NIGERIA’S HYPOCRISY ABOUT MILITARY COUP IN NIGER REPUBLIC
By Chris O. O. Biose,
“Many leaders as you see dem,
Na inside disguise dem dey,
Animal in human skin,
Animal put on suit,
Animal wear agbada.”
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938-1997)
I have observed with tremendous solicitude how some prominent Nigerian politicians toast coup leaders in their country but vehemently deprecate the same phenomenon in other countries. The hostile reaction of ECOWAS under the chairmanship of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to the military coup that ousted former President Mohammed Bazoum on July 26, 2023, and installed General Abdourahmane Tchani as new leader of Niger, is a case in point.
30 Years of Military Barbarism in Nigeria
Nigerians celebrate their own coup masters that seize political power by force. Their stock in trade is treachery and as the country’s former Chief of Army Staff and ex-Minister of Defence, Lt. General Theophillus Y. Danjuma (retd.) explained in 1986, “coup making is not an act of bravery or gallantry but a function of opportunism.” (The Guardian, Friday, 21 March 1986, p 19).
These opportunistic soldiers visited permanent damage to Nigeria. They instigated civil unrest and massacre of civil population, culminating in the Nigeria-Biafra War (July 1967 to January 1970). This war led to about 100,000 military casualties while between 500,000 and 2 million Biafrans died of starvation.
Beyond flagrant abuse of human rights, torture, extra-judicial execution of citizens and advertising blood letting in the civil population, Nigerian soldiers arrested democratic growth of the country in about 30 years of barbaric rule.
In its desire to seek legitimacy and economic power outside the citizenry, General Ibrahim Babangida’s military junta embraced IMF-inspired Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), saddled with “conditionalities”. It was couched in highly loaded and deceptive terminologies such as trade liberalization or deregulation (including payments or currency deregulation), rationalization or commercialization.
General Babangida’s deregulation compelled Nigeria to open its economic border to aggressive exploitation of Western powers. He dismantled Nigeria’s sovereign defences when the country had not set up facilities to enable it to compete in the world market.
The destruction of the economic foundation of the Nigerian state that resulted from the measures was swift, catastrophic and irreversible. In an analysis of Nigeria’s post-SAP economic condition carried out by Professor Tijani Yesufu in 1992, he found that after about five years of SAP which started in 1986, “the Naira depreciated from N0.8924 to US$1 in 1985 to N9.725 to US$1 in 1991 and N45 to US$1 in December 1993, equivalent to a devaluation of l,090% and 2,801% by 1993. In effect, the purchasing power parity of the Nigerian Naira against the American dollar “worsened to the extent that in 1993, it would be required for a Nigerian to work over 2,800 times as hard as he worked in 1985 to purchase the same basket of food.”
Yesufu observed that the Nigerian economy ostensibly recorded impressive growth by reference to published official statistics. But it was equally clear, he concluded, that these statistics constituted “a veritable farce”. Not only had there been little or no meaningful development, “the reality is a picture of unfathomable decline, if not decay.” (Tijani Yesufu, The Nigerian Economy: Growth Without Development, (1991-92) Convocation Lecture, University of Benin, Benin City, April 1993)
Worse than SAP in its security implications, was the clandestine enrolment of Nigeria as Full Member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (now Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in January 1986. The action portrayed Nigeria as an Islamic state and sparked open demand for Islamic rule in the country. It sowed seeds of incubation of violent extremist sects determined to establish Isamic Caliphate in Nigeria as well as increasing politicisation of religion in the country.
Nigerian military leaders introduced unchallenged looting of the national treasury in a manner never experienced before the advent of military rule. First Republic politicians were afraid of stealing public funds; during military rule, it was done with impunity because no one could challenge armed men in power.
The Nigerian military capped their atrocities against democracy and rule of law with brazen annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, adjudged by local and foreign observers as the freest and fairest election ever held in the country.
Clearly, the major social problems that currently plague Nigeria are directly traceable to acculturation of a whole generation of Nigerians in anti-social and anti-nationalistic behaviour during period of prolonged military misrule.
Military Messiahnism in Nigeria
It was bad enough that military tyrants bestrode the Nigerian political space for decades. But it was totally intolerable that these tyrants who posed as messiahs were hero-worshipped by the Nigerian elite..
For example, when Nigeria’s 7th Military Dictator, General Sani Abacha was alive, first class traditional rulers, bishops, erudite scholars, business men and professionals made regular pilgrimages to the maximum dictator, begging him to rule. Leaders of the five registered political parties (which Chief Bola Ige, SAN, famously referred to as “five fingers of a leprous hand”), all nominated the military strongman as sole candidate for presidential election.
The youthful Daniel Kanu facilitated an organization christened Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA). Under that platform, he organized a massive pro-Abacha two-million-man march from all local government areas in all states of the country to Abuja from March 3-4, 1998, in support of General Abacha’s self-succession plot.
The gold medal for Abacha panegyrist must be reserved for Anambra-born billionaire who demonstrated unrivalled sophistry, artistry and imagination in his support for the military dictator. In an article entitled Deification of a General, notable Nigerian essayist and former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, drew attention to an interview granted to TheNews Magazine of April 14, 1997, at page A7. Giving reasons why Abacha should succeed himself, the praise-singer said, among other things:
“If Abacha is not there, that is the end of democracy.”
“Only Abacha can control the dangers we have.”
“Only Abacha can monitor the Army.”
“Abacha is the symbol of Nigerian unity.”
“Abacha provides security and stability.”
“Political economic and social stability is with Abacha.”
“Only Abacha can be there and if you challenge him, you are challenging God.”
“If Abacha does not want to be president, I will leave the country because there will be civil war.”
When General Abacha died suddenly on June 8, 1998, a few weeks before the onset of his seemingly assured civilian presidency, the businessman did not only fail to keep his promise of leaving Nigeria, he quickly made new political friends to keep his business alive.
It was only after the death of General Abacha that some people started calling him “thief” and the story of “Abacha loot” is all over the media. I marvel at the hypocrisy of the Nigerian elite. If Abacha was alive, media practitioners would not dare to call him a thief. He would have been enjoying his loot as his living colleagues are doing today. Nobody is asking billionnaire Generals what legitimate salaries and allowances they earned while in service or what inventions they made to earn billions of Naira to build their mansions and estates in diverse parts of the world and live in apparent opulence.
Call Things by Their Names.
Nigeria is a country whose top political space brims with coup plotters and beneficiaries of military coups. But the Nigerian elite consistently misinforms the younger generation about the status of the movers and shakers of the Nigerian society. The media unfortunately joins in extolling former military dictators who killed or violently removed elected civilian leaders or their military colleagues in order to acquire political power. These traitorous characters are presented to Nigerians as “heroes” rather than villains which they really are. We call them “former Head of State”, “President”, “statesman” or the like. If we call a coup plotter a President, what shall we call Ahaji Shehu Shagari or Dr. Goodluck Jonathan?
No legitimate or democratically elected President is known to have granted State Pardon to any of the offenders against the state as late President Shehu Shagari did to late ex-Biafran leader, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu on May 18, 1982, for his role in the Nigeria-Biafra war. The state pardon granted by President Shagari enabled General Odumegwu-Ojukwu to return to Nigeria on June 20, 1982, as a free citizen after about twelve years in exile.
Nigerian coup masters go about with an air of triumph over Nigeria because no true Nigerian leader has had courage to address fundamental issues, face reality or do justice in the polity.
During the recently concluded 2023 General Election, almost every presidential aspirant of note visited successful coup masters to seek their support and blessing. What kind of blessing does one expect from a coup plotter? How can one say that he is a democrat who does not support coup making and yet depends on successful coup leaders to bless him for a democratic election?
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) need to do the younger generation a favour by constantly making them understand the truth about those that are regarded as leaders or role models in the country. The most charitable and factual description of a former military ruler is “former Military Dictator”. It is a grave injustice that the biggest felons in the history of the country do not only escape justice but are also presented as valorous role models. This sends the wrong signals and teaches the wrong lesson to the younger generation.
President Bola Tinubu has no moral justification to lead ECOWAS to criticize, not to speak of waging war against Niger coup leaders because Nigeria celebrates its own coup masters and has done nothing to purge itself of the coup mentality. Indeed, that mentality has spread to nearly all aspects of the social life of the country, namely, violent or fraudulent acquisition without remorse by the perpetrators and without question by the authorities.
Nigeria’s Charity Should Begin at Home
I suggest that the charity of Nigerian political elite about hatred of military coups should begin at home here in in our own country and not in Niger Republic. In this regard, I pray the Nigerian government to revisit the comprehensive and wide-ranging proposals made by Chief Anthony Enahoro on how to punish coup plotters. It involves coordinated national and internation action by the Nigerian state, the sub-regional body ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations Organisation (UNO).
The older generation of pro-democracy activists in Nigeria (which presumably includes President Tinubu), have full details of these proposals. The facts are however in the public domain because Chief Enahoro summarised them as Guest Lecturer at the 1980 Press Week of the Oyo State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. (Drastic solution to coups, NIGERIAN TRIBUNE, Saturday, November 10, 1980, pages 4 and 13).
If these proposals had been implemented and the necessary structures put in place, all the Federal Government needed to do was to invoke existing protocols and procedures. It would not have been necessary to engage in panicky and seemingly vindictive, if not illegal measures such as unwarranted violation of binding international agreement to provide electric power to Niger Republic. The war cries of President Tinubu-led ECOWAS has unfortunately attracted support for Niger not only from some West African countries but more ominously, from some hawkish international powers such as USA, France and Russia.
Chief Enahoro however pointed out that not all military dictators are culpable. He emphasized that his “drastic” recommendations pertained mainly to what he called “primary coups” or “coups of first instance” whereby soldiers “seize power from an elected government and succession by coup leaders.”
For example, Nigeria’s 4th Military Dictator, General Olusegun Obasanjo, is respected in Nigeria and internationally because when military leadership of the country was fortuitously entrusted to him in February 1976, he conscientiously implemented a genuine transition to civil rule programme and handed over power to a constitutionally elected President in in October1979. “
In the words of Chief Enahoro, “power was thrust upon him by historical forces beyond his control and he handed over to an elected government with requisite speed.” Therefore, such a person could not be ranked as a coup plotter. Indeed, he could qualify as one who made what Chief Enahoro described as a “supreme act of patriotism”. The same applies to Nigeria’s 8th and last Military Dictator, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.).
Enahoro also distinguished a coup designed to remove from office a “sit-tight” government or “for the express purpose of holding free and fair elections and restoring sovereignty to the people”, especially if the “secondary coup plotters” did not demonstrably benefit personally in any manner from the venture.
It is indefensible to embrace the most hardened and vicious indigenous coup plotters with open arms as Nigeria’s economic and political elites do and then turn round to condemn those fighting to free their country from enslaving neocolonialists. President Tinubu-led ECOWAS has not provided a rational basis for choosing which coup plotters to cherish and which to condemn.