Though General Muhammadu Buhari was the head of state, people always referred to that regime as the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, because of his no-nonsense deputy, Major General Babatunde Idiagbon.
Together, they ruled Nigeria with a iron hand (since seizing power from the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari on the 31st of December, 1983) for 20 months, the likes not seen since the short stint of the assassinated General Murtala Mohammed in the mid 1970’s. They held that the CORRUPTION of the political class in the second republic, especially of the ruling class was responsible for their intervention, which was necessary to halt the country’s drift to the abyss. Politicians, were then rounded up nationwide and hounded into jails, while a few others were placed under house arrest, or just went underground.
The attempt to repatriate Alhaji Umaru Dikko (a very visible face of the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN as Shagari’s Campaign Manager and erstwhile Minister for Transportation accused of Corporation especially regarding rice imports, as he was also the head of the Presidential Task Force on Rice) was bungled by the Israeli Mossad who attempted to load him into a crate for shipment back to Nigeria from the United Kingdom, where he’d been granted assylum. The already strained relationship between the Nigerian military government and the British further nosedived, by that act. Interestingly, the same Dikko has become rehabilitated by today’s civilian government enough to be given the position of chairing a committee looking into the case of members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP accused of anti-party activities.
Because that government saw nothing right about the civilian government they had just deposed, in several cases, as with the light rail project embarked on by the Alhaji Lateef Jakande administration, it cancelled ongoing projects by Fiat, and in the case of the aforementioned project paid much-needed funds away as cost for breach of contract to the foreign contractors handling the project, a move which will later cost Lagosians dearly as the city grew exponentially into a megacity without appropriate and commensurate transport infrastructure.
Strict discipline was maintained even on the streets, as for the first time, Nigerians were made to queue up to board a bus, even to enjoy basic amenities and government services. A wave of dismissals in the public service soon followed of those accused of corruptly enriching themselves (the further entrenchment of the penchant by civil servants to loot while in office to avert the uncertainty that may follow dismissals as witnessed during the Murtala and Buhari era).
During the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, “Rule Of Law” suffered greatly under the draconian decrees they routinely reeled out and caused to be implemented, people’s rights were trampled under feet by soldiers that had become common feature on the streets and about everywhere you could think of. To assist them, were the paramilitary set up known as the WAI (War Against Indiscipline) Brigade. Together, these groups made the lives of ordinary Nigerians hell, as they had to adjust to laws which were doled out frequently at the whims of the rulers. What was legit a day ago became criminal the next.
The Last Saturday of every month was declared ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION day, in which Nigerians were expected to clean and tidy their surroundings between the hours of 7 and 10am. Those, who were heady enough or were unfortunate to bê found loitering about were dealt with in such a way that they saw their ears with their own eyes without a mirror, after judgements were passed by mobile courts dotting the landscape. Nigeria was gradually drifting into a zombie state. Unfortunately, some states in today’s democratic Nigeria still uphold relics of those days, but unlike what was obtainable in the past, adherents in places like Lagos simply evacuate the contents of their open drainages (gutters) onto the streets and mainroads, which are then washed back into the gutters by rain or happenstance.
The government even went ahead to give Nigerians the shock of their lives, when some cocaine couriers were executed, even though the law making the crime punishable by death was implemented retroactively. There was not enough free press to shout this injustice on the rooftops, and the few activists of the time like the Late Gani Fawehinmi had been clamped in jail, in hiding or even in exile. Interestingly, many a ordinary Nigerians lauded the government for making away with the no-gooders who’d brought shame to their country and her peoples.
It didn’t take too long for the people who celebrated the coming of the duo like they would a messiah, to begin to despair, even pray for their toppling, if it’ll deliver them from the burden placed on them by the dictators at the helm of this purist military junta.
On the morning of August 27, 1985 there was wild jubilation allover, my Dad had been listening to the radio, and the martial music that introduced the statement by stern voiced General Sani Abacha (a member of the ruling junta), suggested to me that there’d just been another coup, Nigerians greeted the coming of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, as with the one before him with great joy and a sigh of relief, but as the nicknames MARADONA and EVIL GENIUS which he earned suggests, their hopes was once again dashed.
They wouldn’t hear from Buhari for a long while afterwards (till General Sani Abacha, as head of state much later made him the chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF), nor even see Idiagbon (who appeared to recline into a cocoon after release by the new ruling junta, following his arrest upon landing at the airport from a trip abroad after the coup that deposed the government in which he was 2-I-C, against the advice of friends and family) who simply maintained a very low profile till his death in 1999, following a brief illness.
Their strongman tactics against corruption will be remembered by Nigerians many years after, and serve as point of reference in comparison to governments and administrations that followed, who appeared to want to outdo the government preceding them in scale of corruption and disappearance and/or misappropriation of public funds and common patrimony of the Nigerian peoples. Interestingly, an article was published suggesting that Buhari only took over power in order to quash attempts by Shagari’s government to probe his activities as petroleum minister during the General Obasanjo regime, in a bid to curb his growing influence amongst top military and civilian/political figures, thereby forcing his retirement and kill the noise about an impending coup (Buhari and his minions appeared to have preempted that by striking on that fateful 31st day of December 1983, just months after Shagari won reelection in a highly contentious polls). Others claimed that corruption continued unhindered while they maintained an anti-corruption facade to the outside world, citing the case of an Emir who was allowed to carry into Nigeria boxes of foreign currency, when ordinary Nigerians were arrested and detained for having but a tiny fraction of that on them at airports.