Nigeria: Coup rumours reflect rising distrust in Buhari’s absence
Coup? Don’t even dare.
Last week, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, issued a stern warning to soldiers to stay out of politics, raising alarm of a potential coup plot.
His statement claimed that individuals had been approaching army officers for political reasons, and cautioned: “Any officer or soldier of the Nigerian Army found to be hobnobbing with such elements or engaging in unprofessional conducts such as politicking, would have himself or herself to blame.”
Since that warning, the army has reportedly stepped up security measures and transferred several senior officers, while prominent figures have spoken out against the possibility of a coup.
This talk of a covert plot to take power is the latest conspiracy theory to do the rounds in Nigeria since President Muhammadu Buhari’s health took a turn for the worse earlier this year. Buhari spent nearly two months in London for medical treatment from mid-January to mid-March. On his return home, he said that he had never been “so sick” in his life and talked about undergoing “blood transfusion”.
This somewhat contradicted the suggestion that he was simply suffering from routine health issues, a narrative his aides have sometimes tried to push. However, Buhari’s specific illnesses, or exactly how serious they are, remain secret.
On 7 May, Buhari returned to London for further treatment, triggering a fresh flurry of activity and round of rumours about both his health and what might happen if he cannot continue.
“Turn by turn”
At the heart of many of the conspiracy theories is the issue of Nigeria’s zoning arrangement. According to this informal agreement, the presidency is supposed to alternate between an individual from the north and south every eight years.
This pattern was previously interrupted in 2010 when President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died in office just three years into his term. He was replaced by his deputy Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner.
Jonathan not only saw out the final year of Yar’Adua’s tenure but went on to contest and win the 2011 elections and serve out another four-year term. This put the system known locally as “turn by turn” into disarray. It has meant that in 13 of the 18 years since the return to multi-party democracy in 1999, the president has come from the south.
When Buhari, a northerner, stood against Jonathan in the 2015 elections and won, there was a sense that the north finally had its turn. But given Buhari’s poor health, there are growing fears that this turn may get cut short once again.
This possibility, which would see southerner and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo become president, is agitating certain groups. According to rumours, interested individuals have already come up with different scenarios to avoid the north losing power if Buhari cannot continue.
One sees both Buhari and Osinbajo being impeached. If this were to happen, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, would assume office for three months and oversee the organisation of a fresh election. Another sees the President and Vice-President jointly resigning, triggering fresh elections. And another sees the two removed for illegally overspending during the 2015 elections; there are reports suggesting both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flouted the campaign ceiling.
A final scenario – if the army chief’s comments last week are indicative – is a coup d’état. This approach would circumvent the uncertainty of holding an election, but raise untold others.
A dangerous rumour mill
These conspiracy theories and alleged plans are reflective of the current political mood in Nigeria, and mix together with other rumours and claims that are circulating.
One particularly insidious conspiracy theory centres on the fact that since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, all the northern leaders that have risen to the highest position have either been killed in office or removed. Abubakar Tafa Balewa was killed in the 1966 military coup; Murtala Muhammed was assassinated in 1976; Shehu Shagari was overthrown in 1983 (albeit by Buhari, another northerner); Sani Abacha was struck down by a heart attack while in office in 1998; and Yar’Adua died as president in 2010.
The wild suggestion is that this pattern is no coincidence and that Buhari is now being poisoned slowly. Another rumour maintains that APC strongman Bola Tinubu was aware of the president’s health ahead of the elections and that he engineered Buhari’s rise as part of a long game that would end up with a Yoruba in power.
What these dangerous rumours point to is the extent to which the political landscape has become polarised. The hateful comments pervading the country are creating animosity, distrust and suspicion.
When Buhari returned in March, there were huge outpourings of love and relief in the north and elsewhere. If the president – so beloved in certain parts of the country – doesn’t complete his term and there are suggestions of foul play or perceived attempts to seize power from the north, things could escalate and turn violent.
Best and worst case scenarios
There are perhaps two possible best case scenarios for Nigeria at the moment depending on Buhari’s health.
If the president is fit enough, he could complete his term with Vice-President Osinbajo continuing to take on many of the actual responsibilities as is the case currently. If Buhari is not able to finish his term, the VP could take over but make it clear that, unlike Jonathan, he will not to contest in the 2019 elections, allowing a northerner to regain the presidency.
There are many more worrying possible outcomes, but the very worst case scenario would a coup. Amongst other things, such a plan would be completely out of tune with present day realities of the continent in general but West Africa in particular. The regional bloc ECOWAS forbids unconstitutional changes of government, and the body as well as national citizens of various countries have acted to vigorously counteract such moves in recent years.
In Burkina Faso, General Gilbert Diendéré’s 2015 coup barely lasted a week before he was forced to return power to the transitional government. In Mali, Major Amadou Sanogo’s takeover in 2012 didn’t last much longer. And at the start of this year, The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh was confronted by a wide host of steadfast regional neighbours when he tried to stay in office after losing the elections.
Aside from the potential turmoil, death and destruction that an attempted coup could unleash, the experiences of other countries in the region should be enough to deter any would-be plotters from daring to even contemplate a coup in Nigeria.
The North has ruled Nigeria for much of its 57-year old independence. That federal leaders of Northern origin died while in office is immaterial. The North claims to have a higher population than the South, and we are in a democracy; why then are they insisting on rotational presidency?
Former President Goodluck Jonathan had told Nigerians in 2011 he would run for only one term of office. Having lavishly tasted the trappings of power, he retracted his pledge, almost plunging the country into chaos, until he was ousted by Buhari in 2015. Although he was decisively defeated at the polls, Jonathan today tells international audiences that he handed over power to Buhari in order to forestall crisis!
Should Buhari’s health deteriorate to such a level that he couldn’t continue as president, Osinbajo should simply continue well beyond 2019. Northerners might oppose this, but they need to be pragmatic; a simple agreement with Osinbajo will take care of their interests, although they’d find it hard to manipulate him as easily as they did Jonathan. If Osinbajo insists on contesting the election in 2019, the North might pitch its tent with a new party aligned with the North. APC might thus be in a disarray.
It is important to note that by the ‘North’ I mean the Muslim North where sharia is active. People in that region will never concede power to the Christians (or even Muslims) of the Middle Belt, which formed part of the former Northern Region. Northern political power at the federal level means power to the Hausa-Fulani kleptocracy.
Finally, disgruntled politicians in collusion with ambitious young military officers might plan a coup, but it’s unlikely such a plan would materialize in the present circumstances.
Until the concept of TURN BY TURN is completely removed from Nigerian politics, the nation will continue to experience leadership crisis. In a democratic state like Nigeria; a nation made up of diverse ethnic groups, Nigerians aiming for political positions must sink ethnic interest or TURN BY TURN conspiracy theory which is unfounded. Focus must be centered on a NATIONAL IDEOLOGY OF SINKING DIFFERENCES with the interest of the country and all Nigerians at heart more especially the future of the country. Nigeria is one entity and leaders must hold to that truth in order to pursue the interest of both major and minor ethnic diversities. I enjoin Nigerian law makers and those in the seat of power to pursue the interest of the country and the suffering masses. Nigeria is no longer a toy in a game show tossed by a few who think the country is in their hands and throw it to whoever they want. Nigerian political leaders and those who aspire for political leadership must serve the interest of the majority even if they come from minor ethnic group. Nigerians must disabuse their minds of the TURN BY TURN conspiracy theory. it does not serve the interest of Nigeria as a country or its citizens.
It appears that the writer of this article has an agenda which is to prepare the way for another northern president in case Buhari cannot continue. Why is the writer focusing more on the number of times that presidents have come from the north in the last twenty years or so? Why is the writer not addressing the cases of northern president not spending their full time because of illness, death, or coup? Such scenario is nobody’s making and must be taken the way they came or may come. The point remains that presidents from the north always have their turn based on the political arrangement of sharing the presidency between the north and the south. If a president dies in office, or becomes incapacitated to continue, that is not the fault of nobody and the constitution must be followed in having a replacement, no matter what part of the country the individual comes from. The precedent was the case of Jonathan using the rest of Ya’ardua’s term and contesting the following election. If the present scenario ends in Buhari’s inability to continue, Osinbajo completes the rest of Buhari’s first term and if he likes, Osinbajo can contest for the second term just like Jonathan did. Other scenarios put forward by the writer of this article is nothing but a distraction to what the current government should be doing – improve the economy, ensure security of life and property, and enhance people’s standard of living.
It appears that the writer of this article has an agenda which is to prepare the way for another northern president in case Buhari cannot continue. or to simply create chaos. Why is the writer focusing more on the number of times that presidents have come from the north in the last twenty years or so? Why is the writer not addressing the cases of northern president not spending their full time because of illness, death, or coup? Such scenarios are not anybody’s fault and must be taken the way they came or may come. The point remains that presidents from the north always have their turn based on the political arrangement of sharing the presidency between the north and the south. If a president dies in office, or becomes incapacitated to continue, that is not the fault of nobody. When this happens the constitution must be followed in having a replacement, no matter what part of the country the individual comes from. The precedent was the case of Jonathan using the rest of Ya’ardua’s term and contesting the following election. If the present scenario ends in Buhari’s inability to continue, Osinbajo could complete the rest of Buhari’s first term and if Osinbajo likes, he can contest for the second term just like Jonathan did. Other scenarios put forward by the writer of this article is nothing but a distraction to what the current government should be doing now – improve the economy, ensure security of life and property, and enhance people’s standard of living.
“Amongst other things, such a plan would be completely out of tune with present day realities of the continent in general but West Africa in particular.”
So out of tune for country that accounts for approximately one-sixth of the African population with a huge percentage of ultra rebellious youths who have never lived through a coup.
It would be meteoric!
“……the experiences of other countries in the region should be enough to deter any would-be plotters from daring to even contemplate a coup in Nigeria.”
Thank you Idayat. We are warned.
Well….after the long note….i sure and it is obvious that the coup is certain to about 80% based on the Health of the President-meaning I am 80% sure (from this write up and others concerning the Coup Rumor) that the Hausa-Fulani’s strategic planning of people and resources in high places-which are necessary for the smooth running of their plan to remain in Government, would actually succeed….
Based on this write-up and many more, that have a sameness, i hereby say that all the digression about the Chief of Army Staff, making it clear to the public of the Military’s plan, not to allow any coup, is just to make the public focus on minor….Why would there be a coup…if the people who would want to carry out the coup are not having personal/sect/party reasons as it concerns the continuity of this present Government by the Vice President, in the case where their is the fear of the uncertain about the Health of the President?
What makes President Buhari to honorably step down as President of Nigeria. With all due respect, African leaders should always think of the country first. Extended periods of absence by the President only serves to fuel rumors and disillusionment among the general public