Opinion

The decent for the indecent, the just for the unjust, By Femi Adesina

Access Bank

There’s a short video you can find online that brings tears to my eyes. It features soldiers of the Nigerian Army, four spry young men, the type of whom the Good Book says “the glory of young men is their strength,” and they are in a desert-like environment, in front of a rigged camp.

Wearing battle fatigues and slinging guns round their shoulders, they are in an expansive mood, parodying a popular Christian praise song to reflect their situation and that of the country.

“We are always gathered rugged every season,

We are always good to go in this fight o

We are always confronting every battle

We are moving forward to end this fight

“We are soldiers, say we have peace

We have patience, say we are rugged

We are all in armed forces

Nigerian Army, Navy Air Force

“We are gathered, we rugged

We are good to go combatant soldiers

We are the Nigerian Army

Today is our celebration …”

Obviously made to commemorate Armed Forces Remembrance Day, celebrated every January 15 in Nigeria, the video inspires hope that this country yet has a throng of young people, focused, patriotic, ready to lay down their lives for the peace and progress of their fatherland.

As the song proceeds, one young soldier steps forward, and declares:

“Yes, victory is from God alone.

My name is Soldier

I come from Nigeria

I lay my life on the line for the innocent ones to live

Just for the progress of my fatherland

God bless the Armed Forces

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

I have watched the video scores of times. And it never fails to make my eyes misty each time. Four young men, with their strength as their glory, confronted by danger and death everyday, yet glorying in their tribulations, rejoicing in hope that the many battles confronting Nigeria would be won, and that this country shall yet know all-round peace again, in a very turbulent world.

Listen to the words of that soldier that went sole: ‘Yes, victory is from God alone.’ But do some people know? Does it ever enter into their consciousness? They only wail: ‘this insurgency war has lasted too long. The banditry has demystified our military. They are cowards. The top guns don’t even want the battle to end. They are making money in billions.’ Okay. Making money in billions, and wasting our soldiers, our youths, our future and hope, in their hundreds and thousands. Because of blood money. That is all some people see. Permanent cynics and skeptics, who know nothing of altruism, and whose God is their belly. They think only of pecuniary gain. Nothing else. Issorait.

But victory is from God alone. That is what we must realize as Nigerians. Do we ever pray for our troops in the frontlines? Do we remember those youths, our pride and strength, faced by death daily, as we sleep in the comfort of our homes, ensconced in the tender bosom of our wives (and em em, girlfriends). As we pray; God give me money. Give me car. Give me promotion. Kill my enemies. Do it now. NOW!

Do we ever remember our soldiers? Ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray…did you pray for our soldiers? Victory comes from God alone. If you don’t pray, you may be guilty of prolonging the war in North-East, North-west, North-central, and all over Nigeria.

The young combatant said again: “My name is Soldier. I come from Nigeria…” He didn’t say he was Abubakar. Not Chike, or Adigun. Neither is he Oseirhemen. Nor Briggs. He was simply Soldier. That’s a big lesson for us all in this badly divided country. And the fissures are being further promoted and exploited daily by preachers, politicians, ethnic warlords, and all sorts of divisive personalities and interests. “My name is Soldier. I come from Nigeria…” When shall we all come from Nigeria, instead of from our different ethnic enclaves, which pedestals any other person as our enemy that must be beaten down, destroyed, pulverized. When, when? Will this country ever become a true nation-state? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.
Hear Soldier again: “I lay my life on the line for the innocent ones to live, just for the progress of my fatherland. “ Sob. Sob…Do they know it? All those who daily spew rubbish about their country, the leadership, the state of our union, mouthing malediction, doomsday, evil wishes, wailing endlessly. Do they know it? Do they realize that hundreds and thousands of young, promising people daily lay down their lives, so that others may live? The decent are being killed by indecent people. The just dying for the unjust. Worthy souls being mowed down by base fellows, the sons of Shimei, mass of Armageddon in our midst. Yet some people consistently say evil of the country, its military, the leadership of the forces, and of the land. Yet, tell them to lead the advance, and they show clean pair of heels, remembering the yams from Benue, the potatoes from Plateau, the onions, tomatoes and cattle from the North, the fishes and oil from the bowels of the seas in the Niger Delta. They pat their tummies, and flee.

And Soldier says again, in that celebratory video: ‘God bless the Armed Forces. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Do you ever say that? Have you said it today? Will you say it tomorrow, and day after? We must begin to say good things about our military, our country, our union. If all that you do is grumble, curse, and hiss like the serpent, what you say has a way of coming to pass. “As you say into my ears, so shall I do unto you.” (Numbers 14:28).

You can’t say evil about your country, and think that good will come to her. You can’t say the country would implode, explode, scatter to smithereens, and then hope tor unity and amity. It doesn’t happen. Not by a sudden flight. Death and life are in our tongues, “and we shall eat the fruit theereof.’ The things that we talk of repeatedly have a way of happening to us. It is an inexorable divine law. We can’t sow plantain, and expect to reap apples. We can’t sow the wind, and not reap the whirlwind.

As we mark Armed Forces Remembrance Day, oh, that we will say good of our military. Pray for them daily. Encourage them. Boost their morale, and not run them down, thus dispiriting them.

In the words of those singing soldiers, “We are always gathered, rugged every season, we are moving forward to end this fight.”

And so shall it be . Soon and very soon, the many fights all over the country shall end.

Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity

 

 

Kukah and spreading virus of intolerance, By Ayo Olukotun

“Father Kukah has greatly offended many with his controversial remarks against the government and the person of the president”

– Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity reacting to the Sokoto-based Muslim Solidarity Forum’s quit notice to Bishop Matthew Kukah, The PUNCH, Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Democracy, when it is not deformed, is a running conversation between the people and their government. In a government of the people, the voices of the people must be heard, the impact of policies on them appraised, their participation in governance matters, becomes the centerpiece of the democratic assumption. It is for this reason, therefore, that the current, partly orchestrated controversy over frank and biting comments made by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Father Matthew Hassan Kukah, on the state of the nation must be viewed as not only deeply regrettable, but also a sure sign that all is not well with our democracy. Reluctant to divest itself of its military moorings, government and the elite continue to speak and talk as if Nigeria is still under a not-so-benevolent dictatorship.

The latest manifestation of the shocking intolerance of opposing views that has attended Kukah’s address is the “apologise or quit” notice given, a few days ago, by the Sokoto-based Muslim Solidarity Forum, which accused Kukah of disrespecting Muslims. In the heat of the debate, what was supposed to be a chiding of the group’s bullying tactics by government through its information officials was employed to castigate Kukah.

 

As the statement by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, quoted in the opening paragraph, shows, a covert understated justification was provided for the persecution of Kukah by government. It affirms, for example, that Kukah has earned the displeasure of many citizens, allegedly because he criticised the regime as well as the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).

 

If you go back to the beginning of the debate, you will encounter remarks by the Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, rebuking Kukah, accusing him of calling for “a violent overthrow of a democratically elected government,” as well as for preaching religious disharmony. Mohammed’s preferred reading of the text of Kukah’s speech provided a cue and a window for several groups to attack Kukah, with some even calling for his arrest. That reading stretches the text a bit awkwardly, in order to harvest particular slants which made it easy for Kukah to be accused of inciting a coup.

 

This is not a defence of Kukah, but a proposition on behalf of free expression with the corollary that once government shows irritation or antipathy towards critical remarks, several groups some of them currying favour from it latch on to it by calling for the head of the critic. That is another way of saying that once the dice is loaded by government’s spokespersons, a signal is furnished for state-sponsored civil society groups to, as it were, roast the critic. This point of view is buttressed by the mushrooming of several associations, whose sole objective is to lambast, scorn or confront civil society groups. To an extent, this is part of the stuff of politics, famously defined as the aggregation of diverse interests. That said, is it not a bit distressing that a regime which rode to power with an agenda to save the country, and with Messianic triumphalism is now reduced to sponsoring or at least inviting pro-government groups to do battles, physical and intellectual, with its critics?
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Needless to say that this was the accustomed practice under the military, but a democratic government should be liberal enough to benefit from the spontaneous expression of viewpoints including critical ones. In this columnist’s opinion, most of what Kukah said had been aired before across the Nigerian civil society, some of them by respected dignitaries such as the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, who has been relentless in putting the regime and Buhari on the spot because of rising insecurity in Northern Nigeria. This is as it should be. For, would it have been better if everyone kept quiet, or chant glory to Buhari while the country is being overrun by bandits and tell tale signs of woe appear like deeply etched marks on the face of everyone? In other words, criticism, when things are going wrong with no sign of early improvement is both a duty and a responsibility of informed citizens.

Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka’s apt aphorism to the effect that the man disappears in him who keeps mum in the face of tyranny and for that matter, misrule comes to mind here. Today, the Americans challenged by presidential lawlessness are reaping the fruit of strong institutions which continue to hold President Donald Trump at bay, and to demand accountability. Nigeria has no such luck for our institutions, as everyone knows, are weak, over-politicised and unable to properly countervail autocracy. Nonetheless Nigeria, in partial compensation, has a magnificent civil society which over time has reduced the possible impact of governmental underperformance and lurches into authoritarian habits.

So, rather than see critics as adversaries who must be tamed or dealt with, it is better to draw from their insights considering that many of those in government today were at one time or the other in the trenches for the redemption of our political community. True, some of Kukah’s points of view could have been expressed in a less shrill tenor but consider that in political terms, he is serially disadvantaged because he comes from a minority group in Kaduna State, and is a Christian in a context where religion and power are invariably manipulated.

Also, he is an intellectual in a nation where moneybags call the shots. Therefore, just like a black American scholar is not likely to talk about racism with the same equanimity as an established white scholar in the United States, it is not expected that Kukah, at the receiving end, will speak with the accents of those in power  who see little wrong about current arrangements. More importantly, he represents, I argue, the finest breed of civil society activists who find it strange or unusual not to stir the nation’s conscience when matters are going awry.

In the anxious and hasty conversation which attended Kukah’s intervention, there have been several distortions with some, for example, contending that the cleric is wrong or widely exaggerating in describing Nigeria as a failed state. The truth of the matter, however, is that what the cleric said is that “the prospects of a failed state stare us in the face.”

 

Obviously, this is more like a solemn warning of the dangers of state failure rather than an assertion of an actual doomsday. It is perhaps even more regrettable that more heat than light has been generated, in that the essence of the sermon has been terribly downplayed while its echoes or political overtones had been overdramatised. A country does not learn from its critics or mistakes, if it wilfully throws away the baby of germane concerns away with the bath water of secondary matters. Even if we dislike or resent critics, we must not shy away from taking important lessons that they teach to heart.

 

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