Many have wondered how come Nigeria hasn’t fractured. Put on a measurement scale, some say the sins that hobbled the second republic and prevented it from advancing beyond December 31, 1983, were nothing compared with the dare-devilry of today. Yet, Africa’s number one country has refused to surrender, but has continued to wobble with dire consequences for growth and development.
Since January 19, when President Muhammadu first travelled on a health holiday to London, which nearly became protracted, the polity has refused to be stable. Politicians are plotting intrigues everyday, without a care for the health of the country. Now, matters have become so complicated that military authorities have raised red flags to warn soldiers not to honour the invitation by politicians to intervene.
It is sad that the civilian branch of the political class has not learnt hard lessons from the country’s political history. They also do not bother to cultivate the discipline that should take democratic practice to the next level of stable growth and development. Rather, they are the ones reminding us of decades ago, when soldiers were on permanent standby. The reasons soldiers gave then for intervening was simply bad governance and corruption. But there were also insinuations that powerful civilian friends of soldiers contributed to instigating some of the coups. It was difficult to understand what benefits such civilians derived from those coups, except that some of them were contractors who could supply soft wares, as well as, peddle sundry influences.
We thought all that was gone with history, only to be told last week by Army Chief, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai that some persons were inviting soldiers for undisclosed political reasons. The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Sani Usman, it was, who issued warnings of the Chief of Army Staff for soldiers to resist the invitation to disrupt the democratic process.
According to him: “The COAS has information about some individuals approaching soldiers and, on the basis of that, he has warned such persons to desist from this act.” He also reminded them that the Nigerian Army is a thorough professional, disciplined, loyal and apolitical institution that has clear constitutional roles and responsibilities. Therefore, he seriously warned and advised all officers and men interested in politics to resign their commission or apply for voluntary discharge forthwith. Any officer or soldier of the Nigerian Army found to be hobnobbing with such elements or engaging in unprofessional conducts such as politicking, would have himself or herself to blame.”
Very well said. We are grateful to God that our soldiers are born again and are no longer interested in stealing offices from elected leaders, no matter the quantity of their sins. The situation we had, from 1966 to 1997/98, in terms of military/civil relations was akin to that of keeping yam with goat and expecting the goat not to eat. After tasting power once, twice and thrice, our soldiers realised that in addition to their purported messianic role in government, there was a pot of honey to be licked. And they kept coming and coming, until Sani Abacha pocketed the entire Central Bank of Nigeria, to the embarrassment of the global community. He also robbed people of their rights.
But because the polity needed to be stabilised, after several years of pillaging and political upheavals engineered by the man called Abacha and his supporters, it was still the lot of the military to hand over to a retired Army General. Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar and others, listed to include Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Theophilus Danjuma were said to have encouraged the drafting of Obasanjo into the transition programme. Without democratic credentials, Obasanjo was catapulted as flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Without any home support in the Southwest, he won and became president.
With his eventful military background plus prison experience, Obasanjo commenced a silent reorganisation of the military, so that those of them who were indoctrinated wrongly on the notion that power flows from the barrel of the gun would be effectively neutralised. Not to be accused of targeting certain power mongers from certain geo-political zones, who were fed on the fraudulent doctrine to ambush power on behalf of some oligarchy, and who were used to cornering strategic and sensitive military positions for themselves, from which they easily launched coups in the past, Obasanjo enthroned persons from minority tribes and made them service chiefs. Minority persons do not have the numbers in the military to entrench themselves. The majority tribes who could summon the numbers needed to be at the strategic points to pull off insurrections.
And so, in the years from 1999 to 2007, there were no obvious warnings from the Army chief to the effect that some crafty politicians were summoning soldiers to remind them of their previous pastime. Even when some opposition politicians in some northern states began to market Sharia (Islamic legal code) to gain political advantage and distract the Federal Government, the polity under Obasanjo remained politically stable and the military was kept where they belonged.
Late Umaru Yar’Adua was initially sensitive to issues of military management, just the way Obasanjo left it. But by August of 2008, his health challenge had taken a toll and he needed all assurances that his military chiefs were persons he could rely on. So he sacked the ones he inherited and replaced them before going to Saudi Arabia to attend to his health. Gen. Dambazzau became the Army Chief and Air Marshal Paul Dike was made Chief of Defence Staff.
Between then and 2010, the Yar’Adua Presidency on account of his health had become polarised. Sectional interests had built and his Army Chief became unduly protective of his Commander-in-Chief. Those were the days of ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ and vice president Jonathan then was completely in the dark regarding the movement of his sick principal in and out of Abuja. Members of Yar’Adua kitchen cabinet did a lot to make the polity unstable, but that did not warrant calls or invitation for military intervention. The situation, though very risky, was carefully managed until Jonathan took the reins of office as acting and later president.
The thing to note is that Obasanjo’s tenure was the buffer between the years of coups and democratic rule. The government under him tried to stabilise the polity, kept soldiers away and he handed over to the next civilian leadership. The responsibility is on the government of Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to equally manage the military and keep them away from ogling at the pot of honey in Aso rock. Unfortunately, it is the APC that is unable to manage itself that is now crying wolf.
When Buhari came in, the situation in the northeast gave him alibi to allocate military positions the way he thought best. Nigerians wanted him to deploy the forces effectively just to ensure quick dismantling of the insurgents. His selection process did not follow the example Obasanjo tried to enthrone, to free the military from the stranglehold of ethnicity and religion. Buhari has shown severally in his appointments that he is not very sensitive to such matters as geo-balancing. But Nigerians are really not bothered, provided Boko Haram is shown the way out of the country.
However, Buhari’s health challenge and its dubious management is what have led to Buratai issuing warnings to his men not to plot coups. The country is in the dark on Mr. President’s whereabouts and health details. The refusal to disclose has led to harried permutations and guesswork in the social media. Buhari did not help matters, when he refused to address his vice properly as Acting President in the recent letter he transmitted to the NASS, before returning to London. The fawning team he left behind at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) is helping to fuel rumour and instability by not activating relevant sections of the Constitution to free the country from this season of suspense.
It has nothing to do with soldiers. If anything untoward should happen to this democracy, intelligent Nigerians know those to hold responsible. That is APC and its ramshackle government.