According to PREMIUM TIMES, On Thursday, security experts in the country warned that there could be a serious implication for the security situation in the country due to a media onslaught by the Nigerian government over purported plots by the opposition to seize power with extralegal tactics which could have a serious implication for the nation’s already fragile stability.
The past week has seen a circle of senior administration officials and security chiefs ramp up claims of an uncovered conspiracy to overthrow President Muhammadu Buhari.
Even though some of the top officials, including Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai and Information Minister Lai Mohammed, specifically accused the opposition, especially Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party, of being the brain behind the alleged plot, none of them has come out with any evidence to support the damning allegation.
Security experts, including a former director at the State Security Service, said some parts of the country have already been placed on high alert — even though no one was yet sure whether there is any veracity to the government’s rhetoric.
Mr Buhari was elected president on March 28, 2015, and sworn-in on May 29 of that year. He will wrap up his first four-year term on May 29, barely two weeks’ time. But he will be immediately sworn-in again by noon on May 29, having been declared winner of the 2019 presidential election in February.
The transition will be the sixth between successive civilians since Nigeria returned to constitutional republic in 1999, after roughly 16 years of military grip starting in 1983.
But as government-wide activities intensified ahead of the swearing-in later this month, some administration officials and security chiefs launched a parallel assault against opposition elements, describing them as anti-democratic forces scheming to truncate the current dispensation.
The Nigerian Army led the charge against the purported plots with a statement that claimed the military had learnt of the sinister moves by some “mischievous elements.”
The statement, circulated by army spokesperson Sagir Musa, said the elements planned to scuttle Mr Buhari’s inauguration, and they had the support of some foreigners.
Neither Mr Abubakar nor the PDP reacted to the statement, and the tone of public criticism that followed it was largely mild.
But just when Nigerians were moving on from the controversial alarm, the military pushed out another statement alleging attempt on Nigeria’s democracy. The Defence Headquarters, which coordinates the armed forces, said in the late-night statement on May 14 that a group had called for an interim government to replace Mr Buhari.
The military said the demand for Mr Buhari’s ouster was contained in a document issued by ‘a faceless’ Nigerian Continuity and Progress (NCP). It also condemned the “undemocratic and demonic actions of the author of the document.”
As with the first statement by the army, the Defence Headquarters alarm failed to gain traction in public debate, and Mr Abubakar and the PDP equally ignored it.
But less than 24 hours later, three separate comments came from the army and the Buhari administration that elicited a scathing response from Mr Abubakar’s office. The first comment came from Mr Buratai, who said at at a meeting with federal lawmakers in Maiduguri that defeated politicians were plotting to undermine Mr Buhari’s government.
“The myriad of security challenges we are facing now in the North West, North Central and other parts of the country, I want to believe, and rightly so, is the fallout of the just concluded general elections,” Mr Buratai said. “There are several political interests, politicians in particular not happy with their defeat and therefore, trying to take revenge, sponsoring some these criminal activities.”
The claim was the most confrontational since the narrative began on May 4, but its pointedness was soon surpassed by Mr Mohammed.
Addressing a press briefing shortly after the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday afternoon, the information minister said Mr Abubakar and the PDP were exhibiting “desperate tactics” to “sabotage the Buhari administration.”
Mr Mohammed said Mr Abubakar and his party have, “through their public utterances and their poorly-thought-out press releases,” attempted to make Nigeria ungovernable.
“Unless they quickly retrace their steps, they may, sooner than later, overreach themselves,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, the police issued a statement, alleging attempts by some activists to sabotage oil installations and worsen the country’s economic crisis. Although the statement was less specific and confrontational compared to others, it was widely deemed a part of the larger government narrative against the opposition.
Polity heat-up or political hot air?
Both the police and the Defence Headquarters did not return requests for comments about the rhetoric Thursday evening.
The ongoing scare of a purported attempt to overthrow the government is not the first under the current government. Exactly two years ago, Mr Buratai raised a similar alarm about a purported hobnobbing between military officers and some politicians.
The army chief said at the time that some politicians had approached officers with an agenda that included overthrowing the government because Mr Buhari was away in London on a prolonged medical vacation.
Mr Buratai also met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was acting as president, over the alleged plot.
Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai
Although the army implemented a random redeployment of officers at the time, no politician or military personnel were arrested in connection to the coup scare.
When the BBC asked Mr Buratai why he raised the alarm, he told the British broadcaster that it was “just a pre-emptive warning in terms of what transpired before this administration came on board.”
“It is good, once in a while, based on my knowledge and based on my experiences to tell the officers that there are bounds; we must remain within the constitutional boundaries that we have been assigned,” Mr Buratai said.
Mr Buratai did not clarify what he meant by “what transpired before this administration came on board” during the interview, but it could possibly be a reference to Nigeria’s ordeal under military regimes until 1999.
PREMIUM TIMES also observed that neither the military nor the administration specifically attributed any incendiary statement to Mr Abubakar in all their recent statements.
Also unclear was the claim about the group that the Defence Headquarters accused of circulating a document calling for Mr Buhari’s overthrow.
Two days after the military’s statement, PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify that any group named Nigerian Continuity Progress circulated a document. Both purported document remained a mystery to journalists, public commentators, security experts and even military insiders.
At least eight military personnel, including two naval officers and one Air Force officer, said they did not see the statement in separate exchanges with PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday.
At least five reporters on the defence beat said they did not hear anything about the group until the military released the statement alleging a document was circulated. Security experts and commentators, including those with vast understanding of the social media, all said they saw the military statement, but did not see the purported NCP document that preceded the alarm, neither could they locate it.
If any group claiming to be NCP circulated any document as claimed by the military, PREMIUM TIMES can report it gained little or no traction in the public domain, raising questions about why the Defence Headquarters would issue a statement acknowledging it to begin with.
Let us know what your thoughts are on this story in the comment section below.