“…Presidential politics has become a game of inches.”- Steven Weber
In the 1980s when coups d’état were commonplace, once the rumour thickened, something would happen…either as a failed, successful or palace coup. All that military officers were doing then was to position themselves to a time when a sitting government lost grip or when their popularity waned. Then they would strike. Often a bad situation in the polity was manipulated to enable action.
What the gullible, change-hungry public always did then was to jubilate at each coup announcement as it usually suited and tallied with their aspirations. It was a recycling thing that between 1976 and 1993 Nigeria recorded about six successful and unsuccessful coups. In all, the Nigerian military as an institution was the loser, professionalism suffered most; they lost top, skilled personnel to these coups either in death or in forceful retirement.
But as individuals, they opened the door of corruption and empowered themselves mightily making retired generals among the richest persons in the country today. The return of democratic rule in 1999 was inevitable after an arduous struggle and outfoxing between politicians and the military.
Sani Abacha, who outsmarted his military colleagues probably by greater ingenuity in power play, was headed to assume office in a military-to-civilian transformation. Everything was well designed for him and even the politicians had given up if that was the only way to see off the military in political governance. Providentially, the apple story settled the matter with Abacha’s sudden death on June 8, 1998.
Abacha’s sudden death was so frightening for anyone to want to stretch his luck again trying to delay the exit of the jackboots in politics. As a result, the lucky Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was preparing for retirement, opportunely came in and hurriedly saw a quick transition to civil rule in 1999.
What the military did to spite the politicians for scheming the military out was to ensure that one of their own took over the mantle. That was how they reached for and drafted former military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, who Abacha had jailed for coup plotting. Gen. Obasanjo’s secondin- command as head of state, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, had died in prison in rather suspicious circumstances.
Obasanjo became the obvious choice of the ruling junta, being an outsider to the political struggle to reverse the inexplicable annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election presumably won by Abeokuta-born Chief Moshood Abiola. His victory at the polls was frustrated by the military rulers.
The clear choice of the ruling political class for the two leading political parties, the All People’s Party, APP, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Dr Alex Ekwueme and Chief Olu Falae, were relegated. Obasanjo came in and was able to stabilize the polity for eight years, ensuring that the eyes of the military were taken off the polity. But after his eight-year rule and failed third-term agenda, he picked a successor in the then Governor of Katsina State, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who died in the presidency after a protracted ailment possibly aggravated by the pressure of office.
The sudden death of Yar’Adua laid the foundation for the seeming political instability in the polity since 2010 when he passed on. It had to take the courage and ingenuity of the then National Assembly to come up with the doctrine of necessity for the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to take over power.
Jonathan’s six-year rule collapsed when he attempted to go for a second term due to a northern revolt backed by some Southern leaders led by Obasanjo who all felt a return to a retired general was a better option, especially given the insecurity in the land. That was how Muhammadu Buhari who had tried three times to be civilian president came to power and the rest is history, suffice it to say that virtually all those who facilitated Buhari’s coming have been in regret. While some swallowed their pride to publicly apologize to Jonathan for thinking he was the problem, some others are still gnashing their teeth and knocking their head in a ‘had- I-known’ fashion.
That is where we are now, awaiting a rescuer in any form including a return to the military, once called “aberration in politics”, as boldly pushed into public discourse by a pro-govern ment lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN). With such a bold call coming on a ‘Channels’ television popular political programme from a buddy of the regime who is known to be an ally of the current cabal chief, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), curious minds have been pondering who indeed wants a coup? The quick reaction of the military to Clarke’s call, rather than douse the suspicion, helped to fuel it. Discerning minds are wondering and imagining what is going on inside the power corridor. The Department of State Services (DSS), a perpetual ally of the government, has not helped matters given its alarm that there were some nefarious plans to disrupt the political system. Even the presidency echoed it. Various permutations are beginning to come up as a result.
Could it be that the former Service Chiefs and their cohorts, who were virtually forced out, are trying to put pressure to establish their indispensability. Or could it be the new Service Chiefs who are trying to heat up the polity for more attention? Maybe the government, having tried all governance tricks in its hats, now wants to run away.
Perhaps, the more dangerous and obviously political one is that instead of power to return to the South, let there be a disruption in the system to pave way for a call for a fresh start? Similar calculations had happened in 1983 when Dr Alex Ekwueme, through exceptional performance as Vice President, was being positioned to succeed President Shehu Shagari and some diehard northerners did not want it and they disrupted the second republic to pave way for another Fulani, Major-Gen Muhammadu Buhari.
Pundits are not ruling out a repeat of history. Now that every reasonable index is pointing at power going to the South East in 2023 after Buhari for fairness and political stability, some people in the garb of national leaders like Mallam Nasir El-Rufai may be touting anything but the South East to accommodate his Presidential or Vice Presidential dreams.
From the foregoing, the reading public may arrive at the answer to who needs a coup. The ordinary Nigerians from the North, South, East or West, whether Christian or Muslim want and need good governance by democratic means, security of their lives and property, and improved standards of living.
The common man on the street fears that his aspirations may not be attainable under the current Nigeria contraption, hence the clamour for restructuring of the polity. Perhaps, the only way they may consider the military option is if it is the only option leading to restructuring.
There could be a democratic system that may be unable to provide the needs of the populace and provide checks and balances. If therefore a government has journeyed to a dead end as in the case of the Buhari regime where the people are not secured, their lives and property are not safe, the economic situation is worsening by the day due to ineptitude, and peace and harmony unavailable due to glaring injustice and nepotism, human rights and rule of law not visible.
If in all that the legislature and the judiciary choose to play fiddle like Nero while Rome burns, sounding helpless and hopeless, then it would be safe to say that democracy has taken flight from our shores. It is perhaps because of the quagmire in which we find ourselves that made the former Ambassador of the U.S. to Nigeria, John Campbell, to suggest in a paper he delivered at a summit recently that only a ‘radical option’ is needed to avert anarchy in Nigeria. Could Campbell be alluding to the restructuring campaign to keep Nigeria one or a coup? It had better be the former.
What is a radical option by American standards? As I leave you musing over all these and other questions, remember that America under President Joe Biden as Vice President facilitated the coming of the Buhari government. American interest first, every other thing remains distant second. The Washington spinners of 2014 are back again; we better watch it.
The interest is not us. The interest in retaining power and protecting interests is what Steven Weber said at the opening of this, “…Presidential politics has become a game of inches.” In this game, victory comes to the meticulous and the daring. It’s all politics, says Guyanese novelist, Sharon Maas, grown-ups like to play it as little children play with toys. God help us.