Dedicated to Nigeria's History, Socio-Economic and Political issues
General Babangida, Civil Society and the Military in Nigeria -
Anatomy of a Personal Rulership Project
Department of Political Science,
University of Ibadan, Ngeria
N° 48 - 1995
CENTRE D'ÉTUDE D'AFRIQUE NOIRE
Institut d'Études politiques de Bordeaux
B.P. 101 - Domaine universitaire
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With some deserved reservation and caution, many Africanists would agree with the following observation
that the African State:
"... is highly fragmented, composed of divergent interests and permeated by patrimonial networks that link its
top echelons with the most isolated villages. At the same time, however, policy-making processes in the state
apparatus are relatively impermeable to pressures from economic and functional interest groups. The paradox is
only apparent; for though the state is weak and its capacity to implement desired policies severely limited, its
monopoly on coercive power and the absence of significant independent non-state institutions grant it much
autonomy"(Nicolas Van de Walle, 1989: 580).
It does seem, however, that scholars on Nigerian politics from 1990 to date have not quite heeded the call of Van
de Walle to more specificity and less generalisations about African political experiences. Traditions die hard; there
is still a clinging to the old Whitehead dictum-to philosophers - that ‘what is important about a proposition is not
whether it is true, but whether it is interesting’. There is a clear need to go beyond this perspective; African politics
is not driven uniquely by the traditional neo-functionalist variables - ethnicity, regionalism, religion - nor is the
State such that it can consistently suppress, mangle and suffocate Civil Society. The inadequacy of such a theoretic
construct is revealed through recognition by the same analysts that the state’s "non-hegemonic character means that
its control over the dynamics of the social formation is tenuous" (cf. A.O. Rotimi and J.O. Ihonvbere, 1994: 669).
Such analyses have tended to suffer from either gross simplification or absurd mystification of on-going political
praxis in much of Africa. Understanding suffers considerably in the process.
Part Research and eventual write-up were done whilst I was at the Centre d’Etude d’Afrique Noire, Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Bordeaux from mid-June to mid-July 1995. The trip was sponsored by the French External Affairs Ministry. Special acknowledgements to Georges Hérault (IFRA Director, Ibadan); Christian Coulon, (CEAN Director), Patrick Quantin, Comi Toulabor and, more so, Daniel Bach, Kenny and Lola Sanni.
A more dynamic approach to politics is therefore called for, one capable of elucidating State - Civil Society
relations in a more engaging manner. If we take a typical military regime we should, for instance, be able to study
its Huntingtonian functional and societal imperatives in such a way that how the regime is maintained in power -
and its eventual removal - becomes clarified. Therefrom, it will be easier to see how the State and the Civil Society
penetrate each other through formal and informal links and what the consequences are for relations of power,
politics, property and development. Just an example : if one regards corruption as "a phenomenon that indicates the
ability of social forces to permeate government structures and shape policy outcomes" (Van de Walle, 1989: 598),
it may be interesting to examine why some key beneficiaries of corruption later turn against the regime that has
To all appearances, the Babangida military regime in Nigeria (27 August 1985 to 26 August 1993) was a mere
military oligarchy in the sense of the term as used by Michael Bratton and Van de Walle (1994: 479 ff). Elements
of the oligarchy include lack of concentration of power exclusively in the hands of the personal leader; collective
decision-making by soldier-rulers and civilian technocrats and advisers, and an initial openness that permits debates
and the use of objective yardsticks in policy evaluation. Such an oligarchy was present in the military presidency of
General Babangida during the euphoric early months of his regime. It soon began to metamorphose into strategic
designs towards personal rulership. Its ultimate degeneration was an attempt wich meets Bratton and de Walle’s
conclusions that "personal rulers are unlikely to initiate political liberalization from above or relinquish power
without a struggle; they have to be forced out" (p. 474).
Our major thesis is that the Babangida personal rulership project was designed to accumulate all powers and
dispense all patronage for as long as possible.This may not always have appeared as a systematic and carefully
classified series of plain and applied principles; yet it can be deciphered through a maze of many detours and zig-zagging
that the transition-to-civil rule programme was subjected to. I argue that renewed militarisation that started
with the General Buhari regime (31 December 1983-26 August 1985) facilitated the mushrooming of a rich array
of pro-democracy and civil liberty groups. This was to develop later, as the Babangida regime became more
repressive and muscular, both qualitatively and quantitatively. State repression did not deaden non-state actors and
institutions in Nigeria, implying that the Nigerian State under General Babangida had less freedom from societal
pressures. Thus, if Nigeria’s first-ever military president did not eventually become a tin-pot, sit-tight dictator, it
was not for want of attempt, but in view of superior non-military forces in the Civil Society and fissures within the
military organization, between, principally, political soldiers and professional soldiers.
In the beginning : General Babangida’sRévolution de Palais
When General Ibrahim Babangida seized the reins of power with a classical palace coup on August 27, 1985,
there was a general relief amongst Nigerians. The ‘celebration’, as in the past, was not to welcome the arrival of a
new military junta but to celebrate the demise of the ancien regime. This is a politico-psychological behaviour of the
Nigerian political animal, often misunderstood by many an Africanist. The departure of a government is often seen,
rightly or wrongly, as a decisive opportunity for a new beginning towards nation-building and development.
General Babangida’s ascendancy to themagistrature suprême brought something additional in its trail,
however. In contradiction to the grim-faced, unsmiling General Buhari and his deputy General Idiagbon, Babangida
brought smiles as well as a personal aura and warmth to the Nigerian political landscape. There was something
seemingly arresting about him which was transmitted to the nation and the people by the media, in particular the
press, namely, no matter how bad the Nigerian economic crisis, people could still afford a smile whilst tackling it.
By throwing open the prison gates for many of the political detainees; unchaining the press through a repeal of
Decree 4 of 1984 as well as promising respect of fundamental human rights, Babangida rapidly concluded his
initial political rites of legitimacy and support building. Before the close of that year, virtually all non-State groups
and interests had, either explicitly or implicitly, indicated their willingness to give the regime the benefit of the
doubt; fence-sitters were few and far between. The alleged Vasta coup - even though apparently only at the
intention stage - of December 1985 further knitted the people to ‘their’ General. The latter had everything going for
him. By the end of 1986, the regime had a favourable end-of-the-year review from two American Africanists.
"Under Babangida", observed L. Diamond and D. Galvan (1987: 75), "Nigeria has permitted domestic human
rights groups (such as the Human Rights Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association and international ones (such
as Amnesty International) to operate freely". Even though at the next page, the authors averred that "…as Nigeria
made democratic progress in 1986, it also showed signs of deepening authoritarianism", the warning could easily
have been ignored..4
Similarly, in the Politburo and general political orientation debate in the country in 1986, a sizeable pocket of
informed Nigerians, in re-echoing Dr Azikiwe’s dyarchy thesis, may have been persuaded that the Babangida junta
had some inherent qualities that could facilitate a civil polity and an ‘enduring democracy’ - a term the regime
would use very often later. This is an educated guess from a highly charismatic and euphoric early period of the
Thus, when the political transition programme (PTP) commenced, Babangida could hold all the aces on account
of the experience of the short - lived Second Republic. He could claim that his vision of transition through
institutional development as against mere legal changes required more time than the first transition supervised by
General Obasanjo. Peter Koehn (1989: 418) has argued that the latter dealt more with "formal structural
rearrangements or re-alignments". In the process, it "avoided dealing with the difficult matter of political culture,
political economy and mass mobilisation in official structures and electoral processes". Babangida could, and
indeed did, plead for a prolonged transition on this basis.
The General’s team of political advisers - made up essentially of professors of Political Science - would pass
rapidly into action to rationalize the regime’s political programme as capable of engendering a new Social and
Political Order. A scion of that assemblage, Professor Sam Oyovbaire, special adviser to Admiral Aikhomu,
Babangida’s deputy, and later information minister, sought to demonstrate, in a 1987 essay, that the PTP is "a
major project upon which the administration’s claims to justifiable and legitimate power are anchored". Equating
the Nigerian democratic agenda to the National Question, Oyovbaire, a former president (1984-1986) of the
Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA) claimed that the fall of the Second Republic (1979-1983) was due
to the fact that by 1982 there was an "observable gap between, on the one hand, the commitment to the idea of
democracy (and the constitutional and political arrangements) and, on the other, the social conduct or behavior
patterns of the primary actors".
The Third Republic would not suffer a similar fate, he contended, because the PTP was set to annihilate all the
social forces that had, in the past, impeded democracy in Nigeria. He named the forces - as highlighted by the
Politburo - as traditionalism and social alienation, communal and religious diversities; and the problems of National
Integration and under- development, classes and social stratification. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) "a
national body, not just federal", composed and organised around "the integrity of nine members…", with a
"national focus" would help the regime in its seeming bold reforms. More importantly, there was the Directorate for
Social Mobilisation (DSM), better known by Nigerians as MAMSER- Mass Mobilisation for Self-Reliance and
Perhaps on account of its novelty, Oyovbaire presented MAMSER as "the first time in Nigeria in which a
transition regime has deliberately undertaken a programme to generate desirable social conduct to complement its
structural and institutional reforms". Reminding us that the ultimate goal was to sustain democracy through a new
culture of politics and governance, he volunteered a forecast : "the (present) transition programme is much more
promising than the 1975-79 experience".
On the economic Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced in June 1986, Oyovbaire argued that it
would help the democratic agenda of the regime. While claiming an initial success, in terms of SAP trimming down
to a "useable size the bloated aspirations, undue expectations and rootless values which the oil boom of the post-civil
war era created for the giddy existence of democracy in Nigeria", he foresaw the regime’s democratic
experiment stabilizing, but only if the attempt "to keep to shape the Nigerian society, economy and polity"
subsisted. Oyovbaire was rigorous enough, however, to emphasise that his conclusions were "not oblivious of the
possibilities of disruptive forces". Only that, when they did come, they were not from the sources Oyovbaire
It would seem, by advantage of hindsight, that Oyovbaire and his colleagues took Babangida too seriously, at
any rate more seriously than he took himself. One could therefore pardon non-insiders when they accord much
premium to the president’s grand public rhetorics. For instance, Narasingha P. Sil (1993: 61) writing on the
regime’s privatization programme, claims that "the point that is often overlooked by the critics of privatisation is
that the government - preferred purchasers are "groups and institutions like trade unions, universities, youth
organisations, women societies, local governments and state investment companies" - a direct reference to a
Babangida speech. He adds that "these do not constitute the traditional accumulating bourgeoisie - organisational or
entrepreneurial - but represent "groups and individuals who could not otherwise afford to purchase these
companies’". In the same vein, William Reno (1993: 67) believes that the primary goal of the regime’s economic
and political reforms was to "break the grips of former first… and Second Republic politicians on State institutions.5
and resources". Furthermore, he seems to believe that the president’s overall economic objective was to impose "a
State-defined rationality of economic efficiency upon elites in order to promote economic development and service
the country’s external debt obligations". He claims that "such a task requires political discipline to constrain elites
from unregulated access to inefficient rent-seeking activity" (p.69).
Personal Rulership or Recomposing and Shrinking the Political Market
The Babangida regime, perhaps also the man, was an enigma of sorts: while public rhetorics were an indefinite
discourse of sorts on democracy, nationhood and stability, they also often were thinly veiled double-speak. As late
as mid-May 1993, Babangida reiterated, for the umpteenth time, Military’s imminent dis-engagement from formal
politics. The occasion was a graduation ceremony of the elite War College in Lagos:
"The military’s commitment to withdraw to the barracks is irrevocable. With the countdown to the elections in June,
all seems set for the conclusion of the experimental political journey we commenced in 1986. By August, this
administration would be ready to hand over the baton of leadership to an elected president".
He even warned the ranks-and-file of the military not to be found "on the other side of the democracy
barricade"; rather they should get prepared for "a democratic civilian succession to which they must be
Yet, in the same speech, Babangida returned to his old "custodian theory’ of the military by which the latter
could intervene at any moment to rescue the nation’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, security and stability from
perceived external and internal threats. He even claimed that in the country’s "peculiar situation" - another beloved
term - "the boundary between civil and military society is not clear-cut".
Babangida’s political practices were even more intriguing. The strategic design was an intricate balancing of
inclusion-exclusion; competition-participation in order to better control human and material resources and entrench
The promised new socio-political and economic order was to emerge, we have alluded to this, through the
tandem transition programme - SAP. Yet the first component and, logically, to a lesser extent, the second were
largely dirigiste and commandist; stifling initiatives and innovations, muzzling opposition and eventually, shrinking
the politico-democratic space. As the years dragged on, it became increasingly clear that a tightly controlled
political programme is the inescapable hand maiden of a largely deregulated economy, under the close surveillance
of the military president.
The close tackling debuted with the Politburo, constituted in January 1986 to organise nation-wide consultations
with Nigerians on the way forward politically. This is a well-researched period of Nigerian political history and
therefore details need not detain us (see, inter alia, Rotimi A.O. and J.O. Ihonvbere, 1994: 669-689; Ihonvbere,
1990: 601-626; Agbese P.O. and G.K. Kieh, 1992: 19-35; Agbese, 1991: 293-311; 1990: 23-44; W. Reno: 1993:
66-87; P.M. Lewis, 1994: 323-40; O. Oyediran and A. Agbaje, 1991; K. Amuwo, 1990, 1992, 1993). I only seek
to underline a few issues.
Whilst the 17-man body was composed of men and women, qualified both in character and learning to do the
job, the use to which the report was put was entirely beyond them. Yet, it was a great moral, professional and
political risk for the members - in particular, the many political scientists and the only self-avowed communist on
board, Dr Edwin Madunagu of the respected newsdaily,The Guardian. The latter was later dropped because of
‘extremist’ and ‘uncooperative’ views and attitudes. Two things are interesting here. One, the report of the bureau
was almost ready while sessions were still on nation-wide. Two, all the members were promised involvement in the
management of the ensuing transition politics. Only about three or four members did not benefit from the promise
(2). The personal loyalty of some of the most visible future managers of the transition programme to Babangida
was thereby guaranteed.
The two-party State - erroneously referred to as a two-party system - admittedly recommended by the Politburo
but imposed in form and substance by the regime was a subtle beginning of personal rulership. Part of the
rationalization for a two-party State was, in a fundamental sense, a throw-back to the pre 1979 recivilianization
process, namely, multi-partism may revive old demons of ethnicity and regionalism. The 1979 constitution has
settled this issue by prescribing, as Douglas Rimmer (1994: 99-100) recently reminds us, that "parties should not.6
by their names or emblems be identified with any ethnicity, region or religion and that the governing body of each
should contain members of the States of the federation". For a regime that elevated to high political theology so-called
settled issues in the body politic (federalism, secularism etc), this was a curious decision. Henceforth, highly
susceptible to easy infiltration and manipulation, both parties operated in practice "as might have been foreseen as
coalitions of aspirants to political office innocent of any ideological convictions" (Rimmer,ibid.).
In order to facilitate understanding of the dialectical relations between the management of the transition program
and the operation of the economy and how these shaped the personal political agenda of Babangida, I identified
three levels of analysis. These are (a) The president’s personal charm and warmth; (b) the Constitution of an
extensive patronage system and (c) the Politics of repression. A binding thread is the overall political objective of
the military president as he moved adroitly from one level of operation to the other; as he re-jigged and juggled his
cabinet and the political landscape of States and local governments; as he controlled oil rents and used them to
make and unmake strategic and tactical alliances and as he wielded carrot and stick before conscientious objectors,
potential allies and vacillating or vulnerable progressive elements. Though Eboe Hutchful (1991: 185) was
reflecting generally on Africa, what he scribbles on the use of militarism and constitutionalism to reconstruct
political space fits well the Nigerian bill:
"... the overriding political objective has been State preservation and the reconstruction or reinforcement of modes
of political dominance. The intention is less the liberation of national politics than to limit the space of politics
either as a form of activity or as a structural level within the social formation".
President’s charm and warmth
I have made reference to the fact that whatever else one may say about his person and character (3), Babangida
was charismatic. Acquaintances, personal aides and political advisers tell tales about his legendary goodness and
kindness to his entourage and friends. He was a jolly good fellow. Both in the barracks and in the presidency, he
was reputed not only to have a smile for everybody, but, more importantly, was always magnanimous and generous
in helping ordinary soldiers and junior officers financially. To that extent, he was sure - to the extent that the highly
fragmented and fractious military organisation permitted - of persistent goodwill, if not solid political support.
For many of his ministers and advisers, he was on a first-name relationship. He showed harmless personal
concern for them, their spouses and kids (4). On a one-to-one, face-to-face relationship, Babangida was reputably
an excellent discussant and highly knowledgeable. He patiently cultivated the art of good listening to all view
points, both from within and outside his formal kitchen cabinet, though the use to which he put the opinions was a
different issue altogether.
Little wonder, therefore, that virtually all his advisers and ministers had good words to say about his personality.
Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, eldest brother of legendary musician, Fela and of the conscientious objector of all
times, Beko, chairman of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), told Nigerians in one of his rare press interviews
during his long tenure as Minister of Health that they were lucky to have such a listening president. Olikoye was not
a man given to undue passion and emotion. Like his brothers he was a principled person. He had an assignment to
turn around the fortunes of the country’s health industry - from a crisis-ridden ‘consulting clinic’ to a modern
delivery system. His major plan of action was preventive medicine in which he was not just a professor but was
well known internationally.
In this enterprise, he had the eyes and ears of the General. His ministry was fairly well-funded. What was more,
when doctors started the brain-drain to Saudi Arabia, he got a major salary revision for doctors, personally
approved by Babangida without having to go through the rigours of bureaucracy. Moreover, Babangida had a lot of
respect for him, having invited him, personally, by telephone, to join his cabinet in the wee-days of his palace coup.
For all the foregoing, Ransome-Kuti could talk gloriously about the Babangida personal touch, good naturedness
and good humour (5).
There is no doubt that Babangida used his charm and warmth to good effect: with them it was easy to regard
him as affable; altruistic, large-hearted; willing to exercise collegial power; all for a short and sharp surgical
operation on the Nigerian polity,à la Cincinnatus and, to that extent, uninterested in life presidency. Such an
analysis, which was what his personal predispositions to his immediate entourage portended, proved erroneous;
micro politics was poorly misread and badly grafted onto meso or macro politics..7
Babangida extensive patronage system
Here, we encounter vintage Babangida, seeking to dominate at once his entourage and the totality of his
environment. Shortly after he burst into the country’s highest political consciousness, the signals came almost in
rapid succession that the General knew what he wanted to do in power and with power. He was the first military
ruler to declare himself president to the consternation of his colleagues on the Armed Forces Ruling Council
(AFRC); he was also the first to dismiss his deputy, Commander Ebitu Ukiwe, well- respected in military circles,
and personally invited by the General to be his number two; he was equally the first to dissolve and recompose, at
his whims and fancies, the military ‘legislative’ council. Hence, the eminently sensible claim by Robin Luckham
(1994: 43), that, like Acheampong in Ghana and Amin in Uganda, Babangida "took personal control of both army
and State from the beginning". But this has to be demonstrated.
There is little doubt that Babangida inherited, like Buhari before him, a political economy that was at once
unviable and unenviable. The economic profligacy and massive corruption of the second republic politicians -
particularly the Federal Government under the Presidency of Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN)
- had created a veritable crisis for the continued financial and economic well-being of the country. At the time the
Saint-Sylvester (December 31) coup of 1983 was staged, the country already had a high debt profile as well as an
important fall in real terms of federal government oil and other receipts (for details see Amuwo, 1988).
The preferred strategy of Buhari to deal with the crisis was counter-trade and rapid debt-servicing. The latter
implied strict discipline and immense sacrifice from all Nigerians, including the new junta. The regime did not
tolerate laxity either and its combat against drug trafficking may have been its greatest undoing. When it fell in
August 1985, little was known about its economic ‘success’ in a short spate of twenty months. Officially, anyway,
it was its alleged political dirigisme that was held responsible for its replacement by the Babangida junta.
The latter may have had an initial sincere commitment to revamping the economy from its patent decadence to a
fairly well- functioning proto-capitalist system. A well-orchestrated building- block to this policy option was to
allow a nation-wide debate on the desirability of taking an IMF loan. Nigerians did not disappoint Babangida: they
overwhelmingly rejected any form of externally-imposed solution to the economic crisis. In a national broadcast,
Babangida accepted their decision but pointed to the consequence of same: a ‘home-grown’ Structural Adjustment
Programme (SAP) that would require lots of sacrifice and belt-tightening from diverse groups, interests, classes and
Unknown to the people, Babangida merely got what he bargained for - acarte blanche and leeway to reorganise
the political economy as he deemed fit.
An IMF-SAP was commenced in June 1986 without the fund’s standby facility. Economic efficiency through a
combination of fiscal monetary and structural reformation was the overall goal of the policy. Its elements included
currency devaluation; subsidy withdrawal (from consumer goods, social welfare and human development services,
parastatals, etc.); trade liberalisation and the erection of the market, rather than the State, as king. Certain sectoral
implications followed: formal stoppage of import licensing; shrinking of public sector; scrapping marketing boards;
privatisation and commercialisation of several public enterprises; deregulation of the financial system (Rimmer,
1994: 103 ff).
The foregoing was all fine on paper, but rigour, discipline, investment spirit and other Weberian capitalist ethics
were conspicuous by their absence. There was not only a patterned relationship of vacillation betweendirigisme
andlaissez-faire, there was, worse, a constant breakdown of discipline on the part of the junta. As early as
September 1987, "discipline had been lost" (Rimmer, 1994: 105). According to Nils B. Tallroth (in Rimmer)
"fiscal policies and control over public expenditure were the most difficult area to implement". The result was fiscal
deficits that kept increasing by leaps and bounds. In 1990, 1991 and 1992, these represented, respectively, 12.4%,
9.8% and about 19% of the respective GDP estimates. The 1993 figure was between 15 and 16% of GDP.
Moreover, the 1992 budget deficits represented 48% of total expenditure (Rimmer).
Why this grim picture? Babangida needed a lot of money to run and oil his patron-client network. The money
could not have been accounted for to the extent that it was largely outside of the federal revenues and budgetary
estimates. But then it had a lot of impact on the latter, resulting, very often, in excess liquidity which the Central
Bank would mop up. Ordinary folks were always confounded that whereas government complained of cash crunch.8
for social services and payment of salaries, huge amounts of money were regularly donated by government to
sundry manifestations and to government by rich individuals.
Patronage was Babangida’s major plank for the pursuit of an inclusive politics and, as we show below,
repression, its corollary for groups and individuals that resist political entryism. Like some of his predecessors, the
oil industry was perceived as the inexhaustible mine for financing the patronage network. But Babangida had
nurtured other business interests before coming to power. They became intensified while in power, with oil
providing the unyielding backbone. Like several of his peers - the ‘new class’ of political generals and propertied
serving and retired ex-soldier rulers and senior officers - Babangida had vast interests in construction and real
estate (Abacha’s privileged domain). The Foundation Mira Construction Company (Abuja) the name of which
"does not appear in the corporate registration records in Abuja" and whose senior director, Mustapha Wushishi is
Babangida’s first cousin(Africa Confidential, 22 October 1993) is only one of the many companies in which he
had vast interests. There were three others, one of which with initials FN, was nicknamed ‘Finish Nigeria’
Company by Abuja residents. Towards the end of his reign, Babangida tried his hand on newspapering but the
delapitatingTriple Heritage building, also in Abuja, is a testimony to the failure of that attempt.
The foregoing is nothing compared to Babangida’s oil business. Oil may well have been his second love. His
claims to nationalism and altruism all fell in one fell swoop by virtue of intricate business ties with sundry foreign
interests at the expense of the nation’s oil development and the well-being of the people. The General ran the oil
industry like a personal fief, granting oil-lifting rights in flagrant violation of stipulated procedures. Indeed, oil
ministers rose and fell from grace to grass according to their attitude to this personalization phenomenon. Under
him, Marc Rich’s Swiss-based Glencore Company was the most in view in getting short-term oil-lifting contracts.
The latter accounted for no fewer than 50% of the country’s total production. An official of the company was
quoted as boasting that "we have got 80% of Nigeria (sic), now we are going for the rest"(Africa Confidential, 18
November 1994, p. 8). Abacha has maintained these ties, only to add the Chagouri brothers to the list of privileged
Yet, the racketeering of Nigeria’s oil industry did not start with Babangida. It was inaugurated by General
Gowon. Today, the array of personalities involved in the scramble is bewildering. According to a source :
"…the commercial interests of Nigeria’s own oil traders are likely to be decisive, in particular former military
rulers Generals Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo; General Abacha’s sons Ibrahim and Mohammed; and the
owner of First Fuels, Abdul Rahman Abdul Rassaq; all of whom are looking to extend their reach and have the
political clout to do so" (Africa Confidential, ibid.).
Through a combination of direct control of the oil industry and an expedient implementation of SAP, Babangida
was able to foster "economic windfalls for an array of private sector beneficiaries" (Lewis, 1994: 337). These
benefitted from diverse opportunities in non-productive sectors of the economy. The list here is a long one: foreign
exchange (forex) speculation and hawking by proxy; privatisation of even profitable government companies, sold
off in the main, at give-away prices; agricultural exports; petroleum smuggling and drug trafficking (6); a free-for-all
banking system; urban real estate, etc. These practices did little to help SAP achieve it stated objectives. The
question, of course by advantage of hindsight, is whether SAP as implemented was not mounted basically to bolster
the rentier- class and, logically, create an institutional base of support for Babangida’s private political project?
Consequently, economic and political reforms were aimed, in practice, to realize the following objectives. One,
grant Babangida a largechamp de manoeuvre to determine his preferred political trajectory. Two, bolster a big, if
inefficient, State to consolidate resources in the presidency, which could then be used for patronage and spoils.
There were sufficiently important loopholes and leakages, however, to allow a disparate set of elites to benefit as
well as distribute the benefits. This is part of the politics of SAP which as in much of Africa, was subtly played by
the regime to mobilize the ruralites, putative beneficiaries of SAP, against the ‘dispossessed’ and ‘frustrated’
urbanites. It is a neo-indirect rule system, apax britannica of sorts to divide the people in order to control better
human and material resources. But as Yusuf Bangura (1992: 66 ff), has argued, this policy option is not always
crowned with success (see also various essays in Bayo Olukoshi (1993). Three, allow the regime the perfect
opportunity to use pure and cheap blackmail against reform beneficiaries, who would later be accused of using
money to corrupt the electorate by a pre-voting purchase,en masse, of voters. A vicious cycle of disqualification of
one set of beneficiaries would provoke another until the ‘political class’ - oldbreed and moneybags in particular -
was totally discredited. The Newbreed, Babangida’s own foster baby, would be too dependent and fragile to make a
go at the presidency. They would naturally ask the General to continue in office until a suitable civilian successor is
This was,mutatis mutandis, the ball game. But as we show below there is always a gap between self-perception
Now, the Babangida patronage network was meant to constitute a formidable national constituency of
strategically placed elites. The constituency was to be anchored on his military faction - afterall a military regime’s
first consideration is security and survival - but with vertical and horizontal tentacles nation-wide. A largely
truncated national constituency was created and was made up of two layers. The first layer consisted of a mixed
grill of mainly right-wing elements from the various factions and fractions of the national ruling clique - military,
political, bureaucratic, intelligentsia, commerco-business, chiefly estates (or Royal Fathers) (7).
The second layer was made up of a hodge-podge of upstarts, from all walks of life. Some of them may have
genuinely believed in the regime’s ‘grassroots’ democracy and new political culture and therefore offered
themselves for politics and public service. Others may simply have wanted to have a go at rent-seeking and the
relatively easy life that it entailed.
The first layer was referred to by the regime as the oldbreed or moneybags who, having been implicated in the
corruption of the previous republics, were no longer fit to lead the nation. The Nigerian Press, nicknames them
‘Any-Government-in-Power’ (AGIP) people. One is always fascinated by their longevity in holding power. They
have lived virtually all their lives in the public arena; living off and on the State. Theirs is an indefinite discourse in
the composition of a ruling clique. Those of them who fall from grace in one regime have a way of bouncing back
in the next.
Precisely because of their experience and good knowledge of the political terrain - with all its class and non-class
differentiations or dissimilarities - they are not just beholden to government; the latter is forced, some of the
time, to succumb to their pressures and wishes. The point here is that the Babangida network was a two-way traffic
of power and resource relations. To be sure, as the sole purveyor and dispenser of largesse, Babangida tended to
often dominate proceedings to the extent that the greatest vulnerability of this layer of support system was that it
got broken easily. Given the ease with which financial resources are procured it is not surprising that these
resources dry up as soon as they are obtained.
This vulnerability would also be a major set-back for progressive, pro-democracy groups and individuals who,
under a SAP regime, sometimes found Babangida patronage, in whatever form, irresistible. Indeed, the General
perfected the act of what came to be known as the politics of settlement, namely "timely doses of cash to anesthetize
the opposition and buy off labour unions and other powerful grumblers" (Peter da Costa, 1993: 53-57). The aim
was always to implicate as many social groups as possible in the corruption of the network in order to render them
politically impotent thereafter.
For all of the seeming subservience of the oldbreed and moneybags to Babangida, they were never fully trusted.
Not only did he keep a tab, in particular, on the commercial-business elites, in order to temper their resistance and
antagonism, occasionally publicly vented (Lewis, 1994: 337), but the entire network was a thick layer of
surveillance and counter-surveillance. Babangida himself had a solid reputation for being an active nocturnal
worker. He spent much time on the phone, particularly after the gubernatorial elections in December 1991,
solicitous after reluctant politicians to join the race for the Presidency and the Senate (8), the House of
Representatives having been reserved for ‘his’ newbreed politicians, many of whom he personally sponsored.
Each presidential aspirant that got personal phone calls and letters of support from Babangida kept the
information close to his chest supposing he was the favoured candidate. The controversial cancellation of the
presidential primaries of the two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican
Convention (NRC) in October 1992 - after retired General Yar’Adua had won the SDP ticket and Adamu Ciroma
and Umaru Shinkafi were set for a run-off for the NRC ticket - was the first eye-opener. The last two politicians
and Bamanga Tukur, who ran a close third, discovered, to their chagrin, that Babangida had been sending his
agents to each of them urging him on. At a press conference thereafter in Kaduna, the trio declared the military "the
greatest obstacle to democracy in Nigeria" (9).
Yet, that lesson was lost on the new set of presidential aspirants including M.K.O. Abiola and Babagana
Kingibe. After clinching the SDP ticket in Jos in March 1993, literally at photofinish, it was a herculean task for
the party to firm up a running mate for Abiola. Sixty four meetings after, Kingibe, former party chairman and
second to Abiola in the primaries, was finally chosen. Each of them went to Babangida for consultations. Abiola -.10
who would confess after his presidential mandate was annulled on June 23, 1995, by the regime that he consulted
with the highest office in the land before contesting -, was advised to reject Kingibe. The latter was said to be too
much of a party man, who could ultimately undermine a future Abiola presidency. Kingibe was also at Aso Rocks
where he was advised not to tarry in accepting the Abiola offer (10).
It would appear that for Babangida and his clients what was most important was the mutual utility of the
network. He opened the politico-economic space for his clients to pursue their rent- seeking activities. And rent-seekers
are not particularly enamoured by democratic theories and practices because "they will see democratization
as a threat to their livelihood" (John M. Mbaku, 1994: 283). Since one good turn deserves another, Babangida’s
clients would later provide the necessary foot troops to bring succour to their patron and help massage his deflated
ego just before he hurriedly ‘stepped aside’ on August 26, 1993.
Finally in this section, there was yet another modality in keeping clients happy and busy: creation of more States
and local governments, even at inauspicious moments was meant to widen networks of patronage to new State and
local government elites and to delay return to civil rule for as long as possible. To be sure, persistent
fractionalization of Nigeria under Babangida tended to reinforce the centrality and criticality of the federal
government. In a fundamental sense, Babangida exploited this "centralized configuration of State power to impose
his own whimsical vision on Nigeria" (Tunji Lardner jr, 1990: 51).
The Politics of Repression
The rationale for the politics of repression by which I mean the curbing of associational life and the dwarfing of
the civic public realm within the context of the transition programme, was furnished by SAP. Bangura (1992: 73)
offers a sophisticated interpretation of democratization by the Babangida regime with SAP: democratization would
appear to be a strategy to regulate the anticipated popular opposition to the economic reform programme. In this
regard the military wields considerable authority in determining the evolution of the transition plan.
Whilst the foregoing was clearly a class project, it was more of the workings of a pathological crave for
personal power. As usual, the issue was presented in corporatist terms; non-State actors were routinely accused of
sabotaging the impeding new order and the hand-over plans. The political alibi used until after the annulment was
that the regime would not hand-over in chaos. I will rapidly examine two levels of analysis here.
Scenarios of Failure
This is a more subtle form of political repression. Yet, it is a no-win situation. As summarized by Luckham
(1994: 64), "military rulers like Babangida… in Nigeria… have placed obstacles in the way of democratic openings
at every turn" (see also Amuwo, 1990; Agbese and Kieh, 1992; Rotimi and Ihonvbere, 1994; D. Bach, 1995 (a)
and (b)). From the outset, the regime made it clear that the transition programme was sacrosanct; it was a top-down
‘liberalisaton’ process, the timing and contents of which only the regime could decide. Yet, each phase lent itself to
severe contestation on account of several inconsistencies and much panel beating and fine-tuning. Similarly, high
political and electoral standards that could not possibly have been met by any mortal (e.g. volume of registration
papers by the political associations that would later be outlawed in October 1989) were set ostensibly to discredit
the political class in the eyes of the public.
It was, in this respect, very curious that the regime did little to protect Newbreed politicians who had been
presented, as already pointed out, as the torch-bearers of ‘a new socio-political order’. By 1993, a close observer of
the transition concluded that Babangida wanted an indefinite stay in power. Written in a rather gadfly and
condescending tone, Lewis (1994: 131-133) noted: "The evolution of events during the final years of the transition
process led many observers to conclude that Babangida never had any real intention relinquishing power to
He provided evidence: while NEC was a "modicum of proficiency", because under Professor Humphrey Nwosu,
it "functioned with diligence and integrity as an overseer of the electoral system’, nonetheless it was "continually
subject to the dictates of the Babangida regime and was largely relegated to implementing military stipulations".
The political class was another proof. For Lewis, under Babangida, the politicians were "more reliant on the
magnanimity of the generals, as the president intermittently recertified and reshuffled the political elite according to
Attempt at Incapacitation of Non-State Actors
Military regimes seek, almost by definition, a monopoly of the public and political space in order to complement
and reinforce their monopoly of coercive apparati of the State. This objective is not always pursued by exclusively
violent modalities, however. As we have shown, there is a selective use of patronage - they are generous to groups
and individuals adjudged to have ‘correct’ political behaviour; but very stringent and miserly vis-a-vis perceived
opposition groups. More often than not, patronage is a form of moral pressure to make them fall in line. The two
modalities - repression and patronage, stick and carrot - are meant to undermine collective consciousness of
associations and individuals opposed to a commandist approach to civil governance (R. Mustapha, 1992: 214).
In Nigeria, the country’s rich pluralistic political economy often poses a serious obstacle to this search for
double hegemony. It was in his confrontation with non-State actors that Babangida was at his negative best. But it
was on that terrain, too, that he was politically worsted.
An important number of civil liberty and human rights groups had mushroomed in Lagos, the economic capital,
in the early years of Babangida’s rule, partly as a result of the highhandedness of the Buhari regime. As the initial
human rights posturing wore off, these groups multiplied in number. They also became better organized and more
resolute to free Nigeria. For seven odd years, they mobilized the public against militarism. They also helped, in
diverse ways, in empowering associational life by supporting key non-State unions such as Academic Staff Union
of Universities (ASUU); National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS); Nigerian Bar Association (NBA);
Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC); Women in Nigeria (WIN), etc.
These unions were primarily driven by the interlockingness between sectoral agitations for a more qualitative
living of their members and demands for more robust democratization process. For them, the former would be
intelligible only as an integral part of the latter.
A rapidtour d’ horizon is what follows:
ASUU:a major recurring theme in the ASUU-Babangida regime confrontation was the poor State of university
education in the country. ASUU argued that this was due to the combination of three factors: inadequate funding;
lack of internal autonomy and poor remuneration of Nigerianuniversitaires. The first major crisis that prompted
governments proscription of the union in July 1988 (it would be recognised again in August, 1990 and reproscribed
in August 1992) was ASUU’s rejection of an apparent government decision to de-emphazise university education.
This was a position of the IMF as canvassed at the meeting of Vice-Chancellors of African Universities in Harare
in 1986. The argument was that only pre-university and technical education was cost - effective in Africa.
Continued struggle on the three dossiers mentioned above prompted the new proscription of ASUU but it then
made little sense because the union had become better organized and more radicalized. An Association of University
Teachers (AUT) rapidly replaced it nation-wide. Whilst still withholding recognition of ASUU, Babangida’s regime
was forced to sign a historic agreement with the union on the three dossiers on September 3, 1992. Eventually, an
ASUU member could trace Babangida’s precipitated departure from Aso Rockpartly to ASUU’s "role in
destroying the regime’s myth of invincibility and refusing to be bought" (O. Ibeanu, 1993: 8-9).
The Press:With the Judiciary, the Press represents a very important pillar of democracy globally. Babangida knew
this and sought to chain it - not quite successfully - as he did for the Judiciary. The travails of the Nigerian Press
under Babangida came from two major sources, the one a direct consequence of journalists’ naivety in rallying
around Babangida in his euphoric early days in power, the other, derivative of the character of ownership.
Perhaps understandably, goodwill for Babangida after hiscoup de force came most from the Press - in
particular its so-called Lagos- Ibadan axis. He had quickly annulled Decree 4 of 1984 by which two journalists of
The Guardian- arguably the country’s most liberal newspaper - were jailed by the Buhari regime. The decree
made it an offence to publish any story embarrassing to government officials even if the story were true. The two
journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor (who would later become the Chief Press Secretary of Aikhomu
and linked with the announcement of the June 12 annulment), were not only given State pardon; their jail record
was also officially nullified.
Few journalists countenanced the survival of another notorious decree - Number 2 of 1984 - by which the chief
of General Staff could detain, without formal charges, anyone deemed to be a security risk. This instrument was
invoked later to undertake large-scale search of media houses; to arrest and detain journalists and close down media.12
houses. Few of the latter, whose numbers kept on growing, were spared of the regime’s aversion to criticisms of its
policy programmes. The killing by a parcel bomb (a dangerous and sophisticated innovation in Press-military
relations) of Dele Giwa editor-in-chief of the country’s first weekly magazine,Newswatch, in October 1986 marked
a turning point for both ill and good. While several media house became muted in their critique, a few others, in
particular Abiola’sAfrican Concord pursued their well-beaten opposition path.
African Concordwould later fall after a face-off with government led to its closure and its radical journalists
left in droves, having refused to apologize to the General. A team of the break-aways, under the leadership of Bayo
Onanuga,African Concord’ s former editor, subsequently founded The News and Tempo, two weeklies that
rapidly became objects of severe repression by the regime. There was alsoTell magazine, radical and punchy too. It
was founded by a splinter group fromNewswatch.
The character of private newspaper proprietorship in Nigeria has often assailed the radical credentials of most
journalists. The point is this: the Nigerian reading public, more sophisticated as the year go by, prefer an anti-government
Press; not necessarily because they await a violent change too suddenly, but because that is the only
avenue to know the truth. Radio and television stations are, save for isolated pockets, government-owned. The
reading public is sometimes disappointed because many newspaper owners are government contractors. Thus, while
there is a formal autonomy from the State, there is an informal immersion - admittedly in different degrees and
therefore with unequal repercussions - in the State’s informal, patronage network. Under the Babangida regime, this
phenomenon became highly developed and visible.
University Students: by a combination of factors (sheer size; internal cohesion; good organization and networking,
status as a ‘social-layer-in-transition’, following Mandel, wich permits oscillation between realism and idealism,
etc.) this is the most powerful group in the political life of Nigeria since juridical independence. It is also the most
feared by successive governments; the Babangida regime was not an exception.
NANS, like ASUU, was proscribed and deproscribed several times, but it continually defied the regime, meeting
in Ibadan, its headquarters, and in other major cities of the country, often with the knowledge of either university
authorities or state security services (SSS). Its major political manifestations under Babangida were the anti-SAP
riots of 1988, 1989 and 1991 which drew support from a cross-section of other non-State associations nation-wide.
These manifestations were often hijacked by thesociety’ s marginalised - the unemployed, underemployed and
unemployables, amongst others were to protest politics of SAP, an admixture of real deprivations of dominated
classes and continued opulence of the hegemonic class.
In later years, NANS’ foot-troops showed signs of fatigue leading to a diminution ofa luta continua, both at
the rhetorical and practical levels. Several factors were responsible for this development. These include: massive
infiltration of the high command of NANS by State agents brandishing material incentives for good behaviour; the
use of State governors and royal fathers to divide NANS’ highest hierarchy and deepened pauperization of students
on campuses, a direct consequence of the diminishing incomes of their parents, guardians and sponsors in the civil
society. Other factors are incessant closure of campuses in the last four years or so, with the grave consequence, for
students, of losing an academic year (11); and the resultant pressures of kith- and-kin on students to earn their
degrees when and as due plus, of course, the students’ own legitimate personal ambitions to leave school and pursue
their respective careers.
The foregoing does not suggest, however, that NANS was bought over by the Babangida regime. Far from that.
State coercion has rather brought NANS closer to ASUU and it has consistently supported the latter’s many
combats to restore the fading glory of the country’s Ivory Tower.
Labour: a radical wing of the Nigerian Labour Congress, led by Mallam Ciroma, was in control of labour affairs
when Babangida came to power. Well-informed about the role of Labour in pre and post- independent Nigeria, his
overall strategy was to replace the radical wing with a moderate, if not conservative, faction. The killing of four
students of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria in May 1986 and the subsequent solidarity march against the
genocide - as a section of the Press called it - provided an alibi for the first attack. NLC headquarters in Lagos was
sealed up; it was there accused of provocation and insensitivity to the national economic emergency; the executive
of the Congress was dissolved and a sole administrator appointed to run its affairs.
By 1988, there was a massive infiltration of the Union. At its national convention in Jos, government sponsored
a group led by Shamang which, in one fell swoop, paid by cash, union dues it could not pay in two years. Having.13
been used to cause schism within the NLC, Shamang withdrew from public consciousness. Comrade Pascal
Bafyau, leader of the Railways Union whose members’ economic woes were well-known under Babangida, became
the president of the Congress. He was very close to the General; indeed several of the Congress’ policy somersaults
both on trade union and political matters, before and after June 12 annulment, could be traced to Bafyau’s extensive
informal networks with the military regime.
Some of the Union’s political options were bizarre: establishment of a political association that sought licence
from the regime to participate in Third Republic politics; decision to support Bafyau’s bid for Vice-president under
Abiola with the attendant massive use of the ethnic and religious cards (Christian Northern minority from
Adamawa state); indecisions whether or not to support calls by Campaign for Democracy for public disobedience
immediately after the annulment (12) as well as vacillations in joining the oil unions - National Union of Petroleum
and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) - which fought for the recovery of Abiola’s
presidential mandate between July and September 1994.
The NLC’s largely inclusive politics could not save it when the new military dictator, General Abacha, clamped
down on NUPENG and PENGASSAN. Their executives, including that of NLC, were dissolved through that night
broadcast on August 18, 1994.
The Bar Association: like in much of Africa, the Nigerian Bar Association was, for long, an extremely
conservative union. Activist and radical lawyers were, unlike in the colonial period, few and far between. Highly
hierarchical and unitary in outlook, NBA was run like a commandist movement until Alao Aka-Bashorun became
its president. Well-known for his distaste for military rule, he rapidly closed the ranks of activist lawyers; and
energized the association to begin to take a keener interest in judicial activism as against puerile legalism. He
passed this new lease of life to Priscilla Kuye who did not disappoint.
The regime became alarmed. The government moved in at the Port Harcourt Convention (early 1993), which
was attended for the first time in ten years by Gani Fawehinmi, theopposant de toujours of all Nigerian military
regimes to date. It sponsored Bashir Dalhatu, until then relatively unknown, to contest the Association’s presidency.
The radical wing of the lawyers succeeded in stalemating the Convention when it appeared the government’s
protegé was on a victory course.
A measure of government’s frustration with the outcome of the Convention was the setting up of a Body of
Benchers - made up of the oldbreed, the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), now highly politicized and denied to
activist lawyers - to resolve the internal crisis of the association. This did not help the regime, nor did a decree
promulgated on the same matter permit it to find a solution acceptable to it before Babangida ouster. By August
1995, Kuye was still thede facto president of NBA, multiple court cases notwithstanding.
What the foregoing brings to bold relief is that whilst many Nigerian lawyers may still be conservative, they
would prefer to have the association’s problems settled internally.
Women in Nigeria (WIN): It is interesting to note that this small group of Women activists in Nigeria has, despite
its limited financial resources, persistently refused incorporation into the state-backed National Council of Women
Societies (NCWS). Nor was it involved in the seeming large-scale inclusionary politics of the Better Life
Programme (BLP) - more commonly called ‘Better Life for Rural Women or rural dwellers’ - initiated by Mrs
Maryam Babangida. WIN, very serious with its gender project and emancipatory political engineering in respect of
Nigerian women, apparently wishes to preserve its autonomy vis-a-vis the excesses and flamboyance of the
programme, whatever its success in other areas (13).
In a fundamental sense, the continued occupation of the public space by the civic associations did not occur
because of the Babangida regime, but in spite of it. Their tenacity of purpose - in large measure, their refusal not to
succumb either to the politics of settlement or to cheap blackmail - and internal cohesion and solidarity in the face
of a regime that was, at the count down to presidential elections in June 1993, highly intolerant of opposition and
seemingly paranoid about clinging to power, was their greatest asset. As opposition mounted, Babangida sought to
accommodate non-state actors in the last phase of the transition. This was sheer tokenism, however.
When, in his November 17, 1992 broadcast, Babangida announced the shift of handover date from January 2,
1993 to August 27, 1993, he also asked the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) - training school for future
civilian leaders - to "put together, train and coordinate a group" made up of "representatives of professional.14
organisations, labour unions, business organisations and human rights organisations" to monitor the presidential
election. Bratton and de Walle (1994: 462) may therefore be right in arguing that because a military oligarchy is
often shielded from reality, civic organisations have a lot to do: "... to make themselves heard - to penetrate the
conspiracy of silence surrounding the supremo - ordinary citizens… [and] have little choice but to persist with
protest and raise the volume of their demands".
Countdown to the Presidential Election: Why did Babangida allow it hold?
I have suggested, somewhat implicitly, in the foregoing section that the sustained activism of non-state actors
made it inevitable for the presidential elections to eventually hold on June 12, 1993. But if this clearly appeared as a
necessary condition, it was far from being sufficient.
The point is that as the count-down began, the personal rule agenda became more and more open. To begin with,
the hitherto shadowy Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), suspected for long of having secret links with the
regime, became more and more audacious. Led by a politically unstable and unpredictable multimillionaire - Arthur
Nzeribe, an arms dealer; former presidential aspirant under the aegis of the SDP, who failed on two occasions to
honour a pledge to the Northern muslim establishment to convert to Islam - ABN and its officials became more
visible in the Presidency. By the same token, Nigerians were stunned to learn that the association was set up and
wholly financed by the Babangida regime.
The ABN was not alone. There was a Committee of Elder Statesmen woven around oldbreeds like Sam Ikoku -
an ex-Nkrumahist, ex-Awoist, ex-official of both the populist People’s Redemption Party (PRP) and the
conservative NPN in the Second Republic - and Margaret Ekpo, amongst others. The Committee was organised by
Tola Adeniyi, formerenfant terrible of the popular Nigerian Tribune (founded by Obafemi Awolowo in 1949).
Adeniyi had served under Babangida as a Director-General responsible for the movement of federal ministries to
Abuja, the political capital, as well as Managing Director of the government-ownedDaily Times. The Committee
had no official status whatsoever, yet it was received in highly publicised audience several times by Babangida. As
late as January and February 1993, the Committee’s memoranda prescribing a French semi- presidential system of
government for Nigeria was received by the general who promised to give it due attention.
Furthermore, a British source signalled in May that plans were afoot to abort the election, suggesting that
principal western diplomatic capitals - in particular London and Washington - were aware of Babangida’s last-minute
footworking. For the source, "there are growing doubts that the presidential election will be held on June 12
as scheduled", alerting that both Abiola and Tofa would be disqualified unless "they produce evidence of having
paid corporate and personal taxes in full over the past decade". The source concluded rather cynically, "the
government’s difficulty will be in dealing with increasing resentment of the further extension of military rule rather
than in placating popular sympathy for Tofa or Abiola" (14).
What is more, there was little visible preparation for the election - in terms of the usual polling booths and, more
importantly, the display of voters’ register, as demanded by the electoral law. Many Nigerians were genuinely
worried. They would be further terrified by an Abuja High Court order, only forty-eight hours to the election,
stopping the poll.
More curious was that neither NEC - which was vested with supreme control over elections which no court
order could supersede - nor government made a statement, until the director of the United States Information
Service (USIS) in Lagos warned government that any postponement of the election would be "unacceptable" to
America. Shortly after, NEC reassured Nigerians that the election would hold as scheduled. It did hold, but only
after the director had been asked to leave the country within 72 hours and CDS withdrew accreditation to
Americans to monitor the election. Similarly, Mrs Justice Bassey Ikpeme, the Abuja high court judge who gave
relief to the ABN and thereby rose from obscurity to notoriety, was rapidly evacuated out of the country. Made a
judge barely six months before, she had worked as a lawyer in the chambers of Akpamgbo, the regime’s Justice
minister. A senior military officer rewarded her "courage" with 10,000 US dollars while the regime alledgedly paid
her 5 million naira (15).
There is the suggestion by some informed circles in Nigeria - parti-cularly academic and Press - that Babangida
may have, finally, been persuaded to hold the election because he thought Tofa would win. With Tofa, so the
argument goes, it would be Babangida in power by proxy; that, at any rate, Tofa would be less dangerous than.15
Abiola with whose somewhat ‘radical’ entourage the regime was uncomfortable. This is a variant of the ethnic
thesis discussed below in relation to the reasons for annulment.
Let me just add a footnote here: to all appearances, the regime made a flawed and faulty analysis of the
reconstituted political market. For all his public rhetorics, Babangida did not believe in his own elaborate and long
transition programme. His professors and other advisers may have, in this sense, been more catholic than the Pope.
It would seem that ‘security reports’ comforted him in his belief that Nigerian voters would, once again, vote along
the old primordial cleavages of ethnicity, region and religion (16).
Who Annulled The Election? Why the Annulment?
Unlike the French Bourbon Kings with which the Nigerian political ‘class’ has often been compared, the latter
demonstrated on June 12, 1993 that it had learned some democratic lessons and had forgotten a lot of electoral
antics of yesteryears. Nigeria recorded her freest and fairest national election since independence was won. Both
national and international observers gave the election a pass mark. Neither the two parties nor the electorate was
willing to give the General another alibi for prolongation of military rule.
The ABN went back to court; there it got an injunction ordering NEC chairman to halt further announcements of
the result. This was days after partial results had been announced, and the President elect (Abiola by 58% to 42%
of 14 million votes cast) was now known both within and outside the country. Nwosu had the powers to ignore this
court injunction as he did to the earlier one. But by now, he was no more an autonomous agent. Summoned by
Babangida while a ‘crucial’ meeting of the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) was on-going, he was
given few minutes, alone in a room, to decide whether or not he would invoke the full powers of the military decrees
that gave legal teeth to his actions. Nwosu knew all the decrees by heart and was given to quoting them off-handedly,
with great theatrical enthusiasm and grand gesticulations on national television. For instance, he was the
only one empowered by sections 15 (1) and 20 of Decree 13 of 1993 to announce the presidential result. But he also
knew, at that moment, that the game was up. He told Babangida he would obey the court order. He would tell
Nigerians the same thing later, but with the promise that NEC would file an appeal on the judgement (17).
In the midst of the ensuing confusion, a sheet of paper, with no letter head, containing a grave message, but
undated and unsigned was faxed to all media houses: it was ostensibly passed round State House correspondents by
Nduka Irabor who had virtually, by then, taken over image-making and press relations of the presidency from the
general’s Chief Press Secretary, Duro Onabule. The regime’s - or Transition Council’s - Information Secretary,
Uche Chukwumerije was not aware of the curious circular; he threatened a journalist who showed him the circular
a court action for rumour-mongering. A few hours later, he was defending the annulment at a press conference in
Aso Rock (18).
To formally void the election on June 23, 1993, the regime had to repeal two major decrees: Number 52 of
November 17, 1992, also known as the Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme Amendment) decree number
3 of 1992, which had given legal backing to the extended transition and the Presidential Election (Basic
Constitutional and Transitional Provision) decree number 13 of 1993. The election was legally voided thus:
"All acts or omissions done or purported to have been done or to be done by any person, authority etc under the
above named decrees are hereby declared invalid".
NEC was also suspended, while "all acts or omissions done or purported to have been done by itself, its officers
or agents under the repealed decree number 13 of 1993" were cancelled. Similarly, government stopped all court
proceedings pending or intended to be instituted as well as "appeals thereon in respect of any matter touching,
relating or concerning the presidential election...". As in the past, Babangida rationalized this action in national and
corporatist terms: "the administration took the painful decision in good faith and the interest of stability and severity
of the nation as well as for the enhancement of democracy in Nigeria". By that time in Nigeria, such statements
struck hollow chords. In reference to a similar action in the past, an avid commentator had claimed that "there
ought not to be any quibbling over credibility. A General’s word must be his bond"(The Guardian (Lagos),
October 5, 1992). The mood of the nation had changed, however.
Now, who annulled the election? It seems more difficult to examine the who’s/how’s, than the ‘whys’, an
exercise rendered more onerous by what Luckham (1994: 42) calls the lack of "one single empirical study on how
African military governments take decisions". Even the autobiographies that we have are not reliable. Luckham
believes that they are "self-serving and provide little detailed description of real power struggles behind the official.16
facade". Yet, it is possible to make sense out of little information and petty speculations and rumblings from scanty
sources. The country’s ever-restive rumour factory which, by the way is, in terms of vitality and robustness,
perhaps second only to the coup industry, is also useful here.
Two hypotheses on the annuller(s) stand out. The first hypothesis articulates an hostage thesis: Babangida was
said to have been the hostage of either his own ‘boys’ or Southern and Middle-Belt senior officers (who represent
65% of the officer corps) or both. His ‘boys’ were said to have despatched a delegation of senior officers, led by
Lawan Gwadabe, Babangida’s ex-Principal Staff Officer and doyen of his governors (five years in the General’s
home state) with a singular message: Abiola was unacceptable to the military. That was said to be the grouse of the
second group too. During negotiations for an Interim National Government (ING) Babangida was said to have told
SDP officials that "some senior military officers were prepared to die rather than accept Abiola as president" (See
Africa Confidential,July 30, 1993, p.7; November 5, 1993, p. 2). The two groups were also bound together by
self-interest and mutual fear: Abiola, on the strength of information in his possession concerning their fabulous
wealth, may have considered probing the military(Africa Confidential, 8-14 July, 1993, p. 14-15).
This hypothesis fails to indicate preferences of the senior officers: did they want Tofa (almost an impossibility)
or one of their members, or Babangida to continue? if the latter, as a General or in the Mobutu or Eyadema fashion
- namely as a civilianized president?
The second hypothesis is that Babangida-in-Council annulled the election. The ‘Council’ was, to be sure, an
informal or "officious" body. Two members often mentioned are Obasanjo(apparently in absentia) and Yar’
Adua who was physically present. The occasion was the burial of Yar’ Adua’s father, to whom, while alive,
Babangida had been made to promise he would hand over power, not necessarily to the younger Yar’ Adua, but
without prejudice to him. That was during the cancelled primaries of October 1992. As if to respect the dead, the
cancellation was decided on the way to Katsina for the funeral. It was to allow Obasanjo’s former deputy to have
another go at the presidency. Abiola too attended the funeral to commiserate with his friend and business partner.
On his way home in his private jet, he would hear the annulment (19).
Why was the election annulled? A good starting point is to argue, following Sakah Mahmud (1993: 89) that
"there seems to be no justifiable reasons for outright cancellation of the presidential elections". Thus, Emeka
Nwokedi’s (1994: 1-23) reasonable contention that the transition programme was no more than a means to
institutionalize authoritarianism in Nigeria.
Many other arguments have been presented for the annulment, by both the regime and the two parties. One,
Babangida claimed in his speech voiding the election that the spate of litigations in various courts was embarrassing
to government which had to act decisively in order that the "ridiculous charade" would not snowball into "judicial
anarchy". This argument turned facts upside down and stood logic on its head. What Babangida called the "spate of
litigations" was in reality four high courts (Lagos, Ibadan, Benin and Jos) ordering NEC to release all the results.
The latter and government refused to obey. In any event, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Mohammed Bello, had
already sworn in a Presidential Election Tribunal to hear litigations. The regime did not even allow the latter to take
Government also talked about a low turn out of voters - some 35% of registered electorate actually voted -
pointing out, like the NRC, that the Ikpeme order must have kept voters away from polling stations. NRC would
claim later that millions of its supporters could not actually vote (20).
There was also the ‘Babangida preferred party’ thesis. Though not much voiced out, some pockets of the SDP
believed, soon after annulment, that given the General’s preference for NRC, his regime "would not sanction an
SDP victory under any candidate"(Africa Confidential, 16 July, 1993 p. 1). This explains their opposition to a
Whatever the utility of the foregoing ‘explanatory schemas’, they are of little use in our search for the ‘whys’ of
the annulment. Two broad schemas ought, however, to arrest our attention, namely, the ethnic card and the military
I have already alluded to the regime’s expectations of traditional crude ethnic arithmetiking and religious
balancing to drive the election. In its eyes, Abiola had failedab initio, first, by picking a fellow Muslim from the
minority North-Eastern wing, (Kanuri) of Nigeria, and, two, by ignoring the aristocratic Hausa-Fulani ruling caste..17
Thus, Adamu Danladi’s (1993: 6) contention that if Abiola had lost, "Nigeria’s transition to civil rule would have
been on course" in the eyes of the regime. What this suggests is that it was Abiola the regime did not want; that if
Tofa had won, there would have been no succession crisis. But given the dirigiste nature of the transition
programme and the extensive powers of NEC, could government not have rigged the election in favour of Tofa? Of
course, this option would have been difficult, given the use of open voting system rather than secret ballot.
If the regime had preferred Tofa why propel ABN to attempt a total halt of the election? It seems to me that by
June 12, the transition programme had become a frankenstein; Babangida had literally become a victim of his own
multiple decrees on the programme and innumerable detours of same. Manipulation and fine-tuning had become
overbearing, the General had dribbled all key players and himself into a tight-corner, meaning out of power.
Furthermore, in the guidelines for a new election unbelievably slated for early August 1993 (the General knew it
was humanly impossible to meet such a deadline, but it was meant to further divide the ‘political class’, some
members of whom fell into the trap by actually collecting forms) both Tofa and Abiola were disqualified. The
former was no longer eligible on the strength of the requirement that new candidates must be at least 50 years old; a
flagrant violation of the 1989 Constitution; the latter by the stipulation that a presidential candidate must have been
a partyman for upwards of one year. To underscore Babangida’s manichean designs, all previously disqualified
presidential aspirants were now free to try anew.
Nothing could have been more fictitious and absurd, untrue and retrogressive as the regime’s crude ethnic
equation. There is strong evidence to show that it was the heavy anti-Yoruba propaganda of the tandem Babangida-Chukuwmerije
and their psychosis of war (reference was always made to ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Somalia)
that would later polarize and ethnicize the pro-June 12 ‘movement’.
In a BBC ‘Network Africa’ Programme soon after election results had already been known, Adamu Ciroma
called for earnest release of results: "The election have (sic) been conducted. The results are actually known state
by state and I do not see any reason why the NEC should not announce the results". In a direct response to his NRC
colleagues who called for cancellation, Ciroma said "I do not share that opinion at all. I do not think it is right that
frivolous excuses should be used in delaying the announcement of the result... It will be very difficult to justify. And
I do not think, it is right to do so"(The Guardian, June 18, 1993, p. 4).
Similarly, Abubakar Rimi, on a solidarity to Abiola, declared: "The cancellation of elections was a brazen act,
the bravado of a man who believes that he can order people about as if Nigeria were one big barrack. He has
postponed the transition and banned all the candidates before. Two years ago (1991), he arrested thirteen prominent
politicians to stop them from running for state governorship. None of this provoked a response, but since June
(1993), people’s patience is beginning to run out". Rimi added: "(Babangida’s) way of staying in power is to create
such confusion that his rule seems better than any alternative. He does not care how much Nigeria is neglected in
the process" (21).
In this respect, Adams (1993: 68-69) was right to have observed that the Abiola-Babangida duel which flagged
off as a power struggle between military politicians and their civilian homologues "soon aroused old ethnic
divisions in one of Africa’s most diverse nations". Initially, Abiola also struck the right chord when he emphasized
that the political impasse was not "The South versus The North" but that rather "the problem is that Babangida just
does not want to give up power".
Tofa, for one, rapidly ethnicized the stalemate. He had said on the eve of the election that if Abiola won, he
would be the first to congratulate him and had hoped that were the reverse the case, Abiola would act similarly.
Apparently taking a cue from this stalemate, the Chairman of the NRC, Hamed Kusamotu, a ‘westerner’ called for
the release of results. Ofonagoro, Director of Communications of Tofa’s Presidential Campaign Organisation
countered that Kusamotu’s view were personal to him. Tofa also condemned the views of some ‘western’ members
of the party claiming that their opinions "...do not reflect the thinking of the vast majority of our supporters nation-wide".
There was even a direct accusation: "It is regrettable that these western leaders of the NRC have chosen to
introduce ethnicity and tribal sectionalism into the conduct of the affairs of the party at this critical time in our
nation’s history" (22).
The refusal of Tofa to accept the election result marked the turning point, for the worse, in the struggle of the
Civil Society to recover the ‘stolen mandate’. The ‘political class’ that had impressed voters by its seeming sense of
proportion during the election rapidly lost internal cohesion and right bearing. Babangida’s manipulative politics
further divided the hierarchies of both parties, more so the SDP. There was a mixture of stick and carrot. On the
former, he warned state civilian governors on June 29, 1993, that they would be held responsible for any civil.18
disorder in their states; he even darkly hinted at the possibility of declaring a state of emergency. On the latter, as
we have earlier remarked, he promised fresh elections and reiterated his commitment to the August 27 hand-over
Babangida succeeded in fractionalising the two parties; factions in both even asked him to participate in "a
military-backed Interim National Government"(Africa Confidential, 16 July, 1993, p. 1). Soon after, there was a
drove of the AGIP to Abuja, some of them government-sponsored. The popular cliche was that ‘no individual was
greater than the nation’, but none specified the individual - Abiola or Babangida.
The ethnic card was rapidly seized on by sundry analysts of the ‘traditional school’ on Nigeria to further draw a
wedge between the ‘North’ and the ‘South’. Take theAfrican Confidential as an example. In its July 2, 1993
edition, it noted: "on a 35% turnout, the results which the NEC was forbidden by court order to publish showed
Abiola to have the widest spread of support across the country of any presidential candidate since independence".
By July 16, 1993, the tone had changed, however. "SDP supporters whose candidate, Moshood Abiola, emerged as
the winner of the 12 June elections annulled by Babangida have rejected fresh elections. They will try to ensure that
polling does not take place in their heartlands in the South-West and in the Middle Belt".
The Military Factor: Which Military?
In general, authoritarian regimes in Africa have increased militarism, by the use of the structure of repression
namely, the military establishment, the Police, Gendarmeries, Secret Services, Para-military units, presidential
special units, etc. (Luckham, 1995: 52-53). Military rule reinforces militarism and deepens militarization of society.
Thus, Luckham (ibid: 49) is right to emphasise that "...in Nigeria, as in most other African Countries, the military
establishment and other repressive apparatuses of the state continue to be the single most important obstacle to
transition to democracy". Agbese (1990: 40) similarly notes that "the military itself poses one of the major
obstacles to democracy in Nigeria" adding that in the transition programme nothing was done to address "the
obstructionist role of the Nigerian military in the struggle for national liberation and democracy".
Indeed, any rigorous overview of the performance of military rulership in Nigeria can hardly be flattering.
Writing after the Abacha palace coup of November 17, 1993, a commentator remarked:
"The military has lost the moral high ground. It neither has the public goodwill nor is it seen to have the moral
energy to arrest the drift of the nation. It has, on the surface, exhausted its stock of self-effacing and untainted
officers of the late Murtala Muhammed and Muhammadu Buhari calibre...".
He concludes that the leading figures of the new junta "played loud roles in Babangida’s disastrous regime,
which left Nigerians angry, poorer and their national economy prostrate" (D. Adamu, 1993: 6-7).
The paradox, indeed tragedy, of Nigeria is that in view of the equally poor performance of the civilian political
elites, the military factor has seemingly emerged as the most potent force - clearly not an effective one - for
organizing the country. For example, the legacy of the Babangida regime is seen as follows by Adams (1993: 67):
"a battered economy, rampant corruption; a resurgence of quiescent ethnic divisions and tarnished democratic
institutions". Yet, the military is perhaps a worse victim of its own misrule than the nation. For Adams, "in the
process, the military has battered its self-image as guardians of the Constitution who only seized power to save the
nation and were eager to return to their barracks".
For all the above, however, relations between the military and democratization/development need not be wholly
inverse. The Nigerian case has shown that there are elements within the army - in both its professional and political
wings - who, for whatever reasons (ideological; religious; enlightened self-interest; socialization experiences;
temperamental, etc.) are rather supportive of democratization and civilian control of the military.
Since the majors’ coup of January 15, 1966, the Nigerian military has never been the same again. Rapid
politicization gradually led to the abandonment of professionalism in favour of struggles, often bitter, for power and
the wealth and fame this brings in its trail. Deep fissures and cleavages ensued so that, today, the Nigerian military
is little more than an assorted array of conspirational groups, with multiplechefs de file each willing, whenever
balance of forces is favourable, to attempt a seizure of power. Shortly after independence, the initial supranational
outlook has given way to a deeply divided military organization. While there may be a tinge of exaggeration in the
claim that "the greatest danger (to Nigeria) remains that of the army fragmenting on regional lines"(Africa
Confidential, 9 September, 1994, p. 1), there is the sure danger of having a highly fractured and politicized army..19
In any event, the heretofore serenity of the barracks and the camaraderie of the officers’ mess may have been
almost totally wiped out. This was a major point made in Maryam Babangida’sHome Front, but then several
retiring political officers make references and allusions to this phenomenon often with an understandable nostalgia
for the ‘good, old days’.
There are today,grosso modo, three major ideological tendencies in the military. First the right-wingers who
clamour for perpetual military rule. Second, the centrists who want a swift transition to civil or democratic rule, a
return to the barracks and to professionalism. And, finally, there is the left-wing that seeks an immediate purge of
the decadent politico-military ‘class’, the liberation of Nigeria, and a new beginning, both professionally and
politically. Senior, middle-level and junior officers straddle along these tendencies, suggesting that rather than mere
ethnicity or religion, the national question is the major issue. In the military, it is posed in a very sharp manner
deserving of attention and greater study. The ensuing class conflicts (cf. C. Okwarteng, 1993: 32) are, for poverty
of national ideological discourse, articulated mainly in non-class terms.
To be sure, ethnic and regional divisions exist, only that they tend to hide more structural and vertical divisions
that will continue to trouble the military and the nation for as long as they are ignored. Because state power and
military power have a unified control, the military wing of Kano-Kebbi-Gwandu-Sokoto and its political wing
Sokoto-Borno-Kaduna are the most important. Juxtaposed against these two wings, respectively, are the ‘Langtang
Mafia’ and the Middle Belt Forum. Given their warrior traditions, the Middle Belt States of Plateau (Langtang is
situated here) Benue, Adamawa and Taraba States, supplied much of the soldiery and infantry during the colonial
period. The practice continued after independence. Gowon, Bisala, Bali, Dongoyaro, Shagaya and a host of others
are products of this tradition. Under Babangida, members of the ‘Langtang Mafia’ were massively killed on three
occasions: the ‘failed’ Vasta coup in December 1985; the Orkar coup in April 1990 and consequent upon a military
plane mishap in September 1992 (23).
Until the death of Obafemi Awolowo in May 1987, there was a somewhat loose ‘Ikenne Mafia’ - made up of
leading lights in the Awo political camp and ‘western’ senior military officers most of whom are now retired. After
encouraging enlistment of educated young westerners into the Army during his premiership of the Old Western
Region, and after his civil war political stint with Gowon in the Federal Executive Council, it would seem that, until
his death, Awolowo did not show much interest in military affairs.
The Eastern political and military wings do not appear to have overcome the formidable handicap of losing the
Biafran war. An unstated and unwritten rule in the military seems to be that an Eastern officer cannot head any of
the three services - Army, Navy and Air force. This perhaps partly explains the rapidity with which Madueke was
removed as Chief of Naval Staff by Abacha early in 1994. There are of course, other more cogent reasons, not the
least being the need to put his own men in strategic military positions. The political corollary of the foregoing is that
scarcely can an Easterner become Nigeria’s president. The Eastern wing of the political elite understands this ball
game, hence its seeming readiness to play a second fiddle. In this, it sees its natural rival as the Westerner.
Interestingly, the politics of annulment has intensified the campaign about the marginalization of the East in
national politico-military life. It is astonishing, however, that the Eastern political elite does not see the resolution of
this genuine problem as merely a part of the overall macro national problem suggesting for example, that if the June
12 annulment is not resolved in favour of Abiola and democracy, the Eastern project has little chance of succeeding.
An elaboration of this issue, however, goes beyond the scope of this work.
The confrontation of the three politico-ideological tendencies in the military is seen through the cleavage between
the professional soldier and the political officer. The political wing of the Nigeria army is, more than anything else,
responsible for the loss ofesprit de corps and breakdown of organizational cohesion. Coup skills are better
rewarded than professional commitment. With loss of organizationalesprit de corps comes loss of political esprit
de corps. This development is not ignored by senior political officers, leading to the constitution and cultivation of
personal base in the military. A major modality for doing this is to open access to patronage to as many loyalists of
a new junta as possible. Plum political jobs - euphemistically referred to as military postings - such as state
governor, minister, general officer commanding (GOC) etc., allow for primitive accumulation.
Professional soldiers grumble not always out of self-interest. Some - General Ishola Williams is the group’s
archetype - are not particularly enamoured by politics and would not mind barrack life. But barrack has become a
neglected specie; facilities and equipments to work with, vanishing categories. Sometimes, equipments are paid for
but are undelivered, sometimes budgetary allocations are either diverted or purely and simply stolen; some other
time, political soldiers waste resources. According to the Okigbo Panel set up by Abacha to probe the affairs of the
national oil Corporation (NNPC), between 1988 and June 1994, some $12,500 million was unaccounted for (24)..20
To all intents and purposes, therefore, the Nigerian military is not monolithic. Whilst commandist in structure
and therefore, logically, prone to suppressing innovation and initiative, the organization does not engender a total
conspiracy of silence, however. Politicization of the military is, afterall, a double- edged sword. The ‘boys’ are to
be found not only in the political wing, but also in the military organization itself, thelocus social of political
recruitment. The boys can and do grumble, and when grumblings turn into rumblings, the political high command is
alarmed. This phenomenon seems to have attained its paroxysm under Babangida. The Orkar abortive coup of
April 22, 1990 - apparently massively supported by a cross-section of the officer-corps - revealed the reality of
political schism within the military.
Ihonvbere (1991: 602) has argued that perhaps the most threatening dimension of the coup attempt was that on
the national agenda for the first time were "critical issues for debate". For him, these issues have "forced a
convergence of interests and alerted the government to very deep-rooted contradictions and pressures capable of
negating whatever plans ... [government] has for the future of politics in the country". Very revealing also was one
of the leitmotives of the coup: Babangida’s "cunning desire to install himself as Nigeria’s first life president at all
costs and by so doing retard the progress of the country" (Ihonvbere, 1991: 618).
Babangida was shaken by the 1990 coup, which partly explains why he hurriedly relocated the seat of power in
Abuja in December, 1991. Yet, the General had nurtured a seemingly solid fief in the military. His personalist
approach had created a strategic elite group that, to all appearances, was national in composition and character.
The group - otherwise known as IBB boys - included Umar, Aminu, Bamaiyi, John Madaki, Shagaya, Gwadabe,
Dasuki, Rasaki, Olurin, Akilu, Ayuba, Kupolati, Mark. Through constant cabinet reshuffles, about a hundred of
his loyalists served as either military governors or ministers. The list is longer when one adds officers who headed
the many agencies, parastatals and government companies (Amuwo and Olaitan, forthcoming).
It would appear that Babangida did little for the professional soldier, partly because of his preoccupation with
survival and security and partly because of the undermining of his regime by Abacha (25). But the General
regularly approved secret extra-salary payments and bonuses to the boys across the board. This practice
accentuated after the Orkar coup, suggesting that the main aim was to make ‘extremists’ in the barracks happy in
order to keep them quite. Similarly, car gifts - Babangida called it loans - went to senior officers and motor cycles
to the other ranks. The General rationalized this action as a way of achieving one of his declared objectives - make
his regime the last military government in Nigeria.
Babangida also used the stick to keep the military quiescent. There was a systematic repression of real and
imagined enemies. On this, there was an early warning: the killing of the poet general, Mamman Vasta, early 1986
was an unmistakable signal that Babangida would brook no opposition. Vasta was not only his classmate at Bida
Government College - Babangida was senior prefect and football captain, 1961-2 - he was also the bestman at his
wedding. Killing of coupists - even those with only mere intentions - may have crippled the coup factory; it
certainly has not repaired the fractured nature of the military organisation. It may, in fact, have worsened it.
More fundamentally, both patronage and repression have their limits, in terms of resources to be deployed and
opposition forces, from the professional and political wings, to contend with. Babangida soon became overwhelmed
and increasingly isolated. The Aso Rock security fortress added a new dramatic dimension to the loneliness. Shortly
before and, more so, after the annulment, the General was alone - perhaps with his wife. "Outside his formidable
security apparatus", an observer wrote in July 1993, "Babangida is looking beleaguered: no credible public figure
has leapt to his support and reports of rumblings in the senior and middle ranks of the army continue"(Africa
Confidential, 16 July, 1993).
One cannot therefore underestimate the salience of the military factor in the failure of the Babangida personal
rule agenda. A patchy grouping and alliance of elements from both the political and professional wings of the
military was provoked against a regime whose own policies and actions had increasingly put ithors jeu. The
alliance had,inter alia, the following things in common: hostility to the use of civil war threat by the regime to
secure support and demobilize opposition; enlightened self-interest of senior officers affected by the West’s limited
sanctions (eg. restrictions on the officers and their families to visit Western Capitals) and personal ambitions of
those eyeing Babangida’s post (Abacha, Dongoyaro, Shagaya, etc.) who mobilized their respective clan of boys to
secure the General’s ouster. By July 12, 1993, Babangida may have been told at a marathon meeting with Principal
Staff Officers and field commanders that he could no longer "rely on the loyalty of his (sic) Armed Forces should
he stay beyond 27 August"(Africa Confidential, 16 July, 1993, p. 1)..21
By Way of Conclusion
Babangida may not have read Raymond Aron’sLe Spectateur Engagé (1981), but he certainly subscribed to
the political principle that "one should win in politics, otherwise there is no reason for doing so". Machiavellian and
self-confessed admirer of Chaka Zulu, Babangida, wanted either to surpass the Gowon’s all-time record of nine
years as head of state or to have a life presidency or both. By a mixture of double-speak; unpredictability;
affableness, giving the impression that others were in control; blatant manipulation; divide and rule, etc. he sought
for eight years to dominate Nigeria’s political economy.
"Whatever Babangida’s intentions in 1986 may have been", contends Rimmer (1994: 101-2), "by 1993 his
overriding concern, like that of so many other holders of power, seems to have become the keeping of power. What
forced him out was not the transition to democracy but the view taken by another faction of the military that his
time was up".
The Babangida era did not only witness an unprecedented flourishing of pro-democracy and human rights
groups; several civic organizations stepped up opposition to the regime when it mattered most. The SAP and
transition programme provoked this healthy development. The Civil Society in reference may have been a hodge-podge
of essentially strange bed fellows, but as Chris Bryant (1994: 497) reminds us the story is similar almost
everywhere. Reflecting on the Civil Society with particular reference to Poland, he notes that "Civil Societies
accommodate differences of interest and sensibility and that is their virtue". There is therefore no need for a certain
fixated Nigeria - pessimism, which consists in affirming only the military factor in the running of thecité
nigériane, as well as the near-helplessness of non-state actors (for a representative view, see J.A. Wiseman, 1990:
I have attempted to show in this study that the reality on ground does not permit of such fatalism, even though a
cruder and less intelligent junta, Abacha’s has been in power since November 1993. What our attempt here shows
is akin to a Lockean conception of State - Civil Society relations which, to borrow from Adam B. Seligman (in F.
Akunz, 1995: 181-2) "posits society as a self-regulating realm, the ultimate repository of individual rights and
liberties, and a body that must be protected against incursions of the state". Our study shows more; it demonstrates
that non-state actors can also successfully checkmate the excesses and poor visions of the state against the broader
But no one should romanticise Nigeria’s Civil Society. It is still a nascent, emergent phenomenon, which has a
long way to go. Its strength and beauty lie in the fact that it is growing and thus getting more difficult to undermine.
It seems to be offering the popular classes " an opportunity to deny the ruling class hegemony in the realm of ideas,
values and culture as a basis for the ultimate seizure of power and the transformation of capitalist property
relations and State". (Bangura, 1992: 45-6). And who knows, if what Kunz calls ‘dialectical contextualism’
changes tomorrow, a Nigerian revolution may take place much earlier than thought. All the foregoing is no idle talk
in view of growing contradictions in the country’s political economy.
Only the requirements of analysis made discussion of relations of Civil Society and the General’s regime look
bifurcated. In every day life, such a dichotomy is absent. Ordinary folks and ordinary soldiers; political elites and
simple voters; officer politicians and professional soldiers; leaders of civic organizations and their ranks-and-file -,
all these are bound together by both formal and informal ties. Following Dudley (1973) and Luckham (1971), we
should expect vibrant exchange of notes and ideas about how to ‘move Nigeria forward’. We should also expect
black-legs and traitors, those who declare commitment to the cause of the ‘revolution’ during the day, only to profit
from the cover of the night to undermine same. They also exist amongst state actors.
I should also add that it was perhaps a good idea that Babangida inaugurated the National Assembly when he
did (1992), however illegal. There is serious analysis of the role played by both Iyorcha Ayu, Senate President and
Agunwa Anekwe, Speaker of the House of Representatives. Whatever happened to them later, in particular the
former, is a different issue altogether. At a most critical time, the General’s last-minute attempt to get the National
Assembly endorse his continued stay in office under the Interim National Government (ING) was aborted by Ayu
and Anekwe’s refusal to have Babangida’s address to an increasingly militarized and polarized Assembly debated.
Finally as a military president, Babangida was, to all appearances living in the past tense of Nigeria. June 12,
1993 marked the renaissance of arguably Africa’s most important country. The foundations of a truly multi-ethnic,
multi-religious and multi- national Nigeria were laid by that singular act of voting. They were put in place neither.22
by the Structural Adjustment Programme nor by the Political Transition Programme, as earlier claimed by some of
Babangida’s professors in an undated, highly hagiographic book,The Foundations of a New Nigeria.
This rare opportunity that came much against the grain of the long-winding transition programme was frittered
away on the quicksand of political chicanery and sheer personal ambition. Will the nation eventually recover the
(1) As the tandem PTP-SAP evolved over the eight long years
of the Babangida presidency, it would be interesting to have an
account of the evolution of the perceptions and opinions of the
‘Babangida professors’ about a mere handing-over to an elected
civilian president. I am not even talking about ‘enduring
democracy’ which was itself,ab initio, a tall order. The professors
need to write their memoirs. The closest to this is the book,
Democratic Transition in Nigeria, 1985-1993, London, Safari
Books, 1993, written by ‘Tunji OLAGUNJU, Adele JINADU and
Sam OYOVBAIRE, by far the only insiders’ scholarly essay on the
period under review. Written before the events of June 12 and
their aftermath, it would be interesting to know their views on the
annulment and the aborted democratic project, to the realization of
which they not only invested intellectually but - I dare say - also
risked their professional and moral integrity.
(2) Confidential Source.
(3) Witness what two Nigerian scholars (ROTIMI and
IHONVBERE, 1994: 671) wrote about him: "Babangida’s
Character... left much to be desired. He was corrupt, manipulative,
unpredictable, ambitious, unreliable and uninterested in leaving
(4) When an official delegation of the Nigerian Political Science
Association paid him a courtesy call in July 1989 shortly after he
had ordered the closure of several universities for some two years,
following an anti-SAP demonstration by university students, he
took care to ask after the health of the wives of several members,
calling them by their first names. The delegation consisted of the
then national executive of the NPSA, (led by its president
Professor J.A.A. Ayoade) and some presidential advisers in the
NEC and MAMSER. I was then the Association’s Secretary.
(5) A Professor who had not infrequent telephonic relationships
with Babangida before his seizure of power told me that he took
his distance from him in order not to be infected by his charm.
(6) Petroleum smuggling was the regime’sbête noire and was
used as the alibi to increase prices of petroleum products, or rather,
to remove the so-called ‘oil subsidy’. Drug trafficking became a
major embarrassment to the regime. Soon after coming to power,
Babangida abrogated the death penalty imposed on the trade by
Buhari. Public speculation was that this policy reversal was done
to protect the Generals entourage and patronage network.
(7) Perhaps a most ‘befitting’ epitaph for this group of
unconditional supporters of all military regimes in Nigeria can be
gleaned from the Babangida speech pronounced a little after the
annulment of the June 12 presidential election. He thanked "our
most respected Royal Fathers who have served as sources of
inspiration to me and my administration and as volunteer "free
fighters" in many communal and national crises".
(8) A Middle-Belt Oldbreed politician in Shagari’s second
government (October-December, 1993) told me in early 1992
that Babangida phoned him, urging him to contest a senatorial
seat. The politician politely refused, pleading lack of money. He
was assured that once he publicly declared himself for the race, he
would receive financial support. In general, whilst important
senatorial aspirants received 2 million naira ‘settlement’ fee, their
presidential homologues got 5 million naira. (one dollar in 1992-93
was, unofficially, equivalent to 40 naira).
(9) See the Kaduna-based national magazineThe Citizen,
November 1992 and subsequent editions.
(10) Confidential Source.
(11) Indeed, no Nigerian University will run 1994-95 session.
1993-94 session ended only in August 1995 in some of them and
later in others. For instance, University of Ibadan is billed to
commence 1995-96 academic year in October 95 - an attempt, in
a way, to return to the good, old days! Lagos State University had
earlier lost a year due to its own peculiar internal crisis.
(12) True, there was an NLC - propelled strike in August-September
1993, but it was at once timid and short-lived.
(13) The BLP won an international award for its contribution
to improving the lots of rural women and fighting hunger in
(14)Africa Confidential, 14 May 1993, p. 8. About the same
time, there was a press report that NEC would rescreen
presidential candidates and their vices to verify fresh allegations
made against some of them. (There were only four of them). The
report added that on Abiola, NEC was armed with some
information which needed to be cleared". On Tofa, on the
contrary, a business partner, Abadina Coomasie, had on April 14,
1993 filed petition against him on grounds of shady business (oil)
deals, claiming that Nigeria deserved a more righteous leader. See
Paxton IDOWU "Candidates’ fate dangles"West Africa 10-16
May, 1993, p. 777- 778. It may well be that Babangida permitted
the election hoping things would go wrong and would happily use
these "proofs" as alibi for cancellation. That was his strategy in
October 1992 when twenty three presidential aspirants were
(15) See various issues ofThe News, Tempo and Tell from July
(16) A section of the electoral law - Decree 27 of 1989 -
stipulated, in part, that "no political Campaign shall be made on
the basis of sectional, ethnic or religious grounds or
(17) Confidential Source.
(18) There was serious tension in the country’s seat of power at
that time. Neither Babangida nor Aikhomu nor Onabule was
ready to append his signature to the annulment announcement.
The decision making apparatus broken down, and nobody was
prepared to take risks. It was only after a rather mixed reaction to
the annulment - NRC welcomed it, while the SDP was (initially)
totally against it - that even the General could begin to offer an
admittedlyex-post facto rationalization..23
(19) Confidential Source.
(20) It is interesting to note that for purely technical reasons,
neither Tofa nor his running mate, Sylvester Ugoh, voted.
(21) Cited in Paul ADAMS (1993: 68-69). Indeed, just before
the election, Rimi had expressly supported Abiola by insisting in a
long interview withTell that ‘it was time for a Southern
president’. Typical of what ensued after the Babangida -
Chukwumerije ethnic propaganda blitz, Rimi would later ask
Abiola to forget June 12. He was a minister in Abacha’s first
cabinet in November 1993. Rimi was not alone; Lateef Jakande
would behave politically the same way, even becoming about the
most influential civilian member of the said cabinet.
(22)The Guardian, 18 June 1993, p. 1 & 4. There were a lot
of speculations in the progressive sections of the Nigerian Press
that Tofa was received in audience by Babangida before this
statement was made.
(23) Even though Babangida lamented that "a whole
generation of young officers (mainly Majors) has been wiped out"
by the air crash, the public thought his government may have had
a hand in it. During their trials, Major Gideon Orkar and his men
reportedly told the military tribunal that their coup was in three
layers; that unless all young officers were killed, there was no
hiding place for the regime. Over 160 officers perished in the
crash. That the public tended to give credence to this story is,
itself, a measure of lack of trust in the General as his "tenure"
dragged to an end.
(24)Africa Confidential, 4 November 1994, p. 6. It is curious
that Abacha chose to leak that part of the Okigbo Panel report to
the Press. He may have wanted to elicit some sympathy
concerning the seriousness of the economic crisis by pointing
attention to the unprecedented corruption of the Babangida
regime. He must have forgotten that he himself was too visible a
player in the regime.
(25) As Chief of Army Staff, Abacha was, for instance reported
to have sat on SAP relief funds meant for soldiers and officers
after the anti-SAP riots of 1989. One of the victims, a Major, told
me this. Babangida could not call him to order..24
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