NO MORE EXERCISE DAMISA
By Musa Toyyib Olaniyi
Recently, the hardworking and self-effacing Chief of Army Staff( COAS) Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai raised an alarm about some politicians holding unwholesome discussions with the military and expectedly, this information has sent the whole country into a frenzy of condemnation of such unholy idea.
The issue must be taken seriously because Gen. Buraitai is not an officer given to flippancy and we can say unequivocally that his appointment as the COAS was one of the commendable decisions of President Muhammadu Buhari who by the way, is outside of the country to attend to his failing health. Again, we have to be worried because it was said that the Premiers of both Northern and Western regions had intelligence no matter how sketchy it was about the first coup that took place in the country during the first republic. Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe who was the President at the time was said to have got a hint about the coup from Emmanuel Ifeajuna who was said to be his cousin. Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was in Europe and later the Carribeans when the coup took place. Whether he was aware or not, till today, is still a subject of conjecture. Some accounts have denied this knowledge on his part. No matter how the history is revised, the truth was that there were widespread rumours in official circles about an imminent coup but the coalition government then chose not to do anything about it. Whether the inaction was a result of fatalism, naivety, skepticism or under estimation of the military will be hard to say.
Most people interpreted the General's alarm to mean coup suggestions even though, he may not have intended such meanings. Either way, the truth of the matter is that coup, which is the violent or non-violent overthrow of a constitutional government is no longer popular in today's world. As a matter of fact, it is an aberration and a taboo in modern political lexicon.
But it is curious that politicians will always be fingered when coups or rebellion of the armed forces are mooted. This is a sad reality. Politicians ordinarily should be at the forefront of protecting the nation's democracy but unfortunately, our politicians are amnesiac, so they learn nothing and are generally poor students of history.
The first coup in Nigeria occurred on 15th January, 1966. The coup led by Majors Kaduna Patrick Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna was carried out by a group of middle level officers(majors) in the Nigerian Army using a night-time training exercise called 'Exercise Damisa'. The coupists of course rationalised their misadventure on the need to safe the country from the stranglehold of profiteers, ten percenters and imminent collapse arising from acrimonious politics of the first republic.
Unfortunately, the mutiny was seen as heavily tribalistic as most casualties of the rebellion were prominent Nigerians of Northern extraction. The putsch swept away the Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, who was the Premier of Northern region, the Premier of Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola, the Federal Finance Commissioner, Festus Okotie-Eboh among others. Also, the cream of the military that were murdered were mostly northerners.
While Major Kaduna Nzeogwu who coordinated the northern operation was successful in his assignment, the same cannot be said of Emmanuel Ifeajuna who failed in the execution of the southern operation. Kaduna Nzeogwu felt that he and his mutineers were driven by patriotism but the manner of the coup execution cast a shadow of doubt on the intention. But then, the military has tasted blood and things will never be the same again as soldiers now begin to bay for more blood.
Shortly after this first baptism of blood, another counter coup was executed on July 29 of the same year largely by Northern officers to even the score. This too could not be entirely divorced from civilian influence as critical stakeholders in the north apparently still smarting from the disaster of the January coup began to instigate northern officers to take their own pound of flesh. This crave for revenge was not helped by the unhelpful attitude of the easterners which smack of triumphalism. Again, the civilians abetted the truncation of democracy.
The revenge of the northern officers was almost cataclysmic and this reaction which went beyond the barracks was to lead to the three-year civil war which raged from 1967 to 1970. By 1975, General Murtala Muhammad toppled Gen. Gowon's regime and some months later Gen. Murtala Muhammed was also killed in another abortive coup. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo took over and reinstated democratic governance in 1979. By 31st of December, 1983, the martial music which heralded the coming of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari was again aired on the radio. In 1985, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida overthrew the Buhari-Idiagbon regime and during his regime there were the 1986 Mamman Vatsa coup and 1990 Gideon Orka abortive coup. By the time Gen. Babangida was forced out of power, he left a political contraption called Interim National Government (ING) which Gen. Sanni Abacha had no problem sacking after three months in the saddle. And in 1995 and 1996 there were alleged coups involving prominent retired military officers like Generals Obasanjo, Yaradua etc and serving military officers like Gen. Oladipo Diya respectively. On the whole, Nigeria has experienced five successful coups, two abortive coups, 1 attempted coup and 3 alleged coups.
What is interesting is that none of these coups could be mentioned without making reference to civilian collaborators and in many cases, they were people close to the corridors of power. It is not yet clear why some dim-witted Nigerians or politicians will prefer jackboot to freedom and liberty.
There seems to be no where in the world where the military has made a success of politics and governance. In Nigeria, the incursion of the military into our polity has been a plain disaster. Rather than ameliorate the ills they identified as plaguing the society, the military complicated and exacerbated them. Prostate economy, decayed institutions, escalation of poverty and crime rates , gross human rights abuses , embarrassing level of incompetence, grave corruption and waste are some of the legacies of military rule in Nigeria and Africa generally. The noise about their intervention being redemptive or corrective regimes were mere empty air.
This is so because apart from the fact that politics is not what the military is designed for, more often than not, its interventions in the polity were not borne out of altruism. Soldiers topple legitimate governments because of ethnic rivalries, or intramilitary quarrels and even sometimes to settle personal scores and fulfil egocentric ambitions. All of these have no place in modern governance template. Gone were the days when young men join the military nursing the ambition of becoming Military Administrators or a Head of State. Such an era will not resurface again in Nigeria.
It is important to state that the rumors , whether true or false, is a wake up call to politicians to stop the dance of shame they are presently occupied with. There is no stronger antidote to coups than good governance and patriotism of the citizens. But the patriotism of the people has linear relationship with the way the state treats them. A state that impoverishes her citizens lacks the moral right to request patriotic allegiance from them.
Politicians should know that coups are political taboos which they must not be identified with. When politicians hobnob with soldiers for malevolent reasons like coups, they suffer from what psychologists called masochism. It is the love of pain. If there is a putsch, the first casualty will be politicians as all institutions and instrument of democracy will be suspended. So, why do they desire pain and what will render them jobless? And if the soldiers think they will capitalise on the perceived discontent in the polity, then they suffer from what psychologists called false consensus bias. It is when you think other people think the way you think. No amount of discontent will make Nigerians applaud any martial music on the radio again. Never shall we pass through that tortuous road again!
Intricately related to the examination of this issue is our leadership recruitment process. Issues such as politicians baiting military men will continue to occur as long as the crop of our leadership or political elites are ignorant and indolent people who thrive on politicking. As it is presently, majority of those in leadership positions in all tiers of government in Nigeria are political jobbers who have no lives outside of politics hence, their desperation to remain in the corridors of power by all means. And perchance, those making the diabolical overtures were doing that in furtherance of some ethnic or tribal interests, then such evil elements must know that such hare- brained adventure bearing ethnic hue or agenda will certainly leads to the disintegration of the country.
Nigeria is a giant in Africa, military interventions in her affairs can only make her feet wobbly. In spite of its obvious defects, democracy is a nobler alternative to dictatorship. And with time, enlightened involvement of the people in the democratic process, democracy will serve its purposes.
Musa Toyyib Olaniyi is a Psychologist, lecturer, public analyst and writer. He writes from Ondo State, Nigeria.