Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Let Them Wave Flags

Elizabeth Ohene

General Buhari's current War Against Indiscipline has interesting parallels to a similar national exercise carried out in Ghana in the early heady days of the Acheampong regime. The writer analyses the two situations and comes out with interesting conclusions.
The late Kutu Acheampong of Ghana, or maybe it was "those around him," coined a meaningless phrase to describe his version of what is known as the third phase of General Buhari's War Against Indiscipline (WAI). It was called PATRIOTIC NATIONALISM.

The academic prostitutes who used to hang around this former ruler of Ghana trying to clothe patently foolish words, policies and actions in intellectual garb, spent endless hours trying to tell the country that 'Patriotic Nationalism' was the sole path to salvation for Ghana.

A national pledge was supposed to be recited whenever and wherever two or three Ghanaians were gathered, the radio and television blared the pledge endless times a day. Unfunny scenes were enacted all over the country daily and the majority proportion of the population which was illiterate in English was forced into the unedifying spectacle of mumbling their way through meaningless jibberish under the pretence of reciting a pledge.

Some zealous managing directors of state organisations sent their employees home for not being able to recite the pledge or for not according proper respect to it.

Ghanaians were actually encouraged, in fact urged to shout 'Patriotic Nationalism' as though it were some form of salutation in much the same way as Nigerians are shouting 'WAI, WAI' today and are being made to recite the National Pledge, and it is being made a first degree felony if one cannot sing the National Anthem (the new version).

As one military governor has recently ordered, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture is to print and disseminate without delay (favourite words) a green pamphlet (more like a first aid survival kit really which all Nigerians are being urged to carry on their bodies at all times) which should also contain the part of the Head of State's inaugural address to the nation which says: "This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations, have no other country than Nigeria. So we must all remain here and salvage it together."

One is totally and completely "underwhelmed". For a government that has two poet-authors among its number it is pathetic that such uninspiring words which do not even have the saving grace of being original should be the rallying cry. One wonders whether it is simply the fear of having to admit to failure which is driving Gen. Buhari and his men.

The most worrying aspect of this new element in the Nigerian scene, however, is the fact that this third phase of "WAI" came so early. For whenever the military find such an urgent need to resort to calls for patriotism and nationalism it normally means they cannot cope with the problems of government.
The third phase of the War Against Indiscipline has been launched when there is, to date, nothing to show for the first phase. Are Nigerians now and nationalism is the better one. disciplined, do they now all come to work on time, do they no longer litter the streets, do they cross the motorway only at designated points, do they now form orderly queues when there is no corporal around to horse-whip them into submission, do they take care of government property?

In typical military fashion, Gen. Buhari obviously thinks that it is the launching of an 'operation' that is all important and faced with the reality of the futility of it all, he simply moves on to the second phase and now to the third phase: sing the national anthem, recite the national pledge, be proud of the nation and when all else fails, fly the flag!

It is possibly uncharitable to see a correlation between this newly launched third phase of WAI and the recently ended twenty-third Olympic Games at Los Angeles. Most people will remember that everybody's pet, late during the Games, was the flag waving American crowds' and the stars and stripes. But then the Americans won more than 80 gold medals and Gen. Buhari and his colleagues possibly think that it is the flag waving that brought the medals to the U.S.A.

By some kind of military logic, they have possibly worked it out that if Nigerians also waved their green and white flags spiritedly and sang their anthem loudly and recited the pledge often enough, Nigeria would be trans- formed into some heaven on earth, where food is abundant, so abundant in fact, it is exported to feed half the world, and where the telephone works and it is not newsworthy of front page treatment when the electricity supply goes for 24 hours without interruption.

They possibly did not think that no member of the "flag waving crowds" was hungry or had to queue for hours to buy a pound of salt.

Since every and all military actions are supposed to come on order and rehearsed, it might be difficult for Gen. Buhari to understand that there is some such thing in life as spontaneity and instinct in real life where people cheer not to a shouted order at a pre- ordained time or to conducted rhythm but because there is a spontaneous urge to cheer.

Of course if soldiers started behaving spontaneously, whatever would their famed officers do?

It is embarrassingly naive for Gen. Buhari and his colleagues to imagine that things like the love of one's nation and patriotism are things that can be decreed, let alone taught with a horse whip. It is equally a sign of the mis- placed sense of military superiority that leads them to think that the military method of demonstrating respect

One need not know or be able to stand at ramrod attention to hear the national anthem played through to be a patriot. In much the same way as it has been shown that it is not those who know the words of or scream the National Pledge loudest, who are necessarily the most loyal to Nigeria.

In fact in the case of the late Gen. Acheampong, it was quite clear that the words "I promise on my honour, to be faithful and loyal to Ghana my motherland..." were something of a tongue in cheek undertaking, for there wasn't much honour in their dealings and the faithfulness and loyalty were more to the individual needs of the ruling military regime than to the country.

The most worrying aspect of this new element in the Nigerian scene however is the fact that this third phase of 'WAI' came so early. For whenever the military find such an urgent need to resort to calls for patriotism, and nationalism and what they see as the demonstration of their outward signs, it normally means they cannot cope with the problems of government.

Nine months into the Buhari regime which was supposed to have come into being because the economic situation was so bad, it now regards the waving of flags and the reciting of the National Pledge as the most pressing need of the country.

Soldiers have never been particularly known for the gift of tongue but surely it cannot be so bad that nothing original can be dreamt up by somebody like Gen. Buhari.

"This generation of Nigerians remember J.F. Kennedy's famous inaugural address? Let the word go forth that the torch has passed into the hands of a new generation of Americans..."

So possibly that is what gives the courage to General Buhari in the midst of all this hunger and desperation in Nigeria, to tell the people: why, if they can't find bread to buy, they should go and fly the flag 'a la Marie Antoinette.'

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