Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

How Fares The War Against Indiscipline?

by M. Guru Issah

By far the one exercise launched by Nigeria's new rulers to have attracted the most publicity inside the country is the War Against Indiscipline (WAI). Our correspondent writes from Kano on how the exercise is viewed by Nigerians.
In Nigeria today, the popular slogan is 'join the WAI army, don't be a dropout'.

War Against Indiscipline abbreviated WAI is a nation-wide operation which derives its support from the ruling FMG. It is a war against the geographical entity called NIGERIA. This is because Nigeria and indiscipline are synonymous. This is a country where armed robbery is a daily phenomenon, cheating, greed and avarice have become virtues, a country where chieftaincy titles are conferred on 'crooks' who display affluence publicly.

This is a country where thousands of naira are 'sprayed' on loved ones at parties.

Admittedly, indiscipline contributes immensely to most of the problems of the developing economies. Indiscipline in the WAI context, for example, includes the following, idling, reading of newspapers at the office during official business hours, wanton destruction of public property, rumour mongering, rushing to board buses, trains and aircraft, discourtesy, indecency, student vandalism, absenteeism, lateness to work, hoarding, price inflation, littering of streets and public places, gross disregard for other road users, etc etc, the list is endless.

The aim of the current war, therefore, is to eliminate all such vices from the society. The FMG could only be hailed as war heroes if they succeed in getting to the root of this canker called indiscipline by cleaning the augean stable and this has to begin from the top.

This is where the problem appears knotty to the powers that be. It is generally agreed that a boss who is guilty of an offence cannot adequately reprimand a subordinate for the same or even similar offence. Indiscipline, in whatever form one looks at it has man- ifested itself at all levels of human endeavour and it would require something more than mere words, slogans, newspaper articles and persuasion to uproot it completely.

This emphasizes the arduous nature of the task confronting the FMG of Nigeria. The type of WAI envisaged could, in my estimation succeed through examples by our leaders. The 'ethical revolution' of the erstwhile Shagari administration had quite laudable aspirations similar to those of the WAI. However, the attendant hypocrisy which enveloped its implementation rendered the entire exercise abortive.

WAI should therefore overcome this initial problem and direct its energies first to those at the top and not at the bottom. Wrong-doers, no matter their social standing must be made to face existing sanctions for indiscipline.

It must be emphasized that it is not an easy task to change a people's mode of life without tampering with the system in which such people find themselves. Let me illustrate my point with a simple example. The clerk or cashier of an airline who sells tickets to intending air travellers must be familiar with the capacity of an aircraft for a particular flight. Tickets sold out to passengers for that flight should not therefore exceed a given number. If this is done there will be no rush into planes at the airport.

If the clerk or cashier has confidence in the system which operates at his workplace, he will resist all pressure from his superior officers or acquaintances to replace duly booked and confirmed passengers with their favourites. WAI would have been won nonetheless, if, however, the clerk is threatened by a determined superior to replace the names of confirmed passengers with his (superior's) favourites WAI would have failed. The superior behaviour clearly negates the aspirations of WAI and the war would have been lost.

There are countless incidents of this nature which occur daily and which therefore threaten the success of WAI.

The system therefore contributes immensely to indiscipline. For example, Nigerians who travel abroad do not engage in the vices enumerated above for the simple reason that the system which operates overseas is adequate and does not therefore encourage indiscipline.

Surely, a Nigerian would not like to jump the queue in a supermarket in London or rush into the train or aeroplane in Liverpool or Chicago but this same Nigerian, back in his country, would want to do the reverse. Such attitudes could be explained variously. Either the system in Nigeria is faulty and so nothing works (apologies to NEPA) or the 'been to' considers himself superior to the other Nigerians at home. Whichever way one looks at it, there's a problem with the Nigerian system and WAI may be a lasting and worthwhile solution.

Since the WAI was formally launched by strongman Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, state governments have not relented in their efforts to propagate its ideals in their various states. Foreigners have often been blamed for the rudeness and discourtesy of the Nigerian, through their cultural influence. Surprisingly however, the foreigners themselves are very well behaved. How come, then?

State Commissioners of information (by virtue of their function as liaison officers) have been given the mantle (WAI badges) to spread the WAI gospel. As I have already indicated, mere slogans, Radio and T.V. broadcasts, capital intensive ventures like printing pamphlets and posters etc. will not help in winning the WAI. Such liaison officers are advised to ensure the success of the war through shining examples of self discipline.


It is gratifying to remark that the two previous administrations viz Murtala-Obasanjo and Shagari regimes made efforts to stem the moral decay which had engulfed the entire country over the years but such efforts were just a tip of the iceberg. Alhaji Shagari had all the authority in the world to clean the augean stable under the canopy of his ethical re-orientation programme but he lacked the 'will' to enforce it.

The provision by the FMG and state governments of basic social amenities such as public places of convenience, litter bins, enough passenger seats at departure halls of the country's airports, enough buses for public transportation, enough railway coaches, etc. would go a long way to eliminate indiscipline from our society. If the war is to be a success, the right atmosphere must be created for the combatants.

Did I hear someone say that the recent retrenchment exercise embarked upon by the FMG is an act of indiscipline? Brigadier Sani Abacha, in his brief coup broadcast to Nigerians on the morning of 31st December, 1983, made categorical reference to unemployment and I quote "... unemployment figures including graduates have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions "He therefore urged the various state governments and private employers to embark on job creation schemes rather than swell the ranks of the unemployed.

The nationwide purge should stop. It is breeding involving the exchange. indiscipline. Where should they go? Are they not Nigerians? As Gen. Buhari put it: "Nigerians have no other country than Nigeria. The country belongs to all of us."
The FMG's current action viz retrenchment of workers, has completely made nonsense of this coup statement made by them. Lying and deceit are all acts of indiscipline or perhaps they cease to be acts of indiscipline once they originate from the top. That is why WAI should begin from the top. In another development, the head of state, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was quoted as saying that retrenchment and the nationwide purge was because some of the workers were employed for political ends and since there are no more political parties, they should go. The excuse is as flimsy as it is untenable. Where should they go? Are they not Nigerians? Or is the FMG a political party? Two wrongs cannot make one right. The FMG should be seen to be playing a reconciliatory role in the politics of Nigeria rather than instituting measures which would enhance the polarisation of the country. As General Buhari succinctly put it, 'Nigerians have no other country than Nigeria. The country belongs to all of us'.

If the head of state is sincerely committed to the above statement credited to him, then he should reinstate all workers dismissed by his administration unconditionally. Then people have no incentive to leave Nigeria. Since armed robbery idling have been identified as serious acts of indiscipline and since workers are being retrenched daily by the FMG (the architects of WAI), does it mean that the FMG is creating one problem only to fight that problem at a later date?

The recently concluded currency exchange appeared to have made nonsense of WAI. Nigerians threw the basic tenets of WAI overboard during the period the exercise lasted. They considered the exercise a matter of survival. WAI could come later. Queues were disorderly, backdoor deals between bank officials and customers were rampant, and cheats and pickpockets had a field day during the 12-day exercise. Several bank officials were reported to have been arrested for fraudulent and shady deals

In Calabar, one such bank manager was reprimanded for exchanging N50,000.00 for a business woman (a violation of the anti-sabotage act?). In Port Harcourt alone, 51 bank officials were whisked off by the security agencies for their anti-WAI role in the exercise. Security personnel whose conduct was expected to be above board and who were posted to the various commercial banks to ensure the maintenance of law and order were also caught in the WAI net.


It was also widely reported in the national dailies that a few buyers used the new one naira notes, whose colours are exactly that of the old twenty naira (popularly called 'Murtala') for purchases exceeding fifty naira and succeeded in extracting change from their unsuspecting traders. All these crimes were committed in the full glare of WAI. Any comments?

I would want to emphasize that the results of WAI would not manifest itself during the FMG's term of office. WAI would surely take a much longer time than the life of a transient military government in a developing country like Nigeria to yield dividends. I am confident that Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon is not under the illusion that the FMG is waiting to see the results of WAI before they dream of handing over power to a democratically elected civilian administration. The FMG naturally should provide all the logistics and ammunition for the 'war' but, like the 100-years war' the result is not imminent.

If WAI fails it’s a disaster for all of us.

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