opinionBy Dele Agekameh
It is no longer in contention that the military is in tatters, no thanks to the many years of military dictatorship and the rapacious corruption.
It is most apt today for this column to open with the timeless saying "Those who the gods want to destroy, they first make mad". Otherwise, how would someone describe the unpalatable development that has been going on since the early hours of last Friday across the country? Last Friday, the Nigerian press came under a coordinated assault by security agents who had laid ambush for the daily newspapers on the highways and distribution centres. The assault bears all the trappings of the dark days of military dictatorship as soldiers claiming "orders from above", intercepted, seized and, in some cases, destroyed newspapers on sight.
According to reports, soldiers who laid ambush at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, confiscated copies of the The PUNCH, The Nation, Daily Trust and Leadership, while , in some cases, wrappers and cover pages of The PUNCH were damaged. In various statements issued after the early morning rampage, Leadership reported that soldiers intercepted and destroyed copies of the day's publication at the Kaduna toll gate. The Nation too saw its vans ambushed in Abuja, Benin-Warri Road, Port Harcourt, Kaduna-Kano Road and Nasarawa-Jos Road. In Benin, Edo State, soldiers stormed the Nigerian Union of Journalists Press Centre to disrupt activities as they stopped vehicles, hunting for some national dailies. And this is still an ongoing thing.
Giving excuse for this brazen travesty, Chris Olukolade, major-general and Director of Defence Information, DDI, attributed the ugly development to a "routine" security operation. According to him, the military was acting on an "intelligence report" that "materials with grave security implications" were being moved across the country "using the channel of newsprint-related consignments". And in spite of public outcry, the DDI has vowed that this uncivilized operation will continue until the Army is satisfied. Satisfied that the papers are ruined?
The excuse given for this action appears not only hollow but very shallow as well. Assuming that, indeed, there was any intelligence information that incriminating materials were going to be concealed and transported by newspapers' distribution vans across the country, the honourable thing, in my opinion, that could have been done would have been to get in touch with the managers of the newspapers and put them on notice. This, nobody did. Instead, they chose to enact a satanic plot to throw the newspapers, their distributors, vendors and advertisers into unnecessary pandemonium leading to loss of revenue. Of course, that was uncalled for, more so, as we have not been told that anything incriminating has been found. The whole exercise is suspect.
By the nature of their job, journalists have remained faithful to the Nigerian people by sticking out their necks every day to hold government accountable to the more than 180 million descendants of Homo sapiens that, incidentally, form the largest concentration of the black race anywhere in the world. That, indeed, is the job of any journalist worth that name. Although, like any other profession, particularly in this part of the clime, there may be some bad eggs here and there, a greater majority exist who can stand their own anywhere in the world.
Basically, the press exists to serve the people, not the government or any of its agents. That is why when government buries its rickety skeletons, it is the duty of the press to exhume them and showcase them as exhibits before the court of the people. It is regrettable, however, that right from independence, through all the period of military interregnums and civilian rule (or misrule), journalists have always had security agents bloodying their nose for having the audacity to uncover the many evils being perpetrated against the people.
With all that have been going on in recent times in the country, what is happening now is symptomatic of the fact that, once more, the cycle of anomie is returning even in a worse dimension. Rather than face the "Axis of Evil" encapsulated by Sambissa forest and rescue our innocent young girls who have been turned into sex slaves, hewers of wood and fetchers of water, our security agents have adopted repression of the press as a deliberate policy to muscle opposition to their lethargy and misrule going on in the country at all levels. When the vocal and irrepressible journalist, Dele Giwa, was assassinated on October 26, 1986, almost 28 years ago, the nation was gripped with shock and disgust, especially because of the novel fiendishness of the device employed to silence him - the parcel bomb. That was the first clear indication that Nigeria would become a more violence-prone nation in the foreseeable future. That future is already here.
From the inglorious, locust years of the late General Sani Abacha's tyranny, when bombs literarily planted by his security goons exploded everywhere like Christmas bangers, to the present day, it is as if it has become an accepted norm to use bombs to settle political scores in the country. What this signposts, to borrow a line from one of the lyrics of Wyclef Jeanelle Jean, the Haitian-American hip hop artist, is that Nigeria "is in trouble, really big trouble". But unlike Wyclef's plaintive cry for someone to help him call 911, Nigerians have no one to call to rescue them from the brutal terror of state agents, who are always eager to go on the prowl to hunt real and imaginary enemies of the state. Consequently, the country has now been turned into one huge war zone without defined battlefronts. Whether in the North-east, North-west, North-central, South-west, South-south, South-east or what have you, crooks, miscreants and other agents of darkness, full of demonic intent, are reaching out to everybody - man or woman, young or old. Even innocent children usually insulated from such inhuman treatments by conventions are now vulnerable.
It is as if our politicians do not appreciate the enormity of the problem confronting the nation today. The economy is still marooned in the dead zone, and unemployment among the young educated Nigerians has reached an intolerable crescendo. When this cheerless news is combined with the many social maladies afflicting the country, you end up with this sort of prevalent dangerous situation. A young, vibrant and significant segment of the population is feeling betrayed, ignored, abandoned and very angry indeed. And violent crimes, which we now witness, provide an outlet for them to ventilate their anger, make a statement or a living as the case may be. With a decrepit security forces whose structures creak in every joint, every day brings fresh reminder that, in this country, you are simply on your own in respect of security, just as in virtually every other thing. Nobody is safe anymore, not even high officials of government who are provided with all manners of security.
It is no longer in contention that the military is in tatters, no thanks to the many years of military dictatorship and the rapacious corruption that came with that era and subsists till date. The depth and breadth of the rot has been amply demonstrated by its lacklustre performance so far in the war on terror and terrorists now threatening to overrun the country or at least a section of it. Nigerians are scandalised by the shallowness and cowardice of most of the officers and their amazing capacity for fibbing. Nothing explains this more than a recent submission by Mark Welsh III, a United States general and US Air Force Chief of staff, who said that the Nigerian military is becoming afraid of engaging the Boko Haram insurgents. He said this while testifying before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to him, "We're now looking at a military force that is, quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage".
The stage seems set for the total subjugation and emasculation of the press. But come to think of it, I don't really know what now remains of the once great country that used to be called "the Giant in the Sun"! Everything has been turned upside down and inside out, and now the iron boots are getting prepared to march on our collective psyche. As this is going on, the blunders and plunders continue unabated while the hope of a glorious dawn continues to dim like a receding star.