Babangida &The  Military in Nigeria


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General Babangida, Civil Society and the Military in Nigeria -

Anatomy of a Personal Rulership Project




Kunle Amuwo,

Department of Political Science,

University of Ibadan, Ngeria


N° 48 - 1995


Institut d'Études politiques de Bordeaux

B.P. 101 - Domaine universitaire


Tél. (33) 05 56 84 42 82

Fax (33) 05 56 84 43 24

E-mail :

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

perpetrated it.

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’s Révolution 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 the magistrature 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

Social Justice.

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

thought (1).

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

personal power.

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 - a carte 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 between dirigisme

and laissez-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

delapitating Triple 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

oil dealers.

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 large champ 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, a pax 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

and self-reality.

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 rapid tour 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 Nigerian universitaires. 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 Rock partly 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 his coup 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’s African Concord pursued their well-beaten opposition path.

African Concord would 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 also Tell magazine, radical and punchy too. It

was founded by a splinter group from Newswatch.

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 the society’ 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 of a 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, the opposant 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 the de 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, former enfant 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-owned Daily 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

new poll.

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 failed ab 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 " 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 the African 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 " 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 multiple chefs 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’s Home 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 of esprit de corps and breakdown of organizational cohesion. Coup skills are better

rewarded than professional commitment. With loss of organizational esprit 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, the locus 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 it hors 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’s Le 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 the cité

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’s bête 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 magazine The 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

disqualified en masse.

(15) See various issues of The 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

admittedly ex-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 with Tell 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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