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When The Soldiers Manage The Democrats By Sonala Olumhense

Two symbolic images of Nigerian life make you shake your head.  The first occurs when the leader of our democracy refuses to show up in public unless he has behind him a military officer in uniform. 

Two symbolic images of Nigerian life make you shake your head.  The first occurs when the leader of our democracy refuses to show up in public unless he has behind him a military officer in uniform. 

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In Nigerian democracy, without that officer in attendance, looking strong and serious, the president does not leave the presidency.

That officer, the aide-de-camp (ADC), is a military institution.  It literally means “camp assistant,” and denotes a lower military officer who serves as an assistant to a general. 

ADCs were understandably popular figures during military rule; somehow, the civilians found a way to bring them along.  Perhaps that is also how the army also interprets the concept of democracy: that a man can have the confidence to call himself the president only when a uniformed but otherwise thoroughly idle army officer stands behind him during formal occasions.

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This arrangement has lately been given great credibility by Nigeria’s current ruler, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan.  There is a rather fascinating picture making the rounds on the Internet that portrays him as being incapable or unwilling to assume the arduous responsibility of his own presidential briefcase. 

The picture story also shows pictures of some world leaders, including Mr. Barack Obama, who are casually carrying their own bags.

The second symbolic image is more commonplace, but it also involves bags. 

It is the image of a policeman, sometimes with a service weapon in the other hand, carrying Madam’s handbag.  Madam is Oga’s wife or girlfriend, and the policeman is usually a driver or a security detail attached who works with Oga. 

Sometimes, Oga has nothing to do with the police force at all; he is just someone who is sufficiently well connected to power to be granted police protection.  The Nigerian policeman, for some reason, has no objection to being a handbag carrier, and the Police Force has never made it a standard that none of its members perform handbag chores.

Actually, neither the army nor the police seem to have minimum standards of conduct for its officers.  For instance, they seem to enjoy as much liberty to drink on duty as to beat up poor and unarmed civilians. 

We could restate that: both the army and the police do seem to have a “maximum” standard of conduct.  That standard, it would seem, is to do whatever is required by the rich, the powerful and the connected.  The same standard empowers them to rough up anyone who does not fit such a description.

Think about it: while we are hoping that the army’s best and brightest can bring our abducted Chibok girls home unharmed, it must be distressing for barely-armed foot soldiers in the states under emergency rule to see on television a senior officer carrying a bag for a political ruler. 

The symbolic images of irrelevant uniformed officers subserviently carrying bags for political power-brokers are not difficult to understand. Some people may see it as collusion between both parties in their mutual interest. 

But it is also the taming of the security forces by the political leaders in their own interests, whatever those might be.  If you are looking for a current example, turn to yesterday’s Ekiti gubernatorial election.

It is understandable that the Peoples Democratic Party wants to win back Ekiti.  That is not strange; that is what political parties do.  In other to accomplish such an objective, however, especially when confronting such a formidable incumbent as Governor Kayode Fayemi, you seek the best and most marketable candidate. 

Not the PDP, which chose to recycle former Governor Ayo Fayose.  This is a man with an abysmal track record that involves extra judicial killings that were confirmed by the Inspector-General of Police in 2006.  He went on to be impeached for political malpractice and other offences.

But Fayose is not without powerful friends to whom the words scruples and integrity mean nothing.  Sadly, they include President Jonathan, who travelled to Ekiti to campaign for him.  I am unsure how a sitting president can support such a tainted candidate; worse still, I am unsure how a president who supports a candidate with Fayose’s credentials can claim to be any better.

But it has grown considerably worse since then.  The police arrested eight people stuffing ballot boxes in a hotel allegedly owned by a PDP chieftain Are-Ekiti, a report was confirmed on Wednesday by the IGP, Mr. MD Abubakar. 

It then reached the home stretch on Thursday when soldiers stopped governors and other top members of the APC from attending a political rally for Fayemi. Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers was forbidden from traveling by road to the rally, and Governor Oshiomhole of Edo in his state capital, Benin City.

“We are acting on orders,” the soldiers said. 

This adds to the growing scandal that is our military, following the misadventures concerning the abducted Chibok girls.  Lately, they have been exposed as trying to muzzle the mass media.  And in the States under emergency rule, they have—like their military overlords— emerged as incoherent, incompetent and overrated. 

If this is a wrong image, it is one they should be combating where it counts—in those states—not worsening it in another one in an election, and certainly not by appearing to act on behalf of the ruling party. 

Nigeria seems to present all the elements of collapse.  The centre sees enemies everywhere, and it is inordinately deploying all the instruments of power to destroy them all.  The PDP seemed determined to use federal power not to win power in Ekiti, but to seize it.  It would be a tragedy for the military to permit themselves to be so used. 

On other fronts, notably in those states where PDP governors defected to the APC, the same principle seems to be in play: mayhem and manipulation.  Rivers, Nassarawa and Adamawa are examples.  There is also growing turmoil in the Edo Assembly.  In Adamawa last week, not only was impeachment of the governor put into play, the presidency also froze its bank accounts.

And then the government withdrew the money laundering charges—a stupendous N446.3 billion—against Mohammed Abacha, the eldest son of the late military dictator, Sani Abacha.  That did not surprise me, to be sure, because Mr. Jonathan is dispensing the philosophy that stealing from government coffers is not an act of corruption. 

It was also no surprise that Mr. Jonathan appointed Mrs. Roli Bode-George the new Director-General of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The woman is probably an angel, but she is also the spouse of Bode George, another PDP front-liner with a sordid track record that is hardly compatible with the concept of a better Nigeria.

Staring into that cauldron last week, the IGP made a few security amendments in Ekiti.  Naturally, he did not address the issue of whether his men will be carrying Abuja’s handbags.

For their part, the military seemed content to be ADC to anyone in power, rather than to the Nigerian constitution. 

But while last week may have been about Ekiti, our present is about the missing Chibok girls.  Submitting its report last Friday, the Presidential Fact-finding Committee confirmed that a total of 219 of the 276 originally snatched, are still being held. 

It is this saga that defines us.  So let us be clear: if we don’t get those girls back, alive, it does not matter whose bag you carry, or who carries your bags.

Twitter: @S

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