Conflict and Military Psyche in Nigeria


We need to seriously examine why the military has not disengaged in Nigeria. How disruptive to nation building is this continuing engagement by other means. We must now unravel how this octopus came about with a view to ending it by closing this spiritual circle where it started. To do this we must look back at history. We must look at late Gen Ironsi's declared reasons for taking power and his promise to 'restore law and order' in 1966. We can play on his words to release the key for the Nigerian liberation.

Before we go into the word 'restore', let us be once more reminded of its origin in the Nigerian military lexicon. Recall correctly that General Aguiyi Ironsi Nigeria's first military Head of State volunteered reasons for his assumption of power when he described his government as “a caretaker with an objective of maintaining essential services while restoring law and order”. Unfortunately, later on he added that he would also look into the problems of an acceptable political structure for Nigeria. He started off well knowing that he had no business meddling into the political problems for which he was unqualified to offer solutions. However on getting into power e began to shift the goal post under influences. He began to see himself as replacement rather than caretaker and appointed study groups to analyze these problems and suggest solutions. Ironsi began to engage deeply, and when he decided to adopt a unitary system of government he made a monumental engagement that has required decades of transition and disengagements only for Nigeria to end up unable to restructure his military infrastructure. What should actually interest us here should be limited to the origin of military engagement in Nigeria which becomes the key for disengagement utilized in a reverse manner. Ironsi's 'restoration of law and order' as well as promise of a quick return to civil rule remain the unfulfilled goals of military disengagement in Nigeria. Let us look at the difference between disengagement and return to civil rule as it affects the problem itself. The fact remains that if the simple objective of Ironsi was followed to the letter, Mlitary rule would have ended on 18th January 1966 just three days into the coup because that was specifically when the western riots was quelled through the Supreme commanders directive. As was reported normalcy was restored later on the same day being the only visible disorder in the society.

What Ironsi should have drawn up was a short speech for a quick hand of power over to civil rulers. He should have invited the parliament to reconvene. He should have handed power to them. Mission accomplished. For the other school of thought that the military needed to maintain the law and order they restored, what needs be pointed out is that the Police is there so long as another culmination of frustration has not led to a visible disruption in the social order, and the legislature would make laws to avoid a repeat.A very similar word that crept into our psyche most emphatically is 'disengagement'. Ironsi did not use this word at all. There was no need for it because he did not really intend to engage deeply although is childlike actions forced this word into prominence later on with his successors. Subsequent military regimes could talk of disengagement because they allowed themselves to engage even more deeply that they were lost between the devil and the blue sea. Disengagement compared to return to civil rule denotes and connotes an increase in the content of the problem, an unfocused program me of objectives and this must have informed the pessimism of Samuel Finer about its workability in society.

Let us now attempt to know better these words and sentences because we have to be careful with what we do with them knowing that they hold solution to all our problems in this regard in their crowded bosoms. Let us define 'restore law and order' by picking the words individually. The English dictionaries and common sense lead us to become even more creative in this inadequacy of language. Perhaps we can define in sounding synonyms. For me these words ' Law and order' remind me already of authority [properly constituted authority].It makes me remember symmetry, arrangement, planning, chronology, merit driven working environment, methods, accountability, firmness in decision making, rules and regulation, procedures, programmes, obedience, tidiness, statutes, rules and regulations, procedures etc. Now I like to take in the whole picture unlimited by my own inadequacy in this language or its shortcomings.What it tells me is that Law and order which Ironsi wanted to restore was not even existent in Nigeria at that time. So he could never have achieved this simple objective without qualifying it with the Balewa era law and order which could have allowed him the moral basis to hand over to the rump of the Balewa government. To this level of analysis it became clear that Ironsi was overwhelmed by the expectation of his success into attempting to create an 'utopian 'society of Nigeria before he could had over and even in his wildest dreams he envisaged it would take him three years to do that. That was the first seed of military engagement in Nigeria and must be the last to be dismantled to close this vicious circle for good.

What about the word 'restore' as earlier mentioned? Restore is to give back, bring back into use, reintroduce, make well or normal again, repair, rebuild as before, and reconstruct so as it is original. What a tall order. Here, alternatives were ingrained ether by sound or perception within the military context. The military is designed to be a forward looking organ with nothing to do really with backward motion or changes. It hardly can return to anything or restore anything. When a man is found guilty he goes to the court marshal, but that is when this process existed at all. Otherwise the person can be dealt with in military fashion, whatever that means. There is often no time for appeal because when the bullet leaves the gun, there is no return path. No restoration. When a military mind engages there is no disengagement, .no, not so fast, if ever.Here, alternatives were ingrained either by sound or perception within the military psyche .Alternatives are found for those troubling words the military has to deal with in public life, in governance anywhere. 'Restore' becomes restrict,' restrain'; to restrain law and order. You need to 'restrict' Law and order to be relevantly engaged in an environment without conflict. In doing that you create more conflict enabling you to settle more disputes and restrict more law and order until you can create a rudderless society as we have today in Nigeria. Everyone knows that the military cannot bring back the life it takes or the factory it destroyed, yet we expect them in Nigeria to rebuild the nation, to return Nigeria to democracy, or to midwife enduring development. Our reward is self delusion and wasted efforts and years. The merry go round must stop as soon as we wake up to the act that continuing engagement of the military is the basis of coercion, the continuation of conflict and the retreat of democratic values in the Nigerian political environment .Nigeria must first disengage the military by going back to close the circle opened by the late Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi. No enduring nation can be built on his now enduring military political structures of unitary governance. No military psyche can do it.

Mr. Nwokedi Nworisara aspired to be President of Nigeria in 1992

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