It may be too early to write the political obituary of the military in our body politic, for anything can happen before 2023. But let us indulge ourselves in bidding the military goodbye from our body politic for the time being. Their sustaining contribution was that they forced the expensive presidential system of government on us without a plebiscite or a referendum. They also forced on us two constitutions…

My reading of the 252 page book of Lt. Gen. Ishaya Rizi Bamaiyi (rtd.) titled Vindication of a General led to one conclusion: That the Nigerian Army have not been combat ready from the time the civil war ended on January 15, 1970 and the time they finally handed over power to civilians on May 29, 1999. They have not been combat ready, hence planned coups and counter-coups. Our military were not fully engaged in combat and since they are now engaged with Boko Haram, we are hearing less and less about coups.

When idleness becomes a way of life, a daily thing, it ceases to be refreshing. It becomes dangerous. Idleness is the breeding ground of trouble. It was one of the major factors that contributed to the decay of the old Roman Empire. Good cannot be expected to come from a perpetually idle mind. It is like a stagnant pool that breeds scum, disease and filth. Evil thoughts intrude upon the idle mind and are nourished there, building up wrong desires that eventually express themselves in bad actions. Under the decadent influence of indolent nobles who avidly pursued money and pleasure, the people of the Roman Empire sank into the lowest imaginable depths of debauchery. With most of the labour in the empire being done by about sixty million slaves, approximately one-half of the whole population, idleness became the way of life for the Romans. It created an attitude that was dangerous to the continued existence of the empire. This led to the fall of the mighty empire.

General Bamaiyi was chief of army staff between 1996 and 1999. I feel he should know about the workings of the military. In the book, he declared that, “Growing up as a young man, I had always dreamt of being a soldier, of serving in the military in Nigeria, where I was born and raised. As a young man, I realised that dream but soon found out it was not everything I had imagined it would be. Where I had envisioned camaradie, honour and respect, I found secrets, lies and backstabbing. I found corruption where there should have been transparency and openness, and, worst of all malice where only valour should have thrived”. The book was published in 2014, but certain parts of the content of the book are still very relevant.

General Bamaiyi declared in the book that, “the biggest casualties of the forays of the Nigerian military into the political arena were discipline, respect for seniority, hierarchy of command and loyalty from above. These are time-honoured values that have sustained the military as an organisation and set it apart from many other modern organisations. At the core of the problem which I try to highlight in this book is the impact of the erosion of discipline in the Nigerian military, and how patronage creeped into the military because of adventure into power. Once junior officers became beneficiaries of juicy political appointments and had access to untold wealth and influence in the ruling circles, insubordination of junior officers to senior officers became the norm rather the exception.

“It is for this reason that Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, though it recognises the role of the military in supporting internal security operations, makes this role complementary, as important and as desirable as it may be.

“What this means is that in practical terms it may be difficult to divorce the military, especially of developing nations, from politics and power. The real issue however is that of maintaining a delicate balance between the allurement of power and politics on the one hand and the demands of professionalism, including respect for discipline, on the other hand. This becomes very critical because, from the Weberean point of view, the military is a foremost bureaucratic organisation, whereby hierarchy and a clear chain of command flowing from the top to the bottom take precedence over other considerations. The efficiency and effectiveness that sustain the military as an organisation largely derive from respect for discipline.

“The Nigerian military, modelled after that of her British colonial masters, was expected to be apolitical and to be truly professional by sticking to its traditional role of defending the territory of the Nigerian state from external aggression. But this was never to be, as the experience of many West African countries, including that part of Nigeria, showed within one decade of obtaining independence from their colonial masters. It could be that for Nigeria and many African countries in similar situations, direct military takeover of power could be inevitable considering the behaviour of the politicians who took over power at independence”.

There are some claims in the book that are challengeable.

In Vindication of a General, General Bamaiyi claims that he was detained for more that eight years because he was opposed to a military man (General Olusegun Obasanjo) taking over from General Abdusalam Abubakar. It now looks as if his wish may materialise soon. After 1999, we saw quite a number of former military officers rushing into party politics and signifying their intentions to run for elective posts. And we were then wondering where it would lead to. These included General Olusegun Obasanjo, General Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Omar Sanda Ike Nwachukwu, General Mohammed Magoro, Major General Abubakar Tanko Ayuba, Brigadier General Tunji Olurin, Colonel Ahmadu Ali, Colonel Joseph Iorshagher Akaagerger, and Lieutenant Geneneral Saliu Ibrahim. Also, Brigadier General John Nazip Shagaya, Admiral Murtala Nyako, Colonel Bala Mohammed Mande, Colonel Mohammed Kaliel Bello, Colonel Dauda Komo, General Aliyu Gusau, Major General Lawrence Onoja, Colonel Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Commodore Olabode Ibiyinka George, Brigadier General Tunde Ogbeha, Brigadier General Bonaventure David Mark and a few others.

Gradually, these retired officers are being “deleted” by the people themselves, while some have completely withdrawn from party politics. I am talking about elective office and party politics not appointments, for we still have Brigadier General Mohammad Mansur Dan Alli, Colonel Ibrahim Hammed Ali and Lt-General Abdurahman Dambazau still holding political appointments today. I heard from the grapevine that the former Governor of Lagos state, Brigadier General (rtd) Mohammed Buba Marwa (64) is coming to the villa in a high capacity, as well as the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. Brigadier Marwa’s coming ,which is under the sponsorship of someone close to the president, may be designed to take care of the president’s first constituency, the military, which he did not accommodate in his first term. The retired military officers are complaining about their plight. There is also Adamu Adamu, the accountant/journalist and present minister of education from Bauchi, who I am told is coming to the villa also.

With the recent defeat of Lt-General (rtd) Timbut Jeremiah Useni in the gubernatorial election in Plateau State, there are only two military officers occupying elective posts today in the country. They are General Muhammadu Buhari and Rear Admiral (rtd.) Gboribiogha John Jonah, the present deputy governor of Bayelsa State, who is from Nembe. And his term ends in February next year. The complexity of Bayelsa State politics makes it difficult for anyone to predict whether Admiral Jonah or my friend, Ambassador Godknows Boladei Igali, an author and a retired federal permanent secretary, will contest in the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State.

General Buhari was recently re-elected and all things being equal, his term will end in 2023. President Buhari last came on the political scene among former military officers and he may be the last to go. It may be too early to write the political obituary of the military in our body politic, for anything can happen before 2023. But let us indulge ourselves in bidding the military goodbye from our body politic for the time being. Their sustaining contribution was that they forced the expensive presidential system of government on us without a plebiscite or a referendum. They also forced on us two constitutions — those of 1979 and 1999. And we have had no choice but to endure the norms grounded by these documents. After they have fully gone from the scene, we can sit down and reorganise our lives. In the over fifty-eight years of the post-independence era, military officers, either elected or not elected, have ruled us for about forty-two of these years. By 2023, they would have ruled us for 46 years. I think that should be enough. For good or for bad, an era is ending.

Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.