The symbolism of blood in Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings’ name must have terribly scared the Nigerian Army. So also the “baboon drenched in blood” picture of the July 29, 1966 mutiny-turned coup codenamed Operation Araba. Worse still was the image of bullet-ridden bodies of politicians in the January 15, 1966 coup, about the bloodiest putsch in the history of the Nigerian ruling elite’s struggle for the control of the levers of power. When the National Democratic Party, (NDP) upper week, barely a week to the 54th anniversary of the second Nigerian coup, canvassed the “Rawlings treatment” for masterminds of alleged monumental theft of Nigeria’s wealth in the Muhammadu Buhari government, the party had obviously shot the sling of a catapult on a hive of bees.
The January coup had ideological trappings, a warning against the misusage of power. Spearheaded by military officers of Igbo descent who eliminated key Northern politicians and military officers, there was no doubting the fact that it desired to mop up systemic maggots from Nigerian government. Unfortunately, however, the plotters left wounds that have since refused to heal. While the July coup was masterminded by vengeance-propelled Lt. Colonel Murtala Mohammed, who struck in concert with other disgruntled northern military officers, it left memories of an orgy of extreme torture, ambush killings and summary executions. Nevertheless, both coups, as well as the Ghanaian Rawlings coup of 1979, will make the ears of anyone who witnessed the bloodletting tingle.
The most venerated Northern politician of the time, the politically sacred Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was felled by the audacious bullets of Igbo officers of the July coup. Bello’s counterpart in the West, the polyglot, erstwhile Editor of the Daily Service newspaper, Chief S.L. Akintola, was gunned down in the presence of his family. The highest victims of that counter-coup being General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi and Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, Nigeria's first military Head of State and Governor of Western Region respectively, the ethnic bad blood it provoked left in its wake a civil war barely a year after, with residue of a million souls sacrificed.
On the reverse, the coup in Ghana was a retributive strike against the 42-year old Lt. Gen. Frederick W. K. Akuffo-led Supreme Military Council of Ghana, which had earlier, on May 15, 1979, incarcerated Fl. Lt. Rawlings. Rawlings’ initial grouse against the Akuffo government was its refusal to pay salaries of the military. At his trial, Rawlings turned the tide against Akuffo by publicly alleging massive corruption of his government, which he claimed was reason for widespread suffering and disenchantment of the people of Ghana.
Shortly after, specifically on June 3, 1979, Major Boakye Djan and junior officers with allied disgruntled feelings about the Akuffo government, matched into the prison where Rawlings was incarcerated, yanked manacles off his arms and walked to the radio station to announce Akuffo’s overthrow. The coup-plotters thereafter rounded up the Head of State, Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and another former Ghanaian ruler, General A. A Afrifa and put them on trial. The allegations of the young new military rulers against them were, economic sabotage, abuse of power, amassment of wealth, as well as misuse of the Ghanaian state funds. On June 26, 1979, Acheampong, Akuffo and Afrifa, were publicly executed by firing squad. They were shot in company with five other senior officers. Venue of their last breaths on earth was a military firing range on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean near Accra, witnessed by a huge crowd of bystanders.
I went into details of the above three military putsches in order to adequately situate the press release credited to the NDP National Chairman, Chidi Chukwuani. In the statement, Chukwuani had canvassed the “Rawlings treatment” for current Nigerian rulers as reprisal for the massive corruption which had seized the polity. Chukwuani’s statement had barely hit the airwaves by the time a rebound surfaced from the Nigerian army. In a statement signed by the Defence Headquarters’ spokesman, John Enenche, the army likened Chukwuani’s call to an “unguided utterance” and “call to insurrection” and pleaded with Nigerian soldiers to disregard the call to arms, reminding them of their oath to be loyal to Nigeria and its Commander-in-Chief.
“The Defence Headquarters… observe(s) that this, targeted at the Nigerian military, is inciting and instigative. What Chukwuani is calling for is a combination of unpopular acts of insurrection and mutiny, which cannot be taken for granted by the Armed Forces of Nigeria. Consequently, I am directed by the high command of the Nigerian military to let the general public know and remind personnel of the Armed Forces of Nigeria that all officers and men of the Nigerian military swore to an oath of allegiance to be totally loyal to the civil authority of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and protect the constitution. All officers and men of the Nigerian military are further reminded of offences contained in Armed Forces Act CAP A20. The laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which include among others; mutiny in sections 52 and 53, which if committed are punishable,” Enenche sermonized.
Perhaps because they are soldiers, Enenche and his military constituency apparently have no patience for comprehensive interrogation of issues. No wonder their resort to lame placebo and placatory, as well as veiled threats. It’s our duty not to allow them get away with this rigor-less sanctimony. Rather than this cant, the first question they should have asked was, are there historical constellations between what led to the Rawlings revolution in Ghana, the Nigerian coups of 1966 and today’s chaotic Nigeria under the previous government of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the current one under Muhammadu Buhari which Chukwuani and his NDP took liberty to compare and project? If the events are not dissimilar, shouldn’t there then be similar retributions for similar infractions?
The truth is that, the quantum of rot and corruption that instigated the 1966 Nigerian coup plotters and the Rawlings' putschists of 1979 to strike against democratic institutions of the time is grossly miniature compared to the huge systemic heists that have been inflicted on Nigeria in 20 years of the Fourth Republic. While the Aguiyi-Ironsi military government unilaterally and unconscionably subverted the country’s federal structure to unitarism, the coup-plotters of January alleged that Nigerian enemies, who their coup was aimed at, were “the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent, those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office… the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circle, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”
Now, check all the provoking indices of that Nzeogwu coup speech and tease out which is not present since two decades back. Politicians have literally stolen Nigeria blind and flushed her to the precipice. The cronyism of the Buhari government and the heavy theft under Goodluck Jonathan are undeniably worse than that which riled Nzeogwu to kill the crème de la crème of the polity. Worse than the ten percenters of 1966, votes for contracts are stolen 100 per cent in Nigeria’s current Republic. The divisiveness promoted by the Buhari government is the worst in human history by a government against its own people, a morbid version of tribalism perfected without any care in the world, with mindless abandon, if you like. You heard Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, putting “the Nigerian political calendar back” in words and deeds, by justifying the relinquishing of Nigeria’s sovereignty to China, in a bid to sign a $5.8 billion debt for the finance of rail projects which, trust Nigeria’s rapacious governmental elements, must have had them filch billions of Naira from? If a Minister didn’t see anything wrong in a contract which states that, "The borrower hereby irrevocably waives any immunity on the grounds of sovereign or otherwise for ITSELF or its property in connection with any arbitration proceeding pursuant to Article 8(5), thereof with the enforcement of any arbitral award pursuant thereto, except for the military assets and diplomatic assets,” then many of the government runners now and in the three administrations previously should thank their stars that the ghost of Nzeogwu isn’t as vengeful as the ghost of Julius Caesar.
In 20 years of democratic practice, through the avarice of “political profiteers, the swindlers” hunger, squalor and hopelessness have colonized Nigeria. From the corruption dramatology in the NDDC perfected in the last 20 years and in virtually everywhere in Nigeria, politicians have done worse than, a la Nzeogwu, “mak(ing) the country look big for nothing before international circle” – they have miniaturized a giant. No one respects Nigeria or Nigerians in the whole wide world any longer.
In spite of the billions of Naira voted to protect Nigeria and combat crime, our people are killed like chickens in Kaduna, Katsina, Borno States by ragtag armies of bandits and insurgents every hour. A report, two days ago, said that 497 Nigerians were killed in three weeks, yet Buhari claimed he had done his best. In Southern Kaduna, more persons must have been hacked to death than were killed in Mali, yet Buhari not only didn’t find it necessary to be bothered enough to intervene, but he had no qualms in junketing to that country, ostensibly to go shop for an end to the “Malian crisis.” Jonathan was practically dozing while insecurity seized Nigeria too.
A few days ago, the Governor of Borno, Babagana Zulum, was almost assassinated by Boko Haram insurgents, provoking a threat from him to defend his state by returning to a pristine architecture of hunters as substitute to a Nigerian Army that gulps billions of Naira in annual budgets. In the midst of this plethora of crises that dwarf his essence in office, Buhari was either not aware or busy smiling in empty photo-ops and well-starched babanriga. So, what is wrong in canvassing similar remedy for same ailments?
Having said all this, however, military rule can NEVER be a substitute to the democratic flip-flops of the last 20 years in Nigeria under civilians. We do not need to engage in homilies to see that the 30 years of military rule, out of the 60 years of Nigeria’s independence, have destroyed the country almost irreparably. Patently ambitious, many times infantile and ostensibly incompetent military officers bayoneted their ways into Government House amid a ricochet of guns, trusting in their armory, rather than rich minds. They were bereft of the tiniest ingredients of leadership and ran this country not only by trial and error but with heavy brawns and nil brains. Just imagine for a second that, but for providence, a drunk, blabber and sybarite like Bukar Suka Dimka could have headed this country in 1976.
Leading Nigeria at a time of unprecedented boom, the ruling soldier elite literally administered Nigeria like a saturnalia. They quashed precious wealth on frivolities and were too conscribed thought-wise to plan for today. This produced a Yakubu Gowon who unabashedly announced to the world that the problem with Nigeria was not money but how to spend it. The soldier boys squandered trillions of Nigeria’s inheritance on playing Big Brother to Africa, rather than providing a future for millions of Nigerians unborn. Today, Nigerians live with the squalor resulting from and concomitant to that irresponsible and opaque military leadership. So, in all material particular, as lawyers say, military rule is not an option to move Nigeria forward at all.
But the right way to begin to address Nigeria’s problem of selfish and self-centered leadership isn’t to play the ostrich as Enenche and his Army Headquarters have done. A truism in the literature of Third World governance is that a people-centered democratic government is a sure antidote to the evil of military governmental hijack. There is no doubt that the Nigerian Army was scared by this harmless comparison made by the NDP, having also confronted the well-burnished disorder in the polity in the last 20 years under civilian rulers. The military must know as well that such hopelessness in Nigeria today is a lacuna which irresponsible soldier wayfarers exploit to headbutt democratic governments. NDP should, however, have told Nigerians that virtually all Nigerian politicians and not the APC-run government alone, is responsible for this colossal rot.
We all know that the democratic template we have had in Nigeria in 20 years is the worst form of representative democracy anywhere in the world. We also know as well that Nigeria is hemorrhaging terribly and is gasping for breath in the hands of the political class and its accomplices. Worse still, this same political class has corrupted the electoral process so much that the democratic lingo which says that irresponsible governments can be voted out of office at voters’ behest is, in Nigeria, at best a hollow and dud concept. We must engage our problems head on and military rule is not part of the options at all. Soldiers will further worsen and compound Nigeria’s bottomless problems. What we need is a nihilist return to reset mode. The way forward, I honestly cannot fathom though.
Buhari’s politics of memory
President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, rolled out a list of railway station corridors which were named after living and departed Nigerians, ostensibly with the aim of memorializing icons of the Nigerian state. The corridors are ones along the Lagos-Ibadan and Itakpe/Ajaokuta/ Aladja/Warri corridors. He claimed that the Nigerians were so honoured due to the commensurate contributions they had made to the progress and development of their communities and Nigeria as a whole.
The honorees and their corridors were, Bola Tinubu (Apapa station), Mobolaji Johnson (Ebute Metta Station), Babatunde Fashola (Agege station), Lateef Jakande, (Agbado station) Yemi Osinbajo (Kajola station), Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (Papalanto station), Wole Soyinka (Abeokuta station), Segun Osoba (Olodo station), Ladoke Akintola (Omi-Adio station), Obafemi Awolowo (Ibadan station) and Alex Ekwueme (Operation Control Centre). He had earlier named one after Goodluck Jonathan. If you ask me, a Buhari who scarcely bothers about what the rest of the world says, must have fought for the inclusion of General Sani Abacha’s name on the list.
Anthropologists will be interested in the politics behind this memorialization by the Buhari administration. It reminds me of the theme of the 2017 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, which was, In Whose Honor? On Monuments, Public Spaces, Historical Narratives and Memory.
In naming monuments after persons, Buhari seemed to be acting as a steward of the past and present, arriving at a potpourri broth of good names sprinkled with dregs and suppressors of the people’s will, for political advantage. However, with the current mood sweeping round the globe, it is apparent that the correct and most enduring memorialization is in good deeds. For instance, Buhari does not have to erect any physical monument in Awolowo’s memory. He is etched in Yoruba people’s memories and will continue to occupy that space till the end of time.
Centuries-old statues perceived to have been erected to honour individuals who fought wars protecting the institution of slavery were recently pulled down. What that means is that, while Buhari has the presidential power to play politics of memory by erecting monuments in remembrance of people who catch his fancy, they will be pulled down long after we are all gone, when the correct reading of our memories are shoveled out. In fact, users of the railway corridors may not affix to them the names decreed by the President. I cite two examples to buttress this. The popular Ring Road named after MKO Abiola in Ibadan, Oyo State is seldom so referred while the New Garage road, never named after anyone, but built by a former Oyo governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala, is so memorialized ever since.
Buhari himself should bother what monuments would be erected in his own memory decades to come. Perhaps in Daura where he has been a son-of-the-soil made good? Or in the Fulani nation where he had successfully muzzled merit into the dustbin to favour his ethnicity? In Daura, in Buhari’s very eyes, his monuments – billboards – were pulled down some months ago by his own people. It should tell him that memorialization is done by the people and has no place for politics.