Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
firstname.lastname@example.org | 08024565402
On January 15 1966, Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, a Nigerian military officer who played a leading role in the coup that terminated the first republic made a radio broadcast in which he declared in part that:
“Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 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 circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”
Events after that declaration led the country into a full blown military dictatorship. Sadly, it did not take one year before the military government that came into place led by Gen Ironsi became enmeshed in the same ills which Nzeogwu had accused the politicians he had murdered and overthrown of. It was again violently overthrown paving way for a series of events that put the country on the slippery road to disintegration.
A war, a bitter war for Nigeria’s unity was fought. At the end of it all, General Yakubu Gowon the victorious Head of the Federal forces declared that there were “no victors and no vanquished”. But Nigeria remained under military dictatorship between 1966 to 1979 when another feeble attempt at democracy was made. It lasted barely four years -1979 to 1983 – before the military came again.
This time, they were in no hurry to leave. If the first incursion of the military had been prolonged because a civil war was fought, there was no war between 1984 and 1999 – fifteen years; yet they held tightly to the reins of government without let up. Still, when they let go of power, they did not defeat the “profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent”. Worst still, the military between 1984 – 1999 introduced the concept of looting the treasury. To them, demanding 10 percent for a contract award was not good enough. You just go to the treasury and help yourself without the inconvenience of contract award. The military also still left us with the “tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles”. We are still ruled by the same category of people Nzeogwu had declared as enemies of Nigeria in 1966.
It is evident that Nigerians in frustration do sometimes look for something “miraculous or spectacular” -again to use the words of Nzeogwu in 1966 – from the military. Nothing demonstrates this hope in the military more than the fact that after fifteen years of grueling dictatorship by the military (1984-1999) by a succession of Generals, Nigerians still went ahead to recall one of their tormentors, General Olusegun Obasanjo and crown him a President. And even now, after experimenting with Yar adua and Goodluck Jonathan – the bloody civilians – we have gone back to yet another former military dictator for salvation.
Is there anything inherently attractive in the military class that makes Nigerians believe only them can hold this country together? And if we must always go back to the military class in search of salvation, why don’t we do it boldly and allow full blown military tyranny rather than trying these half measures of revisiting the military class? Some of us have gone round the whole circle and seen the good and the bad sides of all.
In 1966 when Nzeogwu struck I was just beginning life as a primary school pupil. I was so happy to hear that the government in power was overthrown. My joy was borne out of the fact that my father was an opposition politician. Not a full time politician for he was by profession a teacher who subsidized his meagre earnings with farming and hunting. He was also a lay preacher, one of the earliest persons to be converted to Christianity in Donga Local Government of the present Taraba state. In those days it was Benue Province.
As an apprentice politician, he belonged to the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) which was up against the Northern People’s Congress, the NPC that held power in the Northern Region. He was a hero worshipper of Joseph Tarka, the leader of UMBC. Because of this, he was always in trouble with the local police and the alkali courts – all controlled by the NPC. There was a particular incidence I witnessed which will remain in my memory till I die.
My father had gone to the market square to give a lecture on the cause of the UMBC. A classroom table was put for him in the square to serve as his podium. He climbed up the table to deliver his lecture: “Tarka, Tarka, Tarka”, he bellowed, trying to whip his small crowd into frenzy. But he had not started the lecture when some local police came and violently pushed him down the table. When he fell, they picked him up and started dragging him to the house of the local alkali.
As a teacher, my father moved around in measured steps to demonstrate the dignity of his profession. But the speed with which those who arrested him moved was not in accord with his notion of dignity. We followed at a distance regardless. We wanted to know what they were going to do with him. In those days my father spent more time in prison than at home because of his political activities. Even then, we were not prepared for what we got that day.
The alkali was having his bath when my father was dragged to his house. His captors then proudly announced that they had brought the “trouble maker”. The alkali responded from his bathroom that he should be locked up for six months until he finished his bath to look into his case. It was as if the man was going to set a new Guinness record as the man with the most prolonged bath in the world. Was he going to bath for six months before considering the case against my father? My father, the new ‘convict’ was locked up regardless of the rather grotesque sentence.
Luckily for him and other victims of such bizarre judgments, Mallam Aminu Kano leader of NEPU another opposition party in alliance with UMBC was on a political tour of our locality. The case was brought to his notice and he took it up with the Divisional Officer, DO, a white colonial administrator. The whiteman ordered the immediate release of my father.
Often, people in power in Nigeria collaborate with the police and the judiciary to deny the ordinary man his rights. It is such acts that lead the ordinary man to look up to the military as the liberator. But as our history in Nigeria has shown over and over again, the military is just not an option. There is no option to democracy.