Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Buhari - Our saviour or destroyer?

By Surajo Mohammed Agoro

The military came to power complaining that the level of unemployment was too high; within the first three months of getting into power, over 150,000 workers were sent on compulsory retirement and by the end of January 1985, over 3 million were made redundant.
When the military boys came to power in December 1983 they accused the democratically elected government of the country of causing: (a) Inadequacy of food at reasonable prices.

(b) Reducing hospitals to mere consulting clinics, without drugs and equipments.

(c) Education deteriorating at an alarming rate.

(d) Unemployment figures reaching embarrassing and unacceptable proportions.

(e) Workers being owed salary in arrears.

After forcing themselves upon the law abiding citizens, one would have thought they are going to right the wrongs. Instead after more than a year of their stay in power, Nigerians have never had it so bad. We have witnessed a year of vicious and destructive military regime, which has more than doubled unemployment, increased poverty, presided over the wholesale destruction of jobs and decimation of industries. Food now costs three times what it used to cost before they came to power, while hospitals are now mortuaries because doctors have now decided to stop treating patients with infectious disease.

On education, they've been pursuing a revisionist policy in this area, introducing school fees where none existed before, and increasing them astronomically where only small amounts were paid in the past. The general belief, however, is that it is the responsibility of the government of the day to provide education free to its citizens irrespective of wealth.

One of the reasons the Military gave for overthrowing the democratically elected government of the day was that unemployment had reached an unacceptable level and the failure of some state governments to pay workers salaries. One would have thought that the Military boys forced their way in to correct this particular wrong. But within the first three months of getting into power, over 150,000 workers were sent on compulsory retirement. By the end of January 1985 over 3 million were made redundant. In my view, the mass retrenchment of workers embarked upon by the military boys is a rather unwise step no-matter from what perspective the issue is looked at. There is no clear-cut criterion for the exercise in any particular instance. In certain cases, corruption, inefficiency and redundancy were used, in some states, thousands of workers of salary grade level 01-06 were asked to stay away because they were employed when embargo on employment was in force.

•Gen Buhari

The sight of once powerful political leaders being bundled in and out of police "Black Maria" is causing considerable shift in public sympathy in favour of the political detainees

This clearly shows that most of the state governors don't appear to know what they wanted to achieve from the exercise. In some instances workers were laid off from lists of names submitted by chief executives of affected ministries most of whom used the opportunity to settle personal scores. It will be a very serious (and possibly fatal) illusion on the part of the military government of Nigeria to believe that the country's problems can be solved simply by running a more competent and more administration than the previous government and it is doubtful that they can even do that. The basic problem since independence lies more in the realm of totally wrong choices in the strategy of natural development than in simple maladministration.

On the question of the trial of detained políticians arrested at the time of the December 31st military coup, unspecified charges ranging from embezzlement, misuse of public funds and receiving "kickbacks" to selling import licences are used against them. It is now clear after months of detention that the military do not know what to do with the detained politicians because they cannot get concrete evidence on which to convict them. They are now hand picking some of them and framing charges against them. Like in the case of the governor of Ogun State who was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment on charges that will definitely be thrown out by any competent court of law.

However, one thing of interest is the effect the prolonged trial and detention of these politicians is having on the majority of the people. The sight of once powerful political leaders being bundled in and out of police "Black Maria" is causing considerable shift in public sympathy in favour of the political detainees. This change of opinion by the people and the open injustice being meted out to most of them forced the military boys to embark on the disgraceful and on expensive kidnapping of the former transport Minister - Alhaji Umaru Dikko.

Both Nigerians at home and abroad were shocked that a government of the day would embark on kidnapping to justify their stay in power. They can't follow the proper channel because they know they can't succeed. Here is a country where its Bar Association (NBA) has asked its members not to appear before any of the tribunals set up by the government to try the politicians. They are against the military chairmanship of the tribunals, the denial of right to appeal and the possibility of not giving a fair hearing. In essence they are the honest accusers, the prosecutor and the judge.

On these grounds alone the extradition of Alhaji Umaru Dikko which they are now seeking will fail. They want Umaru Dikko at all cost - no matter what it takes, not because they have found him guilty of any malpractices, but because they thought he is in possession of some documents which might be very embarrassing to them. It was also on these grounds that the former senate leader Olusola Saraki was arrested and detained without trial. It is interesting to note that Olusola Saraki was the chairman of the committee set up to investigate the disappearance of the N2.8 billion during Buhari's tenure of office as the Minister of petroleum.

What the military junta do not understand is that four years of civilian rule has enlightened the majority of Nigerians more on their rights, made them more articulate and resentful of calculated acts of injustice against them. There is nothing "natural" about unemployment as the Military government is trying to make us believe. It is the product of the economic system and decrees we live in (the military system). On the matter of law and order - it is the right of every Nigerian to live without fear of attack or robbery, not a military society in which people live by decrees in which profit matters before people and in which alienation and insecurity are rife.

More detentions, longer prison sentences, hanging and corporal punishments are no answer. Violence breeds violence. If everyone had a stake in society vandalism and crime would become less likely. The Military should become a force to protect the country from attack and not to oppress the people they are supposed to protect. It is not enough for Nigerians to ask for reform, but that power must be transferred from the hands of the Military boys (a small minority), into the hands of the working people, the majority. We should have a government that is democratically elected in which people will own their country and resources, in which all their material needs will be provided for and the great and varied capacities of every individual will be fully developed.

talking drums 1985-04-01 fela prophet without honour in Nigeria