Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai
[Photo credit: Naij.com]
The Nigerian Army stepped up security measures at its facilities across the country this week, after rumours of a budding coup d’état rattled its leadership, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Although the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, stressed in a meeting with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo that all threats had been neutralised and democracy would not be truncated, military sources informed PREMIUM TIMES that covert intelligence operation aimed at forestalling Nigeria’s descent into dictatorship had been set in motion across the country.
The sources said military authorities during the week ordered a “covert intrusion” into activities of personnel as one of a string of emergency measures to preempt coup.
“Covert intrusion involves sending secret operatives into military gathering, units, formations and other establishments to get information and early warning of any threat to national security,” sources told PREMIUM TIMES Saturday.
Speculation about a military takeover of power gripped the nation during the week after Mr. Buratai disclosed in a statement that it caught wind of consultations between military officers and politicians.
The May 16 statement, signed by Army spokesperson, Sani Usman, did not say if anyone was taken into custody in connection with the consultation nor did it elaborate on the nature the threat.
Mr. Buratai only said unnamed politicians approached unidentified military personnel for “political reasons” and warned his men to desist from getting involved in politics while in service.
Measures before panic
Days before coming to public with the warning, the Army leadership had activated some measures to foil any coup plots within its ranks, sources said.
Last week Tuesday, Mr. Buratai abruptly rejigged Army units and formations with a random transfer of senior officers.
Lucky Irabor, Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole counterinsurgency force in the Northeast, and Adeniyi Oyebade, General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army’s 1st Division in Kaduna, were amongst those affected by the shake-up.
Military sources have now confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the development was in connection with the suspicious moves amongst some military officers.
Our sources did not say that any of the affected officers was connected to the alleged talks with politicians.
Instead, the redeployment “is one of such measures to prevent any officer from staying too long in a place and becoming too popular or enthrenched ,” sources said.
The Army leadership’s decision was “informed by an advance information from deliberate information and intelligence gathering effort,” it was further learnt. A few days after the reshuffle, Mr. Buratai held a meeting with Mr. Osinbajo, during which he briefed the acting president on worrisome developments in the Army and assured that there was no cause for panic.
The President’s ill-health; the uncertainties
Tensions in the military came amidst heightened concerns over President Muhammadu Buhari’s ill-health.
Not a few Nigerians have expressed worry over Mr. Buhari’s ability to return to office in full capacity since he flew to London penultimate Sunday for his latest treatment regimen.
On Friday, Aisha Yesufu, a BringBackOurGirls activist who backed Mr. Buhari’s campaign for president, urged the National Assembly to impeach him if he failed to resign on health grounds.
The president had earlier spent 50 days in London on medical examination from mid-January to March, although the presidency declined to state precisely his ailments.
For the latest trip, the State House said: “the length of the President’s stay in London will be determined by the doctors.”
The president’s ill-health had also generated controversy about succession within the polity.
Some voices from Northern Nigeria have suggested that the region be allowed to keep the presidency under a special arrangement if Mr. Buhari ceased being the president.
But the Constitution stipulates that the vice-president assumes power should the president vacate the position for any reason.
When former President Umaru Yar’Adua passed on in office in 2010, he was immediately succeeded by his vice, Goodluck Jonathan, who had been acting for several months before the death.
It remained unclear if the alleged consultation amongst military officers and politicians had links with the succession matter.
Western governments and civic groups have expressed strong opposition to any military takeover of power in Nigeria.
The United Kingdom said during the week that it would not entertain any non-democratic change of government.
“Our position is very clear: we stand for democracy, we stand for the democratic process and we stand for change —if that is what the people themselves want,” British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, told reporters in Abuja Wednesday. “That has to be a choice the people make and not a choice that is imposed upon them.”
Alarmed by the rumours, civic groups called on the Nigerian Army to fish out those responsible for the alleged consultation for “political reasons”.
“The suspected military officers must be immediately identified, investigated and punished according to extant laws if found culpable to protect the subsisting democratic and the rule of law,” anti-corruption campaigner, Debo Adeniran, said in a statement Thursday.
Mr. Adeniran said Nigerian citizens will no longer tolerate a return to dictatorship.
“Nigeria cannot afford to repeat history by tolerating military rule again, even for a second! Military rule belongs the past, it’s dead, and buried,” Mr. Adeniran said.