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30 years after, echoes of Orkar’s protest refuse to end

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Ibrahim Babangida


• Only equity, justice can heal, says Bongos Ikwue

On that fateful April 22, 30 years ago, when Major Gideon Orkar and his fellow putschists attempted to overthrow the military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime, it was Nigeria’s fifth entry in the record of military coups in Africa.

Although it has remained debatable that military coups constitute the greatest undoing of the country’s progress after independence, what is generally accepted is that military regimes, which have become anathema in Africa, pulled back Nigeria from its expected socio-political advancement.

At each momentary halt in governance and political leadership in the country through coup d’état, the complaints have always been the same: corruption. Right from the January 1966 coup and the counter-coup of July 1966, corruption became the refrain of adventurous military officers. That catchphrase of corruption was sustained through the 1975 overthrow of General Yakubu Gowon’s regime by General Murtala Ramat Mohammed up to even the unsuccessful bloody coup of 1976 by Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka.

When the Buhari/Idiagbon junta dismantled the democratic structures of the second republic, General Sani Abacha that read the coup speech accused the politicians of wanton corruption, through kickbacks and over-invoicing, and abuse of letters of credit.

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Abacha and his fellow putschists justified their affront on the democratically elected government on the claim that “they rendered hospitals to mere consulting clinics.” Yet, two years later, precisely on August 27, 1985 when a palace coup was perfected against the Buhari/Idiagbon junta, Abacha also accused the former leaders of political corruption, alleging that they were obdurate, selfish and carried out government business in exclusion of other stakeholders.

But, when Orkar attempted to overthrow Babangida/Abacha camp, he and 42 other young military officers raised far reaching issues that touched on Nigeria’s statehood, political structure and governance orientation.

Unlike the five previous coups d’état before it, the Orkah coup broached the aspects of “unabated corruption, mismanagement of national economy and murders of Dele Giwa, Major-General Mamman Vatsa (for a phantom coup) and human right violations.”

According to the coup speech, which he read in the morning of that April 22, 1990, Major Orkah pointed out that it was not an ordinary coup. He stated: “We wish to emphasize that this is not just another coup, but a well-conceived, planned and executed revolution for the marginalized, oppressed and enslaved peoples of the Middle Belt and the South, with a view to freeing ourselves and children yet unborn from eternal slavery and colonization by a clique of this country.

“Our history is replete with numerous and uncontrollable instances of callous and insensitive, dominatory repressive intrigues by those who think it is their birthright to dominate till eternity the political and economic privileges of this great country to the exclusion of the people of the Middle Belt and the South.

“They have almost succeeded in subjugating the Middle Belt and making them voiceless and now extending same to the South. It is our unflinching belief that this quest for domination, oppression and marginalization is against the wish of God and therefore, must be resisted with vehemence.”

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Thirty years down the line, the explicit issues raised by Orkah and his men remain current, strident, germane and vehement in the various clamour for true federalism, restructuring, revolution, resource control and holding of referendum to determine the preferences of ethnic nationalities for the type of union they want.

In what appears to bear out Orkah and his men on the issue of dominance, the climate of insecurity and violence ushered in by the constant herders versus farmers’ crisis in the Middle Belt, has been unrelenting as a push back on the justifications for the failed coup.

Although military coups seem to have become unpopular in Africa, the military weapons of uneven structure and duplicity, especially through rigged elections in Nigeria have continued to re-echo the lamentations of Major Gideon Orkah.

Orkah and his men clearly spelt out the three main reasons that propelled their desire to reclaim the country from “prodigal and unpatriotic” rulers. He had stated: “For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state the three primary reasons why we have decided to oust the satanic Babangida administration.”

Apart from exposing Babangida’s alleged plan to install himself as Nigeria’s life president at all costs, the coupists revealed some troubling happenings in the military that they said portended grave dangers to the nation’s political future.

In the light of similar allegations around the ongoing battle against the 10-year old insurgency, some of the allegations by Orkah seem to gain credence. Also, the meddling into traditional rulership institutions, like the dethroning of the Sultan of Sokoto to cause division in the Caliphate, destruction of Plateau State through the displacement of the Langtang people for political considerations are still happening.

But, most intriguing is the fact that the “deliberately withholding funds to the armed forces to make them ineffective and also crowning his diabolical scheme through the intended retrenchment of more than half of the members of the armed forces,” which Orkah said were pointers to Babangida’s desire to transmute to life president, features in narratives around the fight against insurgency.

What is more the violent and electoral malfeasance that defines the country’s democratic process continues to mirror the dictatorial tendencies that the Babangida regime was accused of thirty years ago.

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“It is our strong view that this kind of dictatorial desire of Babangida is unacceptable to Nigerians of the 1990s, and, therefore, must be resisted by all. Another reason for the change is the need to stop intrigues, domination and internal colonization of the Nigerian state by the so-called chosen few.

“This, in our view, has been and is still responsible for 90 per cent of the problems of Nigerians. This has been the major clog in our wheel of progress. This clique has an unabated penchant for domination and unrivalled fostering of mediocrity and outright detest for accountability. All put together have been our undoing as a nation.

“This will ever remain our threat if not checked immediately. It is strongly believed that without the intrigues perpetrated by this clique and misrule, Nigeria will have in all ways achieved developmental virtues comparable to those in Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, India, and even Japan,” the coupists stated.

As usual, Nigerians saw some sense in the move for forceful regime change. But the consensus of general acceptance was broken when the coup planners decided to excise some states, including Sokoto, Borno, Kano and Bauchi, from the federation.

Why did it fail, way forward?
Until normalcy returned, after the coup was quelled, the question on the lips of Nigerians was, why did the coup fail. Although military sources claimed that the Orkah failed due to the fact that April 22 was not the original date penciled for the execution, it was general believed that by excising some states by fiat, the planners opened their project for divided public opinion.

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It was generally believed that the military was corrupt, just insiders disclosed that junior officers from the northern part of the country were not taking orders from their superiors from the South.

Most military officers recalled what transpired in Aburi between Colonel Emeka and General Yakubu Gowon, when Ojukwu was said to have asked Gowon, “where is the Commander in Chief? To which Gowon was later reveal to Ojukwu that the commander in chief, (General Aguiyi Ironsi) was killed.

“This will set a bad precedence, if those behind it (the killing) were not brought to justice. It will encourage indiscipline in the army and Nigeria as a whole,” Ojukwu remonstrated.

Could it be that the indiscipline in the military has festered to this day that it took the Chadian to rout the Boko Haram insurgents holding the country to ransom these past ten years?

The people Middle Belt has continued their agitation for equal treatment, just as the Southern zones are calling for restructuring and a return to true federalism to make the country work.

Has Nigerians; especially the leaders learned the lessons from the Orkah insurrection? A prominent Musician from Benue State, Orkah’s state of origin, Dr. Bongus Ikwue, expressed dissatisfaction with any issue that could create animosity in the country.

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While noting that a lot of injustice and inequity on earth has resulted in all manners of sufferings and disaster, Ikwue also warned that for there to be peace on earth, there is need for equal and equitable distribution of wealth. His words: “I don’t like remembering such things that will bring animosity to the society because whatever you say, there are supporters and there are non-supporters.

“So, I rather not make any comment. The only comment I would like to make is that I believe the planet earth is wounded and therefore requires healing. I am not a religious person and I believe that until the evidence of the healing of the earth by appeasement is done, it will remain wounded and more catastrophes will come.

“I also believe that the only way to heal the wound of this planet is for the people of the earth to find ways of distributing the wealth of the earth equitably because it is far too much of inequality starting from climate change to disease to lack of money and to lack of rain fall here and there.

“It is far too much of that. We have thoroughly abused it and the planet is angry and is wounded and requires healing.” In the last analysis the pathway to national healing lies through strengthening the country’s democratic institutions, especially through credible elections that could make the leaders accountable. It is obvious that Nigerians are tired of injustice and double standards in the conduct of the country’s affairs.

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