No place for coups

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Today’s Nigeria is very different from that of the 1980s and 1990s. Any coup attempt will fail. So those who might be contemplating one against the Muhammadu Buhari adminstration are forewarned. There might actually not be a country for them to govern in the event they choose to act so foolishly. Former military generals from across the country have being vociferous in their condemnation of any such plots. Curiously, their northern contemporaries have been relatively silent. True, their brethren in active service, chief of army staff Lt General Tukur Buratai, was the one that “blew the whistle”. They must join their voices to his nonetheless. Since the information that some politicians (I suspect of northern extraction) were plotting with some military officers to topple the government broke, the army leadership has made overt and covert moves to forestall any such move. Division commanders have been redeployed across the country and there are reports that the army’s intelligence service has been ordered to infiltrate the rank and file. There is a self-preservation motivation to why senior military officers (whether from the north or elsewhere) would be averse to the truncation of Nigeria’s democracy. Some relish with pride the renewed professionalism in the military. There is also an external dimension. The American military is so entrenched now on the African continent that any coup could easily be quashed by their special forces. Proud Nigerian military men would be loathe to give them an excuse to invade the one truly African country with the potential to resist their neocolonial tendencies. So if there is a coup plot afoot, I am almost certain Mr Buratai and his men are well-motivated to bring it down.

If you must rule, win the votes
Other high-powered schemes are about at the moment, it is believed. Whether it is the curious visit of former president Olusegun Obasanjo in early May to Minna to meet his fellow former military heads of state Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar (both are neighbours), or the “beauty parade” of the “who is who” of Nigerian politics at the wedding of Mr Babangida’s daughter almost two weeks after (thankfully, acting president Yemi Osinbajo stayed away), there is a lot of scenario planning ahead of either a resignation of the presidency by President Buhari or his death on the back of ill health. Even though one is not a fan of any of them, we may call the trio “the stabilizers”. Well, they should do the needful with dispatch.

To put it bluntly; the seeming déjà vu of another southern christian potentially taking the place of a sick northerner as president is what underpins the growing rumblings in the north. Left to likely candidates from the region who might replace Mr Buhari in the event of his exit from the scene, there should not be much to worry about per se. It is the possibility that a diligent and clearly hardworking Prof Osinbajo could become so popular over the next two years that should he choose to contest the presidency in 2019, he might win, that has their antennae up. If that is the case then, it behoves Prof Osinbajo to douse the tension. In this regard, he should try his utmost to assure the “worriers” amongst his northern brothers he has no such interest. Of course, it would not stop them being concerned. In any case, their worry is needless: Nothing ever stopped God from doing His Will. If He has willed Prof Osinbajo would remain president after 2019, it is a done deal. That said, if the north wants a shot at keeping the presidency instead, there is only one viable way for it to do so: the ballot box. Instead of nonsensical rumours about coups and needless threats, it should start to coalesce its political resources towards ensuring that it is able to field a candidate, a healthy one hopefully, for the 2019 presidential elections. Incidentally, to do so, it would need the support of the southwest. Because it certainly cannot hope for any support from the southeast which it has belittled under Mr Buhari’s leadership thus far.

Too fragile to yield
But what could a potential coup plot be looking to achieve? In the 1980s and 1990s when almost every lever of power and influence in the polity was state-owned, these nefarious schemes were relatively easy to execute. Today, with social media and a highly interconnected world – the United Kingdom has already issued warnings of its own – coup plotters would be hard-pressed to maintain secrecy during their planning stages on the one hand and control after the event on the other. My reckoning therefore is that perhaps the evil politicians behind the plot hope to use the military to force Prof Osinbajo’s hands at some point. Because they definitely cannot push Mr Buhari in any way or manner. It must be then that the plot is aimed at the event of Mr Buhari’s death. With the northeastern part of the country barely stable, the Niger Delta still largely fragile, and the vulnerabilities of the Nigerian military all too exposed under the erstwhile Jonathan administration (albeit increasingly redeemed under the current administration), a coup would almost definitely be destabilizing. Surely, the plotters need not be reminded that Nigeria’s forced unity is also why they covet ruling it so much.

Published in my Premium Times Nigeria column on 22 May 2017. See link viz.

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