We need to seriously examine why the military has not disengaged in Nigeria. How disruptive to nation building is this continuing engagement by other means. We must now unravel how
this octopus came about with a view to ending it by closing this spiritual
circle where it started. To do this we must look back at history. We must look
at late Gen Ironsi’s declared reasons for taking power and his promise to ‘restore
law and order’ in 1966. We can play on his words to release the key for the Nigerian

Before we go into the word ‘restore’, let us be once more reminded of its origin in the Nigerian military lexicon. Recall correctly that General Aguiyi Ironsi Nigeria’s first military Head of State volunteered reasons for his assumption
of power when he described his government as “a caretaker with an objective of
maintaining essential services while restoring law and order”. Unfortunately, later on he added that he would
also look into the problems of an acceptable political structure for Nigeria.
He started off well knowing that he had no business meddling into the political
problems for which he was unqualified to offer solutions. However on getting
into power e began to shift the goal post under influences. He began to see
himself as replacement rather than caretaker and appointed study groups to analyze
these problems and suggest solutions. Ironsi began to engage deeply, and when
he decided to adopt a unitary system of government he made a monumental
engagement that has required decades of transition and disengagements only for
Nigeria to end up unable to restructure his military infrastructure.

What should actually interest us here should be limited to the origin of military engagement in Nigeria which becomes the key for disengagement utilized in a reverse manner. Ironsi’s ‘restoration of law and
order’ as well as promise of a quick return to civil rule remain the
unfulfilled goals of military disengagement in Nigeria. Let us look at the
difference between disengagement and return to civil rule as it affects the
problem itself. The fact remains that if the simple objective of Ironsi was
followed to the letter, Mlitary rule would have ended on 18th January 1966 just
three days into the coup because that was specifically when the western riots
was quelled through the Supreme commanders
directive. As was reported normalcy was restored later on the same day
being the only visible disorder in the society.

What Ironsi should have drawn up was a short speech for a quick hand of power over to civil rulers. He should have invited the parliament to reconvene. He should have handed power to them. Mission accomplished. For
the other school of thought that the military needed to maintain the law and
order they restored, what needs be pointed out is that the Police is there so
long as another culmination of frustration has not led to a visible disruption
in the social order, and the legislature would make laws to avoid a repeat.

A very similar word that crept into our psyche most emphatically is ‘disengagement’. Ironsi did not use this word at all. There was no need for it because he did not really intend to engage deeply although is childlike
actions forced this word into prominence later on with his successors. Subsequent
military regimes could talk of disengagement because they allowed themselves to
engage even more deeply that they were lost between the devil and the blue sea.
Disengagement compared to return to civil rule denotes and connotes an increase
in the content of the problem, an unfocused program me of objectives and this
must have informed the pessimism of Samuel Finer about its workability in

Let us now attempt to know better these words and sentences because we have to be careful with what we do with them knowing that they hold solution to all our problems in this regard in their crowded bosoms. Let us define ‘restore law and order’
by picking the words individually. The English dictionaries and common sense
lead us to become even more creative in this inadequacy of language. Perhaps we
can define in sounding synonyms. For me these words ‘ Law and order’ remind me
already of authority [properly constituted authority].It makes me remember symmetry,
arrangement, planning, chronology, merit driven working environment, methods, accountability,
firmness in decision making, rules and regulation, procedures, programmes, obedience,
tidiness, statutes, rules and regulations, procedures etc. Now I like to take
in the whole picture unlimited by my own inadequacy in this language or its

What it tells me is that Law and order which Ironsi wanted to restore was not even existent in Nigeria at that time. So he could never have achieved this simple objective without qualifying it with the Balewa era
law and order which could have allowed him the moral basis to hand over to the
rump of the Balewa government. To this level of analysis it became clear that
Ironsi was overwhelmed by the expectation of his success into attempting to
create an ‘utopian ‘society of Nigeria before he could had over and even in his
wildest dreams he envisaged it would take him three years to do that. That was
the first seed of military engagement in Nigeria and must be the last to be
dismantled to close this vicious circle for good.

What about the word ‘restore’ as earlier mentioned? Restore is to give back, bring back into use, reintroduce, make well or normal again, repair, rebuild as before, and reconstruct so as it is original. What a tall order.
Here, alternatives were ingrained ether by sound or perception within the
military context. The military is designed to be a forward looking organ with
nothing to do really with backward motion or changes. It hardly can return to anything
or restore anything. When a man is found guilty he goes to the court marshal, but
that is when this process existed at all. Otherwise the person can be dealt
with in military fashion, whatever that means. There is often no time for
appeal because when the bullet leaves the gun, there is no return path. No
restoration. When a military mind engages there is no disengagement, .no, not
so fast, if ever.

Here, alternatives were ingrained either by sound or perception within the military psyche .Alternatives are found for those troubling words the military has to deal with in public life, in governance
anywhere. ‘Restore’ becomes restrict,’ restrain’; to restrain law and order. You
need to ‘restrict’ Law and order to be relevantly engaged in an environment
without conflict. In doing that you create more conflict enabling you to settle
more disputes and restrict more law and order until you can create a rudderless
society as we have today in Nigeria. Everyone knows that the military cannot
bring back the life it takes or the factory it destroyed, yet we expect them in
Nigeria to rebuild the nation, to return Nigeria to democracy, or to midwife
enduring development. Our reward is self delusion and wasted efforts and years.
The merry go round must stop as soon as we wake up to the fact that continuing
engagement of the military is the basis of coercion, the continuation of
conflict and the retreat of democratic values in the Nigerian political
environment .Nigeria must first disengage the military by going back to close
the circle opened by the late Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi. No enduring nation can be built on his
now enduring military political structures of unitary governance. No military
psyche can do it.

Mr. Nworisara aspired to be President of Nigeria in 1992

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