Abuja Peace Rally and Armed Forces By Bayo Olupohunda
These are indeed strange times in Nigeria. A few days ago, I watched with consternation as the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, re-enacted a worst form of Abacha One-million Man March that sought to turn the late dictator into a life president. This time it was couched as an empowerment rally for women. The show while it lasted had all the trappings of a political event in spite of its advertised theme. As I endured the few hours the programme lasted on national TV, many questions begged for answers. First, that women would be “mobilised” from different parts of the country to congregate in Abuja for a one-day peace rally was curious. Which peace are the women angling for? Can a rally that lasted a few hours achieve an enduring empowerment and peace for women? Who are the women at the rally? Do they represent the generality of Nigerian women? Having assessed the proceedings at the rally, I had concluded that it was a covert political jamboree meant to drum up support for President Goodluck Jonathan 2015 bid. I was glad Nigerians could see through the deceit.
To prove me right, participants appeared in attire emblazoned with Jonathan’s picture. The speeches by some of the women also persuaded Nigerian women to support Jonathan’s second term ambition (because, as they said, he is a supporter of women). Just like in the days when the late military head of state Sani Abacha was being goaded to remain in power forever, Mrs. Jonathan seemed to have kicked off another offensive charade to launch her husband’s political ambition. I also suspect that many of the women did not even know why they attended the event in the first place. By renting a crowd to surreptitiously kick-start her husband’s second term bid, Mrs. Jonathan has reopened a dark chapter in our nation’s history. Now, I suspect many of those rallies will take place in the days and months ahead. They will, sadly, add to the many excesses, impunity and abuse of privilege by Mrs. Jonathan that have been the hallmark of the First Lady.
As an aside, the manner the First Lady was said to have disrupted movement in Abuja was disturbing. What power does she have to shut down commercial and government activities in the nation’s capital? What peace was she even trying to achieve? Can a single rally assuage or stop the spate of insecurity caused by government impunity? What is the effect of a rally in the lives of impoverished Nigerian women across the country? It is time to seriously rein in the excess of this woman. This impunity of rent-a-crowd or coercing women from all over the country under the guise of peace and empowerment is laughable. Even much worse is how the once respected National Council of Women Society can participate in this farce. They have over the years engaged in advocacy and women that have led to protecting women’s’ rights and empowerment. It will be interesting to know in what capacity the NCWS participated at the rally. Did its executive know that it was meant to be in support of President Jonathan’s 2015 bid? If indeed the society has been politicised; it will be shame and a disservice to its founding members.
I consider the participation of the armed forces in the rally, which is the subject of today’s piece, as a dangerous trend. I was left in shock as I watched female officers of the Nigerian armed forces and paramilitary organisations parade at Eagle Square. Female officers of the Nigerian Army, Navy, Immigration, Customs and others too numerous to mention marched in full ceremonial attire in a political rally! Haba! This is dangerous and unacceptable. Mrs. Jonathan is treading a dangerous path. I was alarmed when I saw military institutions that had left the political space for civilians since 1999 brought back to participate in a political jamboree. It was the height of impunity. Those who approved those military officers to be brought out of the barracks for partisan politics must be sanctioned. Who approved the deployment of these officers? Were their superiors coerced to release the officers for the rally? Was it Mrs. Jonathan or the President who signed the order for their release? Mrs. Jonathan is neither the President nor the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, yet she sat while the parading officers took salute. This is outrageous.
Nigerians must demand to know why the combined team of armed forces were illegally deployed to march at a political rally meant to shore up support for President Jonathan. The duty of the armed forces of Nigeria is to protect the territorial integrity of the country. The participation of the nation’s armed forces in the event in which they blatantly expressed support for the incumbent President, with the elections over one and a half years away, may be evidence to the whole world that the 2015 Nigeria general elections may be no more than a charade if the security agencies who are supposed to provide unbiased security for it are revealed to be political supporters of Mr. Jonathan. It is indeed a shame that sixteen years after the proponents of Abacha for life presidency almost led our country on the brink; another one is being played out under a democratically elected president. It is an aberration. The service chiefs must not allow their organisations to be drawn into partisan politics. A situation where the officers of the armed forces are made to parade in demonstration of support for an incumbent’s political ambition might lead to the disintegration of this country. Our country cannot again be dragged back to its dark chapters.
The involvement of the military in our political affairs no matter how clandestine or patriotic has led to too much bloodshed. The bloody events of 1966, 1976 and the Abacha years are still fresh in our memories. Mrs. Jonathan in cahoots with her husband must not again lead us to that dangerous path. The blatant way in which the armed forces were involved in the Abuja rally could lead to dangerous consequences in the future. Now it’s time that Mrs. Jonathan is cautioned. That said, it will be interesting to know the source of funding for the Abuja rally. Where did fund to organise the rally and the dinner in the Villa come from? Who contributed to organising the rally and in what capacity? Was it mainly financed by the First Lady or were there other sources of funding? The rally has also claimed its casualties. Recently it was reported in the news that the women who attended the rally were involved in accidents as they returned to their destinations. A woman leader of the Lagos Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State, Princess Abigail Adisa, who was also part of the contingent, died in a road accident on her way back to Lagos after the rally. Five other PDP supporters, who were travelling with her, were also critically injured. The Jonathans must let their achievements speak for them rather than engage in charades that endanger human lives and further divide us as a nation.
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