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Army Generals as drivers of democracy

By Emmaunel Aziken
It is just like yesterday. But it was twenty seven years ago that Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as head of the then ruling military junta proclaimed democracy unrealistic in the immediate future in Nigeria.

To reinforce its claims, that junta was to promulgate some of the world’s most severe laws including the infamous Decree Number Two which empowered Gen. Buhari to lock up anybody for as long as he so desired.

Decree Number Four was the regime’s antidote to press liberty. The decree prescribed sanctions for journalists and media houses who publish materials distasteful to the junta irrespective of the facts. The Guardian’s Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were to be hauled into the junta’s gallows for publishing what was ordinarily a news scoop.

The junta had among its principal operatives the trio of Brig. Gen. David Mark, Brig. Gen. John Shagaya and Brig. Gen. Tanko Ayuba.

Given their previous inclinations against democracy it is today an irony that the above hard men are today principal factors in the ongoing national quest to salvage the country’s democracy from the obduracy of some bloody civilians around President Umaru Yar‘Adua.

Senators Mark, Shagaya and Ayuba are today Distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic ventilating a democratic culture that they were not too long ago accused of subverting.

The trio are indeed not the only former army officers in the Senate. They also include Colonels Mohammed Mana, Joseph Akaagerger and Satty Gogwin. Senator Suleiman Nazif after training at the Nigerian Military School, however, opted out of the military career.

Colonels Mana and Akaargeerger were indeed operatives of the most dreaded military regime in the nation’s history haven served the Sani Abacha regime. That regime imprinted itself in history for its wreckage of the lives of many democracy advocates.

It is not known if Col. Mana who also served as a Commander of the Brigade of Guards or Akaargerger, reputedly one of the most outstanding lawyers produced by the military, ever encountered Mrs. Chris Anyanwu during the Abacha regime’s plunder of the pro-democracy movement. But today, Senator Anyanwu a press victim of that regime’s ruthless villainy moves freely around Mana and Akaargeerger in the Senate chambers.

It was as such a spectacle of some sort last Wednesday when Gen. Buhari led a group of democracy enthusiasts under the banner of the National Democracy Movement (NDM) to meet the President of the Senate, Gen. (Senator) David Mark.

The group which included former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar was received by a large delegation of Senators including Senator (Col.) Mana who is now the deputy chief whip of the Senate.

The NDM’s desperate measure is upon the increasing fragility the nation’s democracy has recently been subjected to on account of the absence of President Yar‘Adua from his duty post.

The NDM’s demand was that the Senate intervenes by constituting a team to visit the ailing President in Saudi Arabia towards determining a course to take within the context of the law.

Following his remarks, Gen. Buhari presented Gen. Mark with the group’s letter.
The handshake that followed between Buhari and Mark was significant. It was the first time your correspondent would see a handshake between the duo since the dramatic events of August 1985 when Buhari was ousted by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

Generals Mark, Ayuba and Shagaya were subsequently renowned for their principal roles in the Babangida government, famously winning the ascription of IBB boys.

Your correspondent did not see any inflection in the gait of either as they approached one another that day. There was, however, a remarkable affirmation of the uprightness of democracy by the Senate President as he responded to Gen Buhari’s remarks.

In the manner he has so used to tease some of his erstwhile colleagues in the Senate, Senator Mark was to affirm that having tasted both sides of government that he was in a position to say that democracy was better.

It is remarkable that Generals Buhari and Mark could come to a convergence on the desirability of democracy over the choice of anarchy as now being regularly concocted by elements in the Yar‘Adua kitchen cabinet.

The great irony for the civilian political class is that the other arm of government, that is the judiciary, is also headed by a former military man, Justice Alloysius Katsina-Alu. Justice Katsina-Alu who trained in the Nigerian Military School missed his commissioning after his officers’ training by circumstances.


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