OPINION: The coup we need in Nigeria

By Etim Etim

Democracy is in danger in West Africa. Five of the 15 ECOWAS countries have fallen into military dictatorship in the last two or three years. The recent military takeover in neighbouring Niger Republic has set Nigerians on edge. Many are wondering if we are next. Will our hard-won democracy be taken away by our military, 24 years after they returned to the barracks? Defence Headquarters, the headquarters of the military high command, this weekend issued a statement vowing not to ever stage a coup or dabble into politics again.  Director of Defence Information, Brig. Gen. Tukur Gusau said in the statement that the military is happier and better under a democracy, and so would never get involved in any sudden, violent and unlawful seizure of power. Many Nigerians do not want military coups either. 

But there is a certain type of coup that we require in this country; the kind we hardly talk about, but one which we badly need; and that is defeating the existential threats that the nation faces today. That’s the kind of coup we need in Nigeria today.
First, we have to defeat corruption considerably. Yes, it would be a coup to achieve that, and so Nigerians should rise up in unison, fight and rout it out. Corruption is the most chronic and difficult problem confronting the nation. It is deeply embedded in the fabric of our public life and is a major cause of underdevelopment, insecurity poverty. Nigeria will never develop unless we kill it. But it is rather unsettling that not much is being done about that. Intertwined with corruption are incompetence and poor leadership at every echelon of government. The culture of thrusting people into roles they are obviously unsuitable for is another major problem we must eradicate. That would be another coup! The three – corruption, incompetence and poor leadership – form an axis of destruction that has dragged the country down for decades. A professor, or indeed any person, that lies about his age and academic attainments has no business in senior positions of government.  Similarly, a politician that has been convicted of a crime or one who cannot explain the sources of his stupendous wealth should not be allowed to seek to occupy any office in the land.
It is a shame that Nigeria cannot feed itself despite its vast fertile and arable land, clement weather and oceans and rivers. It is humiliating that we are the only OPEC nation that imports refined fuel and other petroleum products. Instead of our government wasting time and resources, pretending to be the policeman of the subregion and trying to reverse the coup in Niger, the government should invest more resources and work to attain self-dependency in food and fuel production. That is the coup we really want. Any impulsive adventure to war in Niger Republic would result in an untold debacle.
Corruption, incompetence and poor leadership are not our only problems. Tribalism, bigotry (ethnic, tribal, ethnic, religious); religious fundamentalism and violence also drag us back. It is shocking that many Nigerians are still being killed daily by terrorists in many parts of the country, especially the North Central region, despite pledges by political and military leaders to check them. During the Buhari administration, there were insinuations that the former President was soft on these terrorists because they were Fulani like him. In fact, every killing and kidnapping in the country was attributed to ‘’Fulani herdsmen’’. But it is now close to three months since Buhari left office. Why are the killings continuing unabated? Over 300 Nigerians have been killed in Benue, Plateau and elsewhere since President Tinubu took office on May 29. Is Tinubu also a Fulani? Buhari would be having a good laugh in Daura every morning he reads these headlines. But it’s not a laughing matter. Defeating these terrorists would be the biggest achievement of the Tinubu administration. That, indeed, would be a coup! The type of coup we need today.
I have seen over 25 years of military government and more than 25 years of democracy in Nigeria. The military built almost all of the key infrastructure projects in the country, including conceiving and building Abuja, one of the most beautiful capital cities in Africa. The military government built the refineries; the universities and colleges; most of the interstate trunk A roads and bridges; stadia; airports and many other institutions of government across the country. The military liberalized the economy and set up many institutions like NEXIM; NDIC; NAICOM; AFREXIM. 

It liberalized TV and radio ownership and freed up the banking industry, setting off competition and innovations we see today. There is no facet of our life that does not have the imprint of the military era. But the military regimes were brutal, irascible; intolerant; cruel and ruthless. A military junta killed a frontline journalist through a parcel bomb; closed down media houses, imprisoned and detained journalists, including this writer, without justification and murdered the best among us.
On the other hand, our democracy has been chaotic, expensive and disorderly. The politicians are corrupt; arrogant; reckless and wasteful. But in democracy, our rights and freedoms have been largely unhampered. I will therefore choose democracy over military coups and dictatorship. But I am calling on Nigerians to rise up and defeat corruption; incompetence; poor leadership that thrives on knee-jerks and impulses; bigotry and the other problems. That is the coup we need!

ETIM, an economist, former banker and veteran journalist wrote from Abuja, the FCT