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Buhari as an unpopular dictator in the 1980s

Machine gun blast from the past

Many Nigerians are already complaining about the slow pace of the new Buhari administration. It looks like history is repeating itself, as this piece from Buhari’s first time as head of state from the New York Times in May 1984 shows.


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 living.

Growing Disappointment

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 administration.

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 Nigeria’s economy.

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 Shagari.”

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