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Sunday Narrative:Military Treated All Of Us Badly




AFTER President Buhari’s inspiring and reassuring inauguration speech of ‘belonging to nobody and belonging to everybody,’ some Nigerians took it that the pronouncement would define the modus of political and social engagement in this administration. We reasoned that our President had reached the apogee in public service and has seen it all, in terms of victories and failures. We expect that at this point in his public life, he would lead as the father of all, despite previous offenses and new provocations, bearing no grudge and nursing no recompense, except that which would heal the land.

But when members of the inner circle of this government continue to regale us with tales such as ‘how badly the military treated Buhari’ under the previous government of the Peoples Democratic Party’, we fear that indeed, nothing may have been learnt and nothing forgiven. In fact, such statements, without knowing, tend to prepare grounds for due compensation for real and imagined injuries that may have been incurred in the past, either under the PDP government or any other previous one. In other words, this regime might, one after the other, reward all of those who wittingly or without any deliberateness ‘treated Buhari badly.’ In common language, it suggests that whatever anybody gets in this regime could be the equivalent of what was sown in the past. It is about reward and punishment.

The statement in question is that credited to Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Mallam Garba Shehu, when he said; “The military in particular treated him so badly that its leaders kept silent when the PDP charged that he didn’t have WAEC papers. One shameless Army Records officer said the former Head of State had no records at all under their system.”

The statement was made as follow-up to continued narrative by the Presidency that Buhari did not consciously partake in the sharing of monies meant to procure arms under former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. It was in the attempt to establish that the two vehicles Buhari got after a suspected bomber rammed into his convoy in July 2014 were his official entitlement as a former Head of State, that Garba veered off to dredge distant events in order to build a water-tight defence for the President.

I thought Nigeria had put behind issues of hate campaigns that were generously deployed in last year’s general elections. I thought the trouncing of the PDP by the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the humility demonstrated in former President Jonathan’s hurried and unconditional acceptance of defeat genuinely provoked the ‘belonging to no one, but to all’ healing balm the polity needed to move on. I thought issues of Buhari’s college certificate, as cogent as the demand was, had gone with the past and should not be brought forward in the manner the SSA has done. To me, it shows we have not really moved on with the daunting task of nation building and creating harmonious coexistence. Instead, we are seeing the fueling of age-long disparities and the further disabling of the oneness Nigeria urgently craves.

For instance, since PMB assumed office, very little has been done to narrow the fault lines that he met on ground. He told the foreign media that his reward system will benefit more those who voted massively for him, while those who voted miserly would earn pittance. That trend was noticeable in his first set of appointments, when Buhari loaded members of his former party, Congress for Progress Change (CPC) into his kitchen cabinet. They were also majorly from the North.

Since he came on board, the demand by youths of the Southeast for a revisit of the Nigerian template has been vociferous. Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and there brothers in Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) have heightened their clamour for a change in political engagement among people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They want to be engaged and they want better deal for Ndigbo.

In the last seven months, clashes among Fulani herdsmen and farmers across the country have spiraled, threatening the fragile peace. The recent clash between the military and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, otherwise know as Shiite, extra-judicial pronouncements on ongoing anti-corruption trials, all point to a nation that is not at peace and is not eager to embrace lasting peace. We have seen highhanded displays by members of the Security Services, in their visit to Akwa Ibom State House, in their poor handling of elections in Bayelsa and in the rough handling of IPOB leader and others standing corruption trial despite court interventions.

These things do not have to be spelt out in policy statements. They take life from body languages of leaders and State operators; and the manner media managers interprete them. But I pray that those in the Presidency do not continue with this mindset, and that the narrative of looking for scapegoats to blame for what went wrong in the past does not translate to State harassment of citizens.

What Nigeria needs most now, is a healing process that can exorcise the wrongs of the past without being vengeful. Perhaps, that was what former president Obasanjo attempted with his National Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission (HRVIC), set up after he became a civilian president in 1999. The idea was to bring all cases of violations in a soapbox, so that violators and those violated can see face to face, to bare their minds and generated healing from the process. But some, including PMB did not see any sense in it and bluntly refused to show up. That process was terminated without Nigeria benefitting from it, in the manner South Africans reaped bountifully from a similar outfit set up by Nelson Mandela after he came out of jail and became president. Were Mandela to be on a revenge mission, perhaps, the relative peace and order found in the Rainbow country today would have been further tainted. But thanks to Father Mathew Hassan Kukah, the details of Nigeria’s HRVIC have been well documented. One day, there will be an opportunity for a revisit.

Indeed, the military has treated all of us, not only Buhari badly. Since the time they exuberantly imposed themselves on the polity, the lists of their atrocities are uncountable. The military is responsible for the confused state Nigeria is today. The country started out as a federation with three regions, later, Mid West was added. Those regions did not have any revenue from oil or mineral deposits to fall back on. They all depended on agriculture as source of revenue. They were not perfect regions and if reason had prevailed, perhaps, Nigeria could have continued to rival China, Brazil and other countries that were on a par.

Today, thanks to the military and their civilian collaborators, Nigeria is sorely bruised and confused. The economy cannot go forward because productivity has been suspended until the oil deposit in the Niger Delta is fully drained. The 36 states that were created by the military are the drainpipes were federally earned oil revenue are funneled. The 774 local governments are the tributaries of the drainpipes. In the administration of this revenue, there is no justice, either on the basis of the political class versus the ordinary people, or on the basis of physical and human geography. That is the legacy the military has left behind.

It seems very unfair to only remember that the military treated Buhari badly, while forgetting hundreds of other Nigerians who have suffered terribly in the hands of soldiers.

We begin with victims of the first military coup of January 15, 1966 and the one of July 29 same year, which killed some of Nigeria’s first generation leaders and vandalised what seemed to be a natural growth pattern. Then we lost millions in the Civil War, majority of who neither asked for war, nor carried arms against the State. The military dealt very sorely and badly with them.

In between regimes, the military consumed hundreds of attempted coup plotters and left a raw deal for family members cruelly left behind. Mamman Vatsa is one sore example. Civilians who challenged military high-handedness repeatedly got manhandled and locked up. Gani Fawehinmi is another shinning example. Then, what about MKO Abiola, who got degraded and exterminated; Alfred Rewane, Kudirat Abiola and the host of civilian martyrs? Can we forget Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, locked up and snuffed out under Abacha?

I insist that this is not the time to engage in mythification of persons. Buhari is lucky to have survived the evils of the military, of which he was a major player. This is time to heal Nigeria and I beg today’s Presidency not to add to the sins of the military. Let the narrative change please!

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