Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Comment - Waiting for Confusion in Nigeria

Suddenly nobody wants to admit to surprise at the events of 31st December 1983. Everybody saw the coup d'etat in Nigeria coming and it was inevitable that the Shagari government should be overthrown.

Maybe this is to be expected. Those who consider themselves to be experts do not like to be taken or to be seen to have been taken by surprise. And to retain their credibility, it is to be expected that if something happens that they had not exactly predicted, they should hasten to repair whatever damage might have been done to their reputations.

What better way to demonstrate that they saw it all coming than to show how dreadful and unacceptable the Shagari government had been; thus people are outdoing each other in digging out the dirt.

Some of the 'dirt' that is being dug up or thrown about would doubtless shock all right-thinking people, the wonder being why the revelations are now being made and not before 31st December 1983, leading inevitably to a feeling of excuse finding.

There are some charges that once levelled against a person would stick because the yardstick for measuring the guilt or otherwise has a lot of elasticity, The Shagari government, when it comes to the charge of ineptitude for example, will have to plead guilty as charged, for as long as they were not able to solve the problems of Nigeria.

The charge of corruption is a much clearer one and it is very important that specific corruption cases are brought and prosecuted, for unless that is done, the impression will persist that it is only a routine charge made by any group of soldiers who stage a coup d'etat. 'Corrupt politicians' is a crowd pulling slogan, guaranteed to win support, but to make it more than a slogan, it should not be difficult for some specific cases at least to be pro- secuted to substantiate the charges. That should not be a difficult task when corruption was so widespread and if it was only the politicians that were guilty. This is of course not a season to be kind to politicians, but it might be considered that there might be clean politicians and not everybody who dabbles in politics should be deemed to be guilty.

The Ghana example readily comes to mind. Nobody had any doubts, at the time the Limann government was overthrown, about the reality of the 'corrupt politicians' charge. Two years after the event and even without the encumbrance of 'legal mumbo-jumbo' only three politicians have been prosecuted and convicted, and it was for taking party funds, not government funds and what is more, this was a case that members of the party were themselves investigating and doing something about before the coup.

After putting the past in perspective and discovering things that had been ignored and adding fresh dimensions to already known facts, it has become fashionable to predict the future.

Some people have made references to captains and lieutenants waiting in the wings and the colonels and generals having set examples for their juniors to follow. How long will it take before the sergeants take their turn? Nigeria's delicate tribal and regional balance that had appeared to be fusing is back in fashion for analysis and loyalties are being compartmentalised on tribal basis. The Nigerian armed forces, suddenly in the limelight again, is being examined soldier by soldier and long forgotten adjectives are on parade again - Ibo officers, Kaduna Mafia, Northern domination, revenge and balance of power...

The Peoples Daily Graphic of Ghana has gone a step further. While welcoming the coup because Shagari and his Ministers were out of touch with the Nigerian people, the paper is unimpressed by General Buhari's Supreme Military Council also because according to it, the colonels, brigadiers and generals are equally out of touch with the people - sergeants, corporals are the ones to do the trick - they are in harmony with the people.

Thus it appears that many people are willing an eruption of chaos in Nigeria, it is evident in the incredulous air that still surrounds the telling of the 'smoothness and bloodless nature' of the coup and the calmness with which the Nigerians have accepted the change.

Nobody wants to be caught again not having predicted the H-hour of the next major event in Nigeria and the pity is that the soldiers in their attempt at 'justifying' their action are playing exactly into the hands of the prophets.

It is in the interest of those who welcome military governments and those who claim to have known it all along to attribute the 'welcoming of the soldiers' to disenchantment with constitutional rule. What would have been strange indeed would have been an uprising by the populace of Nigeria, unarmed, against their armed forces to say 'who appointed you a judge over us.'

If the Nigerian Labour Congress had said 'please stay in the barracks, let us make our elected officials do the proper thing, and if the Nigerian judiciary had demonstrated that being under the power of the gun is as contemptible as any political interference ever complained of, then there would have been something worth saying.

Right now, it is only a practised drill with everybody falling into his allotted space, nothing has happened to indicate that anything significant has occurred and it is the predictable nature of everything that has given the courage to all the experts and their predictions.

talking drums 1984-01-16 waiting for confusion in Nigeria - another food crisis year