When he began his first stint as Nigeria’s Head of State after a coup in 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari promised not to allow the “the nonsenses of litigation” interfere with his fight against corruption. He then proceeded to oversee an anti-corruption drive characterized by public executions, secret military tribunals, and imprisonment for journalists who dared to disagree with his policies. He jailed hundreds of high-profile politicians, businessmen, and civil servants, and instilled enough fear to dissuade many others from corrupt practices. Today, Buhari’s supporters hail those efforts as ‘sanitizing’ the system. Evidence, they say, that Nigeria would have been different today had he remained President.
That narrative significantly undermines the role Buhari’s extreme practices played in bringing about his own downfall some 20 months after he took power. As General Ibrahim Babangida, who led the coup to overthrow Buhari, said in a take-over speech, the 1985 coup was to end the “insensitivity of the political leadership.”