Time to Keep National Security Institutions out of Partisan Politics

Photo credit: Tribune

I have said it many times, Nigeria and Nigerians are in many ways similar to the United States and Americans. The country’s size, the regional presence, the diversity, the assertiveness and entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerians, the economic and regional inequalities etc. That is probably why in 1979, the country decided to switch from a Parliamentary system of government to a Presidential system, complete with a two-chamber legislature, essentially emulating the American model.

Unsurprisingly, the electioneering campaigns and politicking for the general elections in Nigeria next month are increasingly resembling American style politics. From questionable donations of billions of naira to political parties, to the powerful, in-your-face high quality campaign videos on YouTube and TV, to the almost defamatory political advertorials on newspapers…  It is all increasingly American. After all, at least one of the parties has hired top-notch American PR firms to help in this regard.

However, the latest emulation of American electoral politics took the form of sudden scrutiny over the opposition candidate’s WASC/GCE (O Level) certificate issued in 1961, over 50 years ago! Like the ‘birthers’ in the United States who demanded for Barack Obama’s birth certificate as proof that he wasn’t born in Kenya or did not possess citizenship of some ‘Muslim’ country like Indonesia, it started like trivia and was waved aside, until it gained momentum a few days ago and threatened to undermine the middle-class support base of Muhammadu Buhari. He stated that it was such a long time ago, and he lost that particular high school completion certificate, after his house was raided in the aftermath of a military coup in 1985.

Somehow, no one could find a copy of the certificate. It sounds rather odd, right? Not when you know Nigeria, and how poor record-keeping is such an entrenched culture. Where freak accidents like fires, floods, building collapse or even office relocation have a habit, of destroying records and documents, much to the delight of many bureaucrats tired of careful tending to weary old files. Try looking for the budget of any state in Nigeria in the year 2000. Or where such documents are usually ‘auctioned’ off to street vendors of roasted maize, bean-cake and other such local delicacies.

While some of his supporters were genuinely worried that he may not be able to prove he had completed high school in 1961 (even though there was proof that he had completed numerous post-secondary courses and obtained certification around the world), others claiming to be ‘neutral observers’ took the opportunity to either turn logic on its head, or bare their fangs and embark on a regional bashing fest. Others still chose to remain silent, and prayed and hoped, that the man whose integrity towers literally and figuratively above most others was not involved in some certificate falsification scandal or ‘wuru wuru’ as it is colloquially called. Many simply observed in amazement as the saga unfolded.

But what was most disturbing to any observer was that the Nigerian Army waded into a matter that was clearly normal, but petty, distracting and irritating party politics. The Army which should ordinarily be preoccupied with chasing, routing and crushing Boko Haram insurgents currently conquering Nigeria’s territory and killing thousands of innocent chose to play a now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t game. They initially said they had the record of that particular certificate of Buhari, then a few days later, they said they didn’t have his certificate. Odd. This is a man who enlisted in his teens and rose to the rank of a Major General. Then again, the same Army recently gave the death sentence to 54 soldiers for refusing to fight Boko Haram insurgents, in protest of their lack of equipment and ammunition.

Then Buhari finally contacted his high school in his home-town, which issued a Statement of Result (because in the Nigerian system, high schools are responsible for providing a summation of the WASC/GCE results), and for the avoidance of doubt, also issued a copy of the computer print-out from the issuer of the test, the University of Cambridge. This controversy has finally been laid to rest, one hopes.

Of course, like the ‘birthers’, some other trivial issue will come up, to try to disqualify said candidate. But that is almost expected in party politics, especially of the American hue. One party always seeking to smear and discredit the other, because of the winner-takes-all nature of a Presidential system.

But you see, the Americans rarely subject their critical national institutions on which their internal security and territorial integrity rest, to the whims of transient party politicking. You don’t see the U.S. Army dragged into the political banter between the Democrats and the Republicans. You don’t see the FBI accusing the Republicans of planning to hack into the database of the electoral commission without presenting any shred of evidence, or ransacking and destroying their party offices or accusing McCain of leveraging his international networks to ‘sponsor’ violent far right fundamentalists like Anders Breivik. This is not to say that American national security institutions are completely apolitical, but they are not politicised to the point of undermining their basic mandates. Despite their numerous weaknesses and their penchant to needlessly spy on citizens and world leaders, they largely remain above the fray of petty partisan politics.

As the parties continue to sling mud at one another, and as even some of the most highly educated Nigerians join them in the muddy puddle of politics, rather than engaging in practical discussions on how to address the problem of underdevelopment, economic management, insecurity and predatory corruption, I hope they will also emulate the Americans in keeping critical national security institutions out of these things, for everyone’s sake.

6 thoughts on “Time to Keep National Security Institutions out of Partisan Politics

    1. A CRY to SAVE Nigerian Military Institution!
      With the overwhelming response to my timeline post of last night, I can see the concern of average Nigerians on the issue of an intend to demystify the only unifying institution in our great country, the ‘Nigerian Military’.
      The Nigerian Military that stand and defend our unity in the face of threat to our basic foundation and remained apolitical, is being dragged into unholy territory of mischief and destruction in alter of struggle for power at all cost.
      My worry is that, our senior colleagues, ranging from Gen Adebayo, Gen Wushishi, Gen Akinrinade, Gen Nwachuku, Gen Gado Nasko, Gen AA Abubakur, Gen Shagaya, Gen Onoja, Gen A RABIU and authorities like Gen GOWON, Gen IB Babangida and Gen Abisoye are keeping quiet while the military is being bastardized in the eyes of the world. Most of these people mentioned had been, one time or the other custodian of our military records.
      We are watching how Boko Haram is rubbishing our military with dismay, now, they are after the basic foundation of our institution. And there is silence of the graveyard.
      What is going on sirs?Can’t you speak up? The silence is deafening sir!

  1. Zainab, I beg to disagree with one or two points here and I’ll use my own experience of this saga to highlight my points.

    1) One morning, I read in the papers that INEC had displayed the educational qualifications (and supporting evidence) for all the Presidential/VP candidates. Phd for GEJ, Masters for Sambo, WASC for GMB (Buhari). Note that WASC was listed for GMB (meaning that is what he filled in his form). There was no mention of higher degrees or awards.

    2) I read in the same article that Sambo submitted an affidavit that his certificate was destroyed in a fire. There was also an affidavit from his school. Now, the affidavit from his school had a line which read something like – His certificate was destroyed in a fire. I read that and I went – wait, how can a university swear to an affidavit that your certificate was destroyed by a fire that happened outside the school? Were they there when it happened?Isn’t their job just to testify that you graduated from the school? A lot of people commented on that article and said the same thing.

    3) Then I also read (in the same article) that GMB submitted an affidavit and the affidavit said – All my credentials are with the army. My thought immediately was – I have never heard of an organization who keeps the originals of your document. Is this what the army does? Please note that GMB’s affidavit didn’t say his credentials had been destroyed or anything like that. It simply said they were with the army.

    4) The issue of the army keeping original copies of someone’s credentials then became an issue. Nigerian Journalists were very shoddy in their initial reporting. One of the papers had a headline – Army says they have Buhari’s certificates. But reading the article, they were quoting a source (not official military spokes person) and the person simply said they keep records of their officers.

    5) I didn’t believe that GMB didn’t graduate or whatever but I felt there was a discrepancy in his claiming his [original] documents were with the army. At a point, I felt very frustrated that Journalists simply couldn’t write to the Army to confirm the exact situation.

    6) Apparently, Journalists and others had been asking the army for this information which is why the Army gave a press conference. I don’t consider this as being partisan. I consider this as simply responding to an issue which had become charged and for which they had been receiving a lot of questions and comments.

    7) I believe GMB and his handlers handled this issue very badly. They should have addressed this issue immediately it came up. It is very difficult to convince people that an organization has the originals of your document. GMB should simply have said – I made a mistake, the army has copies and not the original. The original was looted or whatever. In such a case, he would have also had to explain how this contradicted his affidavit. But someone told me it wouldn’t be perjury because perjury is knowingly lying and Buhari had assumed the army was with his certificate.

    8) GMB’s handlers also defended him with reasons which (in my humble opinion) I consider illogical. I heard things like he has contested thrice and this was not an issue, INEC has cleared him thrice before, he has higher degrees, etc.
    a) That he has contested before is a non-starter – Are they saying if a criminal has been getting away, he shouldn’t be stopped one day?
    b) INEC has cleared him thrice before – No, INEC has not. INEC says they do not have the powers to clear people, that it is the political parties. So Buhari has been cleared by 3 different political parties. Even if it was INEC, JEGA has only been head in one of those elections so all things being equal it wasn’t always the same INEC.
    c) Buhari rose to be a General, etc – Well, Scott Thompson rose to be the CEO of Yahoo. He was fired when it was discovered he didn’t actually have a Bsc in Computer Science which he had claimed. Madoff was formerly the chairman of NASDAQ but it turned out he was a scammer.
    d) He has higher degrees – Then he shouldn’t have listed WASC as his educational qualification

    As I said earlier, he should have simply said – I made a mistake; originals were destroyed, copies are with the army, etc. By keeping quiet, he came across as being above the law which reinforced that perception of him.

    9) This is not the same as the ‘Birther’ movement. In the first case, Obama actually released his birth certificate but those guys now said they wanted the long form and not the short form which everybody uses. Secondly, the news media also investigated the allegation that Obama was not born in the US. They didn’t just sweep it under the carpet. CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc sent reporters to Hawaii. These journalists turned up the birth announcement in the paper after Obama was born, they interviewed the Guv who said he’d had to go to the vaults to view the original long form birth certificates.

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