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The Nigerian Military began its involvement with governance on
January 15, 1966; by May, 29, 1999 Nigeria had been through six Military
Regimes, and collectively, the Military had governed Nigeria for a total of
about 28 years.
Over the years, there had been consensus on the broad Foreign Policy
Principles outlined by Prime Minister Balewa at Independence. While
there was a national consensus in support of these broad Foreign Policy
Principles, each of the Military Government over the period of 28 years
gave its own elitist interpretation to these principles. Thus, from the
appraisal of the different Military Regimes under the period of study,
Nigeria’s Foreign Policy can be classified into five phases or epochs viz:
• The period of uncertainties;
• The Post war and Naira Diplomacy (Diplomacy of Prestige)
• The period of radicalization.
• The Adventurist and populist period (Economic Diplomacy);
• The Combative or Abrasive period.
Each of these phases concurred with Military leadership styles and
the exigencies of the time.
It is generally recognized that the involvement of the Nigerian
Military in governance has done more harm than good, resulting into
negative impacts and consequences. It is not, however, true that
there had been no progress or achievements recorded since the first
Military Regime in 1966. In the field of foreign policy for instance the
Military had impacted positively. It is as such that the Military
phenomenon has become very central in the analysis of the Nation’s
Foreign Policy and National image abroad.
From a mere aberration fives years after independence, it became recurrent
and before long, military regimes became a fixture. Since 1966, when the military
came to power, it has mutated, changing form and duration, thus becoming a norm
rather than an exception.
As corrective regimes, military governments are similar, but in approach, they
differ significantly. Specifically, some are benign, others are draconic and some fall
in-between. Intermittently, and for twenty-eight years, the military called the shots
in Nigeria’s political history; hence as a result, professionalism was relegated, coups
gained currency, careers and lives were wasted. Significantly, they became part of
the problem; thirty -four years ago, i.e. in 1966, some army majors and other officers
killed some civilian politicians and senior military officers in a coup detat. In that
coup, Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, the first Prime Minister; Sir Ahmadu Bello,
Sardaunan Sokoto and Northern Premier; Chief Festus Okotie Eboh, the Federal
Minister of Finance, and Chief Samuel Akintola, the Premier of Western Region,
were brutally killed. In addition, Brigadier, Zakari Maimalari, Colonels Kur
Mohammed and Abogo Lagema lost their lives.
Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu led the coup, and in his address to the
Nation, he stated why they struck. According to him, they intervened to wipe out
corruption, nepotism and to elevate Nigeria.1 Although, the first Prime Minister,
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and other top officials were killed, the coup failed.
In Lagos, General Aguiyi Ironsi, the then highest-ranking military officer,
quelled the revolt. With some loyal officers and Men, Ironsi routed the coupists, and
in Kaduna, Nzeogwu was on one limb. With little or no logistics, a fresh supply was
blocked, as both Kano and Lagos, where the coup had failed refused his orders.
After several emissaries and assurances, Nzeogwu laid down his arms, went to
Lagos and was arrested and detained.
There after Honourable Nwafor Orizu, the Senate president, met with some
Ministers and handed power to General Ironsi. Six Months later, there was a counter
-coup, and in that counter- coup, General Ironsi was killed and LT-Colonel. Yakubu
Gowon, the highest-ranking Northerner, succeeded Ironsi. He ruled for nine years,
through the civil war and the oil boom, terminating in 1975.
Young and inexperienced, Gowon relied on the civil servants, and they
became very powerful. Permanent secretaries dictated the tune while ministers and
political appointees watched. Awash with petro-dollars, Nigeria went on a spending
binge beyond her shores. In 1974, Gowon in a national broadcast rescinded his
promise to hand-over to the civilians in 1976. This angered some politicians and
military officers, and later in July 1975, Gowon was toppled in a bloodless coup.
Brigadier Murtala Ramat Mohammed emerged as the new leader. Laced with
revolutionary rhetories, he flushed out deadwoods and bad eggs and in the exercise;
all sections of the country were affected. With dispatch, Murtala drew up his transition, itemized his priorities and promised a hand over date of 1st October 1979.
However, Murtala was murdered in a coup. The ringleader was Lt. Colonel Bukar
sukar Dimka.
Ill- motivated and badly planned, the coup was unpopular from day one.
Like Nzeogwu’s, this attempt failed, as Olusegun Obasanjo, a Lt.General and
Murtala’s second-in-command assumed control. Generally, he stuck to Murtala’s
transition and kept his vision drive. On October 1,1979, power was handed over to
an elected president, Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari.
For about five years, there was lull and as the Military retreated to the
barracks, politicians had a field day. Tainted by corruption, and political thuggery,
politicians provided the excuse and the Military grabbed the chance and bounced
back. By December, 31, 1983, the second Republic fell, as a coup staged by some
senior officers was relatively peaceful, and successful. Heralding the charges,
Brigadier Sani Abacha reeled off a litany of woes. According to him, unemployment
was high, infrastructure had collapsed, hospitals became “mere consulting clinic”.2
Inspite of this, he lamented, politicians revelled in squander- Mania and to hold the
drift, they sacked the inept government of Shagari.
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