Nigerians again woke up to the alarm of another phantom coup d'état last Wednesday when the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the Inspector General of Police raised the alarm over a planned attempt by the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate in the February 28 presidential election. They were accused of scheming to unseat the government. This brought to memory the incidence of 1997, when the military junta, led by the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha announced that his deputy, and then Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya (rtd) and others planned to overthrew his government. The senior government officials, in separate press briefings, raised the alarm that several upheavals that have been threatening the nation's peace were being orchestrated by disgruntled politicians who lost out in the last presidential elections. The information minister specifically pointed accusing fingers at the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the brains behind the spate of violence that ravaged the northern part of the country since February 28.
Although cases of violence before and after elections are not strange to the Nigeria democratic system, what is however worrisome in the current situation are the threats it poses to the corporate existence of the country and the scare of another possible military incursion into Nigeria's longest democratic governance. Political and socio-economic events since President Muhammadu Buhari was declared winner after the exercise of which Atiku and PDP have since challenged in the court appear to be pushing Nigeria to the precipice.
The former vice president and his party are insisting that the last presidential election was not only marred with unprecedented irregularities but that they also have substantial evidence to prove their points. Although there had been a series of pressures on Atiku to drop the case and accept the result as declared by the electoral umpire, the entreaties have, however, not been heeded. Since the election and even before it, Nigeria has witnessed a series of violence, banditry and other socioeconomic and political crises, especially in the northern region.
In response to the situation, Burutai had on Wednesday said defeated politicians are behind the current heightened security situation. He said some defeated politicians in the general elections are behind the mayhem. According to him, "The myriad of security challenges we are facing now in the North West, North Central and other parts of the country, I want to believe and rightly so, is the fallout of the just concluded general elections. The military intelligence has some strong evidence, which it is still being cautious about so that it does not get it wrong."
Mohammed corroborated Buratai's allegation the same day, who during a press conference in Abuja, raised the alarm that opposition politicians are planning to truncate the Fourth Republic by sponsoring military coup having lost the last presidential election. Mohammed did not mince words in naming Atiku and PDP as the major culprits, saying: "The Federal Government has strongly decried the increasingly unpatriotic and desperate opposition politics being played by PDP and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar," adding that never in the history of politics in Nigeria had an opposition party and its presidential candidate exhibited the kind of desperate tactics being deployed by the duo of the PDP and its flag-bearer, especially since the incumbent overwhelmingly defeated the former vice president in the 2019 presidential election.
Just like a bad rehearsed soap opera, the Nigerian Police Force, through its spokesman, Frank Mba, also said it discovered plots to attack the nation's oil facilities and destroy the economy by those it categorized as 'subversive elements masquerading as climate and environmental activists'. Their aim, he said, is to commence massive and coordinated attacks on oil installations across the country, especially in the Niger-Delta region and adjoining states. He added that the plots are politically motivated and are aimed at sabotaging oil installations with intended negative consequences on national security, economic development and the global oil market.
Nigeria has had five presidential elections since it returned to democratic rule in 1999. None had been so tensed up like the last one. However, some have interpreted the situation to mean that the Buhari government appears to have lost control of securing the country while others believe the ruling party has failed to show any seriousness to address the escalating rate of poverty and hunger currently ravaging the country. The president himself recently alluded to the fact that he is worried about the rate of poverty among Nigerians. Unfortunately, while many Nigerians expect the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to chart a clear path out of the near economic collapse and insecurity, its major stakeholders are busy plotting who becomes what in the next presidential election, which is four years away in 2023, particularly when they had just won an election.
2015 till date
As the process for the 2015 presidential elections began, there were palpable fears that the country might likely disintegrate following predictions from a foreign nation that the election might eventually divide Nigeria but Jonathan's magnanimity to voluntarily accept defeat calmed things down.
But therein lies the big question: would Buhari and APC accept whatever verdict the court pronounces in the suit filed against them in the 2019 presidential election especially if it did not favour them? With the allegations already being thrown around, this would seem an unlikely scenario.
While reacting to the government's coup allegation, Atiku and PDP urged Buhari to face the business of governance instead of raising false alarm of coup and accusing the opposition of plotting it. PDP wondered why the government is desperate to rope it and its candidate, who is already in court to challenge the outcome of the presidential election, in a phantom coup plot. The party said President Buhari wants to replay the phantom coup saga of his now deceased mentor, who threw former President Obasanjo and Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua into jail after falsely accusing them of treason in order to perpetuate himself in power forever.
PDP said, "Could it be that they are now aware that the electoral fraud they perpetrated during the last Presidential election is about to be exposed beyond a shadow of doubt?"
Nigerians lash out
Meanwhile, prominent Nigerians have continued to lash out at the government over the coup alarm. They are insinuating that Buhari and his lieutenants in APC are busy celebrating mundane issues rather than what could give the country the needed assurance that its next level promises would reduce poverty, joblessness and other socio-economic challenges facing the country. A few Nigerians also registered their displeasure in what they described as a show of insensitivity on the part of the president advertising his presence in Saudi Arabia in religious ritual when the country is on fire. This is against the background of Buhari admitting that the current poverty level in the country is worrisome.
Also flaying Buratai is a delegate to the 2014 Constitutional Conference, Col. Tony Nyiam (rtd) who said it was unprofessional of the Chief of Army Staff to have made such a comment under a democratic dispensation where there are ministers and other government spokespersons. He said it would have been better if the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) had made the statement.
"What Burutai did was tantamount to abdicating his professional calling to dabble into mundane issues of politics that would not help his operational duty to the president," he said.
Nyiam also condemned the manner in which the Minister of Information, Chief of Army Staff and the Inspection General of Police came out almost at the same time to accuse a particular party and individual of the same crime. He said the COAS's action was a threat to democracy because he had clearly shown and demonstrated partisanship.
According to him, "It would have been more credible if the government charged those it suspected to court and provided evidence against them instead of raising the alarm. The issue of accusing an individual and political party is even creating more room for the enemies within and without to further strengthen their activities against the nation."
Nyiam said Buhari should look in the direction of fellow retired military generals and his superiors like Generals Obasanjo, Babagida, Theophilus Danjuma and others for assistance in addressing the crisis facing the country instead of resorting to unnecessary alarm. He also said there were three ways to resolve the lingering crisis in the country. According to him, "One is at the operational level, which has to do with military operations. The other is the policy making level which would involve the politicians while the last is the constitutional level that has to do with critical amendment and refocusing of the 1999 Constitution."
President of a Southwest socio-cultural organization, Yoruba Ronu, Mr. Akin Malaolu, expressed sadness over the continued shedding of blood, spate of communal clashes and other heinous crimes that have defied quality solutions as well as holding the nation down. Wondering why such have escalated immediately after the election, the group warned that if insecurity is not curtailed it could assume revolutionary dimension.
Malaolu said, "We could recall that President Buhari made a promise to setup a sociological enquiry way back in 2016 at the ECOWAS security summit held in neighbouring Republic of Togo due to the activities of Islamic insurgents that were killing, kidnapping and bombing human settlements. We as a responsible cultural and leadership forum had in September 2017 submitted the modalities for sociological research to the presidency for its consideration, but to date nothing has been heard."
He therefore cautioned the leaders not to play politics with Nigerians' collective difficulties at this stage, as it would be irresponsible to do so.
Spokesman of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said in the first instance, Nigerians should have smelt a rat when the ruling party and its sympathizers urged Atiku to rather accept defeat and forget about challenging the election result in court. He said this pointed to what the Chief of Army Staff, Inspector General of Police and the minister later said about a coup. Odumakin recounted how often Buhari had approached the courts to challenge the results of elections he lost in 2003, 2007 and 2011. He stressed that there was no reason anybody should discourage Atiku or any other aggrieved persons not approach the court to seek redress.
He added that the violence and reactions trailing the 2019 presidential election were as a result of the refusal of Buhari to sign the New Electoral Act into law before February 28, adding, "If that had been done, the crises confronting Nigeria today wouldn't have arisen."
National Chairman of National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Tanko Yinusa, said post-election violence is not a new thing in the country but that the worrisome aspect is the lack of political will on the part of the previous and present governments to do the needful. He expressed concerns that the recent post-election violence is not only a threat to democracy but also to the corporate existence of Nigeria.
To him, "The situation has gotten so bad that the masses are no longer willing to release information to security agents that will help in curbing insurgencies because of the sufferings."
In another reaction, a pro-democracy and non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), warned the government against peddling politically motivated rumours of a planned take-over of government.
Its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, said it is the constitutional right of opposition parties to democratically and constructively paint a ruling party in bad light before the electorate so as to win election just as it said it was fatally erroneous for politicians or the military to interpret litigation by political opposition or criticisms as attempts to take over government forcefully.