Popular Ovation magazine publisher and columnist at ThisDay newspaper, Dele Momodu has reacted to the ongoing military operation in the South-eastern part of Nigeria.
Fellow Nigerians, let me confess my admiration for security forces generally. It is not just because of the cleanliness and crispiness of their uniform or the famed discipline that they imbue in their members.
It is because I find their job too risky. I often wonder why any man or woman would voluntarily sign his or her death warrant. For me, they appear more like suicide bombers. As a toddler in the ancient city of Ile-Ife, I remember being told by older people that "soldiers are trained to kill" and we were told to avoid them. The myth flying around included that most of them were recruited without having much education. But as I grew up, I began to acquire a special fascination for them, especially the elite squads in the Navy and the Air Force. I would later interact with many soldiers at home and abroad. I love their uniforms, jackboots and in particular their menacing guns.
I still imagine till this day what it takes to be a killer. We were told soldiers were regularly injected with special drugs that makes it impossible for them to have the milk of human kindness in them. But with time, I saw and met many soft-hearted soldiers. I used to tease them about what we were told as kids. I must say I became one of their fans and good friends. I visited our soldiers in Sierra Leone and Liberia and gave them my humble support and they were very appreciative of my modest contribution and inspiration.
The reason for my preamble must be obvious to you all. I was seriously angry after seeing a video purportedly showing how our soldiers were brutalising fellow Nigerians and subjecting them to the worst indignities known to mankind. I've been praying that the videos were shot in outer space and not anywhere near Nigeria. But if what I saw very vividly actually took place on our planet and in this our dear beloved nation, then we've truly missed the road. I did not see any sign of weapons with these hapless victims of oppression and repression. At the very worst, even if as the military authorities claimed, that the soldiers were pelted with pebbles and stones, the treatment meted out to the personalities in the video is undeserved by any human being. How was the response from the military commensurate to that of the supposed hoodlums? Was it not an act of provocation in itself for soldiers to be engaging in drills in an area already soaked with tension?
Let me stretch the argument a bit further. Whose idea was it to draft the soldiers onto the streets to intimidate Nigerians in areas where there was no war? How can anyone send soldiers to threaten a people who already feel marginalised and are saying so very resoundingly? What is wrong with empowering members of the Nigeria Police Force and especially the anti-riot police squad to tackle cases of hooliganism and even terrorism. Soldiers are meant to come out in open battle only in extreme cases where there is total chaos and mayhem. President Muhammadu Buhari has wittingly or inadvertently walked into the trap cleverly set for him by the Biafra secessionists. Kanu and company have read the President well knowing his proclivity for no-nonsense and high-handedness.
If truth must be told, this is the height of intolerance on the part of the Nigerian State. I have not seen any Lawyer who believes in the legality of what our soldiers have done. Kanu may be reckless and irresponsible by promoting internecine wars and heating up our country unnecessarily but no one can deny him the right of expressing himself and agitating for his beliefs. What could have been done to him was very simple; send the police after him and get him rearrested for flouting his bail conditions. Some of his hard core loyalists and acolytes could be easily identified and kept out of circulation. For the past few months, Kanu has been raking and ranting but he has not fired a bullet. As a matter of fact, this government has unfortunately resurrected a man who was already on his way to Golgotha and at a time his bravado was becoming increasingly irritating to many of those who took him seriously initially. The staccato fashion of his argument was becoming boring and predictable. I really don't know who misadvised our leaders into thinking they can fight all wars and win all. Believe me please, I know Nigeria a bit, it is a dangerous gamble.
I'm aware that our President is a retired Major General, a man well known for his taciturnity, who packs his punches and loves to take on known and imaginary enemies. But we supported him because we believed Baba had transfigured into a born again democrat. The Buhari we supported was not the man who ruled with draconian Decrees from 1983-85 and was forced out of power and his detractors rejoiced openly and widely. The same Nigerians who praised you for beating your child would soon turn around to castigate you and ask why you're so wicked. That is the reality of Nigeria. This particular case is even more precarious. Some Northerners had issued threats to the Igbos to quit their territory or face monumental reprisals. A few of the respected people in the North cautioned them but they were rebuffed with insults in a most vicious manner. No security arm ever tried to even invite them for any chat not to talk of arrests. The then Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, did so well by engaging different sections of Nigeria in peaceful dialogue and we were happy that the ticking bomb was carefully detonated. Just imagine what would have happened if he invaded parts of the North or East with soldiers blazing with guns and bayonets. He would have been accused of all sorts, including ethnic cleansing.
Our President should be told in very clear terms that the world has changed drastically in the last three decades. No leader can order his troops out in the streets to kill and destroy wantonly. We should not over-stretch our luck. Nigeria cannot afford a second civil war. Our economy is already in shambles. We should prosecute how to return to economic recovery urgently and resist the temptation of wasting our scarce resources on persecuting our fellow citizens. The videos in circulation tend to portray us as barbarians who belong in the prehistoric age. We've suffered enough negativity and should not invite the wrath of the world upon ourselves. Believe it or not, Nigeria may find itself in the bad book of War Crimes Tribunal. It is not impossible, no matter how long it takes. Mass graves have been reported in some parts of Nigeria with concrete proofs. Nigerians have been detained indefinitely in near solitary confinements without trial. This are not the best examples to lay for our future. Many of those who should speak up against tyranny are too squeamish for obvious reasons. But it should not be so.
I'm not a supporter of Biafra. I don't have to be. I love and prefer a bigger, stronger and more prosperous Nigeria. But there are reasons for many Nigerians to detest Nigeria, today. They feel they have been horribly marginalised and treated like second class citizens in their own country. Their perception is that they believe all or most of the following things. Their children no longer attend the good schools for which the Igbos have become well known. The goods, some of which they even make themselves in Aba, have become only available for the rich.
Infrastructure is sorely lacking for the most part. Where they exist, they are decaying and nobody is really attending to them. There are no new jobs and the few old jobs are being lost in droves. The state of healthcare is almost hopeless. Federal character has become a total charade. We can go on, ad infinitum, reeling out the litany of woes that our brothers and sisters in the South East believe is responsible for the unusually strident agitation that we are now witnessing. To be fair and charitable they do have cause to be aggrieved in many respects. Our government should address these issues instead of attacking those who disagree with them.
One of the surest ways to do this is by education, information and public enlightenment to demonstrate that the position is not as bad as they feel. The social media is awash with facts and figures for and against the depth and seriousness of the so-called marginalisation of the South East. The next step would be to identify those issues which are of critical concern, proffer solutions to resolve them and then act on these solutions. The third and equally important duty of the government is to ensure an equitable distribution of resources and positions. Indeed, this is the major reason for the clamour for restructuring. Whilst we still operate in a system where government provides practically everything, it is only just that people must have a sense of belonging and participation.
However, the best form of restructuring that Nigeria needs now is not merely to decentralise power but to cede power completely to the private sector whilst government contributes its quota by providing the enabling environment for the much needed industrialisation and technological advancement that will take us out of our present doldrums.
In the name of God, the omnipotent and merciful, everyone should beg our Federal Government to end this self-immolating war of attrition. We have nothing to gain. In fact, we have more to lose.
Written by Dele Momodu for This Day Newspaper