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January 30, 2010

A Defining Moment for the Nigerian Army and Constitution

The political crisis in Nigeria as a result of the long absence of President Yar’adua on medical grounds has turned out to be a very important defining moment both for the constitution of the country and the Nigerian Armed Forces. Particularly the Nigerian Armed Forces this should be an important defining moment.

It gives comfort to hear the opinions of some of the top Military leaders. Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau has indicated that a restriction in movement is in place for the armed forces. He also noted that with “the subsisting democratic environment giving us a lot of advantages in our pursuit of  professionalism, the Nigerian Army affirms its commitment to its constitutional responsibilities and will continue to contribute meaningfully to the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria. The Nigerian Army urges all stakeholders in our national affairs to eschew violence and promote peace and tranquillity in Nigeria.” These are quiet commendable statements to come from the military at this time. Especially with the realisation that any military take over would simply lead back to the kind of civil revolts and resistance as evidenced in the regime of Sani Abacha. It gives comfort that the civil society has taken it upon itself to demonstrate and make its voice to be heard even in this current crisis with the medical absence of the President. And this must continue. The Soyinka lead Save Nigeria, the groups of eminent leaders, the groups of past presidents, vice presidents and senators and other individuals and organisations must continue to call for due processes, rule by the constitution and for free and fair electoral processes. That to me is the only way.
The leadership provided by the military leaders at this time is also commendable. What Chief of Army staff says is spot on. Again some quotes from the Chief of Defence staff, Air Marshall Paul Dike is what I regard as a fine definition of the role of the military in a constitutional democracy, I will reproduce some of it here:
“Meddling in political issues does not complement our constitutional role in any way, shape or form. I therefore warn all members of the armed forces to steer clear of politics. Ours is a military that is mindful of its past, conscious of its present and hopeful of the future.”  - Air Marshal Paul Dike
“Regardless of the imperfections of our political experiments, democracy remains the only acceptable form of governance.” –Air Marshal Paul Dike
“Pertaining to developments in our political scene, the Nigerian military would not in any way meddle in the political affairs of the country. Politics is better played by politicians.” –Air Marshall Paul Dike
“It is the duty of all military personnel to defend the nation’s democracy at all cost. Meddling in political issues does not complement the military’s job of protection of the nation’s territorial integrity” -Air Marshal Paul Dike
These statements are absolutely fantastic. I think these statements should be framed and hung on corridors on all the military institutions, barracks and even at the National Assembly corridors. I have no problem with a former military leader contesting an election. In fact the military is a good training ground for future leaders because of the degree of selflessness and discipline that military training imbues in its personnel but forceful overthrow is contrary to that ethic of sacrifice and selflessness which the military represents. I have a neighbour who is a military officer who took part in several operations around Africa. And I am always amazed at the level of sacrifice (especially of family life) which he has had to make. The Nigerian Military personnel need to be taken care of properly and they must realise that the President of the country, the constitution, the legislative leaders and the masses are their superiors. Military line of authority is somewhat like this>citizens>house representatives and senators>President(Mr. Yar’adua)>Army Commanders (Air Marshal Paul Dike &Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau). All citizens and leaders are subject to the constitution and the judiciary in all matters of law and disputes. So in effect the Military is at the end of the chain of command and authority and they take others from their immediate superiors. The ultimate giver of authority is the citizen through his vote. So a rigged election is actually a coup of another sort.
The current crisis is therefore actually good in so much as it helps the military to define its role as an institution of state. If the current military leaders can show good leadership and hold the country and the military together during this time then I believe in future they should actually be looked at as heroes. And who says they are not worthy of the vote of the citizens after their time of service is over.

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