Editorial: Alleged Coup Plot to overthrow Buhari and Matters Arising

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If you are wondering why the Nigerian army is back on the front pages; if you are wondering why the government is jittery and making baseless accusations of sabotage and destabilization by domestic political opponents who they see as dangerous threats; and you are anxious about a political crisis in the making, then look no further than recent statements from the military and whispers from government spokespersons over a purported call for the military to overthrow the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. Nigerians woke up on May 14 to a laconic statement from Defence Headquarters (DHQ) dissociating the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) from a document, which Navy Capt. Muhammed Wabi; Deputy Director of Information accused a group, Nigerian Continuity and Progress (NCP) as being behind the document, which called for the setting up of an interim government. It is however curious that outside the circle of those alleging the coup, no one else; not even the media has seen a copy of the seditious document, despite claims of its wide circulation. This is a red flag that raises fundamental questions of credibility over the veracity of the alleged coup and Nigerians deserve a full explanation for this situation that is making a mockery of our national security system.

Against the background of the drama playing out in the presidential election petition tribunal where the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar are challenging the re-election of Buhari, the drumbeats of military coup has the effect of unnecessarily inflaming and heating up the polity with dire consequences for peace in a nation already on edge. Given the insecurity and westward movement from religious terrorism to greed-driven kidnapping and banditry, the insipid reaction of the security operatives and the ominous silence of the presidency, one can assume that Nigeria is under siege and sitting on a keg. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the alleged coup hysteria is and threats of Armageddon are also coming from the intelligence agencies. Without reckless bellicosity, the Department of State Services (DSS) warn aggrieved politicians to desist, forthwith, from plans to take laws into their hands or engage in acts capable of breaching the peace. It also warned that it would not condone any form of extra-judicial activities or methods designed or adopted by persons or groups to subvert constituted authorities.

The secret police condemned the recent activities of some unscrupulous elements in the name of Nigeria Continuity and Progress (NCP) which it said “unpatriotically called for a revolution and forceful change of government in the country,” claiming it was aware that the “group is working in tandem with a body of subversive agents and adversaries of the Nigerian state, with an aim to create an atmosphere of insecurity and use same to cause disaffection among the people. It is evident that the misguided group and its cohorts have also planned to instigate widespread violence against the government in order to actualize their infamous agenda of forceful change of regime. In line with the service’s mandate of ensuring the internal security of Nigeria, the DSS not only supports the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria, but will leave no stone unturned in rooting out persons or groups desirous of truncating the process or undermining the country’s peace and corporate existence. The service will, therefore, not condone any form of extra-judicial activities or methods designed or adopted by persons or groups to subvert constituted authorities. Instructively, defaulting persons will surely be brought to book,” DSS spokesman, Peter Afunanya, warned in a terse statement.
As if this shadow-boxing and public grandstanding was not enough, Information Minister, Lai Mohammed made a tenuous link between Atiku and the PDP and the group the government claims to be behind the call to overthrow Buhari. In veiled accusations, the Minister told State House reporters in Abuja that the decision of Atiku to associate himself with anti-democratic forces in his quest to reclaim his mandate at the election tribunal border on treason. “And either by coincidence or orchestration, a faceless group emerges from nowhere calling for an overthrow of a democratically-elected government, a totally egregious act of treason. It beggars belief that a candidate who prides himself as a democrat can so allow desperation to becloud his sense of propriety to such an extent that he will be associating with anti-democratic forces or making inflammatory statements.”

Given the cataclysmic collapse of security and sanguinary threat to life and property, does anybody need to be convinced that Nigerians will not tolerate any attempt by the army to seize power in Nigeria? Who is the government fooling with this fake coup plot? This is not the 1990s when soldiers in power could fake a coup and use that as an excuse to target political opponents. The country is under a democratic dispensation and Buhari should be told in whatever language he understands that security is not merely the ubiquitous presence of gun-wielding soldiers in crises-ridden areas, or the imprudent disbursement and monetization of terror and banditry. It is the satisfaction and feeling of safety by the people, of the Nigerian collective being thought about and being cared-for by those who represent and serve them. Based on historical antecedents, a coup is not an issue to be trivialized with official rascality. If the government has credible evidence of a coup, they should present it to the Nigerian people, instead of crying fire on the mountain, whereas no one is running.  

After 20 years of democratic consolidation, Nigerians have reasons to be wary about military incursions into politics; hence any such misadventure amounts to a democratic backsliding that would virtually guarantee a major backlash internationally and within Nigeria. In many ways though, this is just the latest step in a crisis that has been getting worse after four years of an administration that promised but failed to deliver change to the Nigerian people. The standing view is that the government is aggressively consolidating power and undermining democratic institutions, and this fake coup is just a smokescreen to railroad Nigerians not to challenge their leadership or hold them accountable. 

Today, Nigerians barely have any faith or confidence in security agencies and institutions. The military for one came under intense criticism by international and local observers over its conduct in the 2019 general elections, especially its unprofessional conduct in the gubernatorial polls. The EU, UK and the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) all condemned the military’s unbecoming conduct in the electoral process, which climaxed in open show of partisanship, when the service chiefs threw caution to the winds and graced the presidential flag-off of incumbent president Buhari and the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). It was not only unprofessional; it represented role disorientation and reckless display of partisanship. Although the military has denied the allegations, there is no reason to be surprised about this blighted image of the military.

The military must be reminded it is an element of the state and its loyalty is to the state and not interim occupiers of public office. Election is a civic affair which approximates the democratic process in which eligible voters cast their ballots; and by so doing transfer consent to constitute a legitimate government. Compromising that process delegitimizes the government that emerges from a rigged process. It should be crystal clear to every discernible Nigerian that the current leadership of the military is bereft of the meaning of civil-military relations.

It must be said without any ambiguity that Buhari is politicizing the military and security agencies. This is a great disservice to Nigerian democracy and to our men and women in uniform and the institution they belong—the military. The red-herring about a coup is simply to scare the public, heat up the polity and provide fodder for the administration to abuse the instruments of state power to target opponents. This is not the change Nigerians thought they had.  On the bogus coup plot, the military has been quick to claim it will act in defence of civil authority. But military colluding with politicians is counterproductive to the rule of law and democracy. The service chiefs should note that the nation would not tolerate any acts of the military that are capable of disrupting the majesty of democracy in Nigeria again.