Memo to NPRC & NASS


Max Gbanite


Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Attn: Members of the National Political Reform Conference & Members of the National Assembly (Upper & Lower Chambers)


RE: Banning of former military Heads of States from contesting for office


I write to commend your serious efforts and attempt at amending our constitution so far. I am also concerned about certain contentious issues that have revealed the ugly underbelly of our transforming nation, and one of them is the manner and method with which some of you honorable members of the National Conference are embarking on selectively recommending the banning of former military Heads of State from contesting or holding political offices in Nigeria. This is highly undemocratic and must be stopped before it creates additional crisis for our nation.


You are at the conference to review and recommend good foundations for our unity, trust, political, security for all, and economic emancipation, but definitely not to create disunity between us the civilians and our brothers in the military. After all, the Nigerian military is a volunteer service and not by conscription. These men of valor, who volunteered to die for the nation, must be accorded some respect.


As civilians and if we are sincere, a peek into our past history will educate us and prove that these gallant men did not venture into politics, so to speak; they were invited by the ugly politics and mistrust within the polity, which in every case almost lead to the disintegration of the country. Therefore it is reasonable to state that these military men actually enforced their constitutional rights and oath of office to defend the territory of the nation and to keep the nation from disintegration. Therefore, they should be commended for their efforts and not be blackmailed.


For instance, let’s look at why the military intervened in our politics in the first place on January 15, 1966. As chronicled and presented by His Excellency President Olusegun Obasanjo in a book dedicated to his friend the coup leader and titled ‘Nzeogwu,’  we read of the coup:


 “As I gathered after the events, it was the mishandling of the elections in the Western Region, and the subsequent total break down of law and order which resulted complete insecurity of life and property, that was the last straw. Officers had discussed events in the country freely among themselves, particularly the middle-level officers, who attend an infantry course in Abeokuta around September-October 1965 and expressed utter disgust with the situation in the country. They talked of ineptitude and the lack of purpose of the government. The nation was sick, they said. Brinkmanship had become the order of the day. Every national issue since 1959 had led us one or more steps towards the brinks of a political precipice….the election that year was fought on regional loyalty, with strong tribal bias. But the government that emerged was a coalition of two regionally-based parties leaving the third party, also regionally-based, out of the cold. With no patriotic feeling left and with selfishness, greed, corruption, sectionalism and tribalism being extolled, the third party embarked on ceaseless mischief to ensure that the unstable stool fell, no matter what happened to those sitting on it, around it and under it….the cry and attitude was North for the Northerners, West for the Westerners and East for the Easterners…Nobody seemed to care sufficiently for Nigeria as a nation…Those who were not directly involved in the politics of the day which were politics of hatred, division, victimization, destruction, unabashed graft, greed and ostentation, were powerless to do anything about it. The nation was divided within itself. But obviously, the ship of the nation had drifted aimlessly for too long.”


It is equally important and imperative to note that the above stated views of President Olusegun Obasanjo is congruent with those espoused by two living principal witnesses, participants and architects of that January 15, 1966 putsch, namely, Captain Ben Gbulie and Major Adewale Ademoyega (both retired) --  as chronicled in their respective books; whilst the former wrote "Nigeria’s Five Majors --Coup d’etat of 15th January 1966 first inside account," the latter  wrote "Why we struck-- The story of the first Nigerian Coup."


A careful and altruistic investigation of events leading to and after the January 15th 1966 coup will clearly show that the civilians were the ones that invited the military to take over from them, given the situation and the direction the country was heading to then. As the late Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe wrote in his book titled "Rebirth of a Nation,"


 “….Coup planners usually strike and take over the Government at gun-point. Not so in this case. In Lagos, the Federal Government did not fall; though the Prime Minister was kidnapped…The General Officer Commanding the Armed Forces was loyal to Abubakar’s Government. A successor to Abubakar, myself as the NCNC Parliamentary leader, or Alhaji Dipcharima, Acting Parliamentary leader of the NPC, could have stepped in….Any such successor could have easily rallied General Ironsi and the Nigerian Armed forces to fight back and crush the rebellion in the Army in order to restore democracy.”


He further presented a copy of the note signed by Z. B. Dipcharima and himself (KO) and given to the Army, which read thus:


“The Council of Minister’s meeting on 16th January, 1966, have asked us to convey to you their unanimous decision to transfer voluntarily the government to the Armed Forces of the Republic and wish the Armed Forces success to bring about peace and stability in Nigeria, and that the welfare of our people shall be their paramount task.”


This letter clearly illustrates and buttresses the fact mentioned earlier by Olusegun Obasanjo on why the military struck and, surprisingly, the same problem still persists in Nigeria of today, 39 years after. As civilians, can we honestly say that we have learnt our lessons?


Though, General Aguiyi Ironsi was called to take over by the Parliament, as illustrated in K. O. Mbadiwe’s factual letter, his demise -- which brought the second coup of July 29th 1966 -- was mainly attributed to the unfortunate lopsided killings recorded during the first coup. The casualties sustained by Northerners and Westerners in the military and the civilian sectors were considered too biased in operational strategy -- for what was then considered to be a revolution. The late General Phillip Effiong in his book titled "Nigeria and Biafra-My story," published by US-based Sungai Corp (a must read) wrote,


“…the attitude of the Igbo in the North, as reported in some papers at the time of the first coup, was particularly provocative and contributed to the violent eruption of emotions, giving some encouragement and reason for action….Furthermore, there was strong reasons to believe in a British-backed plan in preparation of a Northern reprisal action….The Ahmadu Bello University had, for instance, become a center for counter insurgency planning under the instigation of a former British Officer who once served in the Nigerian army. This event caused a lot of panic and dismay among mainly Igbo residents of northern Nigeria”. He further postulated that late in may 1966 “…Decree No 34, the Unification Decree, which had earlier been passed into law by the Supreme Military Council came into effect….the unification of the civil service was seen by the North as giving an advantage factor to the Igbo in particular and was therefore seen as part of the Igbo domination plot in the wake of the 15 January coup….this was merely a supposition but it provided the immediate excuse for the anti-Igbo riots of 29 May 1966 throughout most of the Northern Provinces…. I was not part of the decision making body as far as Decree 34 was concerned, but it is my honest view that the decree was promulgated in absolute good faith collectively by the Supreme Military Council for ease of administrative action in a military regime. This system has been practiced in various degrees by subsequent military regimes and does not pose the threat for which Ironsi was apparently overthrown.”


General Yakubu Gowon  took over government immediately after the July 29 crisis. The events unfolded rapidly, from Lagos to Aburi to Enugu, and the East led by Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu went on a secession journey. The three-year bloody civil war dawned. It ended on January 15, 1970, officially, but the country is yet to recover from the civil crises of January 15, 1966 - January 15, 1970.


 Gowon was in turn overthrown by junior officers, who handed over to the late General Murtala Muhammed on July 29, 1975. The reasons given for the change of guards were that Gowon refused to hand over the rein of government to the politicians and that his administration was rife with corruption, nepotism, ineptitude, lack of national direction, and squandermania syndrome. It is also alleged that such so-called "‘Super Permanent Secretaries"  as  Dr. Phillip Asiodu, Allison Ayida, Ahmed Joda, etc. and certain businessmen succeeded in convincing Gowon to stay in office longer than his anticipated exit date of 1976. But Gowon was eased out in 1975 by forces loyal to General Muhammed.


Of course, we were witnesses to the violent overthrow and the killing of General Muhammed on Friday, February 13,  1976 by elements within the military (led by Major B. S. Dimka), who were not satisfied with the retrenchment exercise being carried out by that regime and the lopsided promotion of junior officers over their superiors.


General Obasanjo took over. Yes, the incumbent president.


Olusegun Obasanjo captured the mood of the military cadre in his book "Olusegun Obasanjo-In the eyes of times."  He wrote of the officers:


“Many of those who did not benefit from that promotion grumbled about the great injustice they said had been done to them…In an institution mediated by the course syndrome, colleague rivalry, and a religious attachment to hierarchy, the January changes in epaulets had unwittingly sown the seeds of instability in the armed forces. The signs were there. Bisalla, the Federal Commissioner for Defence, did not hide his sense of outrage over Danjuma’s promotion and position. Bisalla found it uncomfortable to have been placed in a position where he would technically, have to report to the young man who once served under him.”


We already know that Obasanjo handed over to President Shehu Shagari on October 1,  1979 to lead the Second Republic, though to the disgruntlement of some politicians who lost out or felt out-rigged during the elections. However, after four years and after the 1983 elections were again marred with serious irregularities, riggings, killings, and destruction of properties, General Muhammad Buhari was invited by disgruntled politicians to take over from Shagari on December 31, 1983. The then Brigadier- General Sani Abacha was given the following statement to read:


“Fellow Countrymen and women, I brigadier Sani Abacha, of the Nigerian Army address you this morning….You are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years…we have become a debtor and beggar nation…our education system is deteriorating at alarming rate. Unemployment figures including undergraduate have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions…”.

(Excerpted from the book Nigeria’s Fourth Coup d'etat-options for Modern Statehood, by S. G. Ikoku)


Based on the recorded corruption and brigandage of the politicians, Generals Buhari and Idiagbon went on a duty of clearance by jailing politicians; some were tried in special tribunals, and others were tried by ‘careless whisper’ (apologies to Dr. M. O. Ené in Jaundiced Justice); all the same, they got hefty years in Kirikiri Prison --  the most affordable accommodation then.


Unbearably, the elites sent their delegations led by the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola to meet with some officers and convince them to take over from the duo of Buhari/Idiagbon. It is noted then that even the current National Security Adviser General Muhammed Aliyu having consulted with his colleagues, including the then Chief of Army Staff General Ibrahim Babangida, complained of the harsh treatment being meted out against  civilians and was quickly rewarded with a sack.


Fortunately for the civilians, the MKO-led delegation succeeded in convincing, recruiting, and financing the young officers to strike and, once successful, they installed General Babangida, who took over from Buhari; hence, Aliyu was restored. And the rest, as they say, is history. However, suffice it to mention that when it appeared that Babangida was going to hand over to M. K. O.  Abiola, the fifth column within the military, some notable Royal Fathers from the western part of the country, and some politicians who felt cheated in the elections of 1993, accused him of trying to hand over Nigeria to his close friend Abiola just to cover his tracks, with a promise from M. K. O.  to protect his (IBB’s) interest amongst many other things.


Even after the annulment of June 12th election, followed by the appointment of Chief Ernest Shonekan to head the interim government, was it not Dr. Bolaji Akinyemi, MKO Abiola, Chief Onogoruwa, and the powerful elites that went to convince General Abacha to take over the reigns of government. We also witnessed what happened during Abacha’s era when those notably politicians in the corridors of power then, and who are still in power today in various advisory capacities, embarked on convincing him to stay on. Even today, the same cabal of politicians are trying hard to convince Obasanjo to sit tight beyond his constitutional mandate of 2007.




What roles if any did the military play in the manipulated all-party-rigging-election of 2003 and the political killings that followed with impunity? The politicians of today appears not to have learnt any lessons from our checkered history. Why?


The greatest amazement must be the calculated if not blatant attempt by the current leadership to convince some of you honorable men to bend the rules of engagement by inserting in your reforms, that former military heads of state should be banned from holding political office today and in future.


What is even more glaring to the Nigerian observer is that we have a blessed President in the person of Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been part and parcel of our tumultuous history, a man whom the Almighty God has been so benevolent and merciful to, yet he allowed his advisers to mislead and mismanage the affairs of the nation by sowing seeds of mistrust, divide and rule, religious/ethnic strife, killing the opposition or voice of dissenters, corrupting the National Assembly, allowing State Governors the freedom to exact at will, extra-judicial killing of opposition, and the introduction of everything bad that can possibly militate and crash the foundation of the same democracy the nation needs and he (Obasanjo) so much believes in and advocates. It is very sad indeed for Nigerians.


Please, honorable Gentlemen and Ladies, this is against the norms of democracy. If democracy still means "Government of the people by the people for the people," then it is important that the people are allowed to defeat any unwanted candidate at the polls without prejudice or bias.


Most of us are not military apologists by any stretch; however, since we are residents in advanced democratic environments, it is our belief that selective retribution must not be applied on a very serious matter such as constitution reform, otherwise those who were disenfranchised may make it difficult for the process of democracy to evolve. We strongly advocate that under this reformed democracy that our country seriously needs, the masses ("we the people") must decide our fate by being allowed to choose our leaders. It is more enhancing, nourishing, and honorable under democracy for a former Head of State, if not appreciated, to be rejected at the general election polls -- if those he once dictated against do not want him at all. It is indeed outrageous to be disallowed to get to that poll by a selected few who may have been lobbied or financially induced by another clique or junta out of unreasonable and unfounded fear or outright cowardice.


Some of us may not personally like or agree with the policies enunciated during the first tenures of both General Muhammad Buhari and General Ibrahim Babangida and others, but you cannot abrogate the standing Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria  by being discriminatory in the discharge of your duties. If you do that, you have then denied Nigerians the opportunity to make their choices, and you might as well ban all those who served as ministers, state commissioners, permanent secretaries (State and Federal), customs, immigration, police from the ranks of inspectors and up, all judges, lawyers who went to court during military era, doctors who worked in hospitals, even university dons… for not doing anything and acquiescing to military takeovers. We played our respective roles as collaborators. And don’t forget to ban all the current executive governors, including yourselves who participated in the rigging of 2003 elections that denied a good majority of the voters the right to proper representation.


Our history suggests that we the civilians and politicians have caused more harm and destruction to our country than the military. We have always invited them to take over power either by act of commission or omission and failure to do the right things for the masses. As you are charged with the duties of reforming our nation, there are others like you secretly wishing and urging the new military class to take over. So please do the right thing by not banning anyone except those indicted, tried, and convicted by a competent court of law as dictated by our constitution.


You must rise up collectively against executive arm-twisting, against divisive politics, against nepotism, against selective vindictiveness, against intra-party and inter-party violence, against religious and ethnic bigotry, and start promoting love amongst yourselves, trust above board, good governance, return of proper dividends of democracy to the masses, security to life and property, insist on real and proper elections, allowing the judiciary to be truly independent and obeying and respecting the rule of law. And if you can do these things judiciously with the fear and love of God, then Nigeria shall rise again.


Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria and may God bless you all, Amen.