Nigeria on Fire : Nigeria’s Darkest Moment, 1985-98

“Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible and similarly reputation and honour, and give no thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul?….I spend all my time going about trying to persuade you, young and old to make your first and chief concern not for your bodies nor for your possessions, but for the highest welfare of your souls …. Wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessings, both to the individual and to the state” 



This is a discourse about the saddest and darkest moment in the history of the Nigeria State. This moment has left the country and the people in ruins and in tatters. A nation can be in ruin after a natural or man-made physical disaster has occurred. This type of ruin is easily visible in the fallen trees, dilapidated or burnt down or collapsed buildings, in the water flooded streets and farmlands, etc. This kind of ruin is easy to repair when fund and other relevant resources are available.

However, in this treatise we shall be arguing that the type of ruin facing the Nigerian nations is at the spiritual and psychological level. This type of ruin is very difficult to manage because it is not visible to all and sundry but only to the trained eyes. We can therefore safely say that the ruin of Nigerian nations is in two dimensions – the physical and the psychological.

The telltale signs of the physical ruin can be seen in the failing and failed governments, public institutions, infrastructures and services. The evidence is visible in the shaky state of the national economy, the low level of production in all sectors, the collapse of manufacturing industries as a result of better returns on currency speculation, the increasing number of failed banks and the ever mounting national debts.

It can also be seen in the national disgrace and shame that come with the ever-continuous rescheduling programme for debt services with the Paris and London Clubs of creditors, The International Monitoring Fund and The World Banks. These are the touching macroeconomic realities that have translated into the dehumanised high level state of socio-economic poverty among the general mass of the people.

Unfortunately, the psychological or the spiritual ruins are more intense. This ruin is found in the high level of despondency, powerlessness, unhappiness, social malaise and upheavals. The sociological and psychological symptoms are seen in the high rates of crime, juvenile delinquency and youth unemployment. They are visible in the permanent haggard lines of pain and sadness on the faces of Nigerian that tell stories of total hopelessness of life for a greater number of the population. The symptoms are visible in the lack of uplifting ambition even among the educated Nigerians and their easy lure into a fairy tale dream that is perpetually seeking economic success through fraudulent business activities.

This is the nature of the ruin of the Nigeria-state that every Nigerian, except the few in the corridors of power, can describe as a vivid living experience. The ruin captured in the overwhelming and ever paralysing fear of the future, of poverty, of joblessness, of hunger, of homelessness, of health problems, of uncaring government and of its cruel agents. The ruin that is almost physically visible in the death of trust in the polity and in the all-encompassing reign of distrust that has made economic co-operation and social cohesion increasingly difficult in every sphere of human interaction.

Every Nigerian is aware that business partners, bank managers, clerks, civil servants, public office holders, politicians, military officers, traditional rulers, religious leaders and even family members can no longer be trusted. Although, trust is now recognised by eminent economists as an invaluable social capital for any progressive and efficient economy yet it is the scarcest commodity in Nigeria. Several studies and researches have demonstrated that economic and social groups achieve more economically when members trust each other. However, Nigeria, under thirteen years, has become a classic case of a society where everybody is for himself and only God for us all. The degree of distrust has become congenital to the extent that most Nigerians have since stopped trusting God as well.

This is evident in the Nigerian habit that puts God in a safe compartment. Under this arrangement only Friday or Sunday is the visiting holy day whereas other days are taken as free for all kinds of ungodly heinous engagements. It is not uncommon to find that a lot of the professing or practising religious fundamentalists in Nigeria have been associated with crimes, beastly and cruel acts of torture, killing, fleecing, lying and manipulation of fellow citizens for money and for high positions. The pursuit of material success over and above every other laudable virtue has become deep-rooted among all cadres of Nigerians.

These are the cankerworms that have eaten deep into the heart of a nation. Nigerians are now possessed by a delusion of grandeur where everybody has become obsessed with the pursuit of vainglory and vulgar success. Every Nigerian is desirous to ‘make it’ and to have a ‘good life’ by hook or by crook.

This second ruin is the most difficult to diagnose and cure because it is hidden in the mind. It is the ruin of the soul, the force of all life. A ruined soul translates into a dead life. It has left many Nigerians as living corpses.

The Institutional Ruins

The gradual decay of the institutions of governments and civil societies that started with the advent of the colonial governments in Nigeria was finally completed between 1985 and 1998 during the regimes of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abachi. These two military forces of occupation or administrations (even though some elite stalwarts still like to call them governments) succeeded in putting to rest any ray of hope of an institution that could be called government in Nigeria as it is known to the rest of the world. These two administrations never pretended to believe in any higher principle or in any civilised ideology on which the structure and practice of a government are built. These military forces of occupation/administrations were deliberately run at its best as a benevolent authoritarian regime and at its worst (which unfortunately was more than at its best) as a deranged despotic regime.

In August 1985, these two men toppled the alarmingly despotic, wickedly moralistic and a no-nonsense administration of Buhari-Idiagbon junta. Muhammad Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon came into power in December 1983 after sacking the unprecedentedly corrupt and lawless civil democratic government of President Shehu Shagari.

The Buhari-Idiagbon era was an administration that adopted the extreme of a strange kind of moral fundamentalism. They pursued their own kind of moral beliefs under the title “War on Indiscipline” without a care whatsoever about the views, feelings and supports of the members of the society they were trying to save. They expected the society to follow them. It is not because they have persuaded and convinced the people about the sense of their moral beliefs or about the ethical worthiness and the ways and means of their actions to the political and spiritual problems of the country. It is simply because the duo-in-arms have decreed it.

The duo couched their administration around coercion and they spiked every official pronouncement of the state with large stuffing of ‘immediate action’, ‘drastic action’ and ‘ruthless action’. They surely put the fear of gun-power on everybody. It was a regime that saw smiling or laughing in public as acts that are synonymous with indiscipline.

However, Babangida-Abacha junta sacked this administration to the delight of many Nigerians. Although this singular ‘patriotic’ act of saving a whole nation from the jaw of a manic-government was commendable, it has never stopped many analysts from asking and wanting to know the true reason for the 1985 coup d’état. There were many stories from the grapevine but these are yet to be confirmed by Nigerians who were in the inner circle of this regime.

This writer as well as many Nigerians are still keen to find answers to the following questions: Is it true that this particular coup was conducted to forestall a purge of known drug barons in the Buhari-Idiagbon administration? Is it true that the coup was planned with the connivance of a ‘big civilian money-bag’ aided by the Saudi Government? Why did Tunde Idiagbon keep to himself and why did he refuse to share confidential information on what he knew about this plot until his death? Why did Muhammad Buhari accept to serve under one of the accomplices – Sani Abacha – that removed him with ignominy from power?

Answers to these questions will definitely unveil the hydra-headed monster of political power-game operating in Nigeria. It will reveal the deadly callous liaison and the nature of cash and power relationships that bind the elites of Nigeria together regardless of tribe or tongue. There is definitely more than meets the eye in the profitable symbiotic relationship found between the civilian moneybags and the military gunslingers. Recently, Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia revealed that some Nigerians outside the military sponsored even the first coup d’état led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu.

Sadly, the happiness of Nigerians was short lived. It did not take too long before Nigerians realised that they have merely exchanged an open, non-smiling despotic regime with a sly but smiling despotic regime. It was a regime that could be compared to the fable of the house mice. The type of mice that bites the sleeping owner of the house and simultaneously sweetens the wound with its cool breath. The military administration of 1985-1998 bites every Nigerian and inflicted deadly wounds on all except their immediate families and their sycophantic cohorts. Moreover, the deformed institutions they inherited were further bastardised beyond redemption. The institutions of government in particular received the deadliest blow of all.


11th October 1999.

(To be Continued)


1. Plato,  ‘The Apology’ in The Last Days of Socrates. Trans. by Hugh Tredennick, 1969. Great Britain: Penguin. Pp. 61-62.