Nigeria is in the high season of worship. What passes for democracy in the old country is what has come to be dubbed “Buhari Worship”. The toadying submission put at the feet of President Muhammadu Buhari is akin to religious fervour. It is a sacrament that brooks no opposition. The motley masses who counter the ways of Buhari are dismissed by the Buhari worshippers as “Wailing Wailers”. Buhari is being lionised for giving Nigerian democracy iron teeth, a feat beyond the soft ways of civilian politicians. The ready Buhari mantra, whether as military head of state or civil president, is the fight against corruption.
To go back in history, Nigeria’s first coup as arranged by Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and their fellow majors did raise the issue of corruption as a major prong of why they struck to sack the First Republic. The entire coup attempt got mired in the corruption of ethnic politics until there was the counter-coup. Of course the Nigeria-Biafra war supervened. After the war, Nigeria’s first president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe proposed the adoption of the theory of Diarchy in which the soldiers would be sharing power with civilians, given the background that once the jackboots had tasted power they can never ever allow themselves to be far away from it. The great man known as Zik had many critics who would have nothing to do with his proposition.
The Nigerian military enjoyed a long stay in power until the Second Republic was inaugurated in 1979 with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as President. Of course the military overthrew the civilian government on the last day of 1983 with the selfsame charge of corruption ruling the airwaves amidst martial music. Incidentally, Buhari who is back in power today with the mantra of corruption in his every utterance was the military ruler back then who jailed many opposition politicians with uncountable years of imprisonment because of – you guessed it – corruption. A major player in the Second Republic, Alhaji Umaru Dikko who had escaped to London, gave a countering press conference that corruption was only a smokescreen for the coup. According to Umaru Dikko, the soldiers took power because they were angry that the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had paved the way for Vice-President Alex Ekwueme, an Igbo from the former Biafran enclave, to succeed Shagari as President. Buhari arranged a bungled attempt to put Umaru Dikko in a crate to bring him back to Nigeria.
The other dimension was that the military bigwigs did not find it funny that Shagari pardoned the Biafran leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, and brought him back to Nigeria from Cote d’Ivoire in a blaze of overwhelming fanfare. When the Second Republic was overthrown, Ojukwu was put away in prison by Buhari even as the former Biafran leader held no political post.
Even as the military took power then, touting Buhari’s integrity, the army boys would soon overthrow him with the charge that he was too parochial and unaccommodating, given the largeness of the Nigerian enterprise. The military brought forward President Ibrahim Babangida to dominate the Nigerian space with political mumbo-jumbo, economic hocus-pocus and not a little corruption thrown in as state policy. It became quite clearer than structural adjustment that the military brass-hats could jump higher heights of corruption than their civilian counterparts. Babangida succumbed to the final disgrace when he annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by his bosom friend Bashorun MKO Abiola. Amidst nationwide riots, Babangida quit power after cobbling up a very wobbly kind of “Diarchy” featuring Chief Ernest Shonekan and General Sani Abacha.
It did not take daredevil Abacha any time at all to kick out the overmatched Chief Shonekan. Whatever the civilian politicians achieved in corruption was eclipsed by Abacha. Yes, Abacha’s loot was so much that it forced open even the secrecy of the secret vaults of the Swiss banks! Upon the dubious death of Abacha, the military knew it had lost all respectability for staying in power. Even so, the military honcho had to recruit its retired type, General Olusegun Obasanjo, to take over as civilian president in 1999. It is a well known Nigerian fact that the more things change, the more they remain the same. That is why the legendary musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti will never truly die so long as his album “Army Arrangement” still plays, and his lines such as “Soja don put everybody for reverse” remain on the lips of all and sundry.
When Obasanjo had to leave power against his personal wish and desire after his Third Term bid failed, he brought to power an ailing civilian, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who, of course, died on the job. The next civilian on the line, the then Vice-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, met with all makes of obstacles before he could replace the dead man as President. Jonathan ran the most sabotaged presidency ever. It was all war on the political front.
The clear and present danger became that Nigeria would cease to exist as a nation if ever Jonathan won re-election. Buhari thus became a godsend of change. Buhari has since ascended the seat of power, but old habits die hard. The old reasons for which he was overthrown by his military compatriots back in 1985 are already manifesting in a so-called democracy. Security agents can now brazenly invade a government house, as happened the other day in Akwa Ibom State. No matter whatever, the Buhari worshippers of military rule as sacramental democracy would have us believe the obvious truth has to be told. In the school of democracy, Buhari is not qualified to be in the kindergarten class. He ought to be in crèche. If it is military rule we want in this benighted country, let’s call it by its name instead of abusing the hallowed name of democracy.