In liberal tradition, the military is subordinate to civil rule while a coup is considered as capital punishment. But the prevalence of military rule in African politics in general and Nigeria, in particular, was prompted by state fragility caused by the ineptitude of civilian rulers. With the military having been involved in coups of other African countries, and their resounding success in quelling civil disturbances within the Nigerian political space, they developed a sense of duty, responsibility, and indispensability in taking over political power. This seizure of power was to be temporary, while they fixed the deformities within the country, to later hand over power civil authority.

Nigeria had a total of 11 officially announced coups, 7 military heads of state and 29 out of its first 39 years of independence under military rule. One of the most unique military administrations the country witnessed was under General Ibrahim Babangida. His administration was one of the most experimentalist and reformist and he was evidently obsessed with the creation of a new social order and an ideal state that would help correct the structural malformations of civil rule, ensure national cohesion and economic development

Babangida of Gwari origin and a middle belt Muslim was Nigeria’s sixth military ruler. He was a methodological ruler who was deft and tactical in his approach while being highly unpredictable earned him the nick MARADONA. He was reported to have taken part in all coups in Nigeria which may explain his confident handling of national affairs

Babangida is a military ruler, no doubt had good intentions for the country, most especially its transition to civil rule but this transition had at its serving ends the fulfillment of his own purposes and personal desires which culminated in his eventual downfall and overthrow from office. This analogy could be best understood in a 4×100 relay race where you have 4 different runners but in Babangida’s scenario, just 2 runners, he starts, hands over the baton to the body responsible for the design of the transition program, i.e. the ‘political bureau’ while he goes to wait in the position of the last runner to complete the race into a democratic civil authority. This can aptly be described as self-succession ambition, wherefrom being a military head of state, transits into the president of a democratically elected government. It is also important to note that Babangida insisted on being called president rather than head of state

Babangida’s instrument for achieving his self-succession ambition was the Political Bureau which was saddled with the responsibility of drafting a new constitution, states and local government creation, census, and most intriguing, was the formation and imposition of a two-party system on the Nigerian state. This particular exercise in Babangida’s terms were to limit electoral malpractices and replace the old brigade i.e. corrupt civilian politicians, with a new breed of politicians but this, in reality, was a tactical move, to create a client political class that could be trusted to protect the privileges enjoyed by military rulers after their exit from office.


Babangida in his schemes to make himself popular for a democratic government adopted military rule only at the federal government, while the state and local governments were governed by civilian authorities under his military administration. His death knell was finally sounded when he was forced to conduct democratic elections for the transition to civil rule and this was after various postponements of dates, highlighting his desire to remain in office as a civilian president. He had initially promised to hand over power on promised dates like October 1, 1990, then October 1, 1992, and later January 1993  and even after the elections were conducted the results were annulled and declared inconclusive

His self-preservation strategies and other numerous covert activities disguised under the façade of altruism earned him the nickname Maradona, the Argentine footballer famously known for his abundant tricks and flicks which he uses effortlessly to evade and maneuver his opponents to score goals…the most notable one being the hand of god in the 1986 world cup final against England.

maradona hand of god


The long shadow of Nigeria’s Military Epochs 1966-79 and 1983-99 by Eghosa Osaghae.