I had wanted to use “Generals Also Cry” as the title of this article before I remembered that I once nursed the ambition to be a soldier. I liked the power and authority they command. It wasn’t like I had so much of a choice anyway. I grew up watching them prancing all over the place, like they owned the entire universe. As a pupil, I wrote essays on military administrators and heads of state. Boys and girls of my era were raised to see soldiers as role models.
The British joined us in what some people prefer to call unholy matrimony of convenience, to serve their own economic interest but it took the soldiers to put that asunder. Many of the older guys that experienced the civil rule at independence still nurse a sense of nostalgia about that era. It is arguable if there were much difference between the attitude of the politicians of that time and the ones pretending to be running things now.
This does not, in any way, justify the rude intervention of those young idealistic officers that in 1966, set the tone for successive military interventions in our polity. The pervading crises of identity created in the psyche of the average Nigerians because of incessant military coups will surely take long to wear out. We sure have overdose of it. It is quite common to hear most Nigerian crave for strong leadership typified by military styled leadership. To most of us, a strong leader is one who carries out policies spontaneously with scant regard to due process. One who issues orders with reckless abandon; works with a certain swagger and extreme aura of self-importance. That assume airs of self-allotted intelligence, especially when armed with that military stick and well-starched khaki uniforms that make them look like species from the outer space. Symptoms of military hangover, we call them!
They rode the best automobiles, dated and married the most beautiful women, lived in the most appointed homes in posh areas of town and their kids attend the best schools while they took turn to destroy the once respected public and mission schools. It must have been all these that informed the role model status that invariably invited me to think about joining the military in my early days. Who knows, I might have since ended up in the bowels of the earth for reasons of “accessory before or after the act.” Which young man of my time with some sense of ambition did not nurse the ambition of joining the military then? And guess what? This ambition was the direct opposite of what obtained during the time Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) joined the military. The first generations of military officers were largely what one would safely refer to as “factory rejects.” They were not particularly brilliant. The civil service and the academia held the real attraction then and were the envy of most youths. If you were not a medical doctor, engineer or lawyer, it was as though you did not exist. Military was at the very lowest of the ladder. It was so much so that no self-respecting parents wanted any of their kids to join the military.
This was the military OBJ and IBB joined. Anyone that joined a profession under similar circumstances would surely have a stone or two to grind with a cynical society. It turned out, therefore, that these were the guys that formed the first elite crop of officers that took political leadership in Nigeria by force. The military happened on us like a thunderbolt. It was a pure case of a gateman forcefully taking over the master’s house and pushing the master to switch roles with him at the gatehouse. Imagine the despoliation, the vengeance and the bitterness that will follow such scenario. This, in large part explains the desecration that flowed from the military rule in Nigeria.
At a time, nations are calling leaders who plundered their collective patrimony to question; those who ruled and ruined our own Nation are busy reminding us of our own collective inertia. I mean, how audacious and insensitive could these men be to the extent of calling themselves “fools” at 70 (as if we were in doubt before now) at a time of grave economic and security challenges which roots could easily be traced to their regimes.
Why do they think Egypt, Libya and the rest of Arab world boiling and calling their leaders to account are too far from here? It is obvious that some of the leaders in the troubled region had sterling performances, yet their citizens are calling for blood.
How are they so sure it can’t happen here?
Let us even examine briefly the so-called OBJ/IBB leadership triangle. OBJ came to power accidentally in 1976 at the demise of his immediate boss, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed. He was reported to have run away to Idi-Iroko border when he realized the reign of leadership was going to fall on his laps. They persuaded him to come back after he got the assurances of those he felt held the lever of power then. All through the three and half years, he was in the saddle, he ruled with extreme fear and deference to those that facilitated his ascent to power. I can’t remember any remarkable achievement that set that regime apart from the ones before it.
He hurriedly handed over power to a contrived civilian government in1979 to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who saw leadership more as a burden than a responsibility and perhaps, felt relived after the goons shoved him aside in a 1983 coup de tat. IBB played a major role in setting aside that democratic dispensation which in-civilized climes could have fetched him a tidy life jail even after leaving power. He elevated himself to power through another palace coup in 1985. It followed. therefore. that for eight years IBB was on the throne turned Nigeria into one hell of a political laboratory. All manner of economic, social and political experiments were conducted on Nigeria during this period, which culminated into the sudden coma the nation slipped into in 1993 when he cowardly ‘stepped aside.’ It has never recovered since then.
One undeniable fact that came out of IBB’s experiment is opening up a somewhat constricted economy at that time. What came with that was corruption of unprecedented proportion. I guess that’s what people mean when they say IBB brought corruption in our body polity. That may not be entirely correct, given that corruption was already assuming a hydra headed dimension even during the first republic. Again, it is hard, indeed very hard, to place a finger at what IBB did during these eight years that would make him roll out the drums at 70 to insult the sensibilities of Nigerians.
The second coming of OBJ completes the triangle of evil that is now being celebrated as a model in leadership. It is a self-evident truth that his partner IBB facilitated this second coming and all the things OBJ appeared to have left undone in his first attempt were corrected mainly for his own benefit. OBJ took time to visit practically all the capitals of the world in his first term. He abandoned governance in the hands of Atiku who, of course, used it to settle his friends and associates.
By the time OBJ settled for his second term, he suddenly realized he had harsh verdict of history staring him in the face. He tried to sum things up by pursuing several projects at the same time. When he realized the limited time available to achieve anything meaningful to appease men and God who gave him the rare opportunity to govern a nation twice, he resorted to seeking a third term which escorted him out of office ignobly and haunts him till this day.
One thing both leaders achieved in abundance was their stupendous wealth. While IBB set up a hilltop ‘holding’ mansion in Minna, Niger State, his bosom partner replicated his in Abeokuta in Ogun State. No one has had the temerity to ask them the source of their wealth. In Nigeria, such question is considered dumb and uninformed and that explains why we have festering corruption here. What OBJ and IBB are really celebrating is not how old they are but how much they have contributed in ruining Nigeria. The military sat on Nigeria for over 35 years of Nigeria’s 50 years after independence. The damage they caused in our psyche, physical infrastructure and social orientation pales into insignificance when placed side by side against the evils of colonisation and slavery.
Akin Alofetekun Writes