Uzokwe's Searchlight

With the type of dismal records posted by past military administrations in Nigeria, it is no wonder that well-meaning citizens view the military men-turned-politicians with contempt.
Thursday, October 23, 2003

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


little more than a month ago, democrats in the United States were complaining that the nine candidates gunning for the democratic presidential spot, seemed drab, unattractive and were incapable of defeating the incumbent president in the next round of elections. They yearned for candidates with more charisma, versatile intellect and the charm of former president Clinton. As the feeling of disappointment and resignation began to set in, General Wesley Clark, a former NATO supreme allied commander, joined the ranks of democrats gunning for the top position. Suddenly, there was an infusion of energy into the party; the democratic presidential debates started attracting more viewers. Interest in what the presidential hopefuls had to say, during the debates, started on the upsurge. Although there are people who still feel that General Clark is not really a traditional democrat, he was still welcomed into the democratic party and his poll numbers have been on the rise ever since.

Why would a late entrant, into the race, suddenly start overtaking those who have been stomping the American heartland for months now? Why would democrats look away from people like Joe Lieberman, who was once a likeable vice presidential candidate under Al Gore, to embrace a seemingly political greenhorn like General Clark? The answer is simple; America has a tradition of always honoring those men and women, in uniform, who served her. America cherishes those who, at one time or the other, put their lives on the line in her defense. Many war veterans, especially Generals, including the first president of the United States, have been given that honor and it seems likely that the trend is not about to go away. The common denominator amongst the military men-turned-politicians is that even if they did not end up serving with distinction as politicians, they displayed unbridled love for their country. Their most common objective is usually to make the United States better and stronger and one cannot beat that. They abide by multiple watchwords of honor, duty and country; John F. Kennedy espoused that and Ronald Reagan lived it. The question of using their office for personal enrichment has never been an issue; infact, some of them were already very rich before taking up the mantle of leadership. The genuineness of love for country displayed by these men, is the reason why retired soldiers are regarded with reverence every time they come forward to offer their services in the political arena. That explains why General Wesley Clark is surging in the polls amongst the democrats, making the Republican Party nervous.

The Nigerian angle
I wish that one could equally describe former military rulers, in Nigeria, as having served with honor, dignity, sense of duty and love for country. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case. They have ruled Nigeria for more than thirty years of her forty-three year history and during this period, they orchestrated and presided over the ruination of the country's economy and the condemnation of the people to abject poverty. Their penchant for the good life, which finally spelled the demise of General Abacha, and the incessant and ostentatious flaunting of their ill-gotten wealth, fueled by the total grip they maintained on power, culminated in the looting of Nigeria's coffers with attendant paralysis of the economic sector. Infact, for a while, a career in the Nigerian army became a stepping-stone to political powergrab and affluence instead of a call to national service. The soldiers ruled without accountability or oversight and so each successive government grabbed as much money as it could. The hardship engendered by their selfish rule was responsible for the dart of many fine brains from Nigeria to overseas countries. One can say without the fear of contradiction that there is no country, on the face of the earth, where Nigerians do not reside! The tale is always the same, most left Nigeria in search of opportunity to put three square meals a day on their tables.

With the type of dismal records posted by past military administrations in Nigeria, it is no wonder that well-meaning citizens view the military men-turned-politicians with contempt. They are seen as agents of erosion and bastardization of every good thing that Nigeria ever had. Some Nigerians argue that the legacy of indiscipline was entrenched in the Nigerian polity by the military; this is an outfit that was supposed to be known for adherence to a code of conduct that fostered discipline. Other Nigerians have suggested that to sanitize the country's political arena, the army, both retired and serving, should be barred from participating in politics. It is surprising to this writer that the political soldiers do not seem to be fazed by the discontent they evoke and have not buried their heads in the sand, out of embarrassment, for the bad names Nigerians call them. With the advent of what we call democracy, but which is really "militocracy", the retired soldiers are back in full force to complete the large-scale destruction they put in motion during the military era. From the look of things, they have permanently hijacked the Nigerian polity and may never let up on their stranglehold. They can be found all over the political landscape and to complicate matters, the current president has continued to complement them by refusing to shed his military garb and toe the line of democracy. Because he has not even imbibed the commonest ethos of democracy, his penchant for authoritative statements and actions that border on dictatorship play out every day in the country. Just recently, he unilaterally attempted to increase the price of fuel without consideration for Nigerians in the lowest rung of the economic ladder. When he could not immediately get his way, he went on TV to castigate and chastise citizens for exercising their rights under a supposed democracy. Militocracy, in my lexicon, is simply the misgovernment of the people of Nigeria, under the pretext of democracy, by the army, specifically, Obasanjo. Militocracy is what we practice in Nigeria today and it is a monopoly of government by the army for the army while the masses continue to suffer.

Having said the above though, I must confess that Nigerians are very unpredictable. One can never tell what they exactly want at any point in time; they engage in doublespeak and unbridled ambivalence. Today they want one thing but tomorrow it is another thing, even if it is diametrically opposed to what they wanted the previous day. When they were surveyed lately, they said they were very happy but how could that be, considering the fact that they complain all the time about electricity, roads, economy, jobs, poverty and more? General Obasanjo ruled Nigeria for three years as a military man and later relinquished power. He then came back for a second time when Nigeria finally adopted a democratic system of government in 1999 and even though he was seen as part of the reason why Nigeria has failed to grow, they voted for him. That may however be excused because, at that time, Nigerians were still nervous about sustaining her fragile and fledgling democracy; they worried that the military boys could still strike and derail the country from the course of democracy. They therefore saw in Obasanjo, a former military man, someone capable of putting the ambitious soldiers at bay. Also, Nigerians felt that since the General had been subjected to the tyrannical whims and caprices of General Abacha, he would come out fighting for the downtrodden. Sadly, after four years in power, from 1999 to 2003, it became clear that Obasanjo was just another military man in civilian dress; he ruled authoritatively and failed to post any tangible achievement.

One would think that after the debacle that was Obasanjo's four-year term, Nigerians would roundly reject him at the polls and look elsewhere. They did not do that; instead, they gave him another term. Essentially, Nigerians helped institute in the country, the [mis]government of the people by the army(retired and active)under the pretext of democracy. With this wishy-washy attitude, one is apt to ask, what do Nigerians really want out of life? Why do they complain bitterly about the military and yet vote for a former military man? Why did they complain about General Obasanjo's dismal performance during his first term and yet passed a vote of confidence on him by voting for him a second time? I deign to answer my own questions by saying that it is not difficult to understand why they voted again for him. The PDP greased a lot of palms during the election period and because Nigerians tend to lose their sense of decency and self worth when money is involved, they voted for the PDP. Inotherwords, Nigerians mortgaged their future for the sake of the proverbial thirty pieces of silver. The maxim, "eat, drink and be merry today for tomorrow we die" is alive and well in Nigeria. That has been the problem.

Enter General Babangida
Nigeria's Maradona has been closely watching and monitoring the Nigerian political scene. He has also been following the wishy-washy disposition of Nigerians, as they flip- flop in their beliefs even in matters of great import as electing their leader. He has taken a cue from the 2003 election saga and now knows that Nigerians may say they loath him today, but as soon as he opens the spigot of his cash flow pipeline, many would come flocking back to him. He must also have learnt that in Nigeria, you do not have to win an election to be declared the winner, as long as you are a member of the PDP. The last election must have encouraged him to move forward with his agenda, an agenda he has denied spiritedly for the past few years, the agenda of becoming the president of Nigeria once again. This past week, he put his plan in motion by formally registering as a member of the PDP, a party where you do not have to be the favorite to win. He must have watched closely as Dr. Ekwueme was edged out twice from the PDP ticket and concluded that with his money and influence, he could do the same to Atiku Abubakar in the PDP. He must have concluded that since Nigerians voted twice for general Obasanjo, they must love retired military men and their money, albeit tacitly. That is what I would say also, but it is a shame that Nigeria is so. It is a shame that Nigeria is a nation where people do not take seriously, the civic responsibility of making the future of their children better by enthroning meritocracy instead of mediocrity during elections.

So as 2007 draws nigh, where is Nigeria headed? The answer is simple: judging from past trends, it is conceivable that another former military dictator will be at the helm of affairs. It is conceivable that after all the hue and cry about how IBB plundered the nation's treasury and formally instituted corruption and cronyism, Nigerians will still flock towards him when he opens the spigot of his financial pipeline and grease "hungry" palms. The sycophants are already singing his praises to high heavens. Some, like Orji Kalu of Abia state, are already deferring to him, calling him all kinds of nice names like "mentor" and "giant". But where would this lead Nigeria? Of course to the same place she has always been for the past 25 years, she will remain in the doldrums. The corollary is that there will be a continued dart of Nigeria's finest brains to overseas countries, the economic sector will always be stagnant and poverty will continue to deepen while Nigerians continue to pretend to be happy. Fela eloquently pointed out that we are a bunch that engage in suffering and smiling and he has been proven right. That is sad, really sad indeed.