25th August, 2020
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
It was long before the days of social media. We relied on NTA news at 9pm and newspaper reports to have the full story. Rumour mill too. In the long hours before the full report came, there was uncertainty in the land. Then the newspapers carried pictures of the bullet-ridden car of the former Head of State. Nigerians were shocked. Angry. Disappointed. Murder! Murder!! Murder!!! Lt. Col. Bukar Suka Dimka announced the coup. Col Ibrahim Babangida had taken charge at the Federal radio Corporation in Ikoyi. Col. Dumuje was shot by the coup plotters. They had taken him for General Obasanjo. Obasanjo was ready to leave the army. Deeply upset that the bold, courageous and fearless Murtala had been killed like a chicken. Danjuma, Chief of Army Staff took charge. Obasanjo, able lieutenant to Murtala was compelled to become Head of State. Col. Shehu Musa Yar A’ dua was promoted a general and became Number Three to assuage the Fulani/northern establishment.
Dimka knew the game was up and fled. He was finally arrested in Afikpo. In detention, he sang like the canary. Big names were mentioned. Somehow, the British government was mentioned. Gowon, then on exile in the UK was mentioned. General I.D. Bisalla. CP Joseph Gomwalk. Major Rabo. 31 coup plotters were executed at Bar Beach on March 11, 1976. Seven others were executed on 17th May 1976.
General Obasanjo addressed the nation in a shaky voice. He reluctantly accepted the position only to honour the memory of Murtala Mohammed. He soon settled down to governance. He was in a hurry to implement the government agenda and leave the stage. Happily, he effectively birthed the Second Republic after a Constitution had been written and adopted by the country. In the 1979 elections, the two big contestants were Chief Obafemi Awolowo (UPN) and Alhaji Shehu Shagari (NPN). Everyone knew that Awo would make a better president. He was experienced. He was pragmatic. He had run a successful government in Western region as premier. The same week the Obasanjo government blew the take-off whistle, Awo announced the formation of his political party. But the powers-that-be did not want him near the presidency. After an interesting court verdict over Shagari was awarded victory by the Supreme Court. We rejected a visionary. We chose a simpleton. He was a man that could be manipulated by the strong men of NPN.
It didn’t take long for the unserious Shagari government to lose steam. Although the economy was bad, he appointed three ministers in one ministry. Minister of! Minister for! Minister in! or something like that. Too inane for me to remember clearly. Ha! We cried foul. The nation’s body language was that we needed a change. Those days our idea of change was for the military to take over. Hehehehehehe! Can you beat that? On 31st December 1983, martial music came again. Shagari was kicked out. We didn’t miss him. Good riddance to that scandalous government. The new helmsman was Muhammadu Buhari. He had a strong deputy – Tunde Idiagbon. The man who never smiled. They turned the nation into a military command. War Against Indiscipline. They retired or dismissed civil servants. They called them dead wood. My father, head of Station administered retirement/dismissal letters to his subordinates. One day he got to the office. A letter was on his table. He didn’t bother to read it. He simply picked it up. Came home. Read it. He too had been retired. It was about a year to his official retirement. Was he a deadwood too?
Before long the Buhari/Idiagbon administration gathered enough public hatred. Ha! Hatred? Yes o! they were just too hard. Iron fisted and unreasonable laws. They passed a decree that criminalized reporting a news item, true or false, which embarrassed a state official! Haaa! Nigerians yelled. Two journalists – Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were jailed under this terrible decree. They executed two men under a law that was non-existent at the time they committed the offence- drug pushing. They locked up politicians without trying them. Dr. Ekwueme, VP to Shagari was locked up. Shagari was free. The people smelt a rat. Then there was the matter of suitcases that entered Nigeria unchecked after a ban. Favouritism. Double standards. Two innocent journalists were jailed under Decree 4. Obnoxious. The two men at the top did not perceive that that they had overstayed their welcome. Idiagbon the strong man of the regime was tricked into travelling to Saudi Arabia. On 27th August 1985, martial music dominated the air space once again!
Ha! The nation breathed a huge sigh of relief. The new head of State was General Ibrahim Babangida. He called himself president. Unprecedented. Did the man have plans to stay forever, to transmute like the Egyptian generals? Hehehehehehe! He took some populist measures. He released Fela Anikulapo-Kuti from jail. He created Peoples Bank. Made Tai Solarin Chairman. For credibility. Through Professor Wole Soyinka he created the FRSC. He got credible men to join his regime. Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti. Professor Sam Oyovbaire. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. Professor tam David-West. He opened the cells of the NSO (later SSS) which had held persons without charge. He courted the press. He was a smiling general. Indeed, some of us called him ‘Ismaila! He gave the image of a democrat. Really? Can a military leader be democratic? Naah! But we were fooled. Some say he was as vicious as he was magnanimous. A strange thing happened in his tenure. Journalist Dele Giwa was killed by a letter bomb. Till date, the killers are unknown! That was Nigeria!
We debated whether the nation should take the IMF loan? Majority said no. He found a way to implement IMF conditionalities anyway. The press named him Maradona because of his capacity to dribble the nation. Ultimately, he dribbled himself and scored an own goal when he annulled the freest elections ever held in the country. You see, IBB did not expect Chief Moshood Abiola to win. Abiola was a neophyte politician. He had been known as a businessman. He dabbled into politics and somehow garnered support across the country. But IBB annulled the election while results were being announced. As far as Nigerians were concerned, he had defecated on the bible. You see. He had banned and unbanned politicians. He had dominated the scene. He thought he had conquered the nation and could do as he pleased. But nemesis was waiting for him. That was Nigeria!
Nigeria became ungovernable. Protests everywhere. The international community turned on the heat. The army was restive. IBB was forced to step aside on August 26, 1993. Handed over power to Chief Ernest Shonekan as head of Interim National Government (ING). But he left General Sanni behind to ‘stabilize the government! Hehehehehehe! ING was not recognised by any law! Did IBB leave Abacha behind deliberately? Shonekan released political prisoners who had been detained by IBB. He also tried to repeal draconian decrees. But Nigerians were fed up with the ING contraption. When in November 1993 a court ruled that ING was illegal, it was time for Abacha to step in. Ha! That man Abacha! May we never have a president or Head of Sate of his type. Never talked much. Never bothered about nice things. He remained hidden. How he and others after his regime ran the country will that not be the subject of my next two or three essays?
-Professor Eghagha who writes from Unilag, can be reached on 0802 322 0393 or [email protected]
-Read the first part here
-Read the second part here
Credit: Daily Times