Sunday, April 14, 2024

Current military structure’ll make coup difficult to execute – AVM Femi Gbadebo

In this interview with ADELEKE ADESANYA, former Air Officer Commanding, Tactical Air Command, Nigerian AirForce, Makurdi, retired Air Vice Marshal Femi Gbadebo, warns Nigerian politicians to guard against actions and utterances capable of luring the military back into the governance of the country. Gbadebo, however, says that unlike in the past, staging military coup will be more difficult for any group of soldiers in today’s Nigeria. Excerpts:

The alarm raised recently by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Yusuf Buratai, on suspected romance between some politicians and soldiers with the aim of truncating the country’s democracy is still generating some ripples in the polity. Do you see the possibility of a successful military coup in Nigeria, again?

this country for such to happen. If you notice, right from the first military coup in 1966, it has always been because some people or some part of this country are disgruntled with the way the country is being run or a situation where some people feel that power has moved away from them and they want to grab it back. The truth is that we have not actually had a coup in this country that has been used to change the country for the good of a common man. For any coup to succeed, you need one vital thing, which is money and until military officers started holding political appointments as ministers, governors and others, we didn’t have military officers who had the financial capacity to mobilise for a coup. This is because the process of coup plotting entails a lot of things like meetings, movement of people and resources, people from one place to another. You need some kind of inducement to show the relevant people that you are capable to do that. And because the average military officer knows the implication of a failed coup, which has always been execution, those who agree to go along with the coup know it is as good as putting all their eggs in one basket. In other words, it must succeed. So, that means the convener must be able to assure them of inherent success of the operation. These people, I mean the coup initiators or financiers, are not just wealthy people. Rather, they also have networks, politically and otherwise, which they use to make things work. But considering the level of awareness amongst Nigerians these days, the wide penetration of social media and the equally wide dispersal of major military installations and facilities, I don’t see such a thing happening today.

Why did you say so?

I say this because, one of the things Gen. Ibrahim Babangida succeeded in doing in his time as head of state was to decentralise the military high command after a failed coup against him. He realised the implication, having been a master player in several coups in the past, that all one needed was to take the three centres of military power, which were Kaduna, Lagos and most likely Ibadan/Enugu. Once you have the three major centres, you have the major military officers there on your side, and they are telling you they have taken over there and that means you have effectively taken over the government. The only option left for those who don’t want to support you would be to go to war, which is not a wise option. All these happened then because we had all the three divisions and then we all the training arms in Kaduna, such as Regiment Training in Jaji, the Artillery Corps in Kaduna axis and others. So, all you would need is to get all the corps commanders on your side. So, what Babangida did was to scatter all the formations. He moved the Artillery to Kotangora, the Armoured Corps to Bauchi. You know, he just scattered the whole thing. Now, to get the major commanders of all the formations together, you have to do a lot of moves, and when such moves start, alarm will be raised. So, essentially, I will say it is no longer an easy task.

Does that mean a coup cannot occur again in the country?

It doesn’t mean that it cannot happen. If you get a major arm of the military to become disgruntled, anything can happen. For instance, look at what Babangida tried to do towards the end of his tenure, getting the civilian governors to take care of the military. Remember the IBB Spirit (cars for the officers and so on) and then the governors had to assist with the maintenance of barrack facilities. So, with that arrangement, virtually every officer above the rank of colonel or its equivalent in the Armed Forces was comfortable, because as a commander of one unit or the other, you were getting your allowances from the Army while the governor was supporting you by renovating your mess and doing a lot of other things for you. But down the line in the barracks, the junior officers to the men were marginalised. And that was the target some politicians tried to move towards. You remember the coup of 1983 wasn’t exactly a Buhari coup. Rather, it was the fact that tension had risen and there was so much agitation for a change. The senior officers that were likely to go with the change were comfortable; they probably didn’t see a need to change the status quo, but a few individuals realised that with the way things were going, we could have ended up like the case of Samuel Doe in Liberia, where unholy Majors, Captains or much worse, a Sergeant would cease power. You see, don’t look down on anybody. Anybody who has a gun and can get a lot of people behind him is in charge. What now happened is that a lot of things are done by senior officers to contain this more radical junior groups and that is why you see that subsequent coups in Nigeria have not witnessed killings and loss of lives like in the past.

Do you see the President’s condition leading to all these brouhaha over rumoured coup plan?

If you come to where we are today, we talk about segmentation, we talk about difficulty in bringing people together to stage the coup. But there is also the fact that again there are certain parts of the country that are disgruntled with the way things are going. In an ideal situation, you have a President, who has a deputy and the constitution is clear about what should follow if anything happens to the President. That is why Americans will tell you that the vice president is only one heartbeat away from being the president; meaning that if the president’s heart stops, automatically the vice president steps in to continue to run the country. You see, when you have a good system in place, things actually take care of themselves. In the case of Nigeria, we have too many people talking and they are talking carelessly, projecting into a future that is not there. A lot of them are talking out of sentiments.

The process of coup plotting entails a lot of things like meetings, movement of people and resources from one place to another. You need some kind of inducementto show the relevant people that you are capable to do that

Do you see a repeat of the situation during Yar’adua’s presidency this time around?

Some of these people I believe have seen the possibility of a similar occurrence this time around and so, quickly they’ve started talking. If somebody says A and B is trying to pronounce the president dead, is it the man who is keeping quiet or the man that is planning how to take over that that is raising issue? I think it is the people who are so much concerned about how to take over when the president dies that are actually causing these issues. But let’s not forget that they are interested in change of government and not just change in government, but they are interested in government that will overlook corruption. One of the things Buhari told us when he came into office is that corruption is heavily funded and as you fight corruption, it will fight back.

You talked about implication of a failed coup earlier. Is this not enough to discourage the junior officers from planning coup?

You see, if you talk to psychologists, they will tell you that young people in the age 18 to 23 are very easy to manipulate. You don’t even need money to do that. All you need is someone who can talk to them and persuade them. Someone who can make them see the need to take some actions. And that is why a lot of the coups have been done with people in this age. Even when you have senior officers involved, the foot soldiers are the ones that carry out the dangerous tasks. They are radical, they are outspoken and they get easily fired up on issues. Moreover, in the military the men are not taught to think, but to obey orders. That is why the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang about zombie in those days. The whole thing is that so long I am a senior officer and I’m able to command your respect, I am good to go. For instance, just tell them there is a match tomorrow, 12 o’clock, we are going for this exercise; nobody queries you, until the real day and you start moving to the government house and when you get there you tell them to manage certain positions. At this level, some of them who are part of the plans will also help out and anyone who wants to chicken out will probably die. So, the potentials are there.

It is not just about saying call the Army to order, it is about calling the politicians to order. They need to begin to show that they have the interest of the common man at heart. They need to curtail their ostentatious life style

Are you saying the senior officers cannot stage coup?

I don’t want to say that the senior officers cannot stage coups, because they are comfortable and because of the level of their knowledge, such a thing may not be encouraged. An average colonel in this country is exposed to different knowledge and training; so, he understands the implication of such a move. He understands what it will take him to convince the international community about the rationale for such action. Look at what happened in Guinea the other day. They staged the coup, and the ECOWAS moved in led by former president Olusegun Obasanjo and they told him that the plan was not going to work. Though he tried to be tough for weeks, at the end, he handed over. Another good example was what happened in Gambia. You see, in taking over a government, you need more than ordinary guns and men. You need the support of the international community. Any coup that doesn’t get one or two calls immediately from the right quarters, both internal and external, is dead on arrival. That is why when Buhari took over power he started traveling here and there and those who didn’t understand were criticising him, because they either didn’t understand the game or just chose to be mischievous. All the world leaders, who have not been in good relationship with our former president, welcomed him because they knew his track record. Let me tell you, the world knows that we are more than 180million in this country and if a crisis should occur, no African country is in a position to accommodate the outflow of refugees. So, it is in the interest of the world that Nigeria does not fall apart. That is why well exposed senior military officers will not go there at all because they know clearly that a coup goes well beyond mere taking a government house and radio station.

Who do you think should be called to order over this coup rumour, politician or the soldiers?

Come to think of it, you can hear the talk that has been going on in our National Assembly. Look at the amount of money our legislators spend on themselves. So, it is not just about saying call the Army to order, it is about calling the politicians to order. They need to begin to show that they have the interest of the common man at heart. They need to curtail their ostentatious life style. That is the message that will get people to say we want these politicians here. Not that all in the name of democracy, we allow different kinds of abuse by these people. Democracy doesn’t mean that one man from my village goes to Abuja and he is eating two cows in a day when the whole village are eating chicken in a year. No! Democracy is about the whole village moving from one chicken to a cow. The people must see the dividends of democracy and that’s when our politicians truly become representatives of the people.

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