Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Whispering Drums With Maigani

by Musa Ibrahim

Again, more rumblings

Over the last few months following the Buhari military take-over, Nigeria, which had hitherto been the main source of news attraction on the West Coast of Africa, was surprisingly quiet. The silence falsely created an impression of a nation undergoing the sobering consequences of economic deprivation.

Moreover, with the abolition of all political parties, the panacea for the country's political disharmony was said to have been completely eroded. But as time went on and the nation slowly started grinding to a halt, it was soon evident that the relative calm and quiet had been deceptive and that beneath the ordinary facade of peace and sombre reflection is a highly frustrated and anguished nation with all of its citizens in chains.

Within the ruling supreme military junta itself, all have appeared not well at all. And, publicly addressing officers and men of the armed forces and police at the Ikeja military cantonment in Lagos, a few months back, the head of the military junta, Leko Buhari, said something extremely unusual, and to those in the dark, completely out of context.

He warned that "any military officer who felt too big for his office or duties should quit, or would be shown the way out." I set out to find and investigate the reason behind this sudden outburst. My investigations are what this report is all about.

Revelations indicate divergence of policy perceptions have resulted in personality clashes and the attendant formation of loyalties and groupings, centering around two major actors, the head of the military junta, Leko Buhari on one hand and Ibrahim Babangida, Chief of Army Staff on the other, with the rather abrasive Tunde Idiagbon hovering in the background and cowering mid between.

My sources say the appointment of Lawal Rafindadi as the substantive Director-General of the country's National Security Organisation was the beginning of the squabbling. It is understood that some of the senior council members had expressed con- cern over a civilian, once recognised as a leading foreign spokesman for the defunct civilian administration, being charged with the responsibility of security in a military government.

Their argument rests on the logic of precedence, that in all military governments the world over, a military intelligence officer always is the most suitable professionally to man the national intelligence network. It is believed that Buhari overrode these protestations because he believed he would personally feel more secure with Rafindadi than with the military candidate meant for the post.

Related to this, it is said, was the massive scale of political detentions immediately following the takeover and the subsequent Special Military Tribunal trials. While confidential sources say the Chief of Army Staff is against the way and manner that policy was and is being handled, it is suggested that he has restrained a public opposition lest an uproar follows. Such an uproar is likely envisaged because Babangida is the myth behind the regime, a man whose quelling of the 1976 Dimka-abortive attempt to seize power gained him immense national recognition.

An intriguing aspect of the detention matter is the continued incarceration of a number of people of known integrity. Prominent amongst which are Shettima Ali Monguno, a man whose tenure of public service glows with praise and admiration in a country where corrupt deeds are acceptable, if not normative; Tai Solarin, whose devotion to social and political nonconformism should have been treated as just another of his tantrums of criticism; Yahaya Dikko, Shagari's erstwhile Petroleum Chief, who within international oil dealers' circles is respected as a disciplined person for resisting the temptations of personal enrichment; and Lateef Jakande, widely applauded in both the Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria during his days as Lagos State Governor.

Another bone of contention, I am informed, is the issue of procurement and distribution of what in Nigeria are known as "essential commodities", that is, rice, sugar, milk, salt and other such consumer items. Sources disclose that the Buhari group insist on government being the sole importer and distributor of "essential commodities", while other people feel effective government supervision and monitoring of the private sector would serve a better purpose in reducing the acute shortages and curtailing increased prices.

Several other issues were discovered as being behind the rumblings, It, of course, would be impossible to outline and discuss them all at length for obvious reasons, but an insight into the personality of Babangida, the man at the centre of the controversy may be useful here. It might help us understand, too, why according to a report in the Observer of London a couple of months ago, the junior officers in the army had at one time asked Babangida to take over from Buhari.

General Ibrahim Babangida conversely exudes the personality of an urbane and likeable person. Soft speaking, gentleman looking yet firm and calculatingly decisive. Extremely popular within the rank and file of the Nigerian Army, Babangida has always been a myth amongst ordinary Nigerians. Basically he is said to be an officer who cares about the problems and welfare of his subordinates. Never in the past has he been known to exhibit ambition, and for this reason most insiders are surprised at recent developments.

Sources disclose his disposition to some of the policy matters has earned him Buhari's lashes. Furthermore, he has the disadvantage of being widely seen as a man of considerable material means. It was explained to me that his association and friendship over the years with wealthy businessmen has tagged him as one of them in military uniform. Perhaps, said somebody, it is more his popularity amongst a wider spectrum of the Nigerian populace which could be ascribed as the reason for this misperception.

One thing however is certain, his unblemished career earns him respect, and he is the one soldier who despite having been a figure to reckon with in previous military administrations, has never held a political appointment in the past. It is no wonder now that reaching the apex of his profession, it besets him to appear on the political front.

Let us hope that these rumblings remain only rumblings. The country needs some measure of stability to straighten itself out, at the same time, it cannot afford to fail with the present dispensation. But if these rumblings are anything to go by, the world should not be surprised to see Nigeria once more on the headlines.

talking drums 1985-07-15 guinea sekou toure's legacy - writing for young africa