No to another Republic of Nigerian Army!
I have been deeply saddened by some comments and inquiries by some younger elements who never experienced the consequences of military rule in Nigeria and so are being carried away by the current wave of military coup detat in Africa because of perceived failure of democracy and irresponsibility of some African leaders who continue to demonise democratic governance on the continent.
It is therefore expedient for some of us who are older and have experienced the grave consequences of even long years of military in Nigeria to sensitise the younger ones to manage their enthusiasm about prospects of return of military rule in Nigeria. Let’s quickly add that even some elders who may have been disappointed by our leaders and are so excited by what is happening in parts of Africa and would like to pray for military intervention in our country should manage their expectations too about the bane of returning to Egypt.
Is it trite to claim at the moment that Nigeria isn’t Gabon? Should we be afraid of speaking some truths to our own power that Nigeria isn’t Niger and so can’t be run down like Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Chad and Guinea? Can a family or even a cabal of witches and wizards hold Nigeria down for 56 years as they have done in Gabon?
As I was writing this I received a social media platform notification for this tragicomic comment: ‘O Lord how can we be praying in Nigeria and you’re answering prayers in Gabon, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali?’. Before I could mutter ‘Oh My God’, I received another one thus: ‘Military coups in Sub-Saharan region have been bloodless so far…it is democratic elections that have been violent with loss of lives…tells a story…’ There have been so many diverse and quixotic social media comments that can be painfully interpreted to mean that God should answer the prayers of the ‘wretched of the earth’ that soldiers should return to their ‘Federal Republic of The Nigerian Army’.
This should really be frightening. I do hope that our political leaders who have been behaving so irresponsibly even at this time should know the implications of this perception index at the moment. I hope they know that if the men in uniform return today with their dubious correcting fluids, there will be jubilation by the poor and the many who are currently fascinated by the bloody nature of elections and bloodless colour of coups. I hope our leaders most of whom just returned from Rwanda where the UNDP made them to study ‘good governance’ are reading all these writings on the walls.
But then let’s face the brass tacks, there is still no reason to compare the political condition in Gabon, Cameroon, Uganda, Togo with Nigeria’s where a strong man, a General elected into power once rose to amend the constitution to enjoy a third term in office but failed. Doubtless, Nigeria’s isn’t where it ought to be in the new world order but it isn’t as bad to the extent of calling back ‘soldiers of fortune’ who actually set the tone for institutionalisation of corruption that has taken us down this reproachful valley.
We need to tell the younger ones who keep comparing and contrasting Nigeria with some of the countries where military juntas are being hailed and celebrated that we actually lost our country to the military’s misadventures in power. There was a country that would have been a world power earlier than Singapore, Malaysia, India and even South Korea if the soldiers hadn’t struck in 1966, barely six years after independence from the British rule. Let’s begin to dip up how those who struck down democracy in 1966, raped and underdeveloped the most populous black nation on earth.
The economic effects of military rule have been disastrous. The traditional agricultural based economy was abandoned and they became extremely dependent on exports of oil which due to frequent fluctuations in oil prices led to an unstable economy.
You who are young, blessed are you if you can go down some memory lane with me to drink from some fountain of knowledge that history has given us. Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, there have been five military coup d’etats in Nigeria. Between 1966 and 1999, Nigeria was ruled by a military government without interruption, apart from a short-lived return to democracy under the Second Republic of 1979 to 1983. However, the most recent coup occurred in 1993, and there have been no significant further attempts under the Fourth Republic, which restored multi-party democracy in 1999.
Trouble began for democracy on January 15, 1966 when a group of young military officers overthrew Nigeria’s government, ending the short-lived First Republic. The officers who staged the coup were mostly southern Christians led by Kaduna Nzeogwu and they assassinated several northern leaders including Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, Northern Region Premier Ahmadu Bello, Western Region Premier, Ladoke Akintola, finance minister Festus Okotie-Eboh, and the four highest-ranking northern military officers.
The coup leaders publicly pledged to eliminate corruption, suppress violence, and hold new elections. Major General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo but not party to the original conspiracy, intervened to impose discipline on the military and became head of state. He suspended the constitution, dissolved all legislative parties, banned political parties, and formed an interim federal military government, though without specifying the date on which civilian rule would be restored. That was the time unitary system was foisted on Nigeria and federalism was overthrown.
On 29 July 1966, a counter-coup was staged and Ironsi’s regime had fallen by August 1. Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon became head of state. Ironsi and the governor of the Western Region, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, were among the casualties. Muhammadu Buhari, who was installed as head of state in the 1983 coup, was one of the officers involved. Both the coup and the counter-coup assumed an “ethnic colouration and they fuelled ethnic violence contributing to events, which ultimately led to the Nigerian Civil War.
After the end of the war, in October 1970, Gowon reiterated an earlier pledge to ensure that military rule would be terminated on 1 October 1976. In 1974, however, he postponed democratisation, explaining that Nigerians had not yet demonstrated “moderation and self-control in pursuing sectional ends.”
On 29 July 1975, Colonel Joseph Nanyen Garba, a close friend of Gowon’s, announced on Radio Nigeria that he and other officers had decided to remove Gowon as head of state and commander-in-chief. The coup was bloodless: Gowon was abroad, attending a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity, in Kampala, Uganda. He was replaced by Brigadier Murtala Muhammed with Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo installed as deputy head of state. The New York Times reported then that General Hassan Katsina, a former Chief of Army Staff who had been demoted by Gowon, was said to be “the real author of the coup”. On October 1, Muhammed, like Gowon, pledged a return to civilian rule: following the drafting of a new constitution and various institutional changes, elections would be held, allowing for a transfer of power on 1 October 1979.
But on February 13, 1976, darkness fell again on Nigeria as the Hurricane Muhammed was assassinated at the outset of an abortive coup attempt. His driver and aide were also killed; as was Ibrahim Taiwo the military governor of Kwara state.
The coup was led by a group of officers who called themselves “young revolutionaries” in a radio broadcast. However, they lacked both civilian and military support. The coup was denounced by division commanders and government leaders outside Lagos and was quickly suppressed. Obasanjo became head of state.
The Nigerian government reported that the coup had been led by Lieutenant Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka and had aimed at restoring Gowon’s regime. In the end, 125 people were arrested in connection with the coup attempt and, in March, 32 people received death sentences, among them Dimka and the defence minister, Major General Illiya D. Bisalla.
On December 31, 1983, a group of senior military officers led a coup which ended the Second Republic’s democracy. The coup deposed the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari, which, in the first military broadcast after the coup, Brigadier Sani Abacha called “inept and corrupt”. Abacha, who was appointed head of state a decade later, was said to have played “a key role” in the coup. The sole reported casualty occurred when Brigadier Ibrahim Bako was killed in a fire fight during Shagari’s arrest in Abuja. Major General Muhammadu Buhari was installed as head of state.
On 27 August 1985, officers led by Major General Ibrahim Babangida, the army chief of staff, usurped Buhari’s government in a palace coup while Buhari was away from Lagos and his deputy, Major General Tunde Idiagbon was on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The coup was announced on the radio in the morning by Major General Joshua Dogonyaro and Babangida later addressed the country, saying that Buhari’s regime had been “rigid and uncompromising” and had demonstrated “inconsistency and incompetence.”
On April 22, 1990, military officers led by Major Gideon Orkar attacked Dodan Barracks in an attempt to overthrow Babangida’s administration. Babangida escaped successfully, and fighting stopped ten hours later, when senior military commanders elsewhere in the country announced their support for Babangida. 42 men eventually convicted of involvement in the coup attempt were executed by firing squad in July 1990. That wasn’t the end of coup d’etat, after all.
Facing pressure to shift towards a democratic government after annulling an election result, which was considered free and fair, Babangida resigned and appointed a multinational business executive, Ernest Shonekan as interim president on 26 August 1993. Shonekan’s transitional administration lasted only three months: on 17 November 1993, it was overthrown in a palace coup led by General Sani Abacha, Shonekan’s defence minister. This followed the annulment of the presidential elections, which had been advertised as the beginning of a Third Republic.
In September 1994, although he had pledged to restore democracy, Abacha issued a decree that placed his government above the jurisdiction of the courts, effectively giving him absolute power. The rest is history as we began a democratic journey since May 1999.
So far, more than $5 billion has been recovered from one of the past heads of state, General Sani Abacha who helped in overthrowing so many governments. General Obasanjo spent another eight years as an elected leader in addition to 1976-1979 as head of state. The same Obasanjo was said to have secretly recovered some undisclosed amount of loot from the last of the Generals who actually handed over to him in May 1999. Buhari too was elected and just left office on May 29, 2023, yet Nigeria is still not a member of G-20 economies in the world. Nor is the largest economy in Africa qualified to be a member of the BRICS block.
Why should we pray for another military intervention when there is a sense in which we can claim that they (the soldiers in power) were the organic architects of our misfortune in Nigeria. They have nothing to offer us in Nigeria again.
Let crisis merchants and businessmen who sponsor them beware. Nigeria isn’t a candidate for another military rule. Democracy can endure. I believe that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of an era of economic growth without development. The military people should continue to berate those who are calling on them to step forward with another stratagem to overthrow democracy. That would be terrible for Africa if Nigeria’s democracy cannot be made safe by its brand ambassadors in power.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.