The lockdown enforced by the coronavirus pandemic reminds me of the many coups that happened in Nigeria.
It’s like this: whenever the army takes over, every Nigerian is forced to sit at home.
Military coups and Nigeria used to be Siamese twins.
It’s one of the wonders of the modern world that Nigeria has stayed all of 20 years and more without witnessing a coup.
Let’s all agree that it’s very obvious the khaki boys have lost the plot.
You can therefore imagine the shock treatment that the corona lockdown gave to me by reminding of the days of yore when military coups used to keep Nigerians in their homes.
In the boredom of sitting at home doing nothing for hours on end I had to fetch from my scattered library the book Fellow Countrymen: The Story of Coups D’etats in Nigeria by Richard Akinnola.
In Fellow Countrymen, Akinnola undertakes, in the words of Clem Richardson of New York Daily News, “A stirring, dramatic accounting of the men who almost ruined Nigeria.”
The author deservedly dedicates the book “to all victims of military dictatorship,” praying very fervently that “their struggle would never be in vain.”
The book was first published in year 2000 and had to be thoroughly revised in 2013.
Akinnola dubs General Ibrahim Babangida “the grandmaster of coups”.
According to Akinnola, Babangida was in the company of late Col Ibrahim Taiwo in a plane when they saw a younger officer reading a book entitled How to Stage a Coup. Taiwo asked the young officer to open up the chapter on the consequences of failure, and advised: “By all means read this book but when you get to this chapter, cram it.”
The January 15, 1966 coup that ended the First Republic threw up the stirring words of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circle (sic); those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian calendar back by their words and deeds.”
The bloodier Northern “revenge coup” of July 29 in the selfsame 1966 supervened.
There were pogroms and there was the Nigeria-Biafra war.
General Yakubu Gowon who had taken power over the body of Ironsi was himself ousted on July 29, 1975 in a coup broadcast by his close ally and guard Brig. Joe Garba, thus putting Murtala Mohammed in power.
The military struck once more on February 13, 1976 in an abortive but bloody “dawn to dusk curfew” coup led by Lt-Col Buka Suka Dimka that ended the life of Gen. Murtala Mohammed on a Lagos street.
Col Taiwo who had advised the soldier reading the book on coups was killed in this putsch.
General Olusegun Obasanjo who got into power after Murtala’s death organised the 1979 elections that transferred power to the civilian regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Civil rule only lasted four years with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari taking over on the last day of 1983.
Then there was Gen. Babangida’s palace coup of August 27, 1985 that sent Buhari packing. Babangida then announced he had foiled a coup led by his bosom friend, the poet Gen. Mamman Vatsa, who was executed along with the other alleged plotters even as Nigeria’s eminent writers Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and JP Clark had pleaded with Babangida to spare the military poet’s life.
Babangida survived the April 22, 1990 revolution led by Major Gideon Orkar which culminated in Babangida moving house to the safer grounds of Aso Rock in Abuja.
The annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola led to multiform crises that forced Babangida to quit power in disgrace.
The lame-duck interim regime led by Chief Ernest Shonekan which Babangida put in power was overthrown on November 17, 1993 by the Gen. Sani Abacha “Child of Necessity” coup.
Of course, Gen. Abacha dealt with his opponents in the “phantom” and “set-up” coups before dying mysteriously, leading to the coming into power of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar who organised the 1999 elections that brought Obasanjo from prison to the presidency.
Corona is a compelling human story; so is the coup plot.
Mamman Vatsa’s lament during his trial is indeed heartrending: “By the time you finish with me, my children will forever be afraid of the system.”
Captain Tolofari of the Orkar 1990 coup writes his mother Inyingi on the eve of the coup thus: “If you are reading this letter, it means I am dead…” Tolofari justifies the coup’s excision of some Northern states with a quote from the Bible (Matthew 5:30) about Christ’s advice that if your right hand should offend you, it should be cut off!
Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua met with horrible death in Abacha’s gulag while Obasanjo was somewhat saved from sure death.
Gen. Oladipo Diya is alive today only but for the grace of God.
As the corona coup, sorry, lockdown lingers, let’s end on the note of the horrendous torture of Lawan Gwadabe as arranged by Zakari Biu thusly: “I was then taken to the torture chamber by a team led by ACP Hassau Zakari Biu… Their instruction was to tighten the handcuffs on my left hand and block the blood vessel from supplying. By the time we arrived at the torture chamber, after almost an hour’s drive, my left hand had become useless… With my already dead hands, the cuffs were removed from the front and my handcuffed from the back. My legs were tied together like a cow ready for slaughter, then the ropes on my legs were drawn up suspending me on my head, but without touching the ground…”