By Olu Fasan
Lest we forget. President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army general, is a veteran of military coups. In his old job as a soldier, he participated in some coup d’états and overthrew a democratically-elected president to become a military head of state. Perhaps, then, it’s understandable that, as an elected president, he is paranoid about coups. In his six years in power, Buhari has given oxygen to several allegations of coup plots.
Yet, there is absolutely no appetite for a return to military rule in Nigeria, and no one wants President Buhari to be deposed in a coup. Of course, there are calls for him to resign or to be impeached. But such calls are permitted within the democratic process. Even though, as we know, Buhari won’t resign and won’t be impeached, it’s perfectly legitimate to call for his resignation or impeachment on grounds of poor performance.
But what’s not legitimate, in a democracy, is the recent call by a controversial lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke, SAN, for a state of emergency that “will make the 1999 Constitution ungovernable” and under which “all governors must go; all legislators must go.” According to Chief Clarke’s invidious plan, the military would dissolve the current 36 states and replace them with six states; and military administrators would run the new six states!
What on earth was this man thinking with such barmy ideas? He wanted the military to return and restructure Nigeria. But Nigeria’s history is littered with military-engineered “restructurings”. They all failed because: 1) they were the wrong kinds of restructuring and 2) they lacked ownership by the people and, thus, legitimacy. Chief Clarke called for a state of emergency that would make the current Constitution “ungovernable”, but military rule would be too provocative, Nigeria itself would be ungovernable.
Rightly, Chief Clarke’s anti-democratic views were universally condemned, including by this newspaper in a powerful editorial, titled: “We reject emergency rule” (Vanguard, May 5, 2021). The opprobrium that Chief Clarke’s views attracted confirmed, if any confirmation was needed, that Nigerians do not want any military intervention.
To be sure, militarism thrives on political instability, and coup plotters are opportunists, who only strike when politicians and others have cleared the way! General Ibrahim Babangida, another former military ruler and coup veteran, put this more cogently in an interview in 2015. “Let me give you a lesson today,” Babangida told his interviewers. “A coup comes about if there is frustration in the society. Just get that right”. He continued: “We are not dummies. If you didn’t give us the impetus to stage a coup, if we didn’t have the support of all of you, we wouldn’t venture into it”. So, coupists are opportunists!
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But such opportunities do not exist today. Yes, there’s deep frustration in Nigeria. Yes, Nigerians are infuriated by President Buhari’s cluelessness and ineptitude, and, yes,some want him to resign or be impeached. But no one, except a few crackpots, want the military to intervene and terminate Nigeria’s decades of uninterrupted civil rule. And, truth be told, no one is plotting a coup against the Buhari administration.
Why, then,has the Buhari government been reeling out allegations of coup plots? You would think there have been several attempts to overthrow the government. But that’s not true. Rather, the truth is, President Buhari’s administration is genuinely beleaguered and because it lacks the capacity and willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue, its default mechanism is to resort to intimidation and blackmail. Recently, Buhari’s defence minister, Major-General Bashir Magashi (retd), said government was compiling a “comprehensive list” of “enemies of Nigeria”. Well, that’s the practice of a Stalinist government that rules by fear, including trumped-up coup allegations!
Let’s face it, the ridiculousness of the Buhari administration’s coup claims gives the game away. The allegations are mere propagandas intended to blackmail and intimidate critics of the administration. There are several such allegations, but let’s consider two – the recent claim and the one in 2019 – notable for their utter absurdity.
In May 2019, ahead of Buhari’s second-term inauguration, the Presidency, in cahoots with the security services, alleged that a document was in circulation plotting the overthrow of President Buhari through a coup, and linked the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its then presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, with the alleged coup plot. But no such document existed, and no arrests were made. It was a frivolous allegation intended to intimidate opponents.
As was the recent claim that some religious and political leaders were planning a coup by having a conference. On May 4, President Buhari’s media chief, Femi Adesina, issued a statement, saying that “some disgruntled religious and past political leaders” were intending to convene “some sort of conference where a vote of no confidence would be passed on President Buhari”, presaging a coup to overthrow him.
In 2019, it was a coup plot through a “document”; this year, it’s a coup plot through a “conference”. It’s preposterous beyond belief!
Sadly, in all this, the security services have acted shamefully. Think of it: the same security forces that can’t pre-empt terrorist attacks or forestall kidnappings of university students are always quick to detect ‘coup plots’. The way announcements of coup plots are carefully choreographed between the presidency and the security services suggests the politicisation of the latter. A word for the security forces: focus on tackling the insecurity that is crippling Nigeria and stop chasing imaginary coup plots!
Of course, the Buhari administration makes frivolous coup allegations to blackmail critics and avoid engaging in any dialogue on Nigeria’s future. Imagine the absurdity of labelling well-meaning Nigerians convening a conference as “coup plotters”! Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the Afenifere leader, retorted: “I don’t know any group who wants to take over the government, but I know those of us who want the country to be restructured in a peaceful manner.”
President Buhari should embrace that agenda for peaceful restructuring, through dialogue, and stop intimidating well-meaning Nigerians through laughable coup claims!
Vanguard News Nigeria
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