By Bashorun J.K. Randle

HISTORY is always neutral.   Whenever distortions creep in, it is historians who are to be blamed.  Effortlessly, but most significantly history like an ever rolling mill has crept up on us.    According to the clock and calendar, thirty-three years now separate us from the day when Major Abdulmuminu Aminu, Major John Madaki and Major Lawan Gwadabe the Nigerian Army [Infantry] swept into Dodan Barracks, Ikoyi, Lagos and arrested the Military Head of State and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari.    It was a dawn attack and the coup d’etat was swiftly accomplished.    There was no resistance; hence there was no bloodshed.   It brought to an end the Buhari / Idiagbon regime which had been in power since 31st December 1983 – a brief twenty months of stern military rule which by its own mantra was determined to rid Nigeria of corruption and indiscipline.   The efficacy or otherwise of the security reports which should have alerted the Head of State that a coup d’etat by his own colleagues was imminent is a subject for another day.

For now, it would suffice to confine ourselves to the neutrality of history which has with complete detachment and neutrality recorded that Major-General Tunde Idiagbon who was Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters and the number two man / right hand man of Buhari was away to Mecca on pilgrimage allegedly on the invitation of the King of Saudi Arabia.   It was a decoy disguised as a ruse which effectively fooled Idiagbon the strongman.   He even took along his teenage son.   He had been sold a dummy !!    Unknown to the rest of the nation, Idiagbon would have (on his return from Mecca) announced the retirement of the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida [IBB] from the army.   This was regardless of the pivotal role Major-General Babangida had played in the 1983 coup d’etat that toppled the civilian government of President Alhaji Shehu Shagari.    Rather than take over the mantle of leadership himself, Babaginda had ceded it to Major-General Buhari who was then in far away Jos, in Plateau State as General Officer Commanding [GOC] of the Second Division of the Army.   Major-General Tunde Idiagbon was the Secretary of the Army Council.

Initially, the rulership had been anchored on the troika of Buhari, Idiagbon and Babangida.   Then the cracks began to show as both Buhari and Idiagbon were of the same stern and spartan disposition while Babangida’s orientation and body language were in sharp contrast (to the duo of Buhari and Idiagbon).   It was of little consequence that all three of them were Northerners and Moslems.  Increasingly, Babangida was according to his own subsequent version of events sidelined and isolated.    The Supreme Military Council consisting of the military hierarchy and intelligence / security officers was split down the line (as well as various factions headed by Major-General Mamam Vasta and Major-General Magoro).   There was also the unresolved nuanced dilemma over whether the Head of State was the “Supreme Commander” (Emperor) or “Commander-In-Chief” (first among equals).

It is also on record that following the 1983 coup d’etat, two memorable declarations were given wide publicity by BBC Overseas Service:

(i)    “These are our boys” – General Olusegun Obasanjo (former Military Head of State 1976-1979).

(ii)  “If only we had known that the Nigerian economy was in such a shambles (and the treasury was empty) we would not have bothered to take over the government”

–         Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (Military Head of State of Nigeria).

Somehow till today, the bond between General Buhari and General Obasanjo remains solid.   Ironically, the bond between General Babangida and General Obasanjo is just as robust (and enduring).   As for the Buhari / Babangida nexus, that is a different and complex equation.  Right in the vortex of the quadratic equation is Lt-General T.Y. Danjuma (Rtd) and his undulating relationship with General Obasanjo, (late) Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua and General Babangida.

For now it is sufficient to record that within a few months of the Buhari / Idiagbon government, the cracks began to show particularly as Idiagbon who had no direct control of the troops became increasingly domineering and overbearing – at the expense of Babangida, the Chief of Army Staff.   From being a full member of the troika, Major-General Babangida was somehow degraded to a junior partner in the government he had installed.   A whole chapter should be devoted to the dummy sold to Lt-General Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi (Chief of Staff 1981 to 1983) who like Babangida is from Niger State and may have been led to believe that he would be invited to become the Head of State.

Anyway, what brought matters to a head was the retirement of Brigadier Aliyu Gusau by Buhari / Idiagbon regardless of the protestation of Babangida.   According to the grapevine the allegation against Gusau had something to do with import licence.   Brigadier Gusau pleaded innocence but he was nevertheless served with a letter of retirement by the new secretary to the Army Council, Brigadier Ele Peters.

Major-General Babangida, Chief of Army Staff did not need any one to prompt him that the writing was on the wall.   If the junta of Buhari and Idiagbon could retire his trusted ally and bosom pal Brigadier Aliyu Gusau, he [IBB] was next in the firing line.   He went for the pre-emptive strike.  It was a masterstroke but the timing was awkward.  The coup d’etat was on the eve of sacred Sallah but the security agencies were generally relaxed.  Besides, Major-General Idiagbon who would have launched a counter coup was away in Mecca.  Here is the thrust of Babangida’s maiden address according to BBC History series:

Most of all, the August coup appears to mark the decisive rejection of authoritarianism in Nigeria. This was forcefully signaled in President Babangida’s maiden address to the nation, an extraordinary statement for a military ruler. In it, Babangida recognized that even a military government “needs the consent of the people” to govern effectively. Promising to uphold human rights, he announced an immediate review of the status of political detainees. Most significant, he announced the repeal of Decree Number 4 and vowed, “We do not intend to lead a country where individuals are under the fear of expressing themselves.” Words are easily offered to an angry nation; the test will be in the way President Babangida governs. But having figured so centrally in the last four coups, he is acutely aware that Nigerian leaders ultimately cannot escape accountability for their actions. His initial actions indicate that—whether through real commitment to liberal government or simply shrewd political instinct—Nigeria’s new president means to govern liberally.

Among his government’s first actions was the release of all journalists in detention. Dozens of politicians who had been in prison up to 20 months without charge or trial were also released, many to heroes’ welcomes. In addition, public exposure of the NSO’s (National Security Organisation) violations of human rights was encouraged. The top leadership of the NSO was dismissed, and a thorough probe and restructuring were undertaken. Amnesty International praised Babangida for these steps. Another augury of a more consensual and accountable style of rule is the new government’s structure and composition, which is both more open to criticism and internal debate and more representative of the country’s many ethnic and interest groups. To disperse power at the top of government, the functions of the domineering former chief of staff, Idiagbon, were split between two positions.

Political administration was assigned to the chief of general staff, Naval Commodore Oko Ebitu Ukiwe—the first Igbo military officer to hold such high government office since the 1967-70 civil war. Military administration was assigned to a newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired by the powerful Defense Minister Domkat Y. Bali. All but five members of the former Supreme Military Council were appointed to the new and enlarged Armed Forces Ruling Council. The five who were dropped were those primarily responsible for the previous regime’s abuses: Buhari, Idiagbon, the internal affairs minister, the NSO director and the attorney- general.

The ethnic balance of the council’s membership was also altered, with the center of gravity shifting from the far north to the ethnic minority states of the middle north. And at the state level, Babangida replaced 13 of the 19 military governors, a shrewd move that gave younger officers—including several populists and an avowed socialist—a share in the running of the country. The cabinet appointments are even more striking, both for those who were retained (only six of the previous 18 ministers) and those who were newly selected. Signaling that open dissent will not be unwelcome, the new president retained Petroleum Minister Tam David-West, an independent academician who had condemned the policy of negotiating massive countertrade or barter deals exchanging Nigerian oil for foreign goods.

It was rumored at the time of the coup that David-West would be fired for his candour. Instead, he is joined in the cabinet by other forceful and capable figures who were not afraid to speak out in opposition to the Buhari regime. These include Akinrinade (Agriculture), Professor Bolaji Akinyemi (Foreign Affairs), who condemned the Buhari government’s expulsion of illegal immigrants, and Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu (Finance), who argued, in opposition to the former regime, that Nigeria should take an IMF loan. Babangida named the president of the previously banned Nigerian Bar Association, Bola Ajibola, attorney-general. Given the explicit pledges, personal inclinations, appointments and early actions of President Babangida, his government seems unlikely to sink into the kind of narrow dictatorship that preceded it. Nevertheless, symbols and good intentions lack the force of law and the stability of institutions.

Verbal commitments can wither in the heat of crisis and opposition, which are sure to greet the difficult economic decisions that will have to be made in future months. If there is a lesson in the misrule of the Buhari regime, it is so basic as to seem banal: unlimited power corrupts its holders and perverts its original ends. The Buhari-Idiagbon regime had promised to bring its predecessors to account, but put itself beyond public scrutiny or criticism. The current government likewise has pledged retribution for offenders. For example, in proclaiming the recent coup, the Babangida regime denounced the “glaring fraud” in the Buhari government, and then appointed a committee to investigate corruption in the negotiation of oil countertrade agreements. But, again, this is to establish accountability for past actions of other officials; it remains to be seen how those now in power will conduct themselves. How can accountability be advanced from the past to the present, so that it is not merely retroactive but also preventive? In my analysis of the December 1983 coup, I suggested that stable and accountable government in Nigeria might be achieved through a “diarchy” of shared civilian and military rule, in which civilian democratic rule was further checked and balanced by military control of certain crucial regulatory functions.

This reflected the active search then under way in Nigeria for a constitutional formula to overcome the abuses of power that spoiled the country’s two attempts at democratic government. Before the Buhari regime banned all discussion of the country’s political future, this public debate accelerated, and numerous variations of diarchy were advanced and debated. Now that the Buhari regime, like the military government in the post-civil war era, has soured public confidence in the military as rulers, there may be an even more compelling case for diarchy as a way out of what one observer called “Nigeria’s ruinous political cycles.” Diarchy is typically conceived as civilian government making some permanent institutional place for the military in the constitutional system. It could, however, be implemented in reverse; the military could create and gradually enlarge institutional roles for civilians. Indeed, if the Babangida government is serious about allowing itself to be held accountable, and about building a consensus for a long-term attack on Nigeria’s economic problems, power-sharing may be indispensable to its success.

To some extent, it has already shared power by appointing prominent civilians to the federal and state cabinets. But there is nothing institutional about this participation. Similarly, it has recognized that the free press is a cornerstone of accountable government. But with the constitution in suspension, this freedom exists only at the pleasure of those in power. There is no reason why a military government cannot draw up a constitution or bill of rights to which it can be held accountable in the courts. Such a document would be a first step back to democracy in that it would recognize the supremacy of the judiciary in interpreting and protecting fundamental liberties. There is also no reason why a military government cannot subject itself to a code of conduct for public officers, to be enforced by an independent bureau and tribunal. While the military remains dominant in government, the appointment and supervision of this framework could be entrusted to the Supreme Court, or the bar association, or a council of traditional rulers, or some other independent, civilian body commanding general respect. No government can ever be fully trusted to watch itself; nor can it root out corruption if it does not set up independent structures for doing so.

These structural innovations would provide established means for ensuring accountability and thus enhancing public confidence in military government. Moreover, such changes would not threaten the military’s basic control of the government. Yet it is difficult to imagine any government, including this government— for all its apparent democratic intentions—limiting its power in the absence of explicit, sustained pressure from opinion-makers and organized interest groups. The military government could also be strengthened, as an editorial in the journal West Africa suggested, “by announcing early a programme for a return to a more representative form of government no matter how far in the future.” President Babangida has signaled his intention to present a programme of political transition, with initial emphasis on revitalizing local government. This might allow experimentation with new forms of electoral representation, reintroducing political competition and participation first at the grassroots.

Phasing in democracy in this way could defuse grievances and pressures and give the government a stronger basis of legitimacy. With the economy in dire straits, there will be no shortage of grievances and pressures in the months to come. Nigeria’s external debt remains in excess of $20 billion, and payment on short-term trade debts is lagging months behind. Oil production remains low and petroleum prices are likely to tumble further, as Babangida himself recently warned the nation. Hence, the prospect is for even less than the 1984 oil income of $10 billion, which is less than half the peak figure of four years ago. Most economists believe that the only way out of the crisis is for Nigeria to reach agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year $2.5 billion loan; negotiations on this have been deadlocked for three years because Nigeria has refused to accept the IMF’s stringent adjustment program. Upon taking office, President Babangida seemed determined to come to an agreement quickly but then threw the question open to public debate, and the consequent intense opposition has clearly reduced his freedom of manoeuvre.

Reaching agreement on an IMF loan would unlock perhaps another $2.5 billion in loans and credits from other sources; it would also enable Nigeria to resume imports necessary to regenerate industrial production and employment. But critics denounce the hardships that would follow the required currency devaluation and subsidy cuts. They also dismiss the utility of another huge infusion of cash, which, they maintain, the country is no better equipped to manage than the massive infusions of the oil boom. As President Babangida recognized in his recent independence- day address, “with or without the IMF loan facility,” all Nigerians “must make hard choices involving great difficulties and requiring sacrifices from everyone in every sector, including the Armed Forces.” With or without the loan, the prospect is for a prolonged period of economic austerity, in which consumption has to be limited severely and productivity sharply increased. Knowing this, the Babangida government may well determine that the urgent need for government to be responsive to the popular will, in particular the opposition to the loan, outweighs the urgent need for new foreign exchange and restructuring of debt. The Reagan Administration’s new policy emphasis on economic growth as the best relief for debt crises in the Third World may eventually benefit Nigeria.

Further, since the Babangida government has struck a surprisingly cordial stance toward the United States and promised to remove bureaucratic and other obstacles to foreign investment, the time might be propitious for the United States to take the lead in helping Nigeria to restructure its international obligations. Ultimately, however, the success of the new government is likely to depend on whether it can build a national consensus around a coherent economic strategy, distribute the sacrifices fairly, and put a stop to the disastrous leakage of the country’s resources through corruption and mismanagement. This will be difficult to do without some institutional means for ensuring open and accountable government. In this sense, 20 months of repression may have taught the valuable lesson that the choice between democracy and economic recovery is a false one.


We should also flash back to Major-General Muhammadu Buhari’s maiden address:


In pursuance of the primary objective of saving our great nation from total collapse, I, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the Nigerian army have, after due consultation amongst the services of the armed forces, been formally invested with the authority of the Head of the Federal Military Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is with humility and a deep sense of responsibility that I accept this challenge and call to national duty.

As you must have heard in the previous announcement, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1979) has been suspended, except those sections of it which are exempted in the constitution. The change became necessary in order to put an end to the serious economic predicament and the crisis of confidence now afflicting our nation. Consequently, the Nigerian armed forces have constituted themselves into a Federal Military Government comprising of a Supreme Military Council, a National Council of States, a Federal Executive Council at the centre and State Executive Councils to be presided over by military governors in each of the states of the federation. Members of these councils will be announced soon. The last Federal Military Government drew up a programme with the aim of handing over political power to the civilians in 1979. This programme as you all know, was implemented to the letter. The 1979 constitution was promulgated. However, little did the military realise that the political leadership of the second republic will circumvent most of the checks and balances in the constitution and bring the present state of general insecurity. The premium on political power became so exceedingly high that political contestants regarded victory at elections as a matter of life and death struggle and were determined to capture or retain power by all means.

It is true that there is a worldwide economic recession. However, in the case of Nigeria, its impact was aggravated by mismanagement. We believe the appropriate government agencies have good advice but the leadership disregarded their advice. The situation could have been avoided if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities; Instead, the legislators were preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefit and unnecessary foreign travels, et al, which took no account of the state of the economy and the welfare of the people they represented. As a result of our inability to cultivate financial discipline and prudent management of the economy, we have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowing to execute government projects with attendant domestic pressure and soaring external debts, thus aggravating the propensity of the outgoing civilian administration to mismanage our financial resources. Nigeria was already condemned perpetually with the twin problem of heavy budget deficits and weak balance of payments position, with the prospect of building a virile and viable economy.

The last general election was anything but free and fair. The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thugery were relative to the resources available to the parties. This conclusively proved to us that the parties have not developed confidence in the presidential system of government on which the nation invested so much material and human resources. While corruption and indiscipline have been associated with our state of under-development, these two evils in our body politic have attained unprecedented height in the past few years. The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society. Since what happens in any society is largely a reflection of the leadership of that society, we deplore corruption in all its facets. This government will not tolerate kick-backs, inflation of contracts and over-invoicing of imports etc. Nor will it condone forgery, fraud, embezzlement, misuse and abuse of office and illegal dealings in foreign exchange and smuggling.

Arson has been used to cover up fraudulent acts in public institutions. I am referring to the fire incidents that gutted the P&T buildings in Lagos, the Anambra State Broadcasting Corporation, the Republic Building at Marina, the Federal Ministry of Education, the Federal Capital Development Authority Accounts at Abuja and the NET Building. Most of these fire incidents occurred at a time when Nigerians were being apprehensive of the frequency of fraud scandals and the government incapacity to deal with them. Corruption has become so pervasive and intractable that a whole ministry has been created to stem it. Fellow Nigerians, this indeed is the moment of truth. My colleagues and I – the Supreme Military Council, must be frank enough to acknowledge the fact that at the moment, an accurate picture of the financial position is yet to be determined. We have no doubt that the situation is bad enough. In spite of all this, every effort will be made to ensure that the difficult and degrading conditions under which we are living are eliminated. Let no one however be deceived that workers who have not received their salaries in the past eight or so months will receive such salaries within today or tomorrow or that hospitals which have been without drugs for months will be provided with enough immediately. We are determined that with the help of God we shall do our best to settle genuine payments to which government is committed, including backlog of workers’ salaries after scrutiny. We are confident and we assure you that even in the face of the global recession, and the seemingly gloomy financial future, given prudent management of Nigeria’s existing financial resources and our determination to substantially reduce and eventually nail down rises in budgetary deficits and weak balance of payments position. The Federal Military Government will reappraise policies with a view to paying greater attention to the following areas:

  • The economy will be given a new impetus and better sense of direction.
  • Corrupt officials and their agents will be brought to book.
  • In view of the drought that affected most parts of the country, the federal government will, with the available resources, import food stuffs to supplement the shortfalls suffered in the last harvest.

Our foreign policy will be both dynamic and realistic. Africa will of course continue to be the centre piece of our foreign policy. The morale and combat readiness of the armed forces will be given high priority. Officers and men with high personal and professional integrity will have nothing to fear.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria and all other holders of judiciary appointments within the federation can continue in their appointments and the judiciary shall continue to function under existing laws subject to such exceptions as may e decreed from time to time by the Federal Military Government. All holders of appointments in the civil service, the police and the National Security Organisation shall continue to exercise their functions in the normal way subject to changes that may be introduced by the Federal Military Government. All those chairmen and members of statutory corporations, parastatals and other executive departments are hereby relieved of their appointments with immediate effect.

The Federal Military Government will maintain and strengthen existing diplomatic relations with other states and with international organisations and institutions such as the Organisation of African Unity, the United Nations and its organs, Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, ECOWAS and the Commonwealth etc. The Federal Military Government will honour and respect all treaties and obligations entered into by the previous government and we hope that such nations and bodies will reciprocate this gesture by respecting our country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Fellow Nigerians, finally, we have dutifully intervened to save this nation from imminent collapse. We therefore expect all Nigerians, including those who participated directly or indirectly in bringing the nation to this present predicament, to cooperate with us. This generation of Nigerians, and indeed future generations, have no country other than Nigeria. We shall remain here and salvage it together.

May God bless us all. Good morning.

Bashorun JK Randle is a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region.  He is currently the Chairman, JK Randle Professional Services.   Email:  jkrandleintuk@gmail.com

– Aug. 8, 2018 @ 11:35 GMT |

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