President Muhammadu Buhari might be relaunching the War Against Indiscipline 31 years after the para-military brigade ended with his dictatorship because he is desperate to reignite the public support he is fast losing. Much of the myth about Buhari’s immense abilities to right whatever is wrong with Nigeria came from two narratives forcefully tattooed into our minds: His brutal anti-corruption fight, and the myth of WAI and how -before it was truncated-it almost resolved the perennial problem of public indiscipline.
A year ago when he was sworn into office, Buhari launched a maelstrom of corruption probes that delighted a vindictive Nigerian public. Nigerians, after suffering traumas of surviving their abusive leaders, understandably wanted a leader who would double as an avenging angel; one who would go after all the followers of corruption, bring them to their knees in the public square and have them crucified on the wooden cross of the law. Buhari fitted into this box because of his pedigree: Nigerians nostalgically recall a man who embodied ascetic discipline and military rigidity; the man whose soul so violently repulsed corruption he issued centuries-long jail terms.
Buhari, knowing what was expected of him, got into office and fed the crowd the flesh of their oppressors. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission began a dizzying feast of corruption allegations and arrests. Buhari not only surfed on the wave of goodwill these actions generated, he subtended practically every message his government issued with a reiteration of his commitment to fighting corruption.
These days however, everyone seems spent and allegations of corruptions sound like music recorded on a scratched CD. Buhari must have realised that there is more to corruption than dazzling the public with accusations and arrests. No news is incredulous anymore unless it comes with elements of novelty. For instance, gauging the price of the handbag Mrs. Aisha Buhari had on her on her recent trip to the US is far more entertaining than the stale news of politicians who stole money.
Buhari, unable to find inspiration for anything that would engage Nigerians, decided to play another last PR card by relaunching his famous WAI again. Unfortunately, the times have changed and the kind of activities that made the old WAI a sensation are no longer possible in the age of a democracy safeguarded by the New Media. How do you literally whip people into line in 2016? How do you force them to queue without the slave master’s lash on their backs to ensure compliance? How do you drive work ethics into civil servants that have not been paid for six months? How can you impose the virtues of patriotism into people born and bred within a country that has never held up its share of their social contract with them? How does Buhari’s new WAI propose to fight economic sabotage when the biggest perpetrators are members of his own coterie and the proceeds of their illegal activities paid for his bus ride to Aso Rock? How can the new WAI replicate the methods of the old WAI to curb anti-social behaviour in the age of social media? How can WAI ensure morality and virtue in the times when their definitions are increasingly open to negotiation? How can you impose environmental sanitation activities on Nigerians when the state itself has failed to develop a workable infrastructure for managing the trash we generate? What else does this relaunch of WAI prove other than that those leading us are painfully bereft of ideas and practically marking time?
The old WAI, with all the brutality of making soldiers enforce a zombie mandate on hapless citizens, at least had a focus: It sought to recreate the mass of Nigerians in the image of their military leaders. The new WAI, on the other hand, does not have a coherent mandate, making one wonder how the whole idea was conceived in the first place.
In January, when the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, hinted that they would be relaunching WAI after they had rebranded it into another programme, “Change Begins With Me”, Mohammed said the CBWM will be a “bigger and deeper version of the old WAI and it is aimed at solidifying our (party’s) change mantra.”
His position appears out of place with that of the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency, Garba Abari, who launched the new WAI saying they would “reposition the WAI Brigade for enhanced civil intelligence gathering towards an orderly and secure society in line with the change mantra of the present administration” and that in times of “insecurity, violence and other forms of social vices, the role of the WAI Brigade in civil intelligence gathering could not be overemphasised.” This suggests that the new WAI will be doing the job of the police and perhaps that of the Department of States Services too by gathering intelligence. How does that then relate to warring against indiscipline?
The same Abari at the same occasion wistfully recalled that, “The ills and woes that bedevilled the nation at that time are still very much with us today. That is why, when the National Orientation Agency was established in 1983, the…WAI Brigade was automatically drafted to be part and parcel of the agency to fight against indiscipline, disorderly behaviour in public and private places, disobedience to traffic rules and regulations, disrespect for constituted authorities, filthy environment, bribery, corruption and other social vices” (Premium Times report).
So, which role will the new and repositioned WAI be playing? Would they be fighting against insecurity and violence or like the old WAI, they would be fighting the evils still “bedevilling” the nation? Both civil intelligence gathering and fighting indiscipline, they should know, are disparate activities that require different orientation of the officers who would be enforcing them. Which one exactly would the new WAI be pursing and how does either activity correspond to Mohammed’s Change Begins With Me that would “solidify” the change mantra?
If Nigeria would at all launch a needless programme like WAI, (after similar failed programmes like MAMSER, Rebranding, “Good People Great Nation”) is the timing not inauspicious? Nigeria is currently in a very poor shape, inflation is rising while peoples’ purchasing power is falling. A number of Nigerians have lost their jobs and the country is experiencing gruelling hardship. Yet, the government’s response is to launch a programme to combat indiscipline?
It is very tempting to relate the many problems of Nigeria to our personal and collective faults; to blame our lack of ethics, and then propound the theory of attitudinal change by telling us that the change will change our circumstances if we gave up parts of ourselves. The truth is, until the immediate concerns of the citizen and the many challenges that confront them are addressed, we may as well be wasting time.
Nigerians are not more undisciplined than the citizens of the First World countries who do things by the book; they simply respond to dysfunctionality endemic in their environment. If citizens of western nations (for instance) were to live in a society where nothing works, and nothing is guaranteed to work, at least they would act as undisciplined as Nigerians Buhari wants to rewire.
If you live in a country where traffic lights are mathematically calculated to function at a certain rate, and there are sophisticated surveillance and legal systems to punish those who run the red lights, you are more likely to act “disciplined” than if you live in a system where nothing is designed to function effectively. That is the logic underlying “discipline” and why it continues to haunt us.
Blaming people and telling them change begins with them is not only rogue behaviour, it just shows that our leaders have played their last hand. They have no more ideas and they are dispatching responsibility in our direction1.