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Changing the National Anthem ought to have been subjected to debate – Otubanjo

A research professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in Lagos, Femi Otubanjo, has scored high President Bola Tinubu administration’s management of Nigeria’s foreign policy and diplomacy in the past year. The international relations scholar also decried the killing of military personnel by militia groups across Nigeria, in this interview with Linus Aleke

What is your assessment of the incumbent administration in the past year, especially, in the area of foreign policy and diplomacy?

In the early months of this administration, President Bola Tinubu announced what he called the four pillars of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Democracy, Development, Demography and Diaspora. These are the four pillars upon which the current foreign policy thrust is anchored. I would like to think that the administration has done fairly well, in this short period of one year, in the areas of democracy and development. President Tinubu, as the Chair of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments, has worked very hard to discourage unconstitutional change of governments in West Africa. ECOWAS, under the leadership of President Tinubu, was at the forefront of demanding and working hard to return the ousted Niger President, Mohamed Bazoum, back to power. Nigeria has also been at the forefront of mounting pressure on the military juntas in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Niger to work out and announce transition timetables for a quick return to democratic governance. Nigeria has also overcome the tension and potential instability of post-2023 election disputations by opposition parties. Happily, the judiciary lived up to its obligations and has resolved the disputes and, in doing so, helped to deepen democracy in Nigeria.  Our democracy is still waxing strong and governments, at the various tiers, have settled down to the business of governance. With 25 years of unbroken democratic dispensation in Nigeria, we could be counted as one of the torchbearers of democracy in Africa. As for development, we have seen the president transverse the globe to attract foreign direct investments. I will, therefore, want to think that President Tinubu’s performance in the area of foreign policy, in the past year, has been very focused and impressive.

What is your view on the changing of the National Anthem to the old one?

It is a strange development for me. I did not see any debate about it. When you say an ongoing debate, it is a post facto debate. I don’t think that what was done was proper; proper in the sense that there was no national debate. After all, it is a National Anthem.  I cannot recollect if we were asked to debate, whether we wanted a change of the National Anthem. Speaking personally, I prefer this resuscitated Anthem, but it is not about my preference or that of Mr President, there ought to be a proper process. What has happened is that the President seemed to have liked this particular anthem and because he prefers it, he got the National Assembly to change it. So on paper, in terms of formality, it appeared that it had been properly done and that nothing was wrong in the way it was adopted. The National Assembly is the one that had the ultimate power to approve the change. But there is something wrong with the mindset of the people who are leading us. After all, democracy is the government of the people, so the first thing should be what the people want. Let us have a debate on it, nobody has clamoured for the change aside from the president. The legislative process of debate and public hearing should have been followed through but that was not done. If there was a national debate, about it, I was not aware. This is something that would have been allowed to be discussed for about six months. There would have also been regional or even state-by-state public hearings,  collation of preferences, specialised opinion polls to determine whether a national consensus on the matter. None of these happened. You don’t just take the will of the president and the sycophantic acquiescence of the National Assembly to make such a monumental choice. I do not think that it was right the way they changed it even though it is an item that I like myself. For instance, if someone takes a book that belongs to you into his house and refuses to release it, you can’t just take a sledgehammer to break his walls to retrieve your book. You must go through a process, a proper channel.

Is this not the downside of the brand of democracy that we practice in this part of the world?

Laws must pass through established processes. Take the proposed social media regulation bill, for instance, the National Assembly conducted public hearings that gave editors, media owners, and civil society groups the opportunity to state their positions on the proposed law, and at the end of the day, the voice of the people prevailed. That is what democracy is all about. It means decision-making, by the people and not by the people’s representatives. The representative is there to collate the ideas and views of his constituents and bring them to the House. He is not supposed to form or negotiate preferences for his people. That is the problem with our democracy; the representatives go to the Parliament and start behaving as if they are representing themselves; they begin to join caucuses and get into consensual arrangements that have been negotiated among themselves. So democracy becomes a government of the people in power alone. So, the President, the Senate, and the representatives will do their deals irrespective of what the people want; that is not democracy. Just recently, the editor of the First News was detained by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), he was whisked away from his house in the presence of his kids and wife without any explanation of where they were taking him and was detained and tortured in their facility in Abuja for weeks. Just last week, a former Bureau Chief of the Guardian was whisked away in like manner in Abuja and was driven by road from Abuja to Ebonyi State by the police.

Are we witnessing another era of clampdown on the media practitioners by this administration?

Such practices are unacceptable in a democracy; very, very unacceptable. To start with, the DIA is a military agency. It is a military defence intelligence agency. It is supposed to monitor the military to find out how they operate and to see whether they are planning a coup. It is not authorised to arrest civilians. Civilians are supposed to be arrested by the police. It is not a civil police system, and it’s not a military police. So it is unacceptable that the DIA should be unleashed on the media, ostensibly at the directive of a powerful person in government. The Police are not even supposed to be used to arrest any person in a civil matter. In a case, of a newspaper maligning any person; he or she should get a lawyer to write them and then take them to court if they fail to apologize for what they have done. That is what the person is supposed to have done. That was a case of abuse of power and it is unacceptable.  As for the police, arresting somebody, and taking him to Ebonyi, again, it is an excessive use of power. If you have a case with somebody like that, you ask him to come over. The police will invite him and say, come and see us, at this time and a particular police formation. Even if he fails to report they don’t have to capture him in the night. The family would be afraid that he could be killed on the way or even get involved in an accident. This is not what we voted for and this is not democracy; that is autocracy and we must not allow autocracy to creep in into our democracy. Another issue is the killing of soldiers in uniform and duty. We witnessed one in the Okuama community in Delta State where no fewer than eleven personnel were murdered in cold blood and mutilated as animals.

Just last week five soldiers were murdered by unknown gunmen in Aba, this is in addition to what happened in Banex Plaza in Abuja, a few weeks ago, how did we get to this point where citizens kill military personnel in uniform?

Well, that happens now, and again when we have a situation of unchecked lawlessness. These are the extremes of lawlessness. In the eastern states for instance; the IPoB/ESN has been operating for a very long time, almost with impunity. In that kind of situation, we must expect escalations. Before now, they have been killing policemen. How many policemen have been killed in the southeast? Having gotten away with that, they have now developed the effrontery to kill soldiers. They are so ill-informed that they do not know that the consequences of killing a soldier are to invite disproportionate force. The Army is not going to fold its arms; they are going to come with maximum force.  If you kill a soldier, you have declared war. But these nonentities don’t have a way of knowing that soldiers are not supposed to be attacked by civilians. If you kill a policeman, well, you may get away with it. But sometimes the police will come back and avenge their deaths. As in Okuama, these hoodlums carry sophisticated guns and are often so intoxicated with drugs and all kinds of drinks, that they often forget their limits. They lose a sense of what they can do and get away with. That’s why they attack soldiers without considering the consequences. If you kill one soldier, a battalion will come for you. Your village will be demolished because that is their modus operandi. Ground operations often involve the use of artillery to degrade the power of the opponent before the infantry or armour moves in. It is a pity because there are lots of younger people today who operate under the influence of drugs, coupled with a lack of understanding and illiteracy. That is why the hoodlums in Banex Plaza thought that they could harass soldiers. When you see a soldier, you have to be careful. You don’t have to fight a soldier; if you fight one soldier, you are going to end up fighting with a company or a battalion. They will so deal with you. People need to be educated about these things. Fighting a soldier is a no-go area.  Don’t fight a soldier on the streets of Lagos or any city at all. When you do, know that you are not fighting an ordinary person. Soldiers are not ordinary people, and the consequences of fighting them are too grievous. If you give a soldier a blow in the face he will cut off your head. So you have to be careful. Therefore, this is an unfortunate development that we need to deal with.  These militia groups in the South-East, Niger Delta, and elsewhere need to be disbanded or destroyed. We have to deal with militancy everywhere. Without dealing with that, we are going to have these occasional confrontations and escalation. The military, just as you rightly pointed out, issued a very stern statement asserting that they are going to retaliate and they are going to retaliate with maximum force. Now, the fear is that the community where this thing took place, may suffer the consequences of other people’s actions, this is so because the perpetrators would have run away and the innocent people who did not contribute to the killing of the soldiers are going to be murdered in cold blood.


What can be done to stop this type of reprisal from the military, especially in a democratic setting?

Again, the military must operate by global best practices. It is not right to use the word ‘retaliate’. They need to allow the police to do their work. They should complement the resources of the police, rather than embark on a mission that would lead to the destruction of hapless communities and innocent people. It is a matter of common sense; it is common sense to know that those killers are not from that village or live there and, even, if they live there, the people may not have had any control over them nor approve of the path they have chosen.  The military must also recognise that there is a governor in place there; there is a police command there and there is a president in Nigeria, who they must get his order before such a retaliatory mission. So my counsel to the military is not to yield to rage in responding to the killing of some soldiers in Abia State.

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