Little consideration is given to the fact that the army has become a dues ex machina which was created by the national irresponsibility that brought about the disastrous civil war, and that whoever attempts to demobilize it faces a great risk, not least of all, the men in Dodan Barracks. “Disabled Soldiers on the Rampage”, ran a Daily Times headline in late April; a columnist in its sister paper, The Sunday Times, described the scene:
“’Run for your dear life,’ was all I could wait to hear as panic-stricken, defenseless citizens bathed in hot confusion at Oshodi on the outskirts of our capital last weekend. I saw some frenzied uniformed men chasing wildly like chained hyenas just let loose. I was to learn later that they were soldiers. And barely a month before, on Sunday, March 31, traffic along the Agege motor road, also in Lagos, was paralyzed following an attack on vehicles along the road by some members of the army. On that occasion, like last week, about 12 vehicles were either seriously damaged or completely burnt and several innocent civilians were injured. The cause of that stampede, again like last week’s was that a solder had been involved in a fatal accident…”
Comments like these, over pitched though thy might seem, are evidence of the courage of some Nigerian journalists in a country dominated by the military. The army’s excesses are sometimes punished, as are some of the corrupt deals that come to light. On May, 4, for instance, it was reported that the General Officer Commanding the Third Infantry Brigade, Brigadier Yakubu Danjuma, had announced that 21 army officers had been tried and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment up to two years, for fraud and financial mismanagement. And he confirmed that 10 officers had been detained in the north-eastern state in connection with financial mismanagement.
But it is the green-coloured Mercedes-Benz cars with ‘NA’ (for Nigerian Army) number plates that attract most notice, as they bear the military top brass to and fro. And cynicism about the army’s role in the country’s moral state is enhanced by the treatment meted to the journalists, who alone can help to impart a social conscience to the more thick-headed members of the armed forces. The police are constantly pulling in editors and reporters for questioning a performance which usually manages to spread over several days, whenever they carry a ‘false’ report, or, in particular, a report which indicates that the journalists are privy to inside information and therefore have sources within the citadels of power.
The most notorious piece of brutality was inflicted on Minere Amakiri, chief correspondent of the Nigerian Observer, a government owned paper in the Rivers State capital of Port Harcourt. Mr. Amakiri had the unfortunate duty to reporting, on the birthday of the Governor of the State, Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff, that a teachers’ strike had occurred in his State. He was given 24 strokes of the cane on his back and his head was shaved. He later sued his assailants and was awarded £7500 damages.
In spite of the harassment, however, Nigerian journalists continue to produce some of the most lively newspapers on the continent. The extent of the freedom of thought they exhibit in their writing, and their singular refusal to kowtow to authority, puts many civilian-run countries’ newspaper to shame.
All the major controversies of the day are freely aired and discussed – a fact which discourages the type of opinion-moulding associated with other military regimes, and which renders them so unstable. The main potential flash-points in the nation’s life are known to everyone who cares to read. They are: should the armed forces hand over power, as promised by General Gowon, in 1976, and if so, should the civilian administration that replaces military rule be completely civilian or should a sprinkling of officers take part to ‘police’ the civilians and prevent them from committing excesses that could tempt the army back to power in a new coup d’etat? How should oil revenue be shared among the states – through ‘derivation’, no matter how small their population, or through the size of population of a state determining division of revenue? Should the existing 12 states be allowed to remain or should new ones be created, and if so, where? Should the present capitalistic society be left untouched or is it creating too many nouveaux-riches among Nigerian businessmen, a situation which might lead to bloody class conflicts in future. Finally, what role should be played by Nigeria in Africa – and the world – given her great size and immense wealth?
A return to civilian rule in 1976, by which time military rule would have lasted 10 years, seems to be widely accepted. When General Gowon made his promise to hand over in 1976, he announced a nine-point programme which he said would have to be completed by the army before it would hand over power. It include: reorganization of the armed forces; implementation of a four-year development plan; eradication of corruption; a decision on the creation of more states; preparation of a new constitution; introduction of a new system of revenue allocation; a national population census; organization of national political parties, and elections for government in the states as well as the centre.
This is a vast programme, and those who do not want the military to hand over power to politicians are using the impossibility of completing the nine points in the near future to urge the military to stay. Others, like the former President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, suggest a ‘dyarchy’ of military and civilian personnel, in which the military would exercise a veto over the civilians’ decision on important questions.
Some of the military governors have joined in the argument and indeed, the Supreme Military Council seems to be split down the middle over the matter. This is suggested by the way some members refer to the issue in public.
“We are determined to hand over power to civilians in 1976 as earlier promised in order to create a good history of military rule,” says Major-General Usman Hassan Katsina, Commissioner for Establishments and Service Matters.
“The Federal Military Government is committed to handing over power to a civilian regime in 1976. There is no question of military rule exceeding 1976 as the State and federal governments are executing the nine-point programme,” says Major-General Usman Hassan Katsina.
“The present military regime will not hurry to the barracks just because it has fixed 1976 as a date for return to civilian rule. If the people say we should continue, we shall have no choice, unless the right atmosphere prevails,” says Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, Military Governor of Lagos State.
What of General Gowon? He said on October 1, 1970, that “the target year for completing the nine-point programme, and restoring the country to normal constitutional rule, is 1976. we shall hasten and try to complete the programme if possible.” But since then there have been changes, and it is believed that the statements by other members of the Supreme Military Council may reflect a certain amount of the feet-dragging they may have sensed. Certainly, General Gowon has made no pronouncement on the suggestions that he should stay on as Head of State after 1976.
Who are the civilians in the wings, waiting for the army to go? No-one will admit to organizing a political party, since ‘political activity’ is banned. Instead, there is talk about men ‘with influence’, who are &#
8216;potential’ leaders of parties. Among these, the clear front-runner appears to be the present Federal Commissioner of Health, Alhaji Aminu Kano. He has substantial influence in northern Nigeria, which comprises six of the 10 states and two-thirds of the population. And he has contacts in the south of the country; his ‘Northern Elements Progressive Union’ was allied to the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) of Dr Azikiwe in the Sixties, and he also has a certain radical aura which places him apart from the normal traditionalist or feudalist northern politician. He wants a “wholly civilian” government after 1976.
Complex Processes – king-making and Sharing the oil
Another name heard is Alhaji Inuwa Wada, former Defence Minister in the Balewa Government. Some northerners blame him for not warning the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, about the January, 1966 coup, which cost both men their lives. But he is thought to have influence with the army, and he speaks his mind fearlessly; he has said that the nine-point programme of General Gowon need constitute no barrier to civilian rule, inasmuch as “anybody can implement the nine-point programme.”
In the South, it is thought that the Yoruba leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, will not lead a party, initially, but will have his lieutenants out. Then, depending on developments, he may emerge, like De Gaulle, to take on the task considered by the young men of the day as beyond them. As former Federal Commissioner for Finance, he enjoys the reputation for resigning as soon as the civil war was over; his reasons have never been publicly stated, but the general understanding is that he spoke out against excessive post-war military spending.