Home OPINION COMMENTARY When The People Become Enemy Of The State, By Pat Utomi

When The People Become Enemy Of The State, By Pat Utomi

Prof-Pat-UtomiA William Adams quote has recently gone viral. It reminds that: ‘There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people’.

The evidence of how true this is can be seen from the show of military strength the morning after the announcement of the postponement of the 2015 elections. They went on exercise demonstrations which I witnessed on the streets of Lagos as I am told was the case in many cities around the country. The troops needed in the North East to wipe out BokoHaram in Six weeks, after five years of unsuccessful effort were somehow available to ‘to intimidate bloody civilians’, in the view of some people.

The truth was, I enjoyed watching the street exercise. From childhood one of my favourite spectacles has been watching soldiers in drills. If it was possible for me to join the Army, two magic moments could have been the lure; watching Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, then a younger officer, at the 1970 Independence Day Parade, and the late Gen. Joseph Nanvern Garba as a young Brigade of guards Commander were for me greater than watching a pop star. The purpose may have been to alert any potential protesters, after the postponement, that a mighty force lurks to respond, but for me, it was a nice pleasant throw back to an excitable childhood and early teens when a civil war raged and I saw soldiers both at the war front and in the rear, at Ibadan, after I resumed schooling there. This was as the soldiers were put to Rapid Result Truck Driving lessons at the Ibadan Garrison Organisation which I remembered more for its nice band, than with thoughts of War.

But talk about the street spectacles the day after the postponement of the elections got me thinking about how dutiful citizens unwittingly became so called enemies of the state. Having looked up at guns pointed at me, several times in the course of my life, by agents of the state, it seemed appropriate to reflect on how the state in search of real and imagined enemies, manages to make nation building more challenging.

First time a gun was pointed at me, execution style, was in a time of war. Had the trigger been pulled it would have qualified for war crimes, but no such trial could have taken place. Those who shot many in cold blood got away with it, a year earlier. It was at Asaba in 1968. Thousands of men had been lined up already and executed as they chanted ONE NIGERIA, a few months before. On this occasion, as a bunch of 12 to 15 year olds were being separated from the women and lined up, an officer showed up, and as the drama goes, slapped the NCO who was lining us up and ordered us moved to the refugee camp, from where a friend of my father, who was the Battalion Commander, ensured that I headed to Lagos where my father was and then to school in Ibadan where we actually were rather oblivious of a civil war taking place two hundred miles away.

Next time I looked at a gun threatening me, was as leading executive of a multinational company. I had joined a group of professionals to protest the annulment of the results of the 1993 Presidential elections.

If we excused that experience as an excess of military rule, the third time could not be so excused. That one followed the removal of so called petroleum subsidy in 2012. I thought something was wrong with pretending that petrol cost was all about subsidy. I had on several occasions challenged friends in downstream petroleum marketing that it was peculiar that in a margin-thin business that forced strategic thinking in which industry orthodoxy now recognised that to make money you take advantage of the traffic driven by the need for petrol to sell Groceries, hence Mobil’s Minimart, Total’s Bonjour, etc; that people assume that being a petrol retailer was presumed to be the installation of a money mint. I had a moral burden to make the point that what was called petrol subsidy was significantly a combination of corruption and inefficiency costs. I did not hesitate to answer the call of some young professionals to come out and demonstrate. Then the
civilian government sent in troops armed to the teeth to stop a group of unarmed, as some say, Champagne drinking middle and Upper Middle Class people at ‘Occupy Falomo’ who just wanted their voices heard on how their country was being run, a group that at a point included some high court judges, retired and serving. For the third time in my life uniformed agents of the state pointed a gun at my face and looked quite determined to pull the trigger. The people had become the enemies of the state, in the William Adams context.

My hope and my prayer is let the people not be the enemy again. The cost of the people as the enemy for Nigeria has always been high. And this is beyond financial costs. If the nation building goal and the Common Good are kept in view it must be obvious that all being able to put hands on deck, in a cooperative way, will advance good, more quickly.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, President of the United States in the 1960’s put it in a way only a Texan could: It is better for all to be inside the house, pissing out, than outside the house pissing in. This mantra was picked up by the Malaysians as their Prime Minister back in the late 1980’s, Mahathir Mohammed, chased a vision 2020. The visioning process in Malaysia was about consensus forging to get most into the house so the pissing is majority outbound. The limited skill of Nigerian politicians for pulling towards consensus seems for some reason to be poor. The quarrels became personal, rather than on issues and competing prisms through which reality is filtered.

If leadership is to show sagacity in Nigeria, job no 1 has to be diffusing the time bomb of division. So far the moment has given us the most divided Nigeria has ever been in my opinion, on ethnic, religious, ideological, regional and partisan lines. Conversation does not seem civil anymore. Examples of how Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe would go campaigning for his Party and Chief H O Davies will be doing same on the opposing side and, in the evening, one will drive to the other’s home, and pick them up to go and have a game of Tennis and a drink after. How did we lose that ethic? I still recall stories by Alhaji Maitama Sule about being scolded as a young MP and Minister, for not going across the Aisle to ‘greet’ more like pay homage, to the opposition leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, an older person deserving of his respect as a result.

We owe it to both the promise of Nigeria and the future of our children to stop inventing enemies of the state and to provide a climate for culture of building bridges that grace the path to the Nigerian melting pot. There may be competing models of a modus Vivendi in Nigeria; from those who take federalism so far it is almost a Bhantustanisation of Nigeria, to those who want a restoration of the federalism of the 1960’s on the one hand; to those who prefer a strong centre, on the other hand; no matter the shade bridges matter. It is these bridges that should be the focus, and not making enemies of the many citizens whose main desire is to see a state they can be cheerleaders for.

Thank God INEC had the wisdom to pick Valentine’s Day for the original date of the Presidential election. Perhaps we can reflect on the true meaning of love for to lead is to love and love a people is to be willing to sacrifice self for the good of all. To make the people the enemy is not to love them.

 –Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership

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