Rumours of a coup

Opinion

By Olatunji Dare

When the history of this epoch in Nigeria comes to be written, this past week is sure to register as an inflection point.

Not on account of the apparent flight of the virus from Nigeria, thanks in no small part to Governor Yahaya Bello who has made the Kogi clime so inhospitable to the virus that it has fled from the entire country. Nigeria thus appears to have been spared the Covid conflagration sweeping India and turning the subcontinent into one roaring funeral pyre and hospitals into theatres of unspeakable suffering and misery in which death lurks in every corner.

But there is no room for complacency.  Covid-19 is nothing if not cunning.  See how it assumes different forms and shapes, each deadlier and more intractable than the strain that preceded it, and roars back when you think you have subdued it or forced it to retreat to its infernal habitat, there to hibernate for up to a century before making its insidious re-entry into human society.

The horror unfolding in India should therefore serve as a cautionary tale. One hopes devoutly that we have seen the worst of Covid in Nigeria. But that cannot be assumed.  This is the time to build capacity, to stockpile vaccines and oxygen tanks and ventilators and build field hospitals and re-imagine social life in anticipation of a possible recrudescence.  Temporising, or “waiting it out” to conserve resources that may be needed elsewhere is not the best strategy.

Nor does the past week stand out in terms of the fatalities – policemen and women, students, farmers, passengers on the highways, etc — from the  depredations of herdsmen, bandits, ritualists, jihadists and others actuated for the most part by ignoble causes.  It was just another week in the carnage that now defines Nigeria.

It featured the usual mix of riots, strikes, rumours of riots and strikes, horrific accidents, crippling deprivations, syndicated and freelance fraud, patently fake news and news that is neither fake nor true, rumors that the long subsisting subsidy on petroleum products was set, finally, to be revoked completely and forever.

Not an exceptional week overall, certainly not in a sense that would qualify it as an inflection point.

I count that week an inflection point because it jolted Nigerians to a reality we had long forgotten – the ugly reality of coups.  For nigh on 25 years, they had luxuriated in the comforting certainty that the government of the day, established by law, could be changed only by law; that government derives its power only from the consent of the governed as expressed in elections in which the people vote their un-coerced choices.

They had successfully established, funded and organised political parties and conducted elections in which not a few limbs were broken and not a few heads were bloodied, to set up precisely a government so contoured.  They were never going back to that dark era when some inebriated soldiers could just amble out of a pepper-soup joint, seize the nearest radio station, declare that they had taken over the government, and proceed over the next seven or eight years to fill in the gaps.

The nation had been labouring under a delusion, it learned that week from its vigilant and usually discreet security forces, which had uncovered in the nick of time, a dastardly plot to overthrow by force the government of the day, recognised under the Law of Nations as the organ in which inheres the sovereignty, unity and indivisibility of Nigeria.

And this was not going to be your run-of-the-mill military coup.  No martial music.  No tanks rumbling through the streets and quiet neighbourhoods. No decrees. No curfews.  No new Saviour in uniform.

The putsch was going to be executed by an unruly assemblage of civilians – disgruntled politicians who had given up on the ballot box, knowing that they can never win free and fair elections, their misguided collaborators, religionists, ethnic jingoists masquerading as champions of the people, desperate grifters, faded and jaded statesmen and women united by one thing and one thing only:  the lust for power and its unearned rewards.

Nor was that the only novelty.  The vehicle the coup makers had chosen for executing their plot was a grand assembly of these malcontents at which they would excoriate the legitimate government of the day, declare that they had lost the last iota of confidence in it, proclaim a new order, and assign to themselves and their confederates the principal, secondary, subsidiary and ancillary offices of state.

Just like that.

As if Nigeria were a banana republic or, changing metaphors, a pepper-soup federation.  They were hoping to ride on the crest of the seething, murmuring discontent that had perfused the country for several years now, bubbling to the surface every now and then.

Among the perceived causes: the privatisation of government and its instrumentalities by entrenched interests, and their deployment to serve those interests, and all others be damned.  The willful contempt for the imperatives of the nation’s geopolitics by those enjoined to uphold them.  Application of the law half-heartedly, if at all.

And among the manifestations: Rampant insecurity of lives and property. The Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast that has now made its way to the outskirts of Abuja Federal Capital Territory, if Niger State Governor Sani Bello is to be believed.  The sacking of Lagos in the so-called anti SARS protests. The war on police personnel and formations.

Relentless extraction of and trafficking in precious minerals by local and foreign cartels in brazen defiance of the las and the constituted authorities.  The relentless pillaging of public assets, and not just in the oil industry.

Not to be discounted is the widespread perception that those at the top lost the plot a long time, in rhetoric as well as in remedial and self-redeeming action. Those trained to divine such matters say that their body language bespeaks complete resignation.  Many in the attentive audience say that for the first time, they cannot with confidence, name more than a few members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet –  four or five honourable exceptions who are executing their remit with quiet commitment.

Also not to be discounted is the absence of common purpose up there — apart from announcing yet another raft of contracts at their periodical meetings.  In daily transactions, those who regard themselves as the true custodians and legatees of the system dismiss Vice President Yemi Osibajo contemptuously as “the VP Academic” is a mark of his relevance to their scheme, rank outsider that he is considered.

It will come as no surprise if, in the same vein, they deride the president’s Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, as the “CoS UN,” having regard to his previous job as high official of the United Nations, even though he shares their privileged pedigree.

And yet, the government has been sitting pretty, confident that the public appreciates its good intentions, understands the challenges of the moment and has been willing to put up with them.  It has been resting secure in the knowledge that any attempt to supplant it by persons who have serially been rejected at the polls and cannot lay any credible claim to influence is sure to collide with the law of the land, the will of the people, and the preferences of the international community.

It has remained in power and in office despite the foregoing calumnies and insurrections.

Why is it then so jittery at the prospect that a resolution for its ouster may be passed at an illegal assembly of some busybodies accountable to no one?

The Nation

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