Nigeria’s defence, diplomacy and religion

Probably, in justifiable desperation to quickly end the Boko Haram insurgency, President Muhammadu Buhari committed Nigeria to a military alliance with the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition of Islamic Countries against international terrorism. And he got a royal flack from Nigerian Christians.

He may have reasoned the way socialist Lenin famously did in accepting aid from his capitalist “enemies” of the West: “I request that my vote be added in favour of acceptance of potatoes and arms from the bandits of Anglo-French imperialism.”  That is, “owo o kola,” money has no tribal marks.

Nigerian Christians may prefer President Buhari to seek help only from traditional Western allies who are at least nominal Christians, than seemingly belligerent Islamic states. This is unrealistic. The cold reality of international diplomacy requires pluralist states, like Nigeria, to balance relations between spiritual descendants of the Saracen and the Crusaders.

Though they fear that Nigeria could become a satellite state of the Saudi coalition, Christians must recognise that Nigeria’s constitution neither recommends, nor forecloses relationship with theocracies. Section 10 merely states that “The Government of the Federation or a state shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.”

Incidentally, the coalition may not be of much help because of Saudi’s own financial challenges, resulting from the international oil price crisis, as well as distractions from its Yemen underbelly. Shia Muslim Iran that may be willing to provide materiel disapproves of Nigeria and anti-Shia Saudi Arabia relations.

Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Dr. Samuel Uche, who volunteers that Christians will be watching (President Buhari’s) government (like hawks?), alleges that “there is a game plan to Islamise Nigeria.” He promises that “there is going to be serious resistance from Christians.”

Prelate Uche probably remembers the stealth manner that Nigeria was enrolled into the Organisation of Islamic States in 1986 by military dictator Ibrahim Babangida. Then Foreign Affairs Minister, and son of a clergyman, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, was very likely not privy to the move. He registered his dissent through a breakfast prayer meeting with Christian brethren at the Federal Palace Hotel.

Because the non-reversal of the OIC move rankles Christians, President Buhari should reread Section 15(4) of the Constitution: “The State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.”

If the National Assembly did not confirm Nigeria’s joining the coalition, the President probably breached Section 12(1) of the constitution: “No treaty between the Federation and any other country shall have the force of law except to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly.”

That the 2015 presidential election went practically along religious (and ethnic) lines was unhealthy. Its religious coloration may give Christians the impression that Nigeria may segue from a client, to an outright Islamic, state. This sentiment gets stronger with what appears to be a skewing of sensitive national security positions to the Muslim North.

As a student of military strategy the President must know the import of his moves, and only he knows the criteria for these appointments. But he must address the sensibilities of his Christian compatriots. Of 17 top security positions, 14 went to the North.

Only three, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (appointed by former President Goodluck Jonathan), Chief of Naval Staff, and Chief of Defence Staff, are from the South. Boboye Oyeyemi, Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps, of Yoruba extraction, is from the political North.

Section 14(3) of the Constitution advocates that “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies, and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria… thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”

If it is true that somebody in Government said, “Let the Christians go and fight the terrorists (in the North-East) or the militants in the (Niger Delta),” “o ku die kaato,” it’s a bit unbecoming.  Statesmen don’t speak that way. It’s an arrogant way of telling off Christian compatriots for audacity to question the joining of pluralist, secular Nigeria with a collective of virtual Islamic theocracies.

It also casts a pall on Presidential Candidate Buhari’s Chatham House declaration of being a “born again” democrat. Inability to pass the basic litmus test of tolerating contrary views may dent his democratic credentials. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, and not Francois-Marie Anouet, better known as Voltaire, declared the democratic given, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Section 39(1) of the Constitution guarantees every Nigerian, including Mr. President, Muslims, Christians, idol worshippers, freethinkers, even agnostics, freedom of expression, to hold opinions and to impart ideas and information without interference. The President must reverse the decline of confidence that Nigerians have in politicians.

He must attenuate the charged and polarised religious, ethnic, and political landscape of the nation. At the risk of overstating the obvious, riding out the “religious” coloration of the 2015 presidential election requires the skills of a political gymnast who can walk tenuous tight ropes.

Yes, Nicolo Machiavelli averred that the end justifies the means, and Mr. President has prerogative to seek help from whoever offers it. But in doing so, he should not compromise national harmony. Just as Nigeria has diplomatic relations with the Vatican without conjoining with the Catholic Mission, Nigeria can do business with the Islamic coalition as an observer.

The PUNCH editorial of Wednesday, March 9, 2015, argued that “A country’s foreign policy is not affected by kick-and-start reactions.” It should be carefully thought out. The PUNCH’s submission that “(Nigeria’s) national interests have always been Africa-centred, and (so) foreign policy decisions should always take our national and sectarian diversity into consideration,” is spot on. That should guide the President’s foreign policy.

To expand this line of thought, the President should consider the national character, national interest, and the national security of Nigeria as he deals with issues as contentious as religion. What he may have gained from a deft and masterly collaboration with the Islamic nations may have been lost by a possible alienation of the Christian segment of the Nigerian people.

If Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution regards security and welfare of the citizens as job number one of government, every step that Mr. President takes to protect the national security must accommodate the interest of all significant tendencies in Nigeria.

Dr. Fassy Yusuf, lawyer, journalism teacher, and former police officer, defines national security as “the preservation and defence of the territorial integrity, unity, and wholeness, of a country…. It… maintains the survival of the nation-state through the use of economic, military, and political power, and exercise of diplomacy.”

He adds: “National security also means… elimination of threats, not only to the physical existence of the state, but also to its ability for self-protection and development and the enhancement of the general well-being of the people.” Unity of purpose is key to the security and well-being of all Nigerians.

By Lekan Sote

  • Follow me on Twitter @lekansote1
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