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Tahir Sherriff: On The Border-Lines Of A Military Take-Over In Nigeria

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One thing is certain; no one knows where this country is headed. Not the president, the media, the international community or the people on the street. But another frightening possibility that has begun to take shape in the hearts of common people on the street is that of a military take-over. One they may accept without remorse.

Of course this seems least likely given the stage to which Nigeria’s development has gotten, but it’s a possibility. One cannot help but wonder while walking on the streets of Ikoyi Lagos state only a few days ago, and seeing that armored tanks had blocked the roads in anticipation for a civilian response to the postponement of elections. Or a more recent inclusion of the Nigerian military in daily activities in form of road-blocks on several main highways in the capital city of Abuja.

One cannot also help but notice the complete lack of trust that Nigerians have developed for the institutions of government, and this is a dangerous scenario; all military governments that took to power in the past have followed a trend most noticeable in writer Max Sillouns ‘Soldiers of Fortune’ by capitalizing on the distrust in the government by the Nigerian people, civil unrest, protests, riots and general insecurity.

One may argue that democracy has gone too far to allow for this kind of change. But no one can dispute the leadership failures that can easily be blamed on democracy. Three problems have become obvious following the change in 1999 from a military to a democratic government. In the first place a reversal of democratic gains in the form a dismantling of democratic institutions by manipulating elections, control of independent television and newspaper outlets, and clamping down on opposition activities by the different presidents that have emerged.

A second problem is that although power had shifted from those in the uniforms to those in other garments, the elite structure remained the same. General Olusegun Obasanjo who emerged as a democratic president in 1999 was quick to transfer leadership to Umar Musa Yar’Adua; a younger brother to his former compatriot Shehu Musa Yar’adua showing in the most subtle form, that although many authoritarian elites were ready to welcome a democratic institution, a majority had no interest in implementing democratic institutions that would dilute their power.

The third and most important is in the failure of political systems to deliver the basic services that people demand from their governments. In the case of Nigeria, what is most noticeable is that after 16 years; power cuts, unemployment, poverty and security has remained a major problem that isn’t even about to be solved.

All this difficulties have slowly eroded the confidence of Nigerians in existing institutions. If Nigerians cannot march non-violently against their government on issues about their security and well-being, or demand accountability from their leaders, or demand for change and get it, then there will exist no difference in their understanding between a civilian government and a militarized country. This, the Nigerian military knows all too well.

So when Africa’s most populous country and largest contributor to the AU forces cannot tackle a home bred insurgency, when for the first time since our democracy the military has begun to dictate on how and when elections will be run, and when the common man on the street can comfortably state that he would prefer a military regime to what he sees on the television, one can conveniently reach the conclusion that once again, the rules of political engagement may witness a drastic change.

I cannot speak for all Nigerians; I will speak for myself and the few people I have discussed with on the issue because we all share a common perspective. If just days before the election scheduled to hold on March 28, the government throws out another illogical reason why it cannot hold elections on that date, what do you think Nigerians will do? Protest? Riot? Be ready to die to ensure that their democratic rights are safe-guarded? With the current statistics, it is more plausible to assume that many Nigerians would simply return to their lives in earnest of another government solution than take to the streets.

If on the other hand armored tanks and masked soldiers moved out to block several highways and streets in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna and Port-harcourt as had been the method in the past to force a declaration from televisions stations, radio stations, print and other media that the nation had changed hands from a democratic to a military leadership, what do you think Nigerians will do? Protest? Riot? Be ready to die to ensure that their democratic rights are safe-guarded? We all know what the answer to this will be.

The man on the street is as confused as the man in suit inside an office somewhere in Abuja. He also doesn’t care much about the workings of democracy or who is in power. He doesn’t share a spirit of democratic values or Nigerian-ness, and would not lift a finger to fight in a battle that isn’t his. This attitude has been developed by years of a hopeless demand for change. This attitude can see the rise of another military regime, without any qualms.

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Article written by Tahir Sherriff, in-house freelance reporter with NewsWireNGR in Abuja

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