I was about 14 years old when General Buhari and his ilk launched a coup in December 1983 so I have a good idea of what happened under his oppressive regime. The government of Shagari was seen as corrupt and ineffective. When Buhari and Idiagbon came to power via a military coup, they told us they wanted to correct the anomalies. Nigerians were happy!
But it did not take long for things to go awry. Within a few months, the economy was tanking with Nigeria’s currency being devalued, a very high rate of inflation and the ridiculous policy of fixing the prices of goods – which led to massive hoarding. Things were so bad you could not get grocery and foodstuff to buy – the suppliers decided to hoard these rather than sell at the ridiculously lower price set by Buhari’s government. High interest rates meant many businesses could not import the much needed raw materials into the country – many businesses closed down during this period – leading to massive unemployment and suffering.
In Buhari’s 1983, there was an unnecessary division along ethnic lines too – because of his insistence on jailing many southern politicians and ignoring northern politicians who were equally guilty of corruption.
In Buhari’s 1983, Nigeria became hell on earth during his reign of terror. The issue of corruption by the Shagari government which Buhari and Idiagbon claimed to want to address led to serious human rights abuses, inhuman treatment and oppression. Closed military tribunals were established to try and jail and humiliate politicians – usually with very long prison sentencing – to run concurrently.
Buhari’s 1983 government was characterised by incessant arrests and detention of his political enemies. His friend Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi was the head of the National Security Agency. Many people disappeared into the dungeons of the NSA for daring to oppose Buhari’s government. Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were two notable victims of Buhari’s repressive regime who incurred his wrath because they published articles Buhari did not like. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the opposition was put under house arrest – goodness knows for what reason!
Buhari’s 1983 War Against Indiscipline which should have been a rallying call to national service for all was turned into a war against the people. Soldiers were beating people on the streets for not tucking in their shirts, not crossing the roads properly or not using the overhead bridges. Headteachers were disgraced in front of their pupils for not doing one thing or another. Discipline was achieved through the use of force, fear and intimidation.
Bear in mind that Buhari and Idiagbon only ruled Nigerian then from December 1983 to August 1985 – less than two years. In that period, they had so bastardised the country, oppressed and demonise people that when Babangida struck in 1985, there were dances on the streets. People were generally very happy – and no one complained, protested or demonstrated when Buhari too was arrested and placed under house arrest for years afterwards.
Buhari became an elected President in May 2015 pretty much for the same reason he became head of state in 1983. He rode under the wave of discontent permeating the country with promises to “fight” corruption.
Deja Vu. Fast forward to December 2015. What is different?
The wrong economic policies or a lack of these – much like in 1983, have led to the economy tanking again! High interest and inflation rates have led to an increase in the prices of goods and services. Companies cannot import products and raw materials due to the negative foreign exchange policies that have restricted access to dollars which is the main unit of exchange for international trade. Companies are closing down leading to retrenchments and massive unemployment.
Buhari’s 2015 Nigeria is also divided along ethnic lines as it was in 1983. Buhari on a trip to the US deliberately stoked the fire of ethnic division in Nigeria when he said his priority was to cater for the people who voted for him – the so called 95%. Bear in mind that most of his votes came from the North of Nigeria – where he originates. Buhari’s mindless talk has provided ammunition for racists and tribalists to attack and intimidate others, leading to a rise in the numbers of groups clamouring for secession and generally creating an atmosphere of racial division, ethnic hatred and animosity across the country.
In Buhari’s 2015, people are not queuing up to buy foods like in 1983. They are queuing up to buy fuel being hoarded by petrol marketers due to his government’s refusal or inability or unwillingness to pay them for the fuel already supplied.
In Buhari’s 2015, political opponents are being intimidated, attacked and arrested under the guise of fighting corruption. Buhari’s friend and tool at the Department of State Security – DSS (formerly the NSA) this time around is Lawal Daura – different person from Lawal Rafindadi but same modus operandi.
In Buhari’s 2015, the constitution has not been suspended and there are no military tribunals. However, court orders are being disobeyed. Close to 90% of all election appeals are in favour of his party’s candidates and against the opposition candidates.
In Buhari’s 2015, people are being accused and judged of stealing money on the pages of newspapers – with little or no evidence, no court actions, no convictions. This time around, the media and social media have become the new military tribunals judging people with little or no evidence and convicting people by public shaming, humiliation and sentencing.
Buhari’s 2015 is Buhari’s 1983 all over again. Deja Vu.
Debbie Ariyo OBE is Chief Executive of AFRUCA UK, an organisation promoting the rights and welfare of African children (www.afruca.org), and a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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