Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

The Guardian, Nigeria

A dangerous suggestion

There is no civil war in Nigeria, and no-one has challenged the legality of the state. There is only an emotion - charged disagreement, within the context of a mutually-recognised law, between two corporate bodies: the federal government and the Nigerian doctors. In this disagreement - whatever may be the merits of opposition positions - the government has, at least, a technical upper hand in the sense that it controls all the instruments of coercion. Precisely because of this, a patriotic citizen ought to be very careful in offering advice to a government that is clearly angry.

It is in this context that we view with anguish the report published by the Sunday New Nigerian in its issue of February 24, 1985 that certain people it interviewed on the doctors' crisis thought that protesting Nigerian doctors "should be conscripted into the army for military service." One of the interviewees was reported to prefer conscription to dismissal because instead of being lost to the government, the doctors so conscripted, would continue "to serve the nation with military discipline."

These people might very well be unaware of what they were calling for: the militarisation of not just a section of the civil population, but a civil profession which is as old as mankind itself. What will be the fate of a patient whose life depends on a conscripted doctor-soldier?

This is a very dangerous formula for resolving a civil dissent or protest. Between capitulation by government- and militarisation of a civil profession there is a wide range of options from which a humane government may choose, whatever the situation. The Guardian suggested one of these options in its editorial of February 26, 1985. "This nation cannot afford our doctors insisting on a Scargillian show- down. It is ruinous. In the same manner that the government's proscription of their associations is far from the sublime. When tempers cool, both sides should get talking again."

Militarisation of the medical profession is a declaration of civil war in an area, or a situation, where there is no actual or potential armed conflict. It might cow civil protestors into temporary submission, but it can hardly remove the cause of protest or produce lasting social peace of mind. Militarisation, if it is resorted to in the present crisis, will definitely generate its own momentum; it will readily recommend itself for use in future individual or corporate protests. It is clear that not even its present protagonists can predict the outcome of every future act of militarisation or the cumulative effect - over time of such a policy.

We must recognise that militarisation of civil life will threaten to divorce the government from the people, and if there is anything that this country badly needs now, it is solidarity between the people who are daily called upon to make sacrifices and their government. We need to remain together in the critical task before us.

Of greater concern are the implications of the militarisation suggestion for the future of civil-democratic rule in this country. It is indeed shocking that this 'suggestion' is coming from civilians to a military regime. It is not a viable option in the circumstances.

The Pioneer, Ghana


The Editor and the News Editor are still receiving special medical attention. Until they recover, this column will remain blank.


talking drums 1985-03-11 rawlings brutalities at Gondar Barracks