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No Military Manoeuvres Allowed

February 20, 2010

It is sad to hear that some Nigerian soldiers may be thinking about toppling the Nigerian government.  I have a message for them: Don’t waste our bullets; this is not your war.  For the better part of 50 years, we have had soldiers seizing power and mouthing all kinds of pseudo-patriotic platitudes.  I confess that upon some of those occasions, I have danced in the streets in celebration. 

It is sad to hear that some Nigerian soldiers may be thinking about toppling the Nigerian government.  I have a message for them: Don’t waste our bullets; this is not your war.  For the better part of 50 years, we have had soldiers seizing power and mouthing all kinds of pseudo-patriotic platitudes.  I confess that upon some of those occasions, I have danced in the streets in celebration. 
But I was either young, or naïve.  I know now that in the fullness of time, each military intervention has served only our military leaders, not Nigerian citizens.  And despite all the sanctimonious pretence, almost every military government has been worse than the one before it. 

To be sure, Shehu Shagari and Umaru Yar’Adua did not do well.  But if you are looking for a roll of infamy, here is a good one: Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha.  Each of them promised us a slice of heaven, only to dump us in the city centre of Hell.  Their barefaced graft, atrocious governance and political manipulation are largely responsible for the muddle in which Nigeria now finds itself. 

Away from the centre, the states and parastatals were routinely overrun and picked apart by agents of these same “leaders” in the form of governors and so-called administrators.  

In Nigeria, the military has never accepted the concept of responsibility, let alone rights.  It has never cared about democracy or human rights, let alone the rule of law.  It has often preferred to be accepted above these “minor” issues while it settled in as an army of occupation with the licence to silence and pollute and grab.

That is why the country is overflowing with many rich ex-military chiefs.  They cannot spell investment but are worth billions.   They have wives and former wives around the globe, sandwiched between mistresses and barely-known children.  While their children can or have attended schools of their choice in Europe and America, they are content to watch education in Nigeria rot.  And since “their” wealth did not come from industry or agriculture, why should they care?

The road ahead is clear.  I advise any soldier dreaming of a military comeback to keep it within his video games.  But if he decides to come out shooting, he had better be prepared to kill by the truckload, beginning with the layers of military parasites of the past generation. 

Otherwise, dear friends, please keep your favours.  Democracy must be nurtured, and we know there is no such kitchen in your rugged tanks or within your oh-so-altrustic starched uniforms. 

Move, Actor, Move!

It is 10 days since Goodluck Ebele Jonathan assumed office as Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  Within the first 24 hours, he fired Michael Aondoakaa as Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

This must have been a very tiring engagement.  After all, Aondoakaa was a formidable opponent who could really wrestle, and Jonathan had to be extremely nimble and vigilant to pull off such a historic victory. 

In the whirlwind week since then, Jonathan has recorded other feats, including:
•    Announcing he would no longer welcome congratulatory visits;
•    Denying he has spent N300 billion since President Umaru Yar’Adua left the country; and
•    Assuming the chairmanship of Economic Community of West African States.
•    Begging soldiers in Niger not to force their way into power.

Given how exhausting these accomplishments are, it is a surprise Jonathan has not followed Aondoakaa’s example and taken a vacation, or followed the delegation of the Executive Council of the Federation into this weekend’s stage-managed manhunt in Saudi Arabia. 

Given his eagerness to let the air out of Aondoakaa, I thought Jonathan would be far too busy in office to sit down.  I expected him to seize his chance not only to chop down undesirable trees, but to plant desirable seeds.  I expected to see him hewing wood and building buildings and digging wells.  I expected to see him running races and starting fights and feeding babies.  I expected to see him clearing debris and arresting policemen and treating doctors. 

Perhaps he is on his way, in the belief it is a long journey and there is no point leaving home early.  Let it be said that in his first 10 days he appeared to be content to answer the title of President, but not its challenge; to sit on the chair, not stand on his promise; to feed his hunger, not the hungry.  

Jonathan has so far acted like a man who arrives at the podium only to realize he does not have his written speech, and must wait for it to be brought to him.  He seems to lack urgency and a sense of history. 

The Acting President should ask himself what he would wish to be remembered for.  He has come into power through an illegality, but that is not unheard-of.  Despite the infamy of many of our military leaders, for instance, History teaches us that soldiers don’t ask themselves if they are legal or not: some do great things while others wind up like the criminals they are.  Justice, said Martin Luther King in “Why We Cannot Wait,” is action in the here and now. 

Perhaps the contradiction is mine: maybe Jonathan feels that given how he has arrived in office, he should be allowed to “enjoy” it. 

If that is his mind-set, it is certain that he will get run over.  If his strategy is to wait by the roadside, frozen in time or frozen by events, he will get run over.  The stage is no place for stage-fright. 

A New National Football Coach

Why is Nigeria sport in the dumps?  Look no further than our clumsy search for a new football coach. 

The Africa Nations Cup ended in Angola on January 31.  With the World Cup less than four months away, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) waited another week thereafter, and then fired Coach Shaibu Amodu. 

The Federation then announced not a replacement, but that it would hire a…foreign coach…on February 28.  That meant a full month we did not really have.  By that time, the competition will be three months away.  Equally compelling, by that time, it would be a couple of days to March 3, the only FIFA window for national friendly matches before the World Cup.  The Nigeria plan to play Paraguay on that date is in dispute. 

In any case, the NFF, insisting it wanted to hire a “World Class” coach, began to name such coaches around the world without bothering to contact any of them to ascertain availability or interest.  Any NFF contact with them was through third parties, the 419-variety.  It is easy to understand: the Nigerian mentality is that anyone being mentioned in connection with a job should be thrilled and grateful. 

But the coaches in question began to distance themselves from the Nigerian “list.”  A couple of them have now taken jobs elsewhere following negotiations with more serious football federations.

Still, the NFF has announced it would be interviewing only the coaches on “the list.”  Towards the end of last week, one of those coaches was giving lavish interviews to the world’s press disavowing interest in coaching Nigeria. 

By the way, when the World Cup is over, the 2012 Olympics will be just two years away.  As in the case of the World Cup, it is disconcerting to recall that following our humbling three medals in China in 2008, we swore to jumpstart the future right away. 

But as in the case of the Olympics, it is tortuous to consider that, in redeeming our 2006 pledge, this is how ready we are for South Africa 2010. 

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