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Buhari should apologise for his first coming

By Patrick Dele Cole
14 December 2020   |   3:04 am
I know that for many, the headline is all they will read and I will forever be identified as an enemy of Mr Buhari. Those who can inflate a simple request into my calling for the president


I know that for many, the headline is all they will read and I will forever be identified as an enemy of Mr Buhari. Those who can inflate a simple request into my calling for the president to resign.

President Bill Clinton apologised to the Indians and the Blacks in the United States for the way they had been treated by other Americans. The Emperor of Japan apologised for his people’s behaviour in World War II. But why should Mr. Buhari apologise for his coup in 1983? Basically, such an apology will make him more human, establish a connection between the President and this person and wipe the slate clean and allow him to progress along the route he has chosen.

As Mr. Buhari has found out twice now, the easy part of his job is getting the power. The Government of Tafawa Balewa did not have the problem of what to do after it got power. It had won an election based on the desire for independence and a manifesto of what to do with that independence. It needed a coalition that also had a manifesto not dissimilar with Abubakar’s. They worked together till the elections of 1965-1966 when a peculiar madness took over some Nigerian soldiers and they struck in 1966. I have read every single word of all the soldiers who staged the coup of 1966 and not one word justified the coup. They were merely copying the coups in other African and Latin American countries. In 1965, our economy was doing rather well; jobs were plentiful, the schools were excellent, agriculture was at its highest, oil revenues were beginning to trickle in. So all the rubbish written by Nzeogwu and his fellow ‘coupists’ remains certainly that – rubbish. All past heads of state should tender their unconditional apology to Nigeria for truncating to shreds the supposed growth of our nascent democracy, time and over again. One of their constitutionally mandated Council of State meetings could offer an opportune moment to seek Nigerian’s forgiveness for dragging us back.
The coup unleashed upon Nigeria an army that was young and undisciplined; no tradition to speak of, ambitious ignorant young officers, pampered in Mons, Sandhurst, etc but lacking in the most basic philosophical foundation of those respectable institutions – the subordination of the military to the Political Authority. These popinjays, these sorry reflections of what an officer and a gentleman should be, took the fragile Nigerian Political society and destroyed it. It had taken people like Dr. Adeniyi Jones, Herbert Macaulay, James Horatio Jackson, Thomas Payne, Dr Samuel Crowther, Joachin Da Rocha, Dr Olorunminbe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Tony Enahoro, S. L. Akintola, Mbonu Ojike, Dr Micheal Okpara, Ayo Rosiji, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, The Sardauna of Kano, Mallam Aminu Kano, Dipcharima, J. S. Tarka, Margaret Ekpo – all drinking from the well, laid open by the nationalists in the 1860s – to put together the foundation of political life in Nigeria. For nearly one hundred years, Nigeria was gradually putting together the building blocks of democracy – the parties and their manifestos, freedom of the press, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, economic wellbeing, in agriculture – cotton, palm oil, timber, groundnuts, cocoa, sorghum, millet, corn, cassava, etc. By 1966 Nigeria was easily the richest of the former colonies. It was as rich as India, was on the way to catching up with Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Nigeria had surpassed Ghana, Malaysia. This was what Kaduna Nzeogwu destroyed in the thoughtless, melancholic, and totally unnecessary coup.

The second part of President Buhari’s apology should be the coup of 1983. If ever there was a coup for no reason at all it was the 1983 coup. It is not that civil rule did not have its failures. It certainly did. But it was getting better. Democracy was beginning to flourish; it was beginning to be strong and would self-correct its excesses. A child may be slow to walk but the answer to the child’s slowness is definitely not death. Our democracy was growing, albeit slowly. 1983 was a death blow to it. From 1983 to 1999, there was no democracy; nor was there any democracy from 1966 to 1979. Nigeria had a hiatus of the military for 29 years. Democracy lived in Nigeria from 1960 to 1966 = 6 years; and 1979 to 1983 = 4 years, a total of 10 years. We thus stumbled, crawled, fell, and stood up as we managed democracy. It is no wonder that democracy, this harbinger of freedom, of ability to choose our leaders and hold them to account, should be so skeletal, weak, and frail. Each time it was destroyed, we had to learn anew how to cope with it. In between the military dominance of Nigerian politics, we pick up the battered remains of politics. Democracy involves dialogue, negotiations, measurable goals and achievement, a bond to allow freedom of speech and thought, fundamentally that he who governs does so at the behest of the governed. The Government is the servant, not the master of the people. Institutions to maintain democracy are carefully built and nurtured – the press, the elective houses, the judiciary, the military, etc. Each military intervention destroys these institutions; the return to civil rule enjoins the rebuilding of these institutions. They are weak and obviously so because they are buffeted periodically and broken up constantly. Nigeria could not possibly have a functioning military if it is periodically broken up as Nigeria’s democracy. The military has remained more or less intact since 1950. If all soldiers are demobbed after each coup and new ones recruited, we would not have a functioning military. The same applies to democracy – recruiting new politicians after each putsch.

Each coup broke all the democratic institutions including the political parties. Successful democracies have long lasting political parties – The Liberal, Conservative, and Labour parties in the UK; Democratic and Republican in the US, etc. Imagine if NCNC, NEPU, and Action Group Nigerian Youth Movement had continued to exist from 1948 through to the independence in 1960 up till today. The British imprisoned politicians before independence. The military did the same after independence. The British banned political parties before independence. The military did the same after independence. The military left a culture of absolute power which our Presidents and Governors quickly acquired almost as their DNA. Erick Smidth of Google (Alphabet) said on Leadership: you must be extremely good at what you do, then you learn other things. Discipline, hard work, and loving what you do would get you very far. What can we say Nigeria’s politicians are extremely good at? Do they love what they do or do they love the access to wealth their position gives them? Should a politician’s greatest love not be to the country and its people? Do the people feel this love?

To be continued tomorrow
Dr. Cole, OFR, is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil.

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