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Bad politicians and military coupists

Thursday with Abimbola Adelakun; [email protected]

Since the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, hinted that some soldiers were in cahoots with politicians – his warning was taken that a coup might be in the offing – politicians of all shades have taken the centre stage to denounce the possibility. The most vehement of these voices, incidentally, are those of politicians who are not much better than the soldiers they admonish. These politicians have been in and out of government from 1999 till date. They have either perpetrated, or aided and abetted acts of corruption, state-sanctioned violence, brutality, repression, and disdain for civic processes as much as the khaki boys.

So why do these folks think that raising the spectre of a marauding military government is a most fearsome prospect when they are just as bad for Nigeria? It is almost amusing watching politicians warn the rumoured coup-planners not to topple the government so as not to provoke Nigerians. Parroting ‘Nigerian Citizens’ during power tussle has always been the refuge of our national scoundrels. Yet, after they have gained power, the first people they shut out are “Nigerian citizens” on whose backs they climb to public office. They should stop pontificating about a coup, we have had it up to our eyeballs with them, too.

A coup, by the way, is most undesirable for Nigeria right now and the mere rumour of an impending one is bothersome. There is not one scenario that I imagined into the thought of a coup that had a tolerable ending for either the army or Nigeria as an entity. As history has sadly shown us, military men are not the best of administrators. From Kaduna Nzeogwu to Sani Abacha coups, it has been a shamanistic jingoism from one megalomaniac to another. The nine years of  Yakubu Gowon’s military rule and the eight years of the Ibrahim Babanginda military administration were particularly wasteful. The former mused about money not being a problem but how to spend it and the latter famously squandered $12.4bn the Gulf War oil windfall. Nigeria is yet to fully recover from their greed and myopia. Another coup in the country will only create a new class of oppressors who will merely usurp our present oppressors. We will once again be embroiled in an unending nightmare.

While an imminent coup should be necessarily denounced, it should not be treated as the apogee of political threats facing Nigeria presently. What is coming to us soon is equally frightening. By May 29, Nigeria will start a two-year countdown towards swearing-in another President. If circumstances do not improve, we might find ourselves still stuck with a Muhammadu Buhari presidency. Buhari can barely attend Federal Executive Council meetings while he is in Nigeria, yet his aides swear that he is taking serious policy decisions from his hospital bed in London! If Buhari wins a second term, he will drag down Nigeria.

From 1999, Nigeria has been extremely unlucky in the choice of her leaders. We have had Olusegun Obasanjo who was as corrupt and as autocratic as they come. We had Umaru Yar’Adua whose brief tenure was uninspiring and more time was spent on debating the state of his failing health than actual governance. Then came Jonathan, the man who merely happened to be in all the right places at the right time. He, too, turned out to be clueless and unfit for power. After Jonathan came Buhari, a man who spent 12 years trying to get to power, but it turned out that he was neither physically nor mentally prepared for the presidency.

All of them, cumulatively, have done grave damage to Nigeria in ways that will require another century to repair. After 18 years of civilian rule, Nigeria cannot generate its own energy neither have we added major infrastructures to the paltry ones we inherited from the military government. For every two step we have taken forward, we have taken one backward. I cannot think of a bigger disaster that will befall Nigeria in 2019 than Buhari winning a second term. We know he can – and most likely will – contest the election, even if they resort to campaigning for him from his hospital bed in London. In Nigeria, we have seen a man in prison win a governorship election so what will be new this time?

We can be sure that when the time comes, Buhari will borrow the playbook of former dictators like his friend, Sani Abacha, and tell us that he has no choice but to contest because Nigerians have told him he is the only one the cap fits. Once he gets into the arena, he will so muddle things up that we will spend more time on the distractions of his health than the issues that matter to the future of our nation. If we are not circumspect – and we do not have a better alternative – he will win another four years. If he does, we will go through four more years of despondency, inaction and ineffectual buffoonery.

So, let no one tell us that a military coup is the only disaster coming for Nigeria. We are facing one already; we are just not treating it with the urgency it requires.

I do not intend to minimise the effects of a coup, but I do not believe a coup can succeed. How does a coup even occur today? Do the soldiers use their old blueprint or they have new strategies? The old tactics of seizing broadcast stations and repeating martial music will not work in the age of the Internet. Among the 300 plus radio stations scattered all over Nigeria, which one will best serve their purpose? Will they pour non-commissioned officers into the streets, impose a 24-hour curfew and threaten anyone who challenges them with whips and guns? How long can they sustain resistance from Nigerians who will mobilise against them through social media?

Considering that Nigeria is fighting several internecine conflicts on multiple fronts – Boko Haram, murderous herdsmen, Niger Delta militancy, the Biafra question, and other tribal restiveness – how do the coup plotters hope to keep everyone under their jackboots while successfully administering the country? Do the military officers who can barely manage army resources (the procurement of weapons for the army has been mired in corruption scandals) have any superior intelligence to take over from governors at state levels and clear the backlog of salaries and pensions? Are they prepared for economic sanctions that will be placed on Nigerians by other countries? Do they have any idea about the complications of managing an economy in the 21st century?

How can the military, worn and demystified from fighting Boko Haram – a band of untrained and fatalistic maniacs –face millions of Nigerians who will challenge them if they ever dare to topple our democracy? The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, should not have exposed the army to needless ridicule by publicly sharing unfounded rumours and speculations. The army should have investigated the matter privately unless, of course, Buratai was testing public reactions.

Whatever the coup plotters have in mind, I hope they and their civilian collaborators realise that present day Nigeria is not the same as it was from the mid-1960s to the early-1990s when they carried out coups and counter-coups. The world has changed and military dictatorship is long out of vogue. Nigerians will not joyfully welcome them as they did in the 1980s when they ousted directionless governments. The logistics of contemporary societies do not simply sustain the kind of infrastructure that the military needs to survive. Nigerians will revolt, there will be a wave of religious and ethnic tensions and eventually, the spate of actions might balkanise the country. The army should drown all thoughts of a coup and concentrate on their duty to preserve the Nigerian union by staying where they belong – in the barracks.

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