It appears it is the misfortune of President Muhammadu Buhari to head a corrective regime instead of a regime of continuity.
In seizing power from General Gowon, the then military ruler, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed (1938-76) told the nation on July 30, 1975 that “this government will not tolerate indiscipline. The government will not condone abuse of office”. He kept his words.
He retired over ten thousand public servants, including top military officers. He set up a committee that reviewed the performances of all public officers. At the end of the exercise, only two ministers were found not guilty, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Shettima Alli Mongunnu.
At that time Nigeria had twelve states governors: Benue-Plateau, Chief Superintendent of Police Joseph Gomwalk; East-Central, Ukpabi Asika; Kano, Deputy Police Commissioner Audu Bako; Kwara, Brigadier David Bamigboye; Lagos, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson; Mid-West, Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia; North-Central, Brigadier Abba Kyari; North-East, Brigadier Musa Usman (Air Force); North- West, Police Superintendent Usman Faruk; Rivers, Lieutenant Alfred Diete-Spiff (Navy); South-East, Brigadier Uduokaha Jacob Esuene (Air Force); and West, Brigadier Christopher Oluwole Rotimi.
Only two of the governors, Brigadiers Oluwole Rotimi and Mobolaji Johnson were cleared of corruption. Quite a number of public servants, ministers and governors had their assets seized. No one was prosecuted for corruption.
In taking over power from President Shehu Shagari, the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari told the nation on January 1, 1984 that “the change became necessary in order to put an end to the serious economic predicament and the crisis of confidence now afflicting our nation”. He said “the situation could have been saved if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities. Instead, the legislators were pre-occupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefits and unnecessary foreign travels, et cetera, which took no account of the state of the economy and the welfare of the people they represented”.
To mark his one hundred days in office on April 7, 1984, Major General Muhammadu Buhari further told the nation that “we took over from the defunct civilian Administration at the Federal and State levels a financial situation of vast indebtedness. In fact, the depth and seriousness of the financial predicament of the State Governments and, by implication, of the nation has become clearer and clearer, day by day. The Federal Government had to assist State Governments recently with a sum of over N600 million as loan to enable them pay all arrears of wages and salaries before the end of April 1984”.
At that time he was 42 and still vibrant, resounding and resonant. As a military officer with regimental discipline he turned to decrees to administer the nation.
They are (1.) The Constitution and Modification Decree 1 of 1984, which he signed into law on February 9, 1984; (2.) The State Security Detention of Persons Decree of 1984, which he signed into law on February 9, 1984; (3.) The Federal Military Government Supremacy and Enforcement of Power of 1984, known as Decree 13, which he signed into law on May 13, 1984; (4) The Exchange Control (Anti-Sabotage) Decree 1984 otherwise known as Decree 7, which he signed into law on April 5, 1984; (5) The Counterfeit Currency Special Provision Decree 1984 otherwise known as Decree 22, which signed into law on May 17, 1984; and (6) the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusations Decree 1984, which he signed on April 17, 1984.
Also, (7) The Robbery and Firearms Special Provision Decree 1984, which set up a special tribunal for the trial of armed robbery and special cases; and (8) Political Parties (Dissolution and Prohibition) Decree, 1984: this Decree provided for the dissolution and prohibition of political parties and other similar organisation and forfeiture, disposal and discharge of the assets and liabilities of the dissolved political parties and state creation movements.
In addition, (9) The Banking (Freezing of Accounts) Decree, 1984, which empowered the Head of the Federal Military Government, where he suspects or believes that any person has been involved in certain offences, including bribery and abuse of office, to issue or cause orders to be issued authorising an investigation into the accounts of such persons and restricting the operation of such accounts on such conditions as may be prescribed in the order. He also put in place the Recovery of Public Special Military Tribunals Amended Decree 8 of 1984, which he signed into law on April 5, 1984.
In setting up the Decree 8, he created, in addition, tribunals in five zones of the country. The Enugu Zone, made up of Anambra, Imo, Cross Rivers and Rivers States was headed by Air Commodore M. Muhammed. Other members included Lt. Col. V.L. Malu, Navy Captain T.U. Odibo, Wing-Commander R.B. Suara and Mr. Justice A. Idoko.
For the Jos Zone which comprised Plateau, Bauchi, Gongola, Benue and Borno States, Brigadier Peter Ademokhai was named as the Chairman. Other members of the tribunal included Lt. Col. I.O. Adebunmi, Navy Captain Jubrin O. Ayinla, Wing-Commander S.O. Cole and Mr. Justice J.D. Ogundere.
For the Kaduna Zone made up of Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Sokoto States and the Federal Capital Territory, Navy Captain M.A. Elegbede was named as the chairman. Other members were Lt-Col. I.D. Gumel, Lt-Colonel M. Maina, Wing Commander J.P. Obakpolor and Mr. Justice P.K. Nwokedi.
For the Ibadan Zone made up of Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Bendel and Kwara States, Brigadier C.B. Ndiomu was named as the Chairman. Other members were Commodore I.J. Ogohi, Lt. Col. Yohanna Madaki, Wing Commanders C.C. Ohadumere and Mr. Justice S.U. Minjibir. As for the Lagos Zone made up of Lagos State, Brigadier P.U. Omu was named chairman. Other members were Brigadier M.M. Nassarawa, Navy Captain J.N. Kanu, Lt.-Colonel Yinka Martins and Mr. Justice T.A. Oyeyipo.
Major General Buhari at that time was young, vibrant and patriotically adventurous. On August 7, 1985, he was toppled at 6.00 a.m. via an announcement by the then Commander of the Armoured Corps of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier Joshua Dongoyaro. On that day Major General Ibrahim Babangida took over as the head of state.
Major General Buhari was detained for three years thereafter.
He was first detained in a government house at Alagbaka in Akure, where he became my neighbour before he was eventually transferred to Benin City.
On November 24, 1993, General Babangida signed the Forfeiture of Assets (Release of Forfeited Assets Decree 24) and returned some of the forfeited properties to former governors under General Gowon including Faruk and his wife, Brigadiers Samuel Ogbemudia, David Bamigboye, Alfred Diete-spiff and Chief Edwin Clarke who served as Gowon’s Minister of information. The Decree rubbished the anti-corruption crusade of General Murtala Muhammed.
In taking over on May 29, 1999 from General Abdusalam Abubakar, President Olusegun Obasanjo set up three panels to probe the administration of General Abdusalam. The three panels were headed by Dr. Christopher Kolade, Brigadier (rtd.) Oluwole Rotimi and Alhaji Igudu Inua. No one has so far been prosecuted. But it was understood that the Kolade panel recovered some money to the coffers of the Central Government.
Now President Muhammadu Buhari is back in power. Fully experienced and fully cautious. At seventy-two, having passed through many ordeals he is now more scrupulous and punctilious. In the last few weeks the country has been treated with stories of massive looting by the Goodluck Jonathan government.
It appears it is the misfortune of President Muhammadu Buhari to head a corrective regime instead of a regime of continuity. Things have to be so bad that he has to step in to remedy a worse situation. That is the cross he has to carry. To his credit, and in the words of President Barack Obama, “he is a man of integrity”- a befitting testimonial that is very rare among leaders of today’s world.
No more decrees to govern this time. No more Supreme Military Council to guide him. He has to rely on his conscience and his God. The constitution has bestowed on him the sole authority to shape our lives about 180 million of us – all blacks. In the immediate he has to reconstruct his government and recover the loot from the officials of the previous government.
If he recovers the loot without prosecution, he is bound to lose a lot of goodwill. If he prosecutes a few, he will be judged selective. Even if he prosecutes at all, he should be prepared to face the consequences, for corruption has a way of fighting back. President Buhari has a big burden on his shoulder to carry.
With eminent and close friends like Major General Mohammed Magoro (rtd.), Major General Paul Tarfa (rtd), Alhaji Mamman Daura, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, Lt. General (rtd.) Alani Ipoola Akinrinade, Alhaji Gidado Idris – the only SGF who served two Heads of States, Alhaji Hayatudeen, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Prince Tony Momoh, Alhaji Sule Lamido Sanusi – Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ismaila Issa Funtua – his in-law, General T.Y. Danjuma (rtd.), former Inspector General of Police Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie – his classmate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe – former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr. (Mrs) Mallia Zayyad, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and others around him, I am sure President Muhammadu Buhari will not walk alone.
Eric Teniola, a former Director at the Presidency, writes from Lagos.