President Jonathan, his Commander-in-Chief, does not know; Mr. Labaran Maku, Minister of Defence, does not know; Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, Chief of Army Staff, does not know; the National Assembly, oversight guardian angel of our democracy, does not know; Governor David Jonah Jang, leader of the Jangjaweeds in the Governors’ Forum in whose domain the sacrilege happened, does not know; the Guardian newspaper, immediate victim of the sacrilege, does not know; Premium Times, reporter of the sacrilege, does not know; 160 million Nigerians, regular victims of such sacrilege and violations, do not know and have never cared to know.
And because all these people do not know and do not care to know; because WE ALL do not know and are too browbeaten by our self-inflicted tragedies to bother about knowing; and because he, like everybody else in his uniformed world, knows only too well that we do not know that he has no powers of arrest anywhere in our Constitution, Colonel Texas Chukwu, Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 3rd Armored Division, Maxwell Kobe Cantonment, Rukuba, Jos, recently led a troop of soldiers to the office of the Guardian in Jos.
Their mission? Let’s hear it from Premium Times: “Soldiers of the 3 Armored Division, Maxwell Kobe Cantonment, Rukuba Jos, on Wednesday attempted whisking away a Guardian newspaper correspondent in Jos over a court martial story; but was rescued by the state chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists [NUJ] Kaptdaba Gubum and other union officials. He was however interrogated… the Deputy Director Army public relations of the cantonment, Col Texas Chukuwu, who led the troop of soldiers to the Guardian office in Jos to effect arrest of the journalist, said the Court Marshal had not concluded its findings on the soldiers, and has therefore not passed judgment on the accused persons.”
Yes, you read that correctly. A bunch of arrogant and ignorant soldiers violated civilian spaces of agency and civic belonging in order to effect the arrest of a citizen of Nigeria who had published something they did not like. They did not like what the journalist published because, according to them, it was false and unverified information. Somehow, during his training at the Nigerian Defense Academy, and subsequent trainings he must or ought to have received in other spaces of instruction such as the National War College and the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies – who knows, he might even have attended those courses they send them to in Britain, USA, and India – none of Colonel Texas Chukwu’s instructors ever bothered to teach him that the military has no powers of arrest. Nobody taught him that being unhappy with a publication about the army does not empower you to crossover to civilian space and make an arrest. Perhaps, they taught him these things. Perhaps, like the rest of them all in the Nigerian military, he is too far gone in their imperial psychology of disdain for civilians to bother about what his Professors taught him about the role and place of the military in a democratic dispensation.
Let’s be not kid ourselves. In a nation-space ushered by colonial violence into decades of postcolonial chaos and lawlessness supervised by a military establishment run by career coup plotters and treasonable felons, it probably would take four or five future generations of new intakes into the Nigerian Defense Academy before we can reasonably begin to hope for a new generation of soldiers who understand concepts such as the sanctity of civilian spaces, civilian authority and control over the military, and the fact that their Commander-in-Chief in Abuja is, in fact, an employee of the same Nigerian civilians whose rights they trample upon at will.
The collapse of civics is of course also to blame. I have always argued that the collapse of the Nigerian educational system is by design, a deliberate, purposed vision of the ruling class to sustain the level of mass ignorance necessary to run Nigeria the way they have been running that country for much of her postcolonial existence. A massively under-educated and ignorant citizenry is the only hope of Nigeria’s irresponsible political leaders for longevity. And one of the consequences of this useable ignorance – useable, that is, for the rulers – is that the masses do not even know that supreme authority over the armed forces inheres in them for they are the employers of Goodluck Jonathan, the Commander-in-Chief, who serves at the pleasure of those who elected him and at the considerable displeasure of those of us who consider him a failure. Whether he serves at your pleasure or my displeasure, he is our employee and, through him, we exercise authority over the military uniforms that we pay for.
There more consequences of useable ignorance. The people do not know that the overwhelming presence of military uniforms in virtually every space of civic being in Nigeria is an egregious violation of their rights. It is an unnecessary brutalization of civic space. It is illegal. I am not just talking of those spaces where security challenges necessitate their presence, such as the Boko Haram Territories to the north. I am talking of random spaces, where they ought not to be. At will, they spill out of their barracks in Lagos, Abuja, and other cities to perform routine law enforcement, slap a few faces, make a few arrests, and intimidate the people with their tanks and AK-47s. All of this is of course completely illegal. They have no such powers but the people do not know this and those who know are in no position to act for they shall be killed and nothing, absolutely, nothing, will happen. And what is that uniformed fellow always doing, standing permanently like a statue behind the President? Where did we even get that atrocious tradition from? Not even Africa’s worse dictators indulge in that nonsense. Has President Jonathan ever seen a military statue permanently shadowing his friends, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea? With a soldier always symbolically breathing down our President’s neck, how can he be expected to call soldiers to order when they are behaving badly?
We are in more trouble than you can imagine. If the masses do not know because they have been deliberately diseducated (my coinage) for so long by the rulers, what about those of us in certain professions who should know and do whatever we can in the interest of public instruction? It’s time for some in-house criticism here. I was absolutely appalled by the ‘nothing spoil’ manner with which my colleagues at Premium Times reported the story. They reported the fact that Colonel Texas Chukwu, a soldier who has no powers of arrest, led a group of his zombies to arrest and interrogate a civilian. I kept waiting for the editorial voice of Premium Times, something, anything at all, a sentence in that report to teach the people that the military has no such powers. Nothing. You’d think they were reporting Christmas celebration. How could they have given this thing the slant of a transient human interest story?
If Premium Times did not take up the challenge of that teachable moment on behalf of the Nigerian people, surely, their colleagues at Sahara Reporters, who dutifully syndicate many of the activist reports of Premium Times, would notice the lacuna and do something about it. Perhaps a series in public instruction to help the people begin to appreciate their rights vis-à-vis of the military and to begin to send a clear message to Nigeria’s arrogant military authorities that the days of impunity are numbered. Somehow, Sahara Reporters also missed the story.
And what about the Guardian, the real victims of that most egregious violation of the constitution by Colonel Texas Chukwu? You’d think that this newspaper would scream blue murder and raise a lot of dust over the matter. For where? And what about the civilians, Goodluck Jonathan and Labaran Maku, who should exercise control and authority over the military? Abeg, make we leave matter for Mathayas. Those two won’t do jack. Are they even aware of their authority over the military in a democratic setting? If General Ihejirika asked Labaran Maku to kneel down, raise up his hands, and close his eyes, my bet is that Maku would ask: General, should I also do frog jump?
Sadly, re-educating the Nigerian military, rewiring their psychology and migrating it from an inclination to see you and I as bloody civilians instead of holders of authority over their uniform, can only begin if we start to agitate for a regime of dire consequences for senior military officers every time the paraga-sodden, little-educated recruits they send to the streets terrorize civilians illegally. Let’s face it: you cannot expect Master Sergeant Aremu Okikiolakan, father of fifteen children in the barracks, husband of two wives, who joined the army after dropping out of primary school to fight the civil war; or Corporal Ikemba Okonkwo, who dropped out of secondary school to join the Biafran army and was reintegrated after the civil war; or Lance Corporal Shehu Dan kabo, who was recruited as an almajiri; you cannot expect any of these folks to understand all the talk about democracy, the Constitution, and the exercise of civilian authority over the military. All these guys will continue to do is drink paraga and wait for the Colonel Texas Chukwus of this world to give them the marching orders to go and deal ruthlessly with those bloody civilians.
But if the head of a senior officer rolls every time Sergeant Aremu jackboots a civilian in town, if Goodluck Jonathan and Labaran Maku would muster the courage to do the right thing by summarily dismissing Colonel Texas Chukwu from the Army for that serious violation of the Constitution, if the Service Chiefs got the message that their heads would roll next time their boys violate the sanctity of the democratic pact, if Nigerians begin to hold the military top brass responsible for the behaviour of the largely unlettered boys in the lower ranks, then there is a chance that these senior officers would get the message: we, the people, are your supreme bosses. Your Commander-in-Chief is our employee. You have no powers of arrest!