The intrigues are not lost on us
Life, the poets say, is a tragic comedy. And contemporary Nigeria certainly provides all the evidence; doesn’t it? Such evidence has of late become all too palpable. Else how is it, if one is permitted the liberty, that two of the elder statesmen who take most of the flak for Nigeria’s present excruciating trajectory, could find the moral authority to assume themselves the “weightiest critics” of federal government? One of these men, as a young officer, had led the detachment of Nigerian army which butchered (thanks to the late Chuhwuemeka Ojukwu) its supreme commander, Major General Johnson T. Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s first military head of state. The supreme commander was killed along with his host, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, the first military governor of the Western region, on the unsubstantiated allegation that the head of state was complicit in the January 1966 coup d’etat, which terminated the First Republic. That act eventually culminated in a civil war (1967-70).
About a decade and half following the butchering in Ibadan, self-same elder statesman exited the Nigerian army in 1979 as a four-star general, with juicy oil and gas concessions to boot. He has since lived in evident opulence in virtual silence. But in the previous twelve or so months, the fear-invoking general has been lamenting the alleged butchering of his kith and kin by herdsmen, amply aided by the same Nigerian army which he once headed. The twists and turns of life, should we say?
After the civil war the other elderly statesman, as deputy to the savagely slain head of state, Major General Murtala Mohammed in 1976, had played a leading role in destroying the before-then well structured Nigerian civil service. Be it remembered that that military junta it was which stopped the technical heads (permanent secretaries) of the ministries and departments from attending cabinet meetings to make their crucial inputs. (I will never stop making the observation that Nigeria’s civil service has never stop harmorrhaging since.) Years after, that portly elderly statesman would also exit the Nigerian army as a four-star general in 1979, with juicy oil and gas concessions to boot.
Upon the duo exit, the class of super-rich generals (Nigeria’s first crop) graciously handed leadership of the country to civilians in 1979. Although the generals’ choice didn’t convincingly align with the Nigerian electorate’s, but the overwhelming need to rid the polity of military dictatorship provided a basis for compromise. The generals had their way amidst suppressed moaning.
History shows that corruptible habits proliferate with potency, more so in a poorly regulated setting. That proved to be the case in the immediate post-civil war years in Nigeria. The destruction of the country’s civil service structure in 1976, and the generals’ less-than-satisfactory choice of civilian leadership in 1979 violently combined to create a very toxic Second Republic. Unbridled corruption quickly became the new normal as elected and appointed officials alike jostled to upstage one another in illegal acquisition of material wealth. The new military leadership watched the unfolding scenario with a knowing countenance; and, thanks to the super-rich generals’ bad influence, some of their former subordinates, now generals themselves, could barely bide one four-year term of civilian administration before shooting their way back to the headship of the country in late 1983. Although Major General Ibrahim Babangida was said to be the mastermind of the 1983 coup d’etat, however, Major General Muhammadu Buhari somehow emerged head of state.
It is as likely that Buhari’s overtly ascetic disposition earned him the high office. He cut the picture of a cast-iron disciplinarian soldier of yore. Little wonder, therefore, a Major General Tunde Idiagbon, a no-nonsense disciplinarian, became Buhari’s deputy. Almost in one fell swoop the dour duo threw virtually all those they had ousted in detention on corruption charges. They then embarked on a vigorously fought war against indiscipline, WAI. Buhari and Idiagbon seemed passionate in their pursuit, and for a brief period they appeared to be getting the better of the fetid air of corruption smothering the country. But they seemed not to have put great store by corruption’s formidable capacity to fight back. Most tellingly, it was no other than Buhari’s Chief of Army, Major General Babangida who delivered the fatal blow to WAI in August of 1985. Buhari yielded power with unprecedented ease.
Babangida’s disposition to power and wealth proved to be the diametric opposite of Buhari’s; his reflexes to the material world seemed to have been forged in the crucible of the super-rich generals. He consequently clung to power with all of his creative imaginations and state resources. He gave the impression that his very existence depended on the office of the military president of Nigeria. Soon, random talks of his stupendous wealth became rife; much if it traced to the oil and gas sector of the economy. He soon became overtly drunk with power and wealth to the extent that he presumed the Nigerian state was not different from his personal estate. He alone decided who could, or could not vie for public office. He inaugurated and disbanded political parties as dictated by his whims and caprices. That dreadful downward spiral persisted until the last straw of 1993. In that year the self-styled evil-genius dared to set aside the overwhelming choice of Nigerians in a presidential election.
Global outrage forced Babangida from office. And following a 3-month charade in the name of a civilian transition government, General Sani Abacha thrust himself in the saddle. Facts and figures of the Kano-born general’s thirsts for oil and gas money are now in public space, even as more shocking discoveries are being made. Evidently power and wealth affected Abacha much in the way they had Babangida; albeit the latter had demonstrated superior restraint in his use of power. Abacha unscrupulously clamped all those with dissenting views in jail, just as numerous others disappeared into thin air, as it were. He even arrested, tried, and condemned to death, Obasanjo, Yar’adua (Obasanjo’s former deputy), along with other generals, including his own deputy, General Oladipo Diya. Yar’adua later died in detention under mysterious circumstances. Abacha himself was to succumb to death in similar circumstances.
A seeming publicity shy general took up the mantle of leadership. His name: Abdulsalami Abubakar. Abubakar was clever enough to read the then political barometer correctly. He thus immediately embarked on a short transition programme to civilian rule. But how faithful was Abubakar? Did his junta handover the leadership of Nigeria to civilians in 1999? What the self-effacing general did was comparable to the biblical raising of Lazarus. The famous oil and gas-merry general was released from his death-cell and rehabilitated to resume the office he had vacated in 1979, even amidst countless eminent candidates for the coveted office. Nigeria thus went through the proverbial cycle. Rather half-expectedly, Obasanjo subsequently doubled as the executive president and the minister of petroleum resources for the entire tenure of his two terms.
Upon exiting office in 2007, Obasanjo remorselessly invoked in observant Nigerians reminiscences of 1979. He foisted on Nigerians an executive president and vice president that the country could have done much better without. Barely three years following, a highly challenged President Umaru Yar’adua (sibling to Obasanjo’s late deputy) died.
To be continued tomorrow.
Nkemdiche, an engineering consultant, wrote from Abuja.
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