I have no military background of any kind, although I have long admired the military for its disciplined rigors and, call me vain, the smart, crisp appearance of many of its peacetime members. I actually grew up in an environment where successive military regimes arrogated powers unto themselves and terrorized the citizenry. I also have no close relatives or friends who served in the military, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. I have only been somewhat intrigued by these folks as a lot of people tend to be.
Yet I feel a tinge of offense, or better yet I consider it an overreach whenever I see civilian Nigerian leaders as the incumbent President Jonathan don full military regalia for any reason. It matters less to me if the event he is attending is a military ceremony; the image simply comes across as incongruous whenever I see it. For me, it is akin to a hospital lab technician posing as a medical doctor, even if for a quick minute.
It was a lot more bearable seeing former president Olusegun Obasanjo, being a former army general and an influential one with a storied sojourn within the military establishment to boot, donning a military outfit as a civilian president at military ceremonies, never mind his protruding septuagenarian gut in the outfit. Mr. Obasanjo in character and mannerism also effused a militaristic orientation that made his appearance in a military outfit seem natural. Baba Obasanjo is a stubborn, old pit-bull anyway.
But not so with Mr. Jonathan, whose body language exudes something close to uncomfortable timidity than confidence. Think about it; how does the image of a university professor of marine biology, with a meek [if not subservient] smile, whose favorite choice of clothing are dark dresses with a fedora, morph into the image of a generalissimo in full military regalia? It is as unimaginable as turtleneck sweater's in the desert sun. President Jonathan’s outfit strikes me as a fake, quixotic stunt.
I had run into images of President Jonathan on Sahara Reporters, the guerilla online news blog known for publishing powerful expos├ęs on leadership excesses in Nigeria and beyond a few moments ago, and I felt that familiar rush of oh no not again! The president was at an event in the northern city of Kaduna as a special guest of the Nigerian Air Force, who hosted the 2012 Nigerian Air Expo held at the Kaduna Air Force Base. And so there was Mr. President, donned in air-force blue, complete with all the official epaulettes, looking like ‘Air Marshal Goodluck E. Jonathan’.
President Jonathan’s big, unassuming trademark smile was on full display, and that was charming for those who still find such charming. On display as well was the odd appearance of this same man who probably never trained to give a smart military salute, much less held or fired a firearm, in an officer’s uniform.
Of course as earlier mentioned, Mr. Jonathan won’t be the first Nigerian leader to be so featured at official events. But the frequency of the president’s appearance in military outfit in only 2 years as president raises the suspicion that a desire might be afoot to send a message to God-knows-who that “President Jonathan is in charge!” given initial and growing perception of weakness on the part of the president.
It remains doubtful, however, that the effort to dress the president up for effect is working at a time when Nigerians have begun to lose patience with his inability to assert his authority over the growing security challenges in the country – especially with regards the ragtag bands of terrorist ragamuffins, supposedly on Islamic jihad, roaming the north with explosive devices with which they continue to murder innocent civilians.
Since Christmas day last year when these murderers carried out their first attack against unarmed Christian worshippers in Madala, near Abuja, between 700 and 1,000 people have been killed. In communication and in action, the president has battled with poor showings to prove his mettle as president and commander-in-chief. Dozens continue to be killed every month, particularly in the north and recently in the Federal Capital Territory city of Abuja, where the terrorists successfully carried out an attack against the influential This Day newspaper outfit last April.
Of course the president later visited the scene of the attack after the wreckers had come and gone. Of course the president or his office released a statement condemning the attack and sympathized with the injured and the bereaved, just as was the case with every previous incident, including one where the president was nowhere to be seen for more than 24 hours after the brutal attack, although a media adviser released a statement on the president’s behalf (!). Of course the attacks continue to date, even as the president continues to demonstrate his swag, not by making the country too hot for Al-Qaeda wannabes to operate, but by shuffling around in incongruous military uniforms.
Somebody should tell President Jonathan to stop wearing military uniforms and, instead, find more realistic ways of showing that he is in command in Nigeria. And while he is at that, he should quit wearing those hats of his around the place. While the uniforms make him look like a modern Don Quixote, the hats are just plain distracting – especially when he is addressing the nation. Yes get rid of the hats, Mr. President, and don’t tell me that wearing them has anything to do with celebrating [Ijaw] tradition because you and I know that the hat is a borrowed garb, too.