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1983 Coup Stalled Nigeria’s Progress, Says Utomi

A political scientist and former Special Assistant to ex-President Shehu Shagari, Prof. Pat Utomi, has said that had Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and some military officers not overthrown the democratic government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Nigeria would have made significant progress as a nation, claiming that the former dictator ousted that government to prevent Dr. Alex Ekwueme from becoming the next president.

Utomi lamented that there was more unhappiness, unemployment, poverty and despair in the country than ever before.

When asked how he felt about Buhari, a former dictator now a democrat, the former presidential aide noted: “The view I hold about what we’ve been through the years can be found in an interview I gave to the New York Times, January 8, 1984. In that interview, I said Nigeria would one day feel sorry that they had thrown the baby out with the bathwater (as many rejoiced over the coup led by Gen. Buhari that ousted the government of Shagari). I think any living Nigerian with a brain will know that Nigeria would have been further ahead today if that coup didn’t take place on December 31, 1983, although – in my view – I was convinced that the coup was done to prevent Dr. Alex Ekwueme from becoming the president in 1987.”

Though he praised President Buhari for taking the initiative to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day and honour the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election along with others, he admitted that more needed to be done to salvage the country from collapsing.

“The life of 25 years is a very short time. In the United States, people are still lobbying for people who ‘were convicted for one thing or the other’ about 200 years ago to get formal pardons. So in the life of a nation, I think that 25 years is not a terribly long period of time. At least people like us who were active in the (June 12, 1993) struggle are still around. Will it have been better if it was done 22 years ago? Sure. But I don’t think that it was bad being done eventually.

“It will start (the country’s healing process) but it won’t close because the open wounds are too many and too many people who are closer to those problems still bear personal animosities. It’s important to begin the healing process which is why I embraced the June 12 honours – it’s a good process,” he said.

The political scientist further noted that at the heart of Nigeria’s fragile security was the issue of underdevelopment and economic woes. He argued that with many hungry and angry people on the street, the country would continue to grapple with insecurity.

“I believe that and looking at the security architecture in Nigeria one important thing to bear in mind is the state of the economy. The more we have unemployed people and the more we have a bad or poor education – as most people are certificated but they’re basically illiterate – the easier it is for people who have grievances to recruit people and brainwash them to become agents of disruption of normal order.

“The general state of anomie that seems to be overtaking us in Nigeria for me significantly is economy. Therefore, the beginning of thinking insecurity is thinking a developmental state that aims to create a full employment economy – people who are educated enough in civic matters to resist those who seek to use them to abuse the state. Of course, there are other aspects of the security architecture that needs to be reviewed,” Utomi pointed out.


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