The Buhari Regime
On December 31, 1983, the army struck again. This time the brazen corruption, the economic mismanagement, and the inept leadership of civilians provided the grounds for military intervention. Indeed, conditions had deteriorated so much in the Second Republic that when the coup came, it was widely acclaimed. Major General Muhammadu Buhari, a Hausa/Fulani northerner from Katsina State and a former member of the SMC in the Muhammad/Obasanjo governments, became the head of state. Because of the great powers that his second in command, Major General Tunde Idiagbon, chief of staff at Supreme Headquarters, was believed to wield, many commentators refer to this government as the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. In broad outline, the structure of government remained essentially the same as it was under Muhammad and Obasanjo. At the apex was the SMC, and the subordinate bodies were the Federal Executive Council and the National Council of States.
The urgent task before the government was to salvage the country's economy, which had suffered from the mismanagement of the Second Republic and from the rapid drop in the price of crude oil. Nigeria had become heavily indebted to several foreign monetary agencies, and the price of crude oil had begun to slide. Buhari believed that urgent economic problems required equally urgent solutions. He also thought that it was not a pressing issue to prepare to hand power over to civilians; in fact, all of Nigeria's military regimes have ruled without the benefit of democratic checks and balances.
The Buhari government investigated and detained the top political leaders of the Second Republic, holding them responsible for economic excesses of the previous regime. Constraints were placed on various groups, including the Nigerian Medical Association, which was outlawed, and the National Association of Nigerian Students, and it promulgated two decrees that restricted freedom of the press and suppressed criticism of the government. Decree Number 4 forbade any journalist from reporting information considered embarrassing to any government official. Two journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were convicted under the decree. Decree Number 2 gave the chief of staff at Supreme Headquarters the power to detain for up to six months without trial anyone considered a security risk. Special military tribunals increasingly replaced law courts while the state security agency, the National Security Organisation, was given greater powers.
Buhari's controls also extended to his efforts to deal with the problems of "indiscipline" in the areas of environmental sanitation, public decorum, corruption, smuggling, and disloyalty to national symbols such as the flag and the anthem. He declared a War Against Indiscipline and specified acceptable forms of public behavior, such as a requirement to form lines at bus stops. The main concern, however, remained the economy. The government introduced a comprehensive package of austerity measures. It closed the country's land borders for a period to identify and expel illegal alien workers and placed severe restrictions on imports and heavy penalties on smuggling and foreign exchange offenses. The austerity measures made it difficult for local industries to procure essential imported raw materials, leading many of them to close or to operate at greatly reduced capacity. Many workers were laid off, and government itself retrenched many workers to increase its "cost effectiveness." All of these actions were accompanied by high inflation. The price of basic food items rose, and life became increasingly difficult, even for the affluent.
Despite the increased efficiency with which Buhari and his associates tackled the multifaceted national crisis, the regime's inflexibility caused discontent. The latter was the main justification given for the overthrow of Buhari by General Babangida in a palace coup on August 27, 1985, although the personal ambition of Babangida was an important contributing factor.
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