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The allure of military discipline

By Edidiong Esara
04 August 2017   |   4:05 am
I like the armed forces, but I hate war: pretty much like Chichidodo, that bird in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born which enjoys maggots but hates excrement.

Democracy frowns at that kind of unquestioning obedience, but just as we are invited to learn diligence from a most unlikely teacher: ants, army discipline provides useful lessons for our development in this nation.

I like the armed forces, but I hate war: pretty much like Chichidodo, that bird in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born which enjoys maggots but hates excrement. As in the biblical admonition, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest,” the Army can teach us some lessons in discipline. There was a backyard where passers-by answered nature’s call, just beneath an inscription that read: “Do not urinate here.” Owners of the place got piqued and wrote a strange one: “Please urinate here. The witch doctor needs your urine for his concoction.” That did the trick! We seem to have an unwritten accord that rules and procedures are only for the papers on which they are written. When INEC announces that collection of voter cards is from Monday to Friday this week, do not be surprised that by Tuesday morning, cards distribution has not commenced. In rule books of the Nigeria Police, bail is surely free; believe that only if you are a good lawyer or politically-powerful citizen. We need to learn from the military their culture of respect for orders – never mind that some soldiers are not particularly shining examples of good conduct.

In the army, obedience to the last command of a superior officer is sacrosanct. A certain Major who was Commandant at an NYSC Camp drummed into the ears of his corps members that whenever a commander gave orders, their disposition had to be “no option, Sir”. Democracy frowns at that kind of unquestioning obedience, but just as we are invited to learn diligence from a most unlikely teacher: ants, army discipline provides useful lessons for our development in this nation. That’s why it was a great idea to have included paramilitary training in the NYSC programme so graduates can drop their “bloody civilian” indiscipline and get ready to be agents of national transformation.

Discipline entails compelling yourself to do what it has to do, whether you enjoy it or not. A disciplined person takes decisions that have to be taken, performs tasks that must be done and cares not if the work is tasking, since he knows the benefits thereof. An undisciplined person is always full of excuses – always having a ready explanation for failing to do duties. But one could avoid those excuses by acquiring discipline. They complain of “no time” or too much work that prevented them from performing their roles, when indeed what was needed was discipline regarding time, a sense of duty and commitment. Men of the armed forces don’t have the luxury to make many excuses because the command and control structure brooks neither dilly-dallying nor alibi.

Civilian Nigerians assume almost always, that when a meeting or an appointment is fixed for 10am, starting time has to be an hour later or thereabouts, so they stroll in late (except, of course, it was a money-sharing engagement). And if a Nigerian tells you to give him a minute, you would realize soonest that his definition of one minute is a far longer time than what your clock says. The same disregard for time manifests in service delivery, especially in the public/civil service. That’s why things grind painfully slowly, inefficiently problematic. In the Army, it is not so. Soldiers respect time and treat matters with dispatch. You dare not report late for a 5am parade, even if your baby had been crying all night! Learn wisdom from soldiers as from the ants, such that every citizen in public and private life would value time, respect time and keep his word on time. That makes life a lot easier.

Tertiary school students who never had developed a culture of discipline get stressed and worn out on D-day, hard pressed to deliver projects at deadline. They fret and fuss, fumbling and frowning, acting like the entire globe is on their heads, just because they have to deliver on an assignment at the lecturer’s time or risk failure. Yet that same work is what another student confidently hands in at the right time. Time matters, and discipline in the use of time is of essence.

Shall we return to military rule? Nay, because soldiers – human beings that they are – do become fellow sufferers with civilians of corruption, ethnic bias, nepotism and the like. After Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and his friends put on the messiah garb to purge their nation of its foolishness, we were to discover that even the military can mess up. The army will not save Nigeria, granted, but there’s too much indiscipline around here that it would help to learn from our gun-wielding men.

Indiscipline manifests again in returning or paying back borrowed things, as well as in keeping commitments. You carelessly make commitments to return what was borrowed, carelessly make promises you cannot keep and carelessly renege on your word. That is indiscipline mixed with insincerity, and it is not only politicians who throw pledges about, breaking them without care. One never can tell how many soldiers are not afflicted with such deceit, but their discipline can help, at least when the failure to redeem stemmed from indiscipline rather than characteristic dishonesty.

When we hear such funny happenings as a missing budget or arbitrary expulsion of a journalist from Aso Rock, it could have been crass negligence that was the matter, or someone was not disciplined enough to study and obey rules or procedures. Who would regard ethics if he is accustomed to arbitrariness and getting away with it? How about fighting legislators and lawmakers who spend more time struggling to protect their interests or their chamber’s dignity than actual law-making that we pay them to do? Indiscipline is costing the nation a fortune – if in doubt, study the volume of conflicting figures and pronouncements from government quarters, and the after-effects thereof. Why don’t we go the military way? Have you caught a soldier (army spokesman, maybe) being equally negligent? Bring him for some flogging – he is an unsoldierly soldier!

Undisciplined Nigerians shirk responsibility. Fancy fasting, praying and hustling for a job, and while on that job, you spend much of the time avoiding work. The receptionist tells you the secretary will attend to you; the secretary tells you it’s the PA’s job, and the PA says he can do nothing. Pray, why are they in that office, anyway? A soldier would be quick to serve his superior officer’s trust in the office. He cannot risk the consequence of negligence.

Another interesting thing about uniformed men is the unity existing among them. Though their rank and file are not free of ethnic jingoism, our national malaise, they are good in protecting their own, especially when ranged against civilians. The armed forces and security agencies are more united among themselves than civilians, and that owes partly to their military discipline. Because they have clear-cut lines of authority that brook no dissidence, it is easier for them to speak with one voice and do what has to be done together. Because they are trained to uphold espirit de corps, it is easier for them to get things done. Compare that to the confused groups of civilians screaming to be heard about restructuring or secession, and workers’ unions breaking into factions, thus reducing their bargaining power, and you can tell the strength in unity.

In wrapping up, Nigerians should save their fragile peace and the wobbly social system by imbibing discipline as it is in the armed forces. Like mere ants, the army doesn’t look like it has anything to teach democrats, but never mind, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise…”

Esara wrote from Ritman University, Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State.