Democracy in panic mode

Alabi Williams

The stampede witnessed in some states last week when the military had reportedly gone to administer vaccine to schoolchildren was simply uncalled for. In Ondo State, anxious parents rushed to schools when news spread that soldiers had set up camp in Owo town preparatory to a medical campaign. Parents and teachers were stunned at the manner the information filtered into town, and they were put on a helter-skelter mode because they had not witnessed such thing before, when the military will just arrive a town and begin to administer health service without any prior notice.

According to reports, some gates were forced open by parents who did not trust the exercise the military imposed on itself, but were not given access to their children by teachers who were also not aware of any exercise.

It was the same scenario in Rivers last Tuesday, when schools were thronged with parents, who rushed to pick up children. The other week, it was somewhere in Anambra, where parents were equally agitated and had to run to schools for their children. In all the instances, response by those in charge came long after the stampede. And it was tepid. Nobody was taking responsibility for causing pandemonium. Instead, the matter is politicized and citizens are insulted for reacting to government’s mismanagement of information.

Last week, instead of apologizing, the Defence Headquarters would rather blame the hysteria on ‘disgruntled human gongs’, whatever that insult meant. It said the reaction in the Southeast over the Nigerian Army medical outreach was the handiwork of disgruntled persons who are bent denting the image of the Armed Forces.

It was the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj Gen. John Enenche, who spewed the vitriol, instead of blaming the unfortunate incident on deliberately skewed communication gap between federal authorities and respective state and local government officials, who were neither informed of an impending medical campaign, nor were their inputs courted. It shows the arrogance of a Federal Government that sees all territories as conquered vassals, forgetting that with appropriate communication, Nigerians are not wont to dislike the military and their efforts. If, according to the army spokesman some disgruntled Nigerians were responsible for the stampede in the Southeast, are the poor and uninformed women who were misled by rumour mills to scamper for their children in far away Ondo State also disgruntled? Does it not agree with logic, after the invasion of the Southeast by the military in their search for Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB disciples only recently, that another campaign of whatever colour in quick succession could be viewed with suspicion, especially when governments that are closer to the people have no buy-in in this charity works?

What this Federal Government has not admitted is that in just two years, it has created enmity among Nigerians and between the military and the civil populace, so much that every campaign is viewed with suspicion. The polity is now over-militarised, not because all citizens have become troublemakers, but government that has refused to explore possibilities of engendering peace through dialogue. The only way to deepen democratic practice and do away with vestiges of military tradition is through debates. But this government has confessed its aversion to due process and ample time required to process democratic deals. Arising from that mindset, each social disequilibrium is misinterpreted as political affront to be dismantled with brute force. That is why we have soldiers operating all over the place as if this is an extension of Buhari’s military government of 1984.

According to reports, this government has deployed the military in 30 out of 36 states. In July, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara said it was worrisome that the military was carrying out different operations in 28 states.

Dogara said: “It is worrisome that Nigeria is permanently in a state of emergency as the Armed Forces are deployed in more than 28 states of the federation in peacetime. The Armed Forces have virtually taken over routine Police work in Nigeria. It is no longer acting in aid of civil authorities but has become the civil authority itself.”

Such state of affairs could only mean a number of things. It could mean that the National Assembly has failed to understand its role as a major arm of the Federal Government, thus failing to assert itself, by reminding the executive that this is a civilian regime; or, that institutions that are supposed to intervene in managing relations among citizens in a democratic society have failed or were enhanced to fail.

Practitioners of the presidential system are forever mindful of the awesome powers the term Commander-in-Chief construes, hence a constant debate on how much congressional intervention could be brought to bear to mitigate such powers. In the United States, the term has been put to scrutiny and interpreted to denote the subordination of all military powers in the hands of a democratically elected president, to be administered on behalf of the people. Each time there are conditions that make belligerence to escalate, the debate comes alive fresh. But here, we haven’t even commenced serious debate on how to manage a reckless C-in-C in case he/she decides to luxuriate in the expanse of such powers. Maybe that is not our headache for now, after all, we do not have nuclear arms. We are also lucky not to have situations like they have in North Korea.

My concern is that Dogara; the Speaker of the House is also lamenting the proliferation of military forces like an ordinary citizen. The NASS is simply too relaxed in the exercise of its restraining powers over the executive, either for lack of knowledge or deliberate laziness to confront. National legislators were on holidays while the military went on the IPOB campaigns. They were not moved to hurry back to interrogate the exercise. They are still not moved to discuss ongoing deployments in other places. Deployment of forces in members’ constituencies is an issue that should generate public debate. Military campaigns are never pleasant exercises, if we remember the losses in Odi and Zaki Biam.

This government will prefer to function without the legislature and that is why pending cases of appointments that require legislative confirmation are left hanging. The NASS itself has no serious agenda to uplift the country from its present state of morass. The only time they are able to forge bi-partisan homogeneity is when it has to do with their welfare. Otherwise, they are as rancorous as the motley tribes of Nigeria. They have refused to understand the urgent need to restructure the country and it will remain so until the last drop of oil is explored. I pray they have a change of heart.

As for the military, the medical corps of the different armed forces are very professional and useful in their respective locations. I remember the acclaims showered on 44 Army Reference Hospital in Kaduna, very superb. The military are very thorough in such special fields. We must say it the way it is. But there should also be due process in field deployments. There are governments and departments in the states and local governments that should be notified well ahead of deployments.

The Police that should really be engaged in the management of civil relations are very helpless. Many attempts to reform the force have not produced good result. Those in the know have canvassed devolution to allow for state and neighborhood police. But those who sit on the budgets in Abuja do not want to hear that. They know what they get is not enough, but they do not want to let go.

Democracy is a process. We must be willing to learn as we progress. It is about debate and not a branch of the military.



No Comments yet

Related