By Dele Momodu
Our dear Generals, let me apologise for my lateness in sending this important memo to you. I had planned to write to you immediately after my last letter to the Inspector General of Police. That should have been the logical progression but events happened at supersonic speed in the last few weeks that I was forced to change topics regularly. Even this week, I was almost forced to change my mind by the latest gaffe of the Presidency that offered official pardon/clemency to those who needed it and those who didn’t without going into the merits or demerits of the pardons. They just never seem to get it right, whether in timing and/or execution.
It was the same slipshod manner that they treated the granting of national honours by awarding lesser Honours to those who had already received higher honours. In a similar fashion they bungled renaming of the University of Lagos after our martyr for Democracy, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. It is becoming obvious that something has gone terribly wrong when those saddled with huge responsibilities act before they think. The legion of Presidential aides and advisers inside the gilded cage of Aso Rock should have pondered long and hard before taking some of these decisions that have far-reaching implications. That certainly was not the case with the latest chicanery they rolled out this week.
Sorry about my brief digression. My purpose of writing you this memo is very predictable but absolutely necessary. The time has come when the security situation in Nigeria must be pushed to the front burner. The tragic state of affairs is giving all right-thinking people sleepless nights and acute migraine. Many lives are being wasted daily for no reasonable justification. What started like a poor joke has become our way of life. And it is a very terrible one at that. Nigeria has virtually become a top-ranking terrorist and criminal nation, if the truth must be told. Our image is very identical to that of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and others added to the violent criminality of South Africa and Brazil. At the speed we are slipping down the slope, we may fall into the hands of our own Janjaweeds, similar to the collapse of Somalia and Sudan or the drug cartels and warlords of Southern America.
I do not mind to sound like a prophet of doom. My concern is shared by most Nigerians who have a deep sense of history. This is not the Nigeria we knew. And this is certainly not the Nigeria we dreamt of. This new Nigeria has become a strange land and a wasteland where Lucifer seems to have occupied substantial territory and is having great fun at our expense. While I do not wish to bore you or my readers with how we got to this dangerous level, part of the blame has to be placed at the door-step of various military regimes that have ravaged our bodies and souls.
This memo is not an attempt to bemoan our inglorious past but to inspire you on the way forward. After the unacceptable rate of unemployment in Nigeria, the biggest problem confronting us is the total breakdown of law and other. We know that the President and Commander-in-Chief has made too many unfulfilled promises to protect the citizens. In fact, those promises have become cut-and-paste clichés; signifying nothing. In the process, many of our people have become frustrated and despondent and absolutely weary.
I know that your men are now spread out all over the place. I’m worried that in a democracy, soldiers have come back to defend our nation instead of the Police. They are working against all odds, killing people and getting killed themselves. This is very tragic. When soldiers turn guns at their fellow citizens, we should all get worried. There have been serious complaints of human rights violations that we can no longer ignore. It does not matter if we have to fight terrorism and terrorists with all our might. One innocent soul wasted is a wicked act. About three years on, all the force you can muster has not succeeded in abating the intractable problem of total mayhem in our country. The disastrous misadventure of combined super powers in some Islamic countries should have provided sufficient lessons that guns and bayonets cannot win all wars. I wish to put our own failure at the inability of our leaders to go to the root of the matter.
The first is religion. Nigeria is supposed to be a secular state but every government in Nigeria tries to amplify religious obligations for political gains. They would rather share money to religious leaders, and sponsor pilgrimages, than build solid infrastructures for the people like roads, good schools, hospitals, power plants, and so on. Religion has therefore become competitive where one Imam has to crosscheck what a Pastor is getting from the government. Every religion, and even every sect within each religion, therefore must fight to have its own people at the centre so that he can draw down the largesse that usually comes with high office in Nigeria. With your own disciple in power, you can become stupendously wealthy and even get a donation of a private jet for your birthday celebration. Nothing shocks us anymore.
My advice to you, Sirs, is to encourage our leaders to face the primary task of most responsible governments, which is nation-building and whittle down their interests in flights of fancy and things that should not concern them. Religion should ordinarily be a matter between a man and his Creator. I have not read anywhere that a man should go on pilgrimage if he has no job or business to support the journey. Politicians now use pilgrimages to holy lands as a bait, and bribe, to reward their trusted supporters. Indeed I won’t be surprised if very soon our politicians decide to create a pilgrimage to Brazil or worse still our own Ile-Ife for Ifa acolytes and devotees. The manner our leaders have dabbled into religion and manipulated God’s spiritual duties for political gains and advantage is nothing but an invitation to monumental disaster. Religion has become too politicised like most things Nigerian. Until you’re able to douse the fire of religion in our dear nation, you will continue to have your hands full of religious upheavals that would have been stoked by politicians.
The second problem is mass ignorance. Many leaders have refused to educate the citizens appropriately because they wish to keep them in perpetual bondage. The people will always challenge their oppressors and slave masters when they acquire sound education and enlightenment. At your meetings with the Commander-in-Chief, you have to take a holistic approach to issues of security. Security does not begin and end with carrying guns and firing bullets indiscriminately. There is nothing war can do that diplomacy can’t do better. All wars end not on the battlefield but on dinner tables. And this shows the futility of warmongering. A situation where many Nigerian kids still study under the trees at this time and age is unacceptable. Your work would be easier when you have more enlightened citizenry to deal with.
This issue of proper education affects all and sundry and the Nigerian military must overhaul its system by educating and rebranding our men and women of the armed forces. I have had some interaction with our peacekeepers in Sierra Leone since 2001, and in Liberia, since 2008, and was very impressed about their performance. The world respects Nigerian military and they are always effective under the control of United Nations because their working condition is often superior to what obtains at home. This has convinced me that we need to bring them up to international standard for us to enjoy their best talents. The elite corps in the Navy and Air Force must be protected against acquiring inferiority complex. This is inevitable when we render them practically useless with not enough materials to work with. There’s nothing as horrible as training abroad and returning home to operate archaic equipment.
The world is rapidly moving away from exposing combatants to dangers that may result in deaths. A country like America relies more on intelligence and remote-controlled combat. One American life is too important to be lost in the fields of battle. I sincerely believe we should borrow a leaf from this and do everything necessary to secure the lives of our fighters. We must empower our military intelligence arms and members of the State Security Service to become more effective.
The SSS in particular has no business sitting in the cubicles at our airports with Immigration officers at this time and age. Their job is too high-profile to be so degraded. If ever they are at the Airport, they are supposed to be undercover agents and should never be exposed to the vagaries of life in Nigeria.I became convinced about this after one of them asked on a recent trip if I work for AIT. The world has moved beyond secret agents asking travellers where they are going and when they will return. With proper training and commensurate salaries our intelligence officers can become very effective and reduce the work of our army.
Dear Sirs, you must begin to emphasise educational qualifications above raw might. Nothing is too much to be invested in educating the minds of those who will carry and operate dangerous weapons. The clashes between soldiers and civilians have always been bloody and reckless. This sort of unnecessary giddiness can be controlled through serious education and training that would make a soldier see himself as a protector than wilful killer. The best opportunity is now with so many bright graduates roaming the streets. We must take advantage of a bad situation and have a positive turn-around.
Our military must continue to update their vocational skills. Like in many developing countries they can be more useful than just fighting wars. They can develop interests in farming, engineering, and manufacturing in general, instead of keeping them idle in the barracks. You must provide them with e-libraries and access to the internet to be a part of a global network. We are in the age of information technology and our military should no longer live in darkness.
The biggest problem to tackle is the issue of mass unemployment. Whether our government agrees with the theory or not, our spate of violence is largely due to poverty. A friend’s daughter got married in Kano about five years ago. I was stunned by the number of disconsolate youths I saw standing by the roadside staring into all vehicles. I returned to Lagos with a prediction that the days those kids spill out like locusts to the streets, no army would be able to contain them. It was obvious that the army of unemployed Nigerians was far bigger, even if not as superior, as the official army. I wasn’t too surprised when chickens came home to roost. We are all paying the savage price for the thoughtlessness of myopic leaders who failed to nip things in the bud by providing jobs and/or opportunities for those young folks.
It is not difficult to ease the tension in our country. Our leaders must be willing and ready to downgrade the profligacy associated with governance in our clime. They must take a good look at other countries and realise there is nowhere else that leaders turn every day to Christmas. I’m reasonably convinced that money is not the problem of Nigeria but how we waste it on non-essential spending.
The percentage we expend on politicians and public office holders would have built a few Hong Kongs and Dubais out of our nation. Our Defence budget would have equipped us adequately for our own Pentagon. But our uncommon system is to turn Defence contractors into billionaires and impoverish the original targets of the budgets. Only you and those at your level can help reverse this trend if you truly want to do so.
Finally, you must resist the temptation of usurping the work of the Nigerian Police. It is distasteful that in a democracy, the proliferation of military men has not abated on our streets. It is a shame that our leaders cannot realise the danger they expose us all to by swarming the streets with fully armed soldiers. It is the job of anti-riot police to quell civil disobedience and not that of soldiers. The way we unleash mayhem on our people is preposterous and we must protect our democracy by reducing the exposure of our people to the military in uniform.
What’s the purpose of fighting to help rid our nation of military juntas if they will stay with us like superglue forever?
It is not right, to say the least.