Issues of military coups and governance surface at Confab.
Retired military generals attending the National Conference were up in arms against their civilian colleagues, who openly condemned past military governments that emerged through coup de’tats.
Nigeria has had eight military regimes spanning about 30 years since its 54 years of independence.
The regimes were headed by Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (January-July 1966); Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975); Murtala Muhammed/Olusegun Obasanjo (1975-1979); Muhammadu Buhari (1983-1985); Ibrahim Babangida (1983-1993); Sani Abacha (1993-1998); and Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998-1999).
There are about 25 former military officers, who served in those regimes, most of them retired generals, at the Conference. They include former military governor of old Imo state and Foreign Affairs Minister, Ike Nwachukwu; former governor of old Bendel State and former FCT Minister, Jeremiah Useni; former governor of the old Cross Rivers State; Paul Omu; former Internal Affairs Minister, Abdullahi Mamman; and former military governor of the old Rivers State, Zamani Lekwot.
Others are former Chief of Army Staff, Alani Akinrinade; former governor of Lagos State, Raji Rasaki; former governor of the old Ondo State, Olabode Geroge; former governor of Kaduna State, Tanko Ayuba; and former governor of the old Rivers state, Anthony Ukpo.
Geoffrey Ejiga, a retired General; Ahmadu Ali a retired Colonel and former Federal Commissioner for Education; Tony Nyiam, one of the April 22, 1990 coup plotters; Alex Mshiela; Idada Ikponmwen; a former governor of Bayelsa State and retired Air Force Officer, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; and Muhammed Dan Ali are also members of the Conference.
During the debate on President Goodluck Jonathan’s inaugural address to the Conference, which ended last Thursday, some civilian delegates repeatedly blamed the military regimes for the country’s woes.
Some of civilian delegates also demanded that the former military administrators and coup plotters should not only apologise, but be barred from holding public offices.
However, the retired military officers fired back, insisting that the civilians did not only benefit from the regimes, but also sponsored the military takeovers.
Mr. George, a retired Navy Commodore and a delegate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, debunked the claim that the military caused the problems confronting the country today.
He also stated that the advent of the military into the nation’s political landscape followed an invitation from the First Republic political class.
“I want to plead with our people that as we come here, when you are bringing out facts please do your research,” Mr. George said.
“The military incursion into politics is not the problem that we are facing today. Those facts have been half-truth. Let us tell the younger generation what happened. The problem that we had in the South
West that was not controlled expanded beyond our control and engulfed this country.
“It was the deputy chairman at the Senate at that time that invited the military. The military did not just wake up from their barracks and headed to take over the power. Let us tell ourselves the truth and
prevent occurrence in the future.”
Mr. Akinrinade, a Federal Government delegate, said the military has no apology to Nigerians for the way it ruled the country for over three decades.
According to him, many Nigerians supported the military only to claim to be democrats.
He stressed, “All the constitutions made in Nigeria were supported by all of you. You all contributed. I think it is time to do away with current constitution.
“It is time for us to write a new constitution for the country. For
now, we are (not) a nation, but we have the capacity to build one.”
Mr. Omu, a former military governor of the defunct South Eastern State, Paul Omu, said all military coups were instigated by politicians.
The retired army general, who represents ethnic nationality groups in the South-South geo-political zone, also blamed politicians for the Nigeria Civil War, which lasted between 1967 and 1970.
He said, “The military have been battered from left right and centre, but I stand to be challenged. All military coups are instigated by politicians and civilians before they are consummated. I have my
“I will also like to add that all wars that are fought by soldiers are started by politicians and civilians. General Alani Akinrinade made a statement some few days ago and people tried to shout him down. In
military regimes, civilians constitute 90% participation in running the affairs of a military government.
“In drafting the 1999 Constitution, we did not have any military man as at that time who was a judge advocate or who was even a magistrate or a draftsman who could do legal drafting.”
Mr. Useni, a retired Lieutenant general, representing ethnic nationality groups in the North Central zone, alleged that some of the civilians lobbied to serve the military.
“I will also like to advise those who were in the habit of condemning and blaming past leaders, in particular those who served as commissioners, ministers, advisers under the military regime, some lobbied for it and when they were offered, they never rejected it. Now they are talking something else today. Please hold your guns.”
On his part, the first military governor of the old north Western State (1967 – 1975), Usman Farouk, who is a retired Commissioner of Police, said “The only persons who should be called to apologize are the military heads of state, those who plotted the coups.”
However, Olusegun Osoba, a delegate of the Former Governors Forum, FGF, in defence of his civilian colleagues, said only two of the coups were carried out by the military against civilian regimes and were
sponsored by their contractors.
“If you talk of military coups, I disagree. Only two coups were military against civilians sponsored by their own contractors not we civilians, point of correction,” the two-time governor of Ogun State
“We are here today to decide whether we want to go the way of Siberia, Bosnia, USSR or Yugoslavia.”
Also, a delegate nominated in the elder statesmen category, Tunji Braithwaite, specifically dismissed Mr. Omu’s claim, saying Nigerians were not unaware of the worst opportunistic takeovers and those
“I heard it. I laughed at it because they are just self-serving, untruths. But I am glad that someone countered such views by saying that out of the many military coups only one or two were against civilian governments, majority of the coups were against themselves,” Mr. Braithwaite said.
“I believe that Nigerians know that; some of the worst opportunistic military takeovers and the personnel involved know too.”
Although he said the military officers should not be barred from public office, the national chairman of the defunct National Advance Party, NAP, canvassed the expulsion of past military heads of state from the Council of State.
He said, “I don’t agree that they should be barred public office. For instance, take the so-called National Council of states, I would want it scrapped and if it is not scrapped, those who took government unconstitutionally should have no place there.”
Interestingly, the military involvement in governance was one major issue that arose in the National Political Reform Conference, NPRC, which held in 2005.
In that Conference, some of the delegates asked the former military officers to apologise.
A former military governor of the defunct Western Region, Adeyinka Adebayo, the late military governor of the old Anambra State, Emeka Omeruah, and former Chief of Naval Staff, Akin Aduwo, did offer the apology for military interventions in governance and killing of some politicians, though some of their colleagues kicked against it.
A few weeks later, Mr. Ejiga, who was a member of the conference, said the military was the only institution that had given Nigeria a positive image through peace-keeping operations.
A controversy soon arose over the report of that conference Committee on Political Parties and Electoral Process Reforms, which allegedly barred former military officers from contesting election.
The Committee recommended in its report that former military heads of state and governors should not contest the same position they had occupied in the past.
In Chapter 6 of the report, the committee said among others that a person shall not be qualified for the office of the president if:
-He has been elected to such office in the immediate past election under the 1999 Constitution; or
-He has been elected into such office at two previous elections whether under this or any other constitution; or
-He has previously held such office either as a Head of State or President.