THIS GUARDIAN EDITORIAL OF 1985 COULD ALSO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN IN 2019
The Guardian (Lagos): Editorial of August 30, 1985
THE ARROGANCE OF POWER
It should be perfectly understandable if, in the wake of the recent coup, Nigerians seem a great deal more sceptical about their prospects than perhaps they need be. Two coups in 20 months, separated from a long stretch of military rule only by four brief years of ignominious civilian administration, do not add up to any settled understanding of the essence of government. What they do create is a climate of uncertainty and instability, conditions that are hardly helpful to a nation so desperately in need of orderly progress and development.
Yet, despite the havoc frequent coups continue to do to our psyche and our international image, the question does need to be confronted whether there are circumstances in which the military intervention, even against a military government, may be justifiable. And the answer to that question must, in our circumstances be a resounding yes.
It did not take long before the Buhari administration, so openly and so warmly received by Nigerians when it came to power, began to show it’s true and frightful face. Soon enough, it became clear that his administration had a conception of government in which the governed were regarded as a hostile, adversary force, and in which government was virtually an end in itself.
Laws were made, as much through decrees as by administrative fiat, without any evident regard for the interest of the people, let alone their views. Regulations were casually put out, more as punitive devices than as measures designed to ameliorate the citizen’s condition. Practically every segment, except, perhaps, the uniformed forces, was antagonised, sometimes humiliated.
Civil liberties were always precarious in military regimes. But the Buhari administration perfected the attrition of elementary freedoms to the point where the average civilian was driven to see himself, often against his will, as a pariah. He had no rights that the government and it’s secret police were obliged to respect, and he lived in perpetual fear of being hauled into jail without even a token charge being made against him.
Criticism, even self-criticism, constructive or foul, was banned. Nothing could safely be said of a government that seemed determined to be remembered more for its self-righteous omniscience than for its decency or humanity.
Blackmailed into silence, Nigerians watched as the traditional foundations of the state were eroded. Ethnicity became a principle of state policy. The economy sputtered along. Educational policy was in a shambles. Our hospitals became graveyards. And all along we were invited to believe, as an article of patriotic faith, that we lived in the best of all possible worlds.
Ultimately, it was the arrogance of the Buhari administration that led to its downfall. For arrogance always leads to moral and political blindness. Blindness leads to isolation, and when any government is isolated from the governed, it’s end is always predictable.
General Babangida is yet to vouchsafe a detailed blueprint of its intentions. But he knows, as we do, that his task is well cut out for him. His preliminary statements suggest that he does have a sensible idea of the causes of his predecessor’s downfall. The more difficult project is to avoid the same pitfalls. No-one, least of all this newspaper, can lay rightful and exclusive claim to the answers to our myriads of problems. We can resolve them only through painful and collective application.
But the present government must provide the leadership. And that leadership cannot be genuine or legitimate unless it springs from the decisive conviction that this nation is one, and that the best government is that which, for good or ill, carries the majority of the governed with it.