NIGERIAN MILITARY IS SEEN AS LOSING SUPPORT
By CLIFFORD D. MAY
Published: May 1, 1984
LAGOS, Nigeria, April 29— Four months after seizing power, Nigeria’s
military leaders appear to be suffering an erosion of popular support.
Last Dec. 31, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Buhari led a group of young officers in a
coup against the civilian Government of President Shehu Shagari, saying
the takeover was necessary to save Nigeria, Africa’s richest and most
populous nation, from economic collapse.
The military intervention appeared at the time to enjoy enthusiastic
support from a broad range of Nigeria’s population.
Many intellectuals argued that the corruption and incompetence of the
Shagari administration had made drastic action both necessary and
inevitable. Traders, merchants and people in the streets welcomed the
soldiers and looked forward to a quick improvement in their standard of
Recently, however, there seems to be growing disappointment with both the
military Government’s approach and pace.
”Since coming to power, this Government has not found a single problem,”
said Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, a prominent lawyer and a longtime opponent of the
Shagari administration. ”But it has managed to alienate the judiciary,
the press, labor and students – all the groups that supported it just a
few months ago.”
Critics of the military Government point out that it has yet to present
its budget. Loan negotiations with the International Monetary Fund
continue but Western economists say that Nigeria and the I.M.F. appear to
be further apart now than during the final days of the Shagari
Early indications that General Buhari would agree to devalue Nigeria’s
currency, liberalize trade and reduce domestic petroleum subsidies have so
far not materialized. Prices Have Climbed
In addition, prices for food and other essential commodities, which fell
in the first weeks after the coup largely because of the presence of
soldiers in the marketplaces, have now returned to or exceeded their
levels before the coup. Unemployment has been rising, and many of the
imported raw materials and spare parts needed to keep factories running
have been lacking.
Critics note further that political activity and even debate have been
banned and some students organizations have been outlawed. There has been
a clampdown on Nigeria’s press, and the country’s traditionally
independent judiciary has also seen its role sharply diminished.
”At the moment we’re looking at a clear movement toward authoritarian
dictatorship,” said Stanley N. Macebuh, executive editor of The Guardian,
an independent newspaper that had often taken the Shagari administration
to task. ”It’s a trend that disturbs a lot of people, not least those who
welcomed the change of government.”
Spokesmen for the military leadership maintain that they know what they
are doing and refuse to be rushed. They deny the charges of inaction,
saying that steps have been taken. Trials Being Prepared
The Government, they say, has put much energy into investigating the
corruption of the Shagari administration and in preparing tribunals to try
the accused, close to 500 of whom are now under detention.
Officials say about 2,000 illegal aliens have been ejected from the
country and several thousand people have been detained in a crackdown on
suspected criminals and Moslem extremists.
They say Nigeria’s bloated bureaucracy has been streamlined through the
dismissal of thousands of officials and civil servants.
Three weeks ago an agreement was reached in London on converting a part of
Nigeria’s uninsured trade debts into loans.
The Government’s critics respond that the economic initiatives treat
symptoms rather than causes and aid the larger issue of how to restructure
A Western diplomat said General Buhari ”could have accomplished so much
if he had moved quickly and boldly in the early days when his popularity
was still so high and when he could have credibly blamed everything on