Opinion: Nigeria: Still under shadows of military – By TAYO OKE
The first generation of voters born under a civilian administration, and who have not tasted a day of military rule ever in this country, will cast their ballot at the 2019 presidential election. They, and the generations after them, will (hopefully) find any idea of power through the barrel of the gun so repugnant that they will resist any such order with every fibre of their being. It is also hoped that as bad as, and as disillusioned as many of them may feel about the so-called “dividends of democracy” not accruing to them, they will remain resolute in their conviction that to live in poverty under an elected civilian administration is far better than living in luxury under a military dictatorship. The “pro-democracy” struggles so stoutly and remorselessly fought to chase the military out of civilian life in this country feels so distant and so remote to the younger generations now that many would not even know who MKO Abiola or Gen Ibrahim Babangida were, if asked. The era of a democratic dispensation is upon us and is apparently here to say. Or, so it seems, until you realise that although military personnel may no longer be directly running the show from the Presidential Palace, we are, nonetheless, living under the mores and norms of a military regime. It is a kind of civilianised military order. There are two interlocking aspects to this. First, is the intellectual, and second is symbolism.
It is self-evidently true that we have not made the requisite intellectual shift from thinking military to thinking civilian in this country. For instance, take a look at our constitution, which is a total contraption by the military. Military order dictates that things are run from the omnipresent centre. The man at the top sneezes, and the rest catch cold. Even though we profess to live under a federal system of government, yet decision-making on virtually every aspect of our lives is made from the centre. This extends from community policing to decisions on whether potholes in rural highways are fixed. States were created, but deliberately rendered powerless by the entrenchment of the so-called “Exclusive Legislative List” of items that can only be dealt with at the Presidency. Civilian life itself has been militarised and remained so that everyone is acting out the script without being conscious of doing so. How many times have people received notices from their permanent secretaries and departmental heads, expecting things to be done with that perpetual military drumbeat: “with immediate effect”? Or, the executive blatantly and flagrantly flouting court orders and damning the consequences? Or, military personnel on the streets feeling so emboldened to mete out on-the-spot “discipline” on an “unruly” “bloody” citizen? Or, ordinary citizens erecting a structure and pasting “keep out, military zone!” on its frontage? The Land Use Decree of 1978 was an attempt at a land grab by the powerful and mighty; the military. The 1999 Constitution makes it virtually impossible to repeal it. It is given the same status as a major constitution amendment requiring all sorts of political and legislative hurdles to overcome. It is the only Act given such a reify status in any constitution in the modern world.
If you find the above references a bit heartrending, then, consider the pervasive symbols of the military casting a shadow over our daily lives without anyone even thinking twice about them. We regularly have military and police senior hierarchies popping up on our television screens to, as it were, read the Riot’s Act on a whole range of public policy issues, when in fact, we have responsible ministers who should be laying out government policy even on live security issues. That is the essence of having a civilian rule. Have you also noticed the conspicuous presence of police “orderlies” standing guard behind Mr. President, governors and High Court judges? Has anyone ever explained why we need to have uniformed personnel on display in such a manner? Are Nigerian political leaders so vain and insecure that they need the presence of uniformed officers to bolster their prestige? What about leaders in advanced countries that rely on plain-clothed as opposed to uniformed officers hovering above them in public places? Are they any less protected from harm? Perhaps, the most ridiculous display of crude power is seen inside the courts with our judges and uniformed officers standing guard behind them. The judges can be adequately protected by plain-clothed police even more effectively than uniformed officers lacking basic communication equipment from what we know. Our political leaders revel in uniformed officers panting and wheezing behind them because it is the ultimate symbol and display of their power and authority. That is a shame though, because the very presence of those officers behind them robs them of substantive leadership. Civilian leadership and authority emanate from the people; not armed uniformed officers.
Against this background, it remains a matter of curiosity that our civilian governors and presidents have found cause to maintain the military tradition of displaying the image of state governors in public buildings in their states alongside that of whoever is the current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What is the rationale behind the gratuitous display of a governor’s photograph on public buildings in their state? Is it to accord them respect? God help any governor who needs his image displayed on public buildings in order for him to feel respected. Respect, as a matter of principle, is earned; not demanded, not least by here today, gone tomorrow politicians of all hues. Is it then to engineer adulation and affection of the public? For some, maybe, but these should happen naturally, flowing directly from the performance of the leader. You see, those photographs are put on display for no other rational basis than to generate intimidation and subservience. It also serves as a reminder to the public who is boss. The “constituted authority”, one pumped up governor once shamelessly boasted. They are the ones at whose behest we march in and out of those clumsy office buildings. The question is why, in a country of free, independent and proud people, do we need to be tele-guided into an enforced adulation of any public figure? Why has it not occurred to any governor of a state to reject any display of their image on the walls of public buildings? Those governors are not our bosses anyway; they are public servants. Those buildings belong to US; not them.
Finally, Mr. President, please lead by example on this. Withdraw all displays of your photograph on public buildings in this country. You do not own any of the structures or the land upon which they are erected. You are only a short-term tenant of one of them, Aso Rock. What is more, we do not need reminding who you really are, neither are we interested in acknowledging your sub-conscious presence in our workplaces every single minute of every working day. Keep your photographs on display for the admiration of your friends and family in your private house and spare us these nauseating images of presidents and governors adorning our public buildings up and down this country once and for all. Thank you! . PUNCH