Of our military and its reputation

It started with a WhatsApp rumour in Anambra. Now it has happened in Rivers, Kwara, Bayelsa, and Ondo states. In all three geopolitical zones in Southern Nigeria, and one in the North.

Parents hear that soldiers are on the way to schools to provide medical care for their kids, and in reaction, prevent their children from going to school until further notice, or go as far as dropping whatever they are doing, and going to withdraw those kids who are already in school.

Of dancing animals

When it happened in Anambra, an explanation came easily enough. Too many people from the Igbo ethnic group simply do not trust Nigeria’s military. Why should they when ill-conceived operations like the two Python Dances have alienated the population? Heck, the first Python Dance left my non-Igbo spouse wondering what the Igbo had done to Nigeria. That made explaining the panic, and then reaction in Anambra easy. When you have spent a few weeks harassing people, then turn around and say you want to inject their kids with stuff, you provide a platform for your adversaries and rumour mongers to say pretty much anything, and the population will run with it. The attempt to provide “medical outreach” in the South East in the wake of Python Dance II was not very smart.

A similar explanation can be made for Rivers and Bayelsa. The reputation of the Nigerian state in the Niger Delta is not the best. It has been deteriorating since the Civil War. Kids, and their handling, are a very emotional and sensitive issue to any parent. When someone that you do not trust suddenly says he wants to come and provide pills to your kids, in school, and not at home where you can observe him, a light bulb will go off in your head. It’s standard human reaction.

So we have attempted to explain why people in the South East and South South reacted the way they did, but how do you explain the reactions in Ondo (South West) and Kwara (North Central)?

Of armed herdsmen

The only thing that comes to mind is that our military’s reputation, amongst the very people it purports to serve, is non-existent. PR missteps such as Python Dance have only served to worsen it. In the North Central, there is a Pastoral Conflict raging in almost every state. Even Kwara, a largely Yoruba state by ethnicity, has had incidents. Two common tales that follow attacks in this conflict is that army aircraft were seen dropping supplies to armed herdsmen; and that soldiers were on hand to disarm native populations, just prior to attacks.

Stories like these have been allowed to gain currency. I have, personally, heard such stories in Kaduna, Benue, Nasarawa, and Imo states. Heck, in March this year, the lawmaker from Ethiope East in Delta state’s House of Assembly, Evance Ivwurie, told the House, in session, that soldiers had supplied Fulani herdsmen with arms and ammunition just before an attack in Ovre-Abraka. There was no response to that from the military. Then a few months later, the same military will expect the same people to willingly give their kids for injections? Not gonna happen.

These stories, and the associated reactions, should not leave thinking people scratching their heads, they were entirely predictable. Sadly, they are among the many symptoms of the failure of various organs of the Nigerian state playing out in front of us in real time. If we had an effective government feedback loop, and an effective information dissemination mechanism, these things would have been spotted a long time ago, and tackled.

I fear that it’s too late. But certainly, to the military high command, if they will listen, their “security operations” are not the way to go. Neither is the current engagement strategy.

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