It was a harvest of opinions as various shades of the power elite engaged the prospects of enduring democracy in Africa in Abuja. It was at the book presentation of Prof Isawa Elaigwu’s newest book, Between the Ballot and the Barracks in Africa: Prospects of Enduring Democracy in Africa, an occasion attended by admirers, former students, politicians, academicians, retired Generals, traditional rulers, technocrats and top government officials. Led by Alhaji Shehu Chindo Yamusa 111, the Emir of Keffi who stood in for the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar Sa’ad 11, some of the top elite at the book launch were Prof Nuhu Jamo who stood in for Dr Bukola Saraki, the Senate President; Engineer Benson Abounu, the Acting governor of Benue State; Rear Admiral JKZ Ango who stood in for the Chie of Defence Staff; Brigadier M Augie who represented the Chief of Army Staff; Admiral Murtala Nyako, former governor of Adamawa State; Gen IBM Haruna who was referred to as a ‘multi-national person’ by the Master of Ceremony; Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua, another multi-purpose operator, (media, construction, business and power brokering); Gen Chris Abutu Garba, (rted); Mr. Sunday Ehindero, a former Inspector-General of Police; Prof SA Ibrahim, the president of the Nigerian Political Science Association, (NPSA), Prof George Obiozor, a one – time Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA); Prof Habu Galadima of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, (NIPSS); Prof Sunday Ochoche of the Victims Support Fund; Prof Ogoh Alubo and Audu Gambo of the University of Jos and Dr John Eimonye, the Och’Otukpo ODU or the traditional ruler of the author’s place of origin in Benue State.
The Acting governor of Benue State fired the first shot by enquiring if Nigeria is really practising democracy in the sense of government of the people by the people for the people. He asks to know what the evidence might be if Nigeria were practising democracy. From the day an aspirant starts campaigning, he continues politicking as against governing. It is you hit me, I hit me, he said, meaning that there is no time for the elected people to concentrate on governing. Wondering how it is possible to serve the people when politics becomes all consuming, Engineer Abounu asserted that there is a difference between the Gross Domestic Product, (GDP) and economic development because “the GDP is not what puts food on the table”. In his view, the standard of living of the average person has improved when food comes to the table.
Fixing his gaze on Prof Elaigwu earlier, the Acting governor called him the greatest ambassador of Benue State. “We don’t joke with him”, he said, adding to that how Elaigwu is not a tall person but has got everything a tall person has. He was not done yet, moving up to say that the professor is the equivalent of what Lord Denning is to the English law. Concluding, he called Elaigwu his brother, with whom he comes from a same place, “a model and the doyen of Political Science in Nigeria, someone with a PhD from Stanford and an egg head in the real sense of the word”.
The retired military elements had their own worry. Among these were General IBM Haruna, Murtala Nyako and Mr Sunday Ehindero, a former Inspector General of Police. The issue, for them, is the use of the word ‘Barrack’ in the title of the book. Rear Admiral JKZ Ango, the representative of the Chief of Defence who kicked up that did not like the usage. Using it as a generic term for the military is what he thinks has a reminding function about military rule even after 18 years of democracy. “Let’s remove it completely and move forward”, he said, advising Nigeria not to be afraid to work on the constitution for whatever improvements were necessary because the military, he said, has submitted itself to democracy. “We are comfortable”, he declared, adding how he could not even have been comfortable speaking on the podium if it were the days of military rule.
Murtala Nyako who commented next said the Barrack is very important but the ballot takes precedence over the barracks because, according to him, the ballot is a more powerful tool in a democracy. He emphasised the unsuitability of the expression “with immediate effect” in a democratic environment because the activities which precede and define ‘with immediate effect’ in a military setting do not apply in the democratic environment. For Sunday Ehindero, there is no ambiguity in the use of the Barracks in the title. The police, Customs, Immigration all have barracks but the usage refers to military’s barrack as a metaphor for an aberration. He was surprised there was no representative of the Inspector-General of Police at the occasion, saying “we have come a long way with the author”
Speaking earlier as Chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Shehu Chindo Yamusa 111 on whom the MC showered elaborate praises for arriving early, patiently and humbly sitting down for everyone else to arrive surprised many by referring to intellectuals as his colleagues before he “changed direction”. It meant he had something to do with academic before he became an emir. The MC had told everyone he is a PhD holder. The Emir said he had an open cheque from the Sultan to say whatever he wanted. In exercising the wide margin, he opted to call for upgrade of the curriculum in this country to include civil-military relations as a new body of knowledge, saying the society would be the loser if that was not done. His justification is that all military men started life in the civilian setting and they retire and return to that setting. As far as he was concerned, the book is a superlative analysis and he recommended it to the leadership across Africa. He let everyone know that he spoke as himself, not for the traditional institution.
Book reviewer, Prof Jideoffor Adibe summarised the book as a rendition of the relay race between soldiers and politicians in Africa and the implications for enduring democracy. Posing some of the questions the book tried to answer, Prof Adibe argued that the book gave a good overview of the debate around military rule as pushed by Modernisation theorists in its hey days. But did the military enact the modernisation script? It was a rhetorical quiz. The reviewer wondered if the author would be keen to look at what he considered an even more crucial challenge to enduring democracy in Africa: the phenomenon of changing the constitution by incumbents to extend the two terms across Africa. Meanwhile, he implored everyone to buy the book so as to disprove the claim that when one wants to hide anything, the way to doing so is to publish it in a book. The message there is that Africans do not read books, an assumption that played out recently when a French journalist asked Nigerian author Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie if Nigerians read books. Prof Adibe did not forget to say that Elaigwu and the late Prof Ali Mazrui were in a class of their own when it comes to seductive contrasts as in the ballot and the barracks, another reason for buying the book.
The shortest but most powerful outing came from Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua who said he had to shift another occasion to attend the book presentation because Prof Elaigwu is someone he says he has a lot of respect for. “People should not mind how much they are launching the book because you are going to gain knowledge”, he told the audience. He threw too bombshells. The first was buying two hard copies of the book for each university in Nigeria, public or private. That was after asking for the total number of universities in Nigeria and being told the number from the audience. The second was a bulky handshake in a symbolic appreciation of the book. It was he who set the ball rolling in that direction.
Prof Elaigwu who sat through the occasion and who had apparently enjoyed the debate he had provoked expressed gratitude to everyone who had come from far and near. His caution to Nigeria is to insist on listening to the other side because one side of any narrative cannot win a debate. For him, every criticism of the book is very much welcome because the book is already in the public place and it is not possible to split the milk and not invite faggots by implication. The book is coinciding with Prof Elaigwu’s 70th birthday anniversary.