Next year is a make-or-mar year for Nigeria It is going to be a year of reckoning. To many, the forebodings point to events of cataclysmic proportions that will define the existential questions about Nigeria. Why that may be the case will unfold as the gravamen of this essay proceeds apiece.
For the past seven years, Nigeria has experienced certain socio-economic and political changes that, if you compare the period 1986–1993, and 2015–2022 culminating to 2023, they appear similar, and the effect very disconcerting and prodigious. And just like the cumulative effects of those socio-economic and political changes that took place in Nigerian polity unraveled in the socio-economic experimentations and the political transition programme of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida where lassez faire economic principles governed the economy while politics of ‘a-little-to-the left’ and ‘a-little-to-the-right’ under the weird two-party system led to the imposition of the Social Democratic Party with Chief MKO Abiola as its Presidential Candidate and Alhaji Bashir Tofa as National Republican Congress’s Presidential Candidate so also the weird politics and governance acts of Buhari government opened Nigerians’ eyes to the hitherto suppressed existential questions about Nigeria.
Under General Babangida, Nigeria experienced very radical socio-economic and political experimentations such as the Transition Programme that was to culminate in a presidential election in 1993 and that was after several dissembling reviews. The economic changes consist of the structural Adjustment Programme that was imposed after a government-supervised public debate on the need or otherwise of accepting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan with its conditionalities. The debate was discontinued when General Babangida settled for the so called “home-grown’ alternative which the government christened Structural Adjustment Programme which many economic and political experts called ‘IMF imposed economic system without the loan’. The social changes were so enormous and fundamental and arising from the political and economic policies that Nigerian culture was turned upside down and the legal system so uncertain that whatever was not possible was what has not entered into the minds of the rulers and the ruled.
Every aspect of Nigerian life changed overnight to the extent that even though government was in place, individuals associated with government grew so powerful that they compete with government for attention and habitual obedience. It was at that period of the obliteration and/or extinction of the boundary between government and private individuals and groups and the abolition of certain moral categories to the effect that with little effort the will of any determined individual or group can compete with public authority for imposition and compliance. The moral categories were also destroyed as what counted was the money-power to get things done: that is; the end justified the means. In that situation, a boundary between the rogue and the royalty became blurred for anybody with sufficient money can answer anything in Nigeria. A thief of today can become a chief of tomorrow and may even be made a governor, from where the person can aspire to the Presidency of Nigeria.
In the midst of all these social maladies, the socio-economic and political society became so fermented with variety of ills that corruption of the state and society became normalized making the then Chief of Army Staff, General Salihu to say that Nigerian Army is an army of “anything goes.” Crimes became common place that the Aninis of the defunct Bendel State became household name for exploits in armed robbery. As armed robbery was ravaging Southern Nigeria, religious fundamentalism that reared its head under President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983) became daily news of violent proselytization in major cities of the Far-North such as Kano, Kafanchan, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Jos, Bauchi, Yola and several others. The military autocrats managing Nigeria then being bereft of ideas to mobilise the people and gain their loyalty rather fell on the usual cheap method by every autocratic government to divide the society and rule it. In that wise, Babangida’s military government played ethnic and religious games by pitching the Northern Hausa/Fulani against the Southern counterparts in January, 1986 by registering Nigeria in the world Islamic organisation called Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) without subjecting such policy to governmental approval as the then ruling Armed Forces Ruling Council did not debate and approve it as testified to by the irrepressible Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, the Chief of Staff, and General Babangida’s second in command. When it (the OIC debacle) became public, Nigeria expectedly was seriously polarized between Christian opponents and Moslem supporters. It was reported (Newswatch, July 7, 1986, pp.25-27) that this Islamic gambit was actually the offshoot of General Buhari’s efforts to foist Sharia law on Nigeria through the instrumentality of entrenching it into federal legal order which could not materialize before his overthrow in 1985. So, General Babangida wanting to ingratiate himself to the Sokoto Caliphate took up the OIC membership as recompense.
Nigeria had maintained an observer status in the organisation until December, 1985, when OIC sent an invitation to Nigeria to attend its meeting at Fez, Morocco in January 1986 whereupon Nigerian Ministry of External Affairs instructed the Nigerian Embassy at Morocco to attend as an observer but Babangida government thought otherwise when it directed that a high-powered delegation led by Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman and Abubakar Alhaji, Abdulakadir Ahmed (CBN governor), Ibrahim Dasuki, then Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and Sheik Abubakar Gumi to represent Nigeria and to register Nigeria as the 46th member. That was accomplished with a day in a process that usually takes one year. Implementation of Sharia as part of Nigeria’s legal system had earlier been championed by Maitama Sule and MKO Abiola. From then on, religious question became markedly volatile as many fundamentalist Islamic organisations took up the challenge to start asserting that Sharia must be implemented throughout Nigeria and in the process there were several religious riots which bolstered Islamic fundamentalism with the result that heinous crimes such as the murder were committed with impunity to drive the point of this Islamic protagonists.
Such impunity was exacted in the murder of Gideon Akaluka in Kano Bompai Prison on 26 December, 1994 by Shiite Moslems abducted him from prison, killed him, decapitated his head and hoisted it on a spike and paraded the city of Kano without any challenge by the law enforcement agencies. Ohanaeze Ndigbo shouted itself hoarse for due process of law to take its course by calling the Federal Government and Kano State military administrator Mohammed Wase to initiate and enforce the law against the murderers to no avail. From then, Muslim Fundamentalist acquired the right to enforce their own idea of Sharia against Nigerians in Far-Northern cities. In October 19, 1986, Dele Giwa had been killed in a parcel bomb and nothing happened and it signaled the reign of assassins in Nigeria. Between 1986 and 1993, corruption had become the norm and the society turned upside down that Nigerians were so tired out by the constant bombardment of autocratic government policies especially the interminable political transition programme that they had resigned to fate. Then by accident, the government boxed itself into a corner when by series of banning and unbanning of politicians it threw up two mast unlikely political figures in MKO Abiola and Bashir Tofa from Ogun State, Southern Nigeria and Kano State, Northern Nigeria respectively. After the emergence of these two individuals as presidential candidates of government-created parties – NRC and SDP – government looked away as sundry mischief makers seized the political space to unleash their political wares of subterfuge and sabotage of the programme. Then, the electoral body fixed June 12, 1993 as the date of the presidential election.
Many factors were lined up against the election such as the fact that it was during the thick of the raining season and its disruptive effect was not discountenanced. Association of Better Nigeria (ABN) was still fighting to disrupt the election and it actually got a Court Order to stop it but Humphrey Nwosu’s National Electoral Commission disobeyed the injunctive order pursuant to the provisions of the decree establishing it and went ahead to conduct the election which was peacefully conducted without hitches throughout Nigeria. So on June 12, 1993, the election held and the power that-be had hoped that Northern electorate would side with Northern candidate, Tofa of NRC but they were grossly disappointed as MKO Abiola, the Southern Candidate of SDP won in a landslide across Nigeria and even defeated Tofa in his home State of Kano State. The presidential election was adjudged the freest and fairest election ever in Nigeria by foreign and local observers. It was against these unexpected outcomes of the June 12, Presidential election that the military government and its supporting cast of mischief makers and political scoundrels seized the Nigerian State and annulled the election and plunged Nigeria into a crisis that has persisted till date because it is the consequences of that annulment that Nigerians have been suffering as a false palliative of instituting an autocratic constitutional framework on Nigeria in 1999 has exacerbated the already smouldering ethnic and religious volcanic eruptions that had accompanied the January 15, July 29, 1966 coups, the pogroms against the Igbo ethnic nationality in Nigeria and the Biafra War whose crises were not justly and sincerely resolved thereafter.
Few Nigerians know that the annulment of June 12 Presidential election was the direct fallout of the July 29, Coup of 1966 which restored the Hausa/Fulani political tendency to power, even though transformed as Northern political hegemony since it was actually the Northern minority military men that kicked-started the July 29, 1966 coup but taken over and led by Murtala Mohammed, a Hausa-Fulani irredentist. That July 29, 1966 coup was of extra-ordinary political significance of which few understand as it marked the process of subjugation of Nigeria under one ethnic group which was the Hausa-Fulani political leadership. Those that understood the significance or import tried to prevent it but the crisis degenerated to Biafra War which was the logical resolution, for or against the process of subjugation. July 29, 1966 coup protagonists won the war and became the conquistadors of Nigeria under General Gowon. But the bubble busted in 1975 when Murtala Mohammed, the coup leader of that July 29, 1966 grew tired of Gowon and overthrew him. Gowon’s tribal sympathizers consisting of Northern minority military men revolted under Col. B.S. Dimka in 1976 and killed Mohammed.
But they coup failed, and Mohammed’s deputy, General Obasanjo succeeded him and went ahead to implement all the planned restructuring of Nigeria and the imposition of feudal, unitary and autocratic constitutional framework encapsulated in the creation of additional states to favour Northern states at the expense of Southern Nigeria while the British colonial Indirect Rule system was rechristened as Uniform Local Government System and imposed on Nigeria. Ever since the 1976 Murtala Mohammed inspired state restructuring of Nigeria and the imposition of feudal, unitary and autocratic constitutional framework on it, Nigeria’s politics already distorted by Britain in 1950/1953 by granting the North 50% representation in the Central Legislature without actual demographic advantage has created a unipolar politics in which a section of the country dictates the outcomes of all political electoral contests to the discomfort of other groups. This is the fundamental problem that Nigerians have sought to resolve by abolishing the system. When in 1993 General Babangida mistakenly toppled that applecart through June 12 Election which exposed the incongruities of that inequitable system the beneficiaries kicked and got General Babangida to annul the election result. And it was annulled. A witness to that political heist, Prof. Omo Omoruyi in his book, The Tale June 12: The Betrayal of Democratic Rights of Nigerians, 1993 narrated how he confronted General Babangida about the annulment of the election in response to which, General Babangida told him that Northern political establishment represented by a foremost northern traditional ruler upbraided him for allowing the June 12 to happen and insisted that allowing June 12 was tantamount to destroying the structure favourable to the north erected by Lord Lugard and which if destroyed would require another Lugard to restore or rebuild. To be the instrument for the destruction of the house Lugard built; General Babangida against all odds sustained the annulment of June 12 and prevented MKO Abiola to become President of Nigeria so as not to enter the black book of the North.
The national remedy for the crimes of June 12 and accompanying crises was the imposition of 1999 Constitution, a cosmetic legal order full of contradictions and commissioning General Obasanjo, an ally of the military generals to assume political power and steer Nigeria away from the brink of destruction. Obasanjo had ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979 and had voluntary relinquished power to civilians. Of course, he thought that cosmetic reforms will tidy Nigeria over the abyss. The above scenarios that played out between 986 and June 12, 1993, mutatis mutandi have been playing out in Nigeria between 2015 and 2022 and will culminate in the Presidential election sometime in February or thereafter in 2023. General Buhari came to power in 2015. Before then he had been military head of state between December 31, 1983 and August 26, 1986 when he was overthrown in a military coup. To some people, he cut the image of no nonsense anti-corruption leader especially given the background of the public perception of his successors as corrupt. During Abacha government, Buhari served as Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund Projects. But a keen appraisal of his military rule tenure discloses a streak of unmitigated nepotism, narrow ethnic and religious inclinations to favouritism. Of course his autocratic disposition was writ large and beyond dispute. So, despite these obvious character flaws, politicians, especially some Southwestern ones desirous of avenging President Jonathan’s alleged derelictions towards them pulled him up and foisted him on the nation through the machinery of an alliance resulting in All Progressives Congress, and they won the 2015 presidential election. Having won the election, General Buhari’s governance in speech and action, has largely been defined by nepotism that has resulted in ethnic distrust among Nigeria‘s constituent ethnic groups. Corruption and insecurity of the worst kinds especially kidnapping, banditry, Fulani herdsmen terrorism and Boko Haram insurgency have worsened. Economic mismanagement has only deepened the poverty in the country. Given all these socio-economic and political scenarios foisted on Nigerians by Buhari government, Nigerians’ eyes have opened to never-imagined possibilities of crass domination of key facets of national institutions by President Buhari’s ethnic and religious constituencies and the existential questions such as the threat of ‘Fulanisation and Islamisation’ as alleged by eminent persons such as Generals TY Danjuma and Olusegun Obasanjo and Buhari’s inflexible opposition to constitutional reforms and restructuring have further agitated Nigerians especially Southerners and middlebelt people to perceive Buhari as not having their best interests at heart. It was this perception that led to ENDSARS commotion in 2020 and the never-ending secessionist struggles by the Igbo, and now Yoruba youths represented by IPOB’s Nnamdi Kanu and Yoruba self-determination groups led by Prof. Banji Akintoye and Sunday Adeyemo alias Igboho.
Against the above background which in substance is similar to the atrocities of military rule (1984-1993) that prepared the ground for 1999 SAP riots, 1990 Orkar coup and Nigerians definitive political action reflected in the June 12 1993 presidential election which was more of a vote of no confidence against military rule and a vote for democracy. And it is these cumulative political grievances that are set to be replicated in the 2023 presidential election. Just as the IBB’s misrule, and the perception of ethnic and religious domination within the military establishment made Southern and Middlebelt officers to revolt by organising the botched April, 1990 Orkar Coup which prepared the ground for June 12 1993 unprecedented national rebirth so also the glaring political failings of Buhari government have watered the ground for a groundswell of youthful social mobilisation, a foretaste of which is simulating the Peter Obi support quaking Nigeria and promises to upturn all previous political equations in Nigeria and point to a presidential election outcome that will baffle Nigerians. I doubt if the authorities and principalities and powers have seen or perceived this seismic political movement going on quietly and imperceptibly to turn Nigeria upside down – either for good or for evil but the hope of this social movement is that Nigeria either gets it right and succeeds to ordain a just and fair legal and political order in 2023 or the rot continues to fester to a terminal end the end of which nobody can predict. So, let he who has eyes and ears see and hear that what is currently cooking is ‘a rematch of June 12’ in the 2023 Presidential Election. Whether anybody can stop it or annul its outcome is not an unimaginable proposition but should that happens then Nigeria will cease to be what it is now. We are surely living in an interesting time!