Still on the matter: Are we really on the verge of a military takeover in Nigeria?

by Roqeebah Olaoniye

For any Nigerian in their early twenties, the closest thing to memories of the brutality of military regime must be the sickening annulment of the “freest and fairest” election ever held in Nigeria by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1993. For much older Nigerians, the memory may be even more sickening – the dashed hopes, the fact that it took a decade to get to a place where peaceful handover to democratic rule was promised, the sheer wickedness of it all, and worst yet (and this must be true for every Nigerian, even those who were born in the millennium), the figure that will continually loom behind shades, General Sani Abacha. He must have been many things to many people, as all human beings certainly are, but he will remain one thing to everyone – including those yet to be born: a relic of a shameful autocratic past.

To conjure up a memory of General Sani Abacha should ordinarily be enough to get every living Nigerian to get their ducks of public consciousness in a row. But we are a people especially given to amnesia. And this is the only reason it makes any kind of sense that in 2017, with fledging democracy in our laps after years of stunted development and strained existence under several military leadership, there’ll be any talks of a coup d’etat sponsored by desperate civilian politicians.

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For exactly one week now, the Nigerian news media space has been saturated with “coup rumours”. Starting with reports that the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General, Tukur Buratai had redeployed (in reference to an announcement made by the Nigerian Army on the 10th of May) top army officers after learning that some of them had been meeting with politicians to plan a hostile takeover.

It is hard to tell how coup d’états were planned before the democracy we have now become accustomed to in Nigeria. But it sounds about right to think assume that something hostile is cooking when there is an uncontroverted report claiming that: “just hours after President Buhari travelled to London for medical treatment, Buratai, requested to see the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo urgently… with intelligence that some prominent politicians were parleying with Army officers and soldiers in a bid to compromise them” and based on the Nigerian Army’s own admission, there had been a major shake-up of top officials in the Army just a day after the President was flown out of the country for his “medical follow-up” amidst uncertainties about the continuity of his administration.

It makes you – as a person with little to no recollection of what a dictatorship feels like – wonder why anyone in the political class will want to return to such a dark place. A place where the power they wrench from others is not even guaranteed to stay in their own hands for any particular amount of time.

And even if one wanted to turn a blind eye to that report about the major shake-up of top military officers, it became impossible when just two days after, the British High Commissioner felt the need to remind us how:

“The British Government believes that democracy is absolutely critical in Nigeria. There is a democratic process here; there are elections. If you are not happy with your leaders, then you should change your leadership process through your leaders and through elections. That is exactly what happened in 2015 and it is what the British Government will expect to happen in Nigeria.” British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Paul Arkwright. May 18, 2017.

A day earlier, on the 17th of May, the Presidency had sent out a veiled warning to the alleged coup plotters while expressing “strong & unflinching support for the Govt of Pres. Alassane Ouattara” against mutineers in Ivory Coast who had just attempted a coup against his government.

As redundant as it may seem that a democratic government will express “unflinching” support for another against mutineers, our own circumstance just made the Presidency’s response to Ivory Coast’s plight much more unnerving that it had to be.

Over the course of the 6 days between then and now, politicians, elder statesmen, political appointees and even Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu have felt the need to either issue warnings or dispell the rumours. In Nigeria, so many people don’t speak about any rumours except those rumours are closer to the truth than falsehood.

The only question in all of these remains: why would anybody that doesn’t deserve a life sentence without parole (nor access to daylight) want to take Nigeria back to the dark days of autocracy?

 

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