By using the military to intimidate his perceived opponents, President Goodluck Jonathan is making the same mistake many African leaders before him had made, and regrettably paid for it. In 1966, self-declared executive President of Uganda, Milton Obote, used Idi Amin, whom he had promoted to colonel and army commander, to send King Mutesa II of Buganda into exile. Mutesa was a ceremonial president while Obote was Prime Minister.
Obote continued to use Idi Amin to oppress the people and crush his opponents until Amin overthrew him on 25 January 1971 while he was attending a Commonwealth summit in Singapore.
Troops loyal to Amin sealed off Entebbe International Airport and took Kampala. Soldiers surrounded Obote’s residence and blocked major roads. A broadcast on Radio Uganda accused Obote’s government of corruption and preferential treatement to the Lango region.
Cheering crowds were reported in the streets of Kampala after the radio broadcast. Amin announced that he was a soldier, and not a politician, and that the military government would remain only as a caretaker regime until new elections take place after the situation was normalised.
However, on 2 February 1971, one week after the coup, Amin declared himself President of Uganda, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Army Chief of Staff, and Chief of Air Staff. He announced that he was suspending certain provisions of the Ugandan constitution and soon instituted an Advisory Defence Council composed of military officers with himself as the chairman.
Amin placed military tribunals above the system of civil law, appointed soldiers to top government posts and parastatal agencies, and informed the newly included civilian cabinet ministers that they would be subject to military discipline. Amin changed the name of the presidential lodge in Kampala from Government House to the “Command Post”.
He disbanded the the General Service Unit, an intelligence agency created by the previous government, and replaced it with the State Research Bureau. That bureau headquarters at the Kampala suburb of Nakasero became the scene of torture and executions over the next few years.
Soon after Amin seized power, he started executing his opponents’ supporters in widely publiscised executions meant to quell any sort of opposition to his rule. As a result, at least 5,000 soldiers and twice as many civilians were killed. He later expanded his purge to include religious leaders, lawyers, students, intellectuals, criminal suspects and foreign nationals. In the end, it is estimated that as many as 500,000 people were massacred during his reign.
What happened to Obote could happen here in Nigeria. It was like the proverbial case of riding on the back of a tiger and ending up in its belly. President Jonathan should learn from history and stop sending soldiers to Adamawa, Nasarawa, Ekiti and other places to intimidate civilians and further his political agenda. This clearly is threat to the nation’s democracy.
History has a stubborn way of repeating itself with an appalling accuracy. Jonathan and his minders should not lose sight of this fact before it is too late.