By Adekunle Ade-Adeleye
In the ongoing war against banditry and other vicious crimes pockmarking Nigeria, the newly appointed Army spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, dropped a pearl of wisdom to guide the restoration of peace in the country, particularly in the Northwest and Southeast. He does not dispute the role of the army in combating threats to the peace and progress of the country, nor does he suggest that the military establishment lacks the capacity to deal with the threats, no matter how complex.
According to him, and referencing the banditry and security challenges laying the country waste, “…It is an indisputable and very well established fact that the sword or gun cannot alone provide the panacea to the complex and multifaceted security challenges that characterize today’s world. I must, therefore, make haste to say that the complex nature of these security challenges requires multi-disciplinary approach…”
It is unlikely that the Army spokesman spoke for himself alone. His view, as unusual as they were, may in fact be a summation of the prevailing wisdom in a military establishment that has had to deploy its assets and personnel to breaking point in combating banditry and all manner of crimes across Nigeria’s vast, untrammeled terrain. The deployments have met with mixed success, not to talk of constant migraine. But the pearl casually dropped by the Army spokesman, an orthodoxy that suffuses modern military institutions globally, may be somewhat alien to the current administration. Indeed his view about the limited efficacy of guns and swords to pacify internal restiveness is so sound that in other parts of the world it has become trite. The Nigerian Army will continue to deploy its assets in the face of festering banditry, because it understands its duty, in the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, “not to reason why, but to do and die”. It will scarcely matter whether the order to charge at the enemy was well reasoned or whether the military had anything to do with the breakdown of law and order. Charge they must, at the enemy as defined by the civil authorities.
Two Thursdays ago, the country was in an uproar when President Muhammadu Buhari, after months of reticence, spoke about the lawlessness overwhelming the country. As many analysts noted, the president’s speech was not only reassuring because it indicated he was not as insensate as many had speculated, and refreshing too, it also finally settled the rumour that the president was not in charge of his administration. Yes, he is in charge, but still no one knows whether his views were original to him or whether they were distilled from the amorphous and indeterminate thoughts of his aides. That he finally spoke, however, was reassuring; but that he riled the people further was also frightening and disillusioning. Said the president on Arise TV two Thursdays ago while talking about the scourge of banditry: “The only one that initially overwhelmed me was the North West, but I can assure you, as we speak, those bandits are being brutally eliminated. We don’t intend to publicise this for security reasons.”
No one should expect the president to abandon his reliance on guns and swords as the perfect anodyne to banditry and separatism. It is instinctive to him to adopt that panacea, particularly because of his background and training. Indeed, judging from the gusto with which he disclosed what his military planned for the bandits, speaking of ‘brutal elimination’, there can be no doubt just how excessive his reliance on that strong-arm measure is. Similarly, if a little disturbingly cynical, he also talked of speaking to Southeast separatists “in the language they understand”, a dangerous reference to the use of force over a disagreement which a statesman could easily use clever methods and policies to disarm the troublemakers. But there is no telling where and when violence would end once it is triggered. This is why the higher responsibility to deescalate violence always rests on the government, especially when it has calibrated the cause of the trouble to be still within reach and amelioration.
After years of applying force to a problem with distinct socio-economic foundations and colorations, the army appears to suspect that they might have been applying the wrong solution to a problem that demands different responses. But once deployed, they are bound to obey orders. But if the problem becomes protracted, as banditry, insurgency and separatist agitations in Nigeria threaten to be or indeed have become, it may be time to see whether a better and deeper examination of the problems should not be attempted in order to find a more fitting solution. The army has suggested this new direction, even while still obeying orders; it is left to the political establishment, who should be more amenable to more civil and scientific approach to national challenges, to cotton on to the army’s extrapolations. That the political authority will change tack will depend on how open they are to reason, and how implacable they have not become in matters over which they claim a comparative advantage.
Femi Adesina at his abrasive worst.
Presidential spokesman Femi Adesina is irredeemably excoriating. Last Thursday he wrote a Facebook piece that rebuked both ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and human rights lawyer Femi Falana for their impatience with President Buhari. Said Mr Adesina: “And what of Olusegun Obasanjo, a civil war hero? Despite all that he has contributed to the current upheavals by his actions and inactions, words, and bile, he says it is idiotic to wish Nigeria disintegration now. Good. But let us put our money where our mouth is. Let Baba mind his thoughts and his language. Last Saturday, as Nigeria celebrated Democracy Day, some people wanted to stoke protests, riots, and destruction. Did the system allow it? Not at all. Should it have been allowed? Not when there is still law and order in the land. Only anarchists would set the country on fire in the name of Democracy Day protests. And it was sad, tragic, to hear some so-called activists asking the police to apologise to Nigerians for not folding their arms and allowing the country to go into a tailspin. Anarchists masquerading as activists.”
Mr Adesina is cantankerous in defending his principal. He is always at his abrasive worst when he does that. No one should think to reform him. It can’t be done. He is in suspended animation until the president leaves office. And like other spokesmen before him, he will snap out of his stupor only when he leaves Aso Villa, the metaphysical redoubt of which he is proud to be a habitué.