The sting in the comments by erstwhile British Prime Minister, David Cameron, describing Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt” will linger for a long time. Perhaps what makes the animadversion more jarring was that it was made within hearing distance of Nigeria’s supposed incorruptible leader, President Buhari. The throng of hierophants eager to define Nigeria’s identity before its youth can shape their own destiny, capitalised on the nation’s perceived weakness. Nigeria was described as a nation of huts (Donald Trump) and unflatteringly categorised under sh*thole countries (Donald Trump).
Nigerians, they say, “no dey carry last” as our indigenous hierophants refused to be outdone in dispensing words of wisdom—no matter how unwise. But, this time it was our ubiquitous generals doing the honours and reaching for the #MeToo microphone (my reference is not a censure of the American movement to expose predators, but an acknowledgment of the universal appeal and power in its symbolism).
First, was former general and president, Olusegun Obasanjo, the longest to reign as Nigeria’s head of government and head of state, with an aggregate of over 11 years in office as military dictator and democratically elected civilian president. In an unusual missive, General Obasanjo faulted his former protégé, similarly an ex-military dictator, and now incumbent democratically elected President Muhammadu Buhari, for running a poor administration and advised him to retire to the sidelines and settle for a status of elder statesman—just like the retired generals had done.
Perhaps not Nigeria’s most admired leader, but the longest to serve as Nigeria’s head of state/government, has been certainly the most competent. However, his untimely intervention generated acrimony on the information highway and there was a flurry of editorial activity gunning down the former soldier’s unsolicited opinion, as being more big-headed than high-minded.
Then second, was another protégé of General Obasanjo’s, the one whose trumpeted love for football manipulated the soccer-loving populace to focus attention on its soccer foes, Ghana and such, as a lightning rod, diverting attention away from Nigeria’s fundamental problems: the political adventurers in the Nigerian military and their countless atrocities. Although he was known as an able soccer captain in his youth, it was not for his talent as a football player, that the former military dictator was given the sobriquet of Maradona, the Argentine soccer legend who single-handedly felled the English team in Mexico, on his way to winning the world cup in 1986.
Babangida was known for “dribbling” Nigerians with his numerous empty promises, which he always reneged on. He went too far last year as he dribbled himself in an interview with a dogged, professional and beautiful reporter, who quizzed him on why he cancelled the 12 June 1993 elections. She found it dubious that he took credit for having organised Nigeria’s freest and fairest elections, yet he annulled it.
Perhaps to save face for his summer debacle during that interview in which he dribbled himself before all Nigerians on television, General Babangida in February 2018, in copycat trope, sent his own missive castigating President Buhari’s administration, urging him not to stand for re-election in 2019. However, unlike his former boss Obasanjo, Babangida, alias Maradona, soon retracted the statement on the same day, claiming that he was not its author, and did not authorise it through Kassim Afegbua, his spokesman. Twenty-five years after his departure as dictator, the chameleon struck again. Babangida whose manipulation of Nigerians appears to be so potent and permanent, that many years after his departure as military dictator, his self-styled mysterious appellative, the misnomer “military president” is still ridiculously purveyed in referring to the ex-dictator, who was never elected president.
Stemming from more chicanery from the former dictator, the hapless spokesman, and fellow Nigerian, Afegbua, experienced an egregious violation of his rights as he was wrongfully detained by security operatives; said to be wanted and then arrested by the police, etc. All to what end? For an unbearable period, Nigerians were traumatised again by Babangida’s cat and mouse games. And we still do not know what really transpired or the origin of this simple statement censuring President Buhari. But do Nigerians really care? Not in the least. If the septuagenarian wishes to indulge in a game of musical chairs at his age, let him “knock himself out” with his claque in his palace in Minna.
More recently, the throng of attention seeking ex-generals passed the microphone in a bit of an odd ball situation, to a more taciturn general, T.Y. Danjuma, who was a former chief of army staff and chief of defence. General Danjuma is a curious figure. Military folklore alleges that he was the soldier who either supervised the killing of or personally executed Nigeria’s first military leader, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966. T.Y. Danjuma went on to have an illustrious career in government and later in business as a regular on Forbes billionaires, through the aegis of the Nigerian military.
Nigerians easily blame the military, who somehow masqueraded as corrupt government officials, for embezzlement. But, it is astonishing that former leaders of this same corrupt military, operate as leaders in every aspect of Nigeria’s socio-political and economic orbit today. So, who is this ubiquitous, yet elusive corrupt soldier that has raided Nigeria’s coffers? Because he is deceased, General Sani Abacha is easily blamed for the wholesale looting of Nigeria’s treasury. But even alive, there must have been a thousand and one Abachas executing countless acts of looting in order to pull off the great Nigerian heist that has been perpetrated by Nigeria’s generals. Nobody questions how ex-career public servants and ex-soldiers end up being billionaires in dollars. The deceased Abacha stole all the loot.
The former army chief made more than just inflammatory and acrimonious statements in a televised convocation ceremony in Taraba State University, before students not immovable by the volatile conditions in that region, ranging from brigandry, tribal and herdsmen killings, to the Boko Haram insurgency. The general unequivocally accused the Nigerian armed forces, to which he had belonged, of aiding and abetting criminal elements to slaughter Nigerians. Effectively, he was saying the armed forces were a criminal gang and its actions precluded its legitimacy. Consequently, he called the people to rise up in arms in defence of their lives—and in effect to revolt against the armed forces supposedly giving succour to the criminal elements terrorising the people.
While Nigeria’s mainstream editorials censured the former General’s statement, as a reckless call to anarchy, they remained too cautious. Perhaps we should not be unmindful that people’s fortunes in Nigeria are intricately linked to favours bestowed by Nigerian big-men (and Danjuma is a big-man). And in an environment where brownnosing is in the people’s DNA, perhaps the “people” remained circumspect and restrained in their criticism of a man at the top of the totem pole of dispensing favours. You never know who the general may know.
Only the youth on social media, boldly declared the serial coupist General Danjuma’s flagrant comments as seditious and amounting to treason, for inciting the citizens indirectly to take up arms against the armed forces, and consequently their commander-in-chief, President Buhari. Make no mistake; President Buhari represents the collective will of the Nigerian people, as the democratically elected president. He is the legitimately constituted authority and he is rightfully the commander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, which Danjuma’s comments were calculated to incite the citizens against in insurrection. In any event, Danjuma’s comments sought to undermine the legitimacy of the authority of President Buhari as commander-in-chief.
This is characteristic of a rebellious serial coup-plotter guilty of treason. Who absolved him?
It is a travesty of the rule of law and Nigeria’s burgeoning democracy that the Ministry of Justice and the legal arm of the Nigerian military have not commenced legal action against the former defence chief, who should know better—there are limits to free speech in a democracy, as you cannot incite people to insurrection or to take up arms against their legitimately constituted government. Neither has he been arrested by the Nigerian police nor detained by security operatives (over clearly seditious statements for which there is incontrovertible evidence that he made them), like Kassim Afegbua was for an innocuous statement he made, on behalf of General Babangida.
Can a leopard change its spots?
Another case of affiliates of the Nigerian army’s proverbial acts of impunity, with their flagrant misdeeds without personal consequences, has just occurred via General Danjuma’s actions. Nigerians, they say, seek solace and solutions in prayer. Then pray that God sends us men and women, whose authority will not be from the guns they wield like in the brigandish generals’ case, whose only self-aggrandising achievement was to create the great Nigerian divide, of the select few in the billionaire boys and girl club, luxuriating in the vast sea of the peoples’ poverty. The generals impoverished Nigerians, while they enriched themselves.
Nigeria is now known internationally as a religious hotbed, which is not only home to some religious terrorists (Boko Haram), but also the domain of the devout and prayerful, as the nation now boasts the largest mega-churches in the world, a sizable devout Muslim population, and devotees of animist religions. During the dark days of General Sani Abacha’s reign of terror, the outwardly politically docile Nigerian populace, is said to have resorted to fervent prayers. Nigerians do not know for sure, what removed that ignoble soldier from the face of the earth. But they certainly prayed for it.
Those soldiers and their affiliates are at it again. Let us pray for the time to come, when we will no longer number questionable men with blood on their hands, as leaders, elders and statesmen.
* Olurotimi Osha attended Columbia University in the City of New York and is a Doctor of Law candidate at the George Washington University Law School, in Washington, DC.