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COLUMNIST

The military purge

Willy Bee
08/09/2008

When you have a president that appears taciturn, lackluster, driven by seeming inactivity just as some commentators would describe his leadership style to that of a slow locomotive train, people should be wary of this façade that passeth all understanding.

He may have been bred and perhaps, brewed in the home of an elder brother who rose to the rank of a military major general and became the number two  leader of a military regime in Nigeria- Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, of blessed memory, many had taken his taciturnity for veiled weakness of spirit, lacking in awesome use of power.

But when the news broke that  President Yar’Adua had red-carded all the service chiefs in the nation’s military, sent many of them scampering for cover and also truncating a military workshop that was meant to hold in Kaduna, Nigerians had to re assess their views of a lame duck president, who had become everybody’s whipping boy in recent months. Only one of the service chiefs survived what I would term the civilian version of coup in which  the key leaders of the military were caught napping and not knowing what had hit them.

The military in the past eight years or so had behaved as if they were under a military president and therefore, there was some strange understanding between the military chiefs and the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who ran the system like an extension of another military regime.

He ran the two terms as Nigeria’s third civilian president or head of government from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007. Democratic niceties of rule of law and due process were strange ideas that sounded good in his armoury  of civilian governance but the military gene in his blood would not let him.

Some court decisions that did not favour him were discarded while the processes leading to the impeachment of some state governors assumed the toga of military intolerance and  strong arm tactics as for example the cases of  Governors Dariye and DSP Alamieyeseigha of Plateau and Bayelsa states.

His firm use of the EFCC in tracking his perceived political enemies using Gestapo strategies smacked of benevolent democratic dictatorship which the military in their obedience to upholding the democratic tenets of the new experimentation with democracy saw the  military high command as accomplices after the events.

To say that the military high command in order not be seen as interfering with the fragile civilian regime, became part and parcel of the deep dichotomies and conspiracies of what we operated as civilian government in those eight years would be an understatement. 

The security challenges of the times were enormous, and alleged state inspired killings and assassinations were rife - namely the Dikibos, the Bola Iges and the Harry Marshals. These were perhaps, one too many for either the police or the military to uncover.

The biggest challenge which the  President Yar’Adua government inherited from Obasanjo was the upsurge in armed gansterism in parts of the country, most especially, by the freedom seeking fighters under the umbrella of the Movement for the Emancipation of the  Niger Delta (MEND), and occasional flashes of OPC militia in the West of Nigeria, the ongoing tribulations of  the pro-Biafran MASSOB and irregular outbursts by Arewa  muslim extremists that once in while showed of their  religious extremism, leading to arson and killings in certain parts of the North  like Kano , Sokoto and Kaduna states.

The recent shake up affected Chief of Defence staff, General Azazi, Lt General Luka Yusuf, the Chief of Army staff and Vice Admiral Adekeye, chief of Staff, Navy.  Major General  Dambazau became the new chief of  Army staff, Rear Admiral Ibrahim as chief of naval staff and Air Marshal Petinrin as chief of staff, Air force.  The new appointments and the military purge were approved by President Yardua before he left for the lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Two things may have been responsible for the present purge within the top hierarchy of the armed forces. First the  constant state of unease in the Niger Delta where routine kidnappings of persons had become a daily occurrence in spite of the  large army of occupation in that embattled part of the country. Added to that are the brazen attacks on oil platforms and facilities like pipelines which had given the president some goose pimples, thereby confirming the general belief of Yar’ Adua being a lame duck president. What else do you expect, opponents of the government would sarcastically say?

Secondly, every commander in chief wants to pick and have his own men in the critical sectors of the military. Agreed that the days of coups are now over, but the fact that some restive military men could still hazard a try, knowing the enormous power, wealth and influence office holders wield both in the military and political class.

The seven point agenda of Mr. President had given peace and security a pride of place and also the Niger Delta question is crucial in his calculations for a better economy if the resources in the zone are not frittered away through careless handling by security operatives.

It is the general belief in top government circles that most of the top members of the military high command had compromised their positions for a greasy and oily mess of pottage, where they are alleged to have smiled to their banks at home and abroad, aiding and abetting oil pirates and smugglers called bunkering.

It is alleged that the roaring business in crude in the high seas cannot sustain itself if people mandated to check its excesses were not part and parcel of the bunkerers. It is perhaps an allegation.  But we all know that angels no longer live here on our shores as almost every other Nigerian now appears to have a price. The gatekeepers, the messengers in high and low offices, the cleaners are all involved in oily and crude deals  either at the Forcados export terminals, or the Bonny light crude terminals and even in the most ambitious Bonga  platform that was recently invaded by the ubiquitous  and amphibious freedom fighters from MEND.

If after such disastrous outings by a country’s military force could not even match the routine invasion of areas considered sacrosanct, security–wise, it only bewails the fact that they had no sophiscated weapons like those of MEND, the earlier such a band of jolly good fellows, salivating their high ranks on their shoulders are red-carded, the better for everyone.

Since most of the officers had reached the age of menopause, 35 years in service and or 60 years old, they should go home and give thanks to God for their lives.  If you ask me most of the service chiefs had become ossified in their understanding of modern warfare. Call them analog soldiers if you like, who may have been more interested in the occasional peace-keeping assignments where dollars are earned. But keeping the peace within the territorial waters is not for them. They do not want to die for the father land. They want to live off the resources of the fatherland.

When professional soldiers keep giving excuses for their lack luster performances and when such naira-phillic soldiers are begging for postings to the Niger Delta region  in the name of keeping the peace while lining up their pockets in dollars and pound sterling scooped from the roaring business in crude bunkering which they escort in broad day light to waiting ocean liners  in the deep  seas, then they have provoked the owners of crude from the underbellies of their mangrove swamps to similarly engage in the bloody dollar trade.

To put it bluntly so that we can understand why President Yar’ Adua disengaged the top echelon of the military last week, they seemed to have been part and parcel of the bunkering and violence unlimited in the Niger Delta. The area is a honey pot and who ever is sent there will succumb to the greasy and oily politics that is both sweet and bitter.

Bitter for those who lose their lives in the periodic combat with the warlords in the mangrove swamps, and sweet for those who escape unhurt after fleecing the nation of the collective patrimony and inheritance of Nigerians in general and Niger Deltans in particular.

With the programmed development promised by Yar’ Adua in the next two years  of the Niger Delta, he may not  find the kind of militias springing up daily in the mangrove swamps for routine survival because the system had been too cruel to the native owners of the dollar-spinning sweet crude.

Instead of spending over 400 billion naira to buy arms for  a self serving military  that had turned the Niger Delta to Nigeria’s Liberia under Charles Taylor, we could, come to think of it, disband the army and spend the money on the development of the country.

Kudos Mr President. More of such surprises. After all, you are no longer a lame duck president. You can bite if there is need to do so.

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