Analysis : Buratai And The Ghost Of January 1966

By Sunny Awhefeada

When in late 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari announced the emergence of the then Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai as Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, many hailed it as a strategic appointment that will facilitate the former’s declared intention to exterminate the Boko Haram insurgency by December of that year. The tall two-star general was the Commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF), a coalition of troops from a number of countries battling insurgency in the sub region. Buratai was also from Borno State the epicenter of the insurgency in the North-East and it was thought that his knowledge of the landscape will help him in routing the insurgents and that the natives would support his military campaign since the army was being led by one of their own. Buratai wasted no time in rolling out his battle plans including visits to the frontlines during which he encouraged the troops and participated in physical exercises. The Nigerian Army went a step further to establish a new division, the 7 Division with headquarters in Maiduguri, in its bid to take the battle to the ragtag terrorists and end it once and for all. Buratai added a pip to his epaulet and he became a Lieutenant General.

It is now more than five years since General Buratai took over as Nigeria’s army supremo. Buhari’s deadline for vanquishing Boko Haram ended five years ago. Five years is a long time. The Nigerian Civil War, despite its massive scale since it was fought between two sides with the tendencies to being independent nations, lasted for less than three years. Whereas, an insurgency in just one state, Borno State, and in parts of Yobe State, has lasted all of ten years without reprieve in sight for our belegaured nation. Gone is the chest beating act of ending the insurgency in no time. We are only regaled with tall tales of “decimation” of the insurgents and for more than three years we have heard the meaningless prattle of it being “technically degraded”. Yet, the reality confronting us is the nightmare of Boko Haram’s onslaught on the nation and Nigeria’s rating as the third most terrorized place in the world. The most recent Boko Haram bloody act is the murder of yet to be ascertained number of rice farmers in Borno State. Official statistics, which are usually doctored, put it at forty-three, but that number is in dispute as the natives insist that those who died are in excess of that figure. The casualties of the insurgency are not only civilians. Soldiers have died too, especially the rank and file. There are stories of soldiers mutinying and deserting the war fronts.

It was in the middle of this confounding scenario that Buratai chose to put his fingers on the alarm button, during the decoration of newly promoted army generals, to the effect that he was aware of meetings about a coup! What followed this disclosure was a warning from the army chief that such elements would be dealt with. So far, not much attention has been paid to Buratai’s red flag. While some think it was mere red herring intended to divert attention from the embarrassing war against Boko Haram, others feel that such a warning should not be glossed over even if it was coming from a pepper soup joint in a Mammy market. It was ASP Alozie Ogugbuaja who once took on the army in the mid-1980s describing soldiers as experts in pepper soup and coup making.

Buratai and his soldiers should understand that the thought of a military coup at this juncture of our history is not only unacceptable, but repulsive. The world, and Nigeria inclusive, has moved beyond coups. It was a road our nation and Africa travelled for nearly four decades and it was worse than the road to Golgotha. It is true that Nigeria is presently assailed by a lot of crises, but we do not need rogue messiahs in khaki and jackboot to save us. They tried it before, beginning from 1966, and they left us in “sorrow, tears and blood”. Nigeria’s most successful coup maker and theorist of political brinkmanship, General Ibrahim Babangida, did submit that the soldiers always struck during moments of national frustrations and that when they did, the citizens often hailed them as messiahs and welcomed them. That was then. The people will not dance to martial music or hail and welcome any gruffly voice calling “Fellow Nigerians”. They will be met with organized resistance.

The business of 15 January 1966 ended on 29 May 1999. The military left no enviable legacy for Nigeria and Africa. Noble soldiers with and nationalist credentials never got to rule Nigeria or maybe there were none after all. The valorous Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu who started it all told the world that the 1966 coup was inspired by the spirit of “true Nigerianism” and that “only in the Nigerian Army do you find true Nigerianism”. Unfortunately, no one else shared Nzeogwu’s ideals. Not even the other four Majors with whom he plotted the putsch. The soldiers who ruled Nigeria subsequently were political mountebanks whose perfidy brought us where we are today. Dark schemes, nepotism, mediocrity, corruption and other ills became the bane of the military as the cancer of misrule ate into the polity. Looking back, Nigeria’s glorious years belonged to 1960-1965 just before locust-soldiers swarmed the landscape and left it almost in ruins. But our golden moment is ahead.

The abysmally poor legacy of military rule reflected the less than average ability and capacity of the soldiers who rode roughshod over Nigeria. The first was Major General J. T. U. Ironsi whom Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma described as “a useless desk officer”. He was succeeded by gentle General Yakubu Gowon who told a shocked world that “Nigeria’s problem was not money, but how to spend it”. He left Nigeria adrift. Next, was the erratic and ruthless General Murtala Muhammed, who lost over two thousand soldiers trying to cross the Niger Bridge. He ruled Nigeria “with dispatch” and “immediate effect”. General Olusegun Obasanjo who took over from him demonstrated a measure of guile that was mistaken for brilliance. At the end, his engagements as a leader never aspired beyond the kabu kabu level. Obasanjo’s successors constituted a case study in savagery. Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abacha took turns to menace Nigeria for much of the 1980s and 1990s. Nigerians then resolved that the plague that was military rule would not usher them into the new millennium. Organized resistance, especially after the 12 June 1993 election, became the antidote that ended years of draconian military rule.
The Nigeria of 2020 is not the same as that of 1966, 1976, 1983, 1985 or 1993. It is true that there is despondency across the land. Hunger has become our second name and poverty knocks at every door, but most Nigerians are sanguine that time and the process of social change will evolve a new nation. There are movements that are being born daily with ideas and ideals of what the Nigeria of our dream should be. Patriotic Nigerians in NGOs, civil societies, ethnic nationalities and pressure groups are thinking and meeting over how to engender a new Nigeria. Our national rebirth will not be realized through a coup. Buhari, the leader of the vicious cabal asphyxiating the nation, is a product of military coups. He and his ilk were active from 1966 to 1999. The ghost of 1966 has haunted us for too long. Thirteen out of twenty-one years since 1999 has been taken by soldiers in agbada which is what Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari are. We must exorcise the ghost of 1966 come 2023. Then Nigeria will be free of that bitter and bloody past, seek true restitution and trod a new path to a glorious future.

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