The Failed Mission of the Military

Fri, Dec 27, 2013
By publisher

BREAKING NEWS, Special Centenary Edition

The military which came to sanitise the polity left the country with more problems than it came to solve

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Jan. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

THE history of Nigeria cannot be complete without mentioning the roles the military played in its political evolution. For 29 years, the nation was ruled by military dictators who seized political power on January 15, 1966. However, the era of military rule ended in 1999 after General Abdulsalami Abubakar, voluntarily returned political to civilians in 1998. The military had given many reasons to justify its intervention in the politics of Nigeria. They ranged from corruption in civilian government, political instability, incompetent leadership, failure of civilian administration to deliver basic services, widespread poverty, and electoral fraud by ambitious politicians.


These were some of the reasons which those who carried out the first military coup in Nigeria on January 15, 1966, gave to justify their action. The coup, which was led by Chukwuemeka Kaduna Nzeogwu resulted in the death of Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and premier of northern Nigeria, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, premier of western Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, prime minister of Nigeria, Festus Okotie-Eboh, federal minister of finance and other military officers. The coup was poorly carried out in certain parts of the country and this gave a very strong feeling of tribalism. But according to Nzeogwu, the coup was staged because of the nationwide corruption and selfishness among politicians, as well as government’s inability to maintain law and order and guarantee the safety of lives and property.

But the people of the north thought otherwise. They accused Nzeogwu as well as his fellow coup plotters of staging an Igbo coup. This was because most of the officers killed during the coup were those from other part of the country. After the coup, Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi was sworn-in as the first military head of state of Nigeria. But his regime did not last. On July 29, 1966, three young military officers of northern background led by Murtala Mohammed staged a counter coup. This led to the death of Aguyi-Ironsi, Francis Adekunle Fajuyi military governor, western region and other military officers.

Yakubu Gowon, a lieutenant-colonel then, was ushered in as the new head of state. His first act was to reinstate the federal system which Ironsi had abolished. But due to the elimination of many Igbo officers during the July coup, followed by pogrom against Igbos in the northern region, the relations between the federal government led by Gowon and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, military governor of eastern region, became very strained. In September 1966, Gowon summoned an ad hoc constitutional conference to deliberate on the country’s political future. Most regional delegates to the conference, with the exception of those from the mid-west, recommended a confederal system to replace the federal system.


The delegates from the eastern region insisted that any region wishing to secede from the federation should be allowed to do so. The conference ended abruptly following by increased killings of Igbos in the north and the heightening of tensions between the federal government and the eastern region. A summit of military leaders at Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967 attempted to resolve the disagreements and recommended the establishment of a confederal system in the interim to enable passions to cool down. The Aburi agreement became a source of contention thereafter. This led to the declaration of Republic of Biafra by the government of Eastern Nigeria on July 27 1967, and the resultant Nigeria-Biafra war, which broke out on July 30 1967. To pre-empt the Gowon administration broke the existing four regions into 12 states in an attempt to reduce the fears of northern domination of Nigeria.

The Gowon regime also tried to fix the country after the civil war. It was under Gowon’s regime that some of Nigeria’s major development programmes were established, such as the extensive expansion and exploitation of Nigeria’s mineral resources culminating in the oil boom, which in no small measure changed the economy, the taste and living standard of many Nigerians. But because Gowon was young and naive, he was susceptible to wrong advice which he sometimes executed with finality.

One of such advice was the pronouncement that “Nigeria had so much money in foreign reserve that she did not know what to do with it.” Thereafter, the kleptomaniacs, foreign and domestic, made sure that the money was looted with efficiency and transferred to foreign accounts. It was on Gowon’s naivety that the Bakassi peninsular problem was initiated. This was the beginning of the end for Nigeria’s professional military.


In July 1975, a group of colonels sacked the government of Gowon in a bloodless coup. Murtala Mohammed also masterminded the coup. Mohammed assumed office as the next head of state. But on February 13, 1976, Bukor Suka Dimka with his loyalists staged an abortive coup which claimed the lives of Mohammed, Ibrahim Taiwo, governor of Kwara State and Akintunde Akinsehinwa, ADC to Mohammed. General Olusegun Obasanjo, second in command to Mohammed became the new head of state. He promised to return the country to civilian rule and in October 1979, after more than 13 years of military rule, Nigeria was returned to democratic rule, with Shehu Shagari, as the first executive president.

But hunger and poverty that characterised the administration prompted the military to seize power again on December 31, 1983. General Muhammadu Buhari was installed as the new head of state. The Buhari administration identified indiscipline as the bane of the nation’s ills. It launched a War Against Indiscipline, WAI. He also accused the civilian government of economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, election fraud, and a general lack of concern for the problems of Nigerians. He pledged to restore prosperity to Nigeria and to return the government to civilian rule but proved unable to deal with Nigeria’s severe economic problems. He also had no political transition programme throughout the 20 months his regime lasted.

The Buhari government was overthrown in a bloodless coup by Ibrahim Babangida, on August 27, 1985. Babangida cited the misuse of power, violations of human rights by key officers of Buhari administration and the government’s failure to deal with the country’s deepening economic crisis as justifications for the takeover. With each passing regime, Nigeria became morally bankrupt and a nation of thieves. Armed robbery became order of the day and so was hired assassination. The situation became more despondent with the advent of Babangida. In the beginning, he was loved by Nigerians because they felt that they had seen the end of double standards and draconian laws which typified the administration of Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon.


Unknown to Nigerians, Babangida was in town to unleash his own set of rules, political ambition and intrigues. To combat the economy that was in deep crisis, Babangida introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP and a convoluted dual exchange rate of the Naira. Babangida started by crippling all the known indices for building human self-esteem namely education, health and healthcare delivery, agriculture, law and order, security of life and properties, banking and even, politics with a new set of diabolical political maneuvers. In order to control the nation, he recruited well-known Nigerians in all fields of endeavours including university dons, well respected Reverend gentlemen, highly placed Muslims and cultural leaders. Babangida believed that every man had a price for which his hardened sets of beliefs become irrelevant. For this reason he promoted bribery and corruption which elevated to settlement.

 He stuffed the mouths and minds of most Nigerians with money, a move that deadened their conscience. Even as one writes, there are disciples of Babangida who are ready to die for him because he allowed them to partake and share in the looted spoils of the treasury. It must also be recalled that it was during the reign of Babangada that Dele Giwa, one of the founding fathers of Newswatch magazine was letter-bombed.

During Babangida regime, the traditional agriculture-based economy of the country was abandoned and it became extremely dependent on exports of oil which, due to frequent fluctuations in oil prices, led to an unstable economy. The regime was characterised by “gross incompetence and unbridled, waste and mismanagement, the privatisation of public office and public resources, the neglect of non-oil sectors and misplaced priorities”. Essentially the focus was on the private sector as opposed to the good of the nation. As a result of the military economic policy of the 1980s, 45 percent of foreign-exchange earnings were going into debt servicing and there was very little growth. This led to a rise in poverty, crime, child abuse, disease, institutional decay and urban dislocation. The instability and dissatisfaction caused by these policies were some of the causes of coups and counter-coups that characterised the military era in Nigeria.

Yakubu Gowon

After the annulment of the June 12 election results, Babangida stepped down after installing Ernest Shonekan, as head of the Interim National Government, ING. It is also interesting to note that Babangida retired almost all the generals that were in his government except Sani Abacha. Most Nigerians familiar with the incident asked: Could Babangida and Abacha have had a mutual understanding of temporarily exchanging baton of governance for a short period of time? Did Abacha carefully understudy Babangida’s modus operandi and then dared to take over once he relinquished power?

With the final exit of Babangida, came the perfidious governance of Abacha. Abacha, a derivative of Babangida, was able to apply Babangida’s methods and coupled them with instances of vicious political assassinations, corruption, mass looting assented to with a sophisticated death squad headed by Hamza al Mustapha. Abacha and Al Mustapha formed two-headed hydra squad that finally broke all the rules governing the esprit de Corps of the military.

It was during this period that generals were jailed, disciplined without mercy, and some reportedly begged junior officers to spare their lives for crime they claimed they did not commit. Everyone, military and civilians were scared stiff because Abacha’s men could plant anything incriminating on them simply to find a way to perfect their new assassination methods. Al Mustapha controlled his superior officers, disciplined them and decided when they were relevant. Abacha, widely expected to succeed himself as a civilian president on October 1, 1998, remained head of state until his death on June 8 of that year. He was replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who had been third in command until the arrest of General Oladipo Diya, chief of general staff.  The Abubakar government took several important steps towards return to civilian rule and on May 29, 1999, he handed over to a democratically elected president in the person of Obasanjo. The handing over by Abubakar brought to an end military rule in the country.


Unfortunately, only the northern military officers were the heads of state except by some divine power and default, as in the case of Obasanjo. With the advent of each military head of state, Nigerian slid into a slippery path of no return. Ever since, the country has never been the same again due to mismanagement that characterised every misrule. Beyond regularly truncating Nigeria’s democratic process, military administrations since independence, have been roundly accused of entrenching corruption in the polity and massive looting of the treasury, with the loots usually stashed away in foreign accounts. It was an era that produced governments of settlement and financial crimes, notably, advance fee fraud or 419, which was almost raised to a point of government policy.