Idowu Akinlotan

In separate reactions to the call by a party chairman, Chidi Chukwuanyi, for the replication of the Rawlings treatment to cleanse Nigeria of its rot, the Nigerian military and secret service have come out to denounce any attempt to subvert the constitution and foment insurrection and mutiny.

The two security agencies stridently warned against any temptation to flirt with the Rawlings formula. John Jerry Rawlings ruled Ghana both as a military leader and elected president. As head of state, he had executed some generals and three of his predecessors for acts of corruption, a radical measure credited, perhaps exaggeratedly, with restoring some order and purity to governance in Ghana. Mr Chukwuanyi, chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP), was not specific in his advocacy of the Rawlings treatment.

Nor did he afford his interviewers explanations as to why he suggested Ghana’s radical example. But it is obvious why many Nigerians have not overcome their fascination with the Rawlings example, considering how they credit the improvements and order Ghana has seemed to enjoy in the past few decades to the Rawlings purges.

Mr Chukwuanyi’s unusual call was prompted by the appalling and disgraceful show of corruption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), where hundreds of billions of naira were casually and flagrantly shared by top staff of the Commission, Niger Delta Affairs ministry officials, National Assembly lawmakers doubling as contractors, and other sundry beneficiaries, some of them members of the Nigerian law enforcement agencies.

The humongous stealing in the NDDC, some of it allegedly perpetrated by the interim management body deployed to sanitise the establishment, was unearthed during a very disagreeable and bad-tempered public misunderstanding between the Niger Delta Affairs minister, Godswill Akpabio, and a former Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Joi Nunieh.

The trail of the stealing led to various warrens and crevices in the country, prompting many patriots, among whom Mr Chukwuanyi numbered himself, to call for a drastic solution akin to the Ghanaian solution.

Both the Department of State Service (DSS) and the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) were quick to distance themselves from the partisan NDP call, and suggested that a plot could be afoot to undermine constitutional governance in the country.

They warned soldiers against any mutinous act, and “unscrupulous and subversive elements” from orchestrating a breakdown of law and order in the country. Their interventions seem largely perfunctory, perhaps because they sense that Mr Chukwuanyi’s advocacy loomed larger in popular imagination than in the reality of Nigeria’s complex social and political environment.

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The DSS spoke of uncovering plots to destabilise the country, while the military reminded soldiers of their constitutional responsibilities to subordinate themselves to, and aid, civil authorities in keeping the peace and defending the country.

It is, however, not unlikely that the Rawlings example still holds incredibly wide appeal, whether any party chairman calls for its replication in Nigeria or not. But the Ghanaian example is hard, extremely hard to replicate in Nigeria.

After the debacle of the 1966 coup and revenge coup in Nigeria, not to talk of the subsequent string of self-centred and predatory coups that expired in 1999, no serious analyst or political scientist would call for a forceful takeover of government in Nigeria.

The security agencies sense this, but have periodically justified their raison d’etre and budgets by raising the alarm when they hear declamations on revolutions and the Rawlings formula. For the foreseeable future, there will be no dissuading the security agencies from embracing the bugbears of plots, mutinies and destabilisation. They will continue to take swift umbrage at any call for a revolution, almost as if they instinctively lack an understanding of the word’s many nuanced definitions ad applications.

Worse, they are unlikely in the short to medium run to expertly draw the line between regime interest and protection on the one hand and national security interest on the other hand, especially seeing that even the Justice minister and some jurists have been unable to draw that fine distinction.

The shock is not that security agencies and government appointees exhibit constant and prickly reaction to threats against the government of the day, regardless of how innocuous these threats are, but that Mr Chukwuanyi, a party chairman expected to know the difference and be circumspect in his many advocacies, could so glibly associate with a Ghanaian measure of doubtful utility.

He is right to be astounded and nauseated by the disclosure of brazen corruption in government agencies and among public officials, and he is blameless to feel deeply offended not only by the legislative and executive casuistries of lawmakers and cabinet ministers but by the irresponsibility inferred from the lewd undertones that lathered the management of public affairs in the past few months.

But to call for a Rawlings-type purge — it was not even a revolution — is to exhibit crass ignorance of Nigeria’s social, economic and political challenges as well as misunderstand and misapply what took place in the late 1970s and 1980s in Ghana.

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This lack of understanding is frightening and shocking, especially after hindsight and the lessons of history have afforded Nigerians the opportunity of correctly situating their country’s multifarious problems within the right cultural and epochal contexts.

Mr Rawlings was a flight lieutenant when he first attempted and eventually succeeded in overthrowing the government of the day. His coup was popular among the junior officers cadre of the military, and he received massive public support to embark on a wider purge of the society, leading to killings and abductions both in his first and second incarnations as a military head of state.

The purge led to the execution in 1979 of eight military officers, including four generals, and three former heads of state, Akwasi Afrifa, Fred Akuffo and Ignatius Acheampong, all generals. The consequent reforms instituted by him were a mixed blessing.

And the bitterness that followed the executions, not to talk of the secret murder of three Supreme Court justices and some military officers, lingered for far longer than desired.

To call for the Rawlings method is to ignore even the lessons of Ghana’s history. More, it is also to make light of Nigeria’s experiment with military gangsterism that virtually destroyed Nigeria and set her back by many decades.

Somehow, dispensing with the lessons of history, politicians like Mr Chukwuanyi seem to think that a deus ex machina would help the country leapfrog over the hard work and political consensus needed to structurally reform Nigeria and create the enabling judicial and security systems to mediate conflicts between federating parts, be they states or regions.

After the 1966 debacle and the consequent civil war, it has become imperative that the current unitary system masquerading as a federal system is probably the bane of instability of the polity and pauperisation of the people.

Brazen stealing of public funds, as exampled by the NDDC, admittedly leads to frustration and a feeling of hopelessness. But despite the confusion, political leaders, especially of the rank of party chairmen, should have the capacity and depth to see the forests for the trees.

Neither the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) nor the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is of course any better than the generally unknown NDP, given their poor, arrogant and uninformed leadership trapped in the methods and illogic of the past, but to go on a fool’s errand to Ghana in search of examples gives Nigeria a bad name.

The misguided search for an ethical strongman led Nigeria to settle for the mediocrities of 1999, 2007, 2011 and 2015. It would be foolhardy not to have learnt any lesson. The solution is not in Rawlings-type purges or a phantom deus ex machina.

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The answer is a national resolve to understand that the methods of the past have availed nothing, and that Nigerians must begin resolutely to embrace forward-looking ideals and methods, one of which is the indispensable restructuring of the polity to unleash the country’s enormous potential for economic development.

In any case, a Rawlings-type purge would complicate the problem of Nigeria, a country where years of entrenched cultural and religious divisions have mentally balkanised the people and predisposed them to instability, rivalry and unpatriotic deployment and appropriation of communal wealth.

A purge as envisaged by the NDP chairman would simply create chaos and very likely erase the little gains achieved over the past 21 years or so.

The current government may have fallen far below expectations in its unwholesome inability to appoint the right people into public office, and may have led the country into a ruinous borrowing binge that is uniquely unprecedented, and may have even accentuated the divisions among the people while promoting ethnic and now gradually political exceptionalism, but the answer is neither with a leadership that openly celebrates lack of depth, nor with a hypothetical leadership, in the imagination of the NDP chairman, with a superficial propensity for purges and misguided radicalism.

Mr Chukwuanyi’s preference — he didn’t even explicitly call for the Rawlings method — for radical J.J. Rawlings-like purges will fizzle out in a matter of weeks. The usefulness of the Ghana approach is doubtful, and its implementation too anarchic to be embraced by anyone but the most romantic of ideologues. The security agencies’ umbrage will also peter out with time.

They merely spoke out and issued threats to impress their masters, knowing full well that the NDP chairman probably spoke out of turn. More importantly, the country is unlikely to heed Mr Chukwuanyi’s call or entertain his quaint logic.

For even if a coup were to become inevitable, it would probably hasten the collapse of the country rather than save  and restore it. Yet it is no tribute to the current government that the country has under it become so listless, corruption so endemic, the country so divided, and the government itself so internally disoriented and factionalised that anyone would even think of Mr Rawlings or a mutiny.

Source: The Street Journal

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