Monday Discourse 

Last week, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai issued a statement warning his officers against unholy alliances with politicians. The statement came on the heels of a major shakeup in the Nigerian Army. Who really would be plotting to use the military at this point in Nigeria’s history and for what purpose, Shola Oyeyipo wonders

For whatever reasons and for whatever it is worth, when the army chief in any country issues warning to his men against hobnobbing with the political class, particularly in a context that is suggestive of capability for a sinister collaboration to upstage a seating government, there is cause for alarm.

Even if he never intended it so, that was what the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Nigerian Army, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai did recently when he issued a note of warning to soldiers last week Tuesday, admonishing men of the military that they should desist from any relationship that could make them handy tools in distabilising Nigeria. 

Buratai’s instructions were very clear. He said he had received information that some individuals have been approaching some officers and soldiers for “undisclosed political reasons.”

The important message in the statement issued by the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Sani Kukasheka Usman on behalf of Buratai, was that there was information that some people were already making moves to penetrate the rank of the military, hence he “warned such persons to desist from these acts” or face the dire consequences.

Referring to the Nigerian Army as a thorough professional, disciplined, loyal and apolitical institution that has clear constitutional roles and responsibilities, Usman said: “Therefore, he (Buratai) seriously warned and advised all officers and soldiers interested in politics, to resign their commission or apply for voluntary discharge forthwith. Any officer or soldier of Nigerian Army found to be hobnobbing with such elements or engaged in unprofessional conducts such as politicking would have himself or herself to blame.

“The COAS has further reiterated that the Nigerian Army will remain apolitical and respect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Heads of security agencies must not leave anything to chance; some people may be taking advantage of the C-in-C’s (Buhari’s) absence to plot what only they can explain. God forbid a coup.”

Usman said that the COAS’ warning became necessary after words got to the army hierarchy  that top officers and certain prominent politicians were holding nocturnal meetings. Some people have attempted to explain his statement in different ways but for a man of his calibre and pedigree, it is difficult to assume that he was oblivious of the implications of the message he passed across, particularly when considering the quantum of  intelligence at his disposal.

So, considering the import of the message, several concerned Nigerians and even the United Kingdom have reacted to Buratai’s statement. The two factions of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the umbrella body for the north, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF); pan-Igbo socio-political organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) and many others have aligned themselves with the army boss to warn politicians and their military collaborators against any move capable of drawing the country backwards and destroy the gains made from democratic rule so far.

Pan-Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere however has a rather different attitude towards the issue. To the South-west umbrella body, instead of making unnecessary noise about the matter and setting anxiety in motion among Nigerians, Buratai ought to have arrested the situation, apprehended those that are culpable and for the purpose of bringing them to justice. Afenifere said the COAS should not have turned himself to a sort of whistleblower.

“The Chief of Army Staff should not have turned himself to a whistle-blower over the matter. He has a directorate of military intelligence and should have found out those soldiers contacted and who are contacting them, not to be blowing whistle like the EFCC. It is very unfortunate that such a statement is coming out from the Chief of Army Staff. The statement has not only created fear but has also indicated that something can happen at any time,” Afenifere Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said noting that Buratai should have dealt with those found guilty of hobnobbing with politicians before making the matter public.

 In his reaction, the Director-General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said people appeared to have misunderstood what Buratai was trying to say. According to him,  coup is not only old fashioned globally but highly impossible with the state of affairs in Nigeria.

“It is not just about Nigeria. There is a group. They first worked in Latin America; retired military officers of the US mostly. They selected themselves – the origin of coup is in Latin America. What they say all over the world, use a countries like North Korea and South Korea; a democratic society and undemocratic which one prospers. So they took it upon themselves, if any election is holding in South America they will go there, not until UN recognised them and started paying their bills. So the world has said no to military coup.

“What happened in 1999? When that military professional research group came to Nigeria to save democracy, the then Chief of Army Staff, General Victor Malu opposed them. He said ‘Are you people coming to take over the army?’ They told him no sir. We are here to help you to make sure that there will be no coup again. That we have done that in Latin America, we have done that in the Middle East. We didn’t come to take over the Nigerian Army sir. What we came to do here is to install what we call by psychology, by training that the military officers are soldiers. Malu did not believe them.

“Even if you want to plan coup in Nigeria now, there are indices that are on the ground that will not allow it to work. Both on moral side; that there is a consensus that this is not it; that the over 30 years of military rule in Nigeria did not add any plus and the world has said no as well. And there are instrument that also will reveal who is planning what. So, it is not only on the political side, there is also the moral and the world convention. So, what Buratai is saying is not what anybody should misunderstand. There are people who go with soldiers to their villages for festival, for marriages. I think that is what Buratai is talking about. You know Nigerians, we are show people. We want to flaunt wealth. That they are able to gather Mobile Police in one truck, military in the other. I think that is what Buratai is talking about. He is not talking about military coup.”

Former Chief of Army Staff, between 1979 to April 1980, and later Chief of Defence Staff in 1981, General Alani Akinriade (rtd), out rightly disagreed with military officers involvement in coup d’etat. The former army boss declared support for democracy and the Buhari administration, stressing that military officers delving into politics has been inimical to both the country and the military itself. 

“It is a misadventure that virtually destroyed the military as an institution a left our country crawling in the race to modernity. I suspect that the general (Buratai) will feed his information to the intelligence community for evaluation,” he stated.

An Abuja based lawyer and former National Secretary of the Labour Party (LP), Dr. Kayode Ajulo is taking up the issue more seriously against the army chief. For him, just as Afenifere said earlier, Buratai should not leave the matter at the level of allegation without making public those suspected to be behind the plot. He was more emphatic about this because of the recent redeployment of top military hierarchy.

“As at now, being a general, Buratai must have been a seasoned army. There must have been intelligence available to him before making such weighty allegation. So, it must not stop at the allegation because he changed the GOC; that makes it that there must be a reason. Some people should be brought to book”, he said.

Ajulo, who is the founder of Egalitarean Mission, Africa said where the army boss did not take a concrete action to bring those behind the screen to limelight, legal actions would be taken to compel him to do the needful.

“Planning a coup is not a tea party and it is a action against the constitution. So, if he refuses to bring people to book, wittingly or unwittingly that would make him an accessory to the fact. You remember the likes of Oladipo Diya, Obasanjo, Yar’ Adua went to prison just because they heard about coup. So, we will give him a seven day ultimatum and at the appropriate time we will take legal actions to make him take the issue beyond allegations”, he added.

Also in the midst of the rumour, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar was quick to pledge the loyalty of the Air Force to the Nigerian constitution. He did so on Thursday during the commissioning of two blocks of flats at Bill Clinton Drive, Nigerian Air Force Base, Abuja.  

However, what can be deduced from the foregoing is that there is a near consensus that Buratai did not just pass a beer palour comment. Rightly or wrongly, Buratai has passed his message. Let those who have ears, let them hear because Nigerians would not condone any military coup. On this issues, Nigerians are with the COAS. 

In the main,  certain questions are begging for answers. Among them are: who really wants a coup d’état? What would be the basis for a coup  in Nigeria at a time like this? And lastly, what would be the argument of the perpetrators? Going by past experiences, after a successful coup, soldiers usually came on air to explain why the decision to oust the previous administration was taken.

In the annals of the Nigerian history, issues of regional sentiment and allegations of corruption, massive mismanagement of public funds and other aspects of government laxities were always cited as the reasons for   previous coups. For instance, the 1966 coup and the counter coup were basically ethnic based. It was equally what played out in the Gideon Okar’s coup. The latter flopped because Okar was already dividing the country along the fault lines before he met his waterloo.

Slightly over fifty years ago, on January 15, 1966, when the first military coup d’etat took place in Nigeria, it was executed by junior soldiers, who toppled the government of Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa. That incident, many believed, rewrote the political, social and military history of Nigeria till date.

Judging from the nature of the coup, it was more like powerful northerners were killed while their southern counterparts were spared. Similarly, most of the key coup plotters were Igbo, so  it was easily branded as ‘Igbo coup.’ That laid the foundation for coups and counter coups in Nigeria because just six months after, a counter coup was carried out which led to the death of Agunyi Ironsi. 

Popularly referred to as the ‘return match,’ the coup was planned and carried out by northern officers in what was evidently a retaliation for the first coup. Although the officers that carried out the January coup were still in detention, the fact that they had not been tried for treason and were still on the payroll of the government sent a signal to the northerners that the Igbos wanted to dominate them.

Corruption which is usually cited as excuse for planning coups is being tackled head on by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. No one can use the need to fight corruption as a basis. There are economic challenges. But no one can blame the economic woes on the present administration although it has its own shares of blame. This too can not be a basis for anyone or group to tamper with the constitution of Nigeria which guarantees a civil rule. Yes, there are issues relating to quest for resource control, clamour for self determination by a section of the country, marginalisation, the incessant agitation for restructuring among others, but would it be appropriate to conclude that a military action is essential to change things? The answer is no. These are some of the excuses they used to deceive Nigerians in the past. Rather than solved the problems they used as excuses, successive military governments created further problems and exacerbated the ones they met on ground. 

Therefore, an important note of warning to the people is that Nigeria is where it is today for one single reason; military incursion in politics. Has Nigeria been able to recover what the generals looted while they were at the helms of affairs? It is easier to forget how people were locked up for the flimsiest excuse. Now people can say what they like. One can even say many unpleasant things about the president and be walking free. The collateral damage of military rule to the Nigerian economy is still staring us in the face. Corruption became firmly entrenched during the military. 

Is it possible that Nigerians are truly frustrated to the point that they are unable to take advantage of the democratic dispensation to address their grievances and clamour for  the return of military rule? Would coup planners say that Nigerians have positive attitudes towards dictatorship? 

Not a few Nigerian still have in their memories how notable Nigerians like Sardauna of Sokoto, Okotie Eboh, Akintola, Saro Wiwa, MKO Abiola, Kudirat Abiola, Akfred Rewane, Dele Giwa, Christopher Okigbo and eve some top military officers like Agunyi Ironsi, Murtala Mohammed, Bisalla, Dimka, Vatsa, Gomwalk, Orkar, Yar’adua and hundreds of others were killed during the military era. The culture of impunity rent seeking and several social vices sneaked into the Nigerian political system through military intervention in politics. 

Hence, the recent gathering rumours of a possible military coup is not only worrisome, but it is quite disturbing. It is not only the floundering All Progressives Congress (APC) party that should therefore condemn and resist such an ignoble misadventure as alleged, but the entire beleaguered Nigerian citizenry should rise up and defend the hard earned democracy by resisting any intrusive military ‘khakitocracy’.

It does not matter who the planners may be, fact is, the worst form of democracy is absolutely better than, and preferable to the most benevolent military dictatorship. The recent revelations of hemorrhaging pilfering, crass barbaric and primitive acquisition of our national wealth and common patrimony, have shown the military to  be even worse and more satanically luciferous than our thieving political kleptomaniacs. 

The military is a complete negation of the constitution. By fusing the executive and legislative powers together, the military was able to perpetuate all sorts of evil while the society suffered.

The gigantic ‘Iroko’ tree that has become today’s endemic and cancerous corruption was incubated, planted, watered, nurtured and weaned under successive rampaging military juntas.

 “Because the military does not possess democratic blood in it’s autocratic veins of brute force, it can never give democracy; government of the people, by the people and for the people” – US Presideht, Abraham Lincoln, said in his 19th November, 1863 Gettysburg Declaration.

The hallowed principle is “nemo dat quod non habet” (no one can give what he does not possess). 

But, make no mistake about the rumours, as there can hardly be any smoke without fire. The military has never ever written to, nor received a sweet-heart love letter of invitation from their collaborative political class before striking. They watch the inclement season of anomie, the debilitating political and socio-economic environment of the particular time, the pervasive  disillusionment, the haplessness and total hopelessness of the suffering hoi polloi, the smouldering flames of divisiveness and schism deliberately engendered and engineered by politicians in the polity and all those other premises before striking. 

While calling for thorough investigation into this alarming scenario and the proactive smoking out of all possible culprits, the panacea remains that politicians who find themselves in government must deliver to Nigerians the positive change and democracy dividends they promised. After all, the maxim is “pacta sunt servanda” (agreements must be respected). 

According to constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), “Even among robbers, there is honour and dignity in sharing.” So, Nigerians should be able to enjoy the benefits of being Nigerians.