold disservice to our country. If soldiers had not mismanaged the crisis, which to a large extent were part of a process that would have led to political maturity, there would have been no civil war; no issues of economic blockade, starvation as a tool of warfare, and the twenty pounds policy would not have arisen.
It is pertinent to emphasize that the Nigerian Military as an institution, never took over governance in Nigeria by force. The Ironsi government was invited to take over, and the instruments of government were formerly handed over to Ironsi. The rest of the musical chairs, we saw spanning intermittently 1966 to 1998, were by irresponsible fortune seekers and cowboys in the army, intruding into the polity to seek personal glory and fortune, under the subterfuge of patriotism.
The pity of it all is that even till date, many Nigerians are prepared to describe these rude and damaging intrusions, as attempts by the military to correct the excesses of politicians and civilians. It does not matter to these apologists for the gangs of soldiers, that only the Ironsi takeover and the coup against the Shagari government was civilian to soldiers. The irony of all this is that today, leaders of these gangs of soldiers i.e. those who led and others who held high offices in the respective governments that followed the takeover have national awards like GCFR, CFR, when they should all be in jail or in fact shot for MUTINY.
The bedrock of any military organization in ancient and modern times is DISCIPLINE, and a mutiny is the highest form of indiscipline, whether it is successful or not. Soldiers, especially those of them that fought in the civil war, think Nigeria owe them one for putting their life on the line for the country. They say that they fought to keep Nigeria intact. Many of them display their war time wounds which they wear like badges of honour. The question is whose fault is it that the war happened at all? The Nigerian Army was called in to take over a situation of civil strife, and in the hands of the Army, that situation developed into a shooting war. I am not impressed about whether it is Ojukwu’s fault or Gowon’s fault. The bottom line is that soldiers promoted the situation from civil strife to a civil war.
Subsequently, soldiers, having tasted the “forbidden fruit” of being in control of civil order, got addicted to the perks that come with it. They quickly learnt that using the weapons bought and given to them with public money, they could hold everybody captive and proceed to loot and rape the country. Today, soldiers and their cronies are by far the richest of Nigerians. The rest of us seem to have accepted their rape and looting and you hear often, expressions like “Army General”, “an officer and a gentleman” all with a connotation of respect and deference. Mohammed Buhari and the late Tunde Idiagbon had the temerity to start what they called WHI – War against Indiscipline.
They of course were the epitome of indiscipline, having rebelled against the civil government of Shehu Shagari, in a coup. You could see those who should have been shot for Mutiny, terrorising civilians (former President Shagari, Ministers, Governors, Legislators and other politicians) with many years of incarceration in prison, without trial Sadly these soldiers and their intrusion into governance did a lot of damage to the fabric of civil society. A soldiers training is more to “destruct” than to construct. How do you expect the soldiers to manage a country’s economy when they may not even be able to best manage their pay packets? Did Gowon not declare that, his problem was what to do with the money Nigeria had, when he was Head of State. Corruption especially the giving and taking of bribes became institutionalised; it became a way of life, no, the way of life in Nigeria, with soldiers in government. Before soldiers came to “legalize” bribe giving and taking, people tried to hide when giving or taking same. Some arranged for instance to have the bribe giving to a messenger or front man.
When soldiers came with their impunity, people carried the bribe money to the Oga brazenly in a brief case, for instance, because “nothing go happen”. Even State Governments had to part with a tidy fraction of their monthly stipends to be able to get them released. Yes stipends in those days, because there was no formula for allocation. Whether a State got and what a state got was up to the C in C or Head of State. The Civil War, which set Nigeria back so many years and which brought in the “Polychotomy” (witness dichotomy) that has prevented it so far from becoming a Nation, can be blamed on the misplaced idealism of the soldiers who were in charge at the time.
Most of them were very young and inexperienced men in their early thirties, brimming with the sociology of the teachings that they got in places like Sandhurst and Mons Officer Cadet School. Words like Patriotism and Gallantry were intoxicating their young minds, to imagine that they would do better than the fumbling politicians and “idle civilians” of the time. Some analyst have tried to hold brief for these boys, in saying that the soldiers of the first coup attempt, meant well in their bid to stop the killings and arson in Nigeria, in the era leading up to January 1966. No matter the intention, the visible result was the civil war that cost us so very dearly, in terms of human lives and other resources.
The visible result also was the serial infringement into our civil life by soldiers, who because they were not equipped for civil administration, created this huge mess that is Nigeria today. This mess will take many more years to clear, if at all. I said earlier that soldiers have continued to do untold disservice to Nigeria. Here is what I mean: The money in the hands of soldiers and their cronies continues to control the business, political, and economic life of Nigeria. • Measures introduced by military fiat into the fabric of society have continued to dog our country for the worse. • Soldiers have refused that we get a constitution that we can say of “we the people”. Each time there is a constitution made, soldiers would doctor the final copy to allow them to retain the unfair advantage they have established for themselves and their cronies. • Abdulsalami appointed Obasanjo, who in turn appointed Yar’adua and so.
In the transition that built up to the Abdulsalam hand over in 1998, he set up a conference to craft a constitution for the Republic. After sitting for weeks and taking briefs from numerous Nigerians, the conference submitted a draft constitution. Abdulsalam refused to accept what was submitted, but proceeded to doctor and mutilate the document, after which he foisted HIS constitution on the country. Till date, many are protesting that the constitution in operation in Nigeria today does not come from “We the People of Nigeria”. Soldiers arbitrarily turned our country from a Federation into a unitary system of government, which enabled them to mismanage Nigeria. This singular move slowed down our speed of development; it killed the spirit of healthy rivalry in development among the different regions.
They appropriated nearly all power to the centre, leaving the federating units no more than irrelevant organs that must take their cue from the almighty centre. On the return of democratic institutions in 1998, soldiers made sure that democracy was in name, only. They doctored the constitution. They rigged the election; they brought out one of their own, General Obasanjo and foisted him on the polity. In the National Assembly, State Assemblies, State Houses, it was their cronies who were able to buy their way with the ill gotten wealth made through them into those democratic spaces. In some cases where the filthy money seemed unable to buy the contests, soldiers using their powers of incumbency and control of the means of coercion, outright rigged their cronies into those spaces.
If what I am leading up to is not yet clear to you, consider the trajectory of our presidency; From Abdulsalam, to Obasanjo, to Yar’adua, and presently to Jonathan. This tells you the entire story about our democracy or lack of it. I would have been consoled if soldiers did all they did and our country is working. But as you and I can see they won’t let Nigeria work. If Nigeria must work, we must examine what happened when soldiers were holding us at gun point. It is so very unfortunate for us that our oil and gas boomed during the rule of soldiers, who by their own admission had no clue what to do with all that money. Botswana, according to Oby Ezekwesili, was 98% dependent on foreign hand outs until it discovered diamonds in their land. It cleverly invested the proceeds from the sale their diamonds.
Botswana today, is said to be mainly a middle-income country. I can hear you ask, what difference have civilians made and I answer readily – none. None because those soldiers craftily handed over to their cronies and front men. So it has been more of the same in Khaki or Agbada. Nigeria needs an Economic Truth and Reconciliation Panel. This opinion was written by Dr Chudi Nwike Former Deputy Governor Anambra State Abuja, Nigeria. 08069071133. ***For readers of The Turf Game, 2TG, we thank you for your dedicated pairs of eyes upon our page. We begin this year by wishing you, your family and loved ones a prosperous New Year, 2013.