Demilitarizing Nigerian Democracy!

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

In the process, the interim government could be able to concentrate on reviving the economy as well as restoring fundamental rights and liberties of the Nigerian people including the restoration of democracy through general elections. To that end, the international community must continue to apply both economic and diplomatic pressure on Nigeria’s military junta. This is to ensure that the junta does not end up doing what juntas are wont to do: make grand promises about restoring democracy without the slightest intention of relinquishing power to the democratically elected representatives of the people.

A Historical and Qualitative Perspective Nigeria’s armed forces have undermined the democratic processes by either leading or directly supporting every Nigerian coup d’état except one—the coup of 1995, in which civilians overthrew a military dictatorship . Surprisingly, it is not democratic elections, but the coup d’état that has proven to be the most prevalent means of Nigerian transfer of government

For instance, during the 1999 military to civilian rule elections, some Nigerian police officers with their Army counterparts seized polling stations, threw out candidates’ polling agents and stamped the ballots themselves. Critics also pointed to a lack of impartiality shown by the INEC and a failure to curb the widespread misuse of state funds by pro-military parties. There was limited time allotted for electioneering, and election rallies by anti-militarized parties were frequently banned or disrupted. The state owned media blatantly promoted the views of the military government view, and some opposition party activists were even gunned down.

Complaints made to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were ignored. At several polling stations in Port Harcourt and Lagos supporters of the military-backed candidates took control of proceedings, threatened the local observers with violence and prevented their entry into polling booths, as they tampered with the ballots. Ballots were stolen, fake ID cards were in circulation, and many postal ballots were found in unauthorized hands.

At some polling stations in Wuse inside Abuja (FCT), indelible ink was missing, allowing some voters to cast more than one vote. At other locations, polling stations were changed at the last minute, or valid electoral lists were missing thus preventing legitimate voters from casting their votes. Many voters complained that their names had been omitted from the electoral lists even though they had voted in the previous elections and had not changed residence. Others complained that when they arrived at polling stations they were told that their votes had already been cast. In Abeokuta and Minna no responsible authority knew where a particular polling station was.

The reforms now being championed by the Obasanjo Presidency touch the military services as vitally as they affect civil society. Among the civil populace the reforms are meant to benefit those who prefer to work for a living and not live on government patronage. By the same token, the new order is also designed to favour soldiers who would rather face their profession and define their career path in terms of excellent military service rather than political adventurism.

The present dispensation affords us an opportunity to reflect on issues that are germane to the institutional coherence and operational readiness of the nation’s fighting forces. As Nigeria continues to undergo challenging transitions in various facets of life, key national institutions are required to build up their internal structures, capacities and processes towards defending the young democracy with courage and patriotism. The Nigerian military remains a vital national institution in this regard. It must be helped to restore those core values of cohesion, hierarchy, discipline, esprit de corps and respect for constitutional order that are the hub of professionalism. An investment in military professionalism is an investment in democracy. Under rogue military regimes, Nigeria literally missed out on opportunities for the professional development of its armed forces. It is time once again to build up our military into a formidable fighting force.

The death squads, linked to state structures either through active participation or tolerance, reached such a level of control that they went beyond the level of an isolated or marginal phenomenon to become an instrument of terror, which systematically practiced the physical elimination of political opponents.Many of the civilian and military authorities in power during the 1990s participated in, promoted and tolerated these groups’ activities. In spite of the fact that these still latent clandestine structures have not recently made their presence known, they could be reactivated at any time that those in high levels of power were to apprise that a “dirty war” could be resumed in Nigeria. Since these death squads constituted the element that destroyed any remaining vestige of a state of law during the armed conflict, Nigerian government should not only assume an alert and resolved attitude to prevent their resurgence, but also solicit international aid for their total and absolute eradication.

There are many ways to analyze preferences. In this case we are interested in, first, analyzing how the armed forces and new democratic governments create mechanisms for dialogue and interaction. I will argue these daily processes of interaction have shaped contemporary civil-military relations in Nigeria. In 1990, while the new civilian government stressed civilian authority over the military, the armed forces stressed their autonomy from the government. Since then, the ways the government and the military have interacted have transformed civil-military relations. The government has accepted the armed forces as a “political actor,” and the armed forces have accepted some additional restraints. This evolving institutional framework has shaped politics and strategies of political actors but, at the same time, actors are in a constant process of “learning by doing.” Thus, political calculations and short-term decisions have also shaped civil-military relations, generating informal mechanisms of conflict resolution.

In this process, two factors have become clear: first, some political parties accept and defend the ideal of a “protected democracy,” in which the armed forces have a significant role in the political system. Second, a characteristic of civil-military relations in the Nigerian democracy has been the generation of informal mechanisms to resolve central issues related to the military autonomy. The second way to analyze preferences is to focus on the level of elite unity about the role of the armed forces. Unified elite that rejects military intervention in politics may inhibit military intervention in politics, while a fragmented elite may permit the creation of anti-democratic coalitions between the armed forces and some sectors of civil society.

The Nigerian political transition began in 1998 when the principal parties opposing the dictatorship (Christian democrats, Activists, Radicals, and sundry agreed to participate in a constitutionally mandated plebiscite in which people had to decide whether Abacha’s government should continue for another eight years. Since that time, the political discourse of the transition has been dominated by some political “principles” that all actors have accepted, including the military actors. These principles are basic ideas that served as guidelines during the period of transition and later, during the establishment of democracy.

Respect of the institutional framework. Although opposition parties rejected the Constitution that was imposed in 1993 by the military dictatorship, they accepted the framework it established. Therefore, the new democratic government had to apply norms that it had rejected in its program. For instance, IBB’s government did not agree to the constitutional provision that permitted the commander-in-chief of the armed forces to remain in charge for eight additional years, but democratic authorities had to accept this constraint because it was part of the Constitution they swore to respect in 1993.Political leaders knew that citizens wanted a peaceful transition. Stability was (and still is) a central goal in the first and second democratic governments. As we will see later, the principle of stability often has been more important than other objectives such as justice, accountability, or responsibility.

Three dimensions of military prerogatives were established in several laws during the military regime. They were Political autonomy to the limitation of civilian authorities in the following areas, the President could remove any officer, including the head of the armed forces and Military justice had a high level of autonomy in relation to civilian courts. All these prerogatives are defined by constitutional laws, making them difficult to modify or even to discuss in the tribunal, given the opposition’s majority. Both IBB in 1993 and Abacha in 1995 sent bills to military tribunal in order to modify some aspects related to the promotion and removal of officers. In both cases, the tribunal refused to discuss this issue.

Lack of respect for the rule of law and for any obligation of democratic accountability has also led to a culture of corruption within the Nigerian military that has only grown worse in the era of our democratization process. Corruption is widespread and widely known to exist: It is known that the militants got weapons from Nigerian military sources and that high military circles use their influence to gain riches. Much of the money put in the budget to improve officers’ salaries was never seen by them.
Under military rule, the tyrants controlled vast areas and their resources. Officers with access to military property have been selling it for personal gain. As much as $65 million may have been pocketed by Nigerian generals in the past two years. Transition to a market economy and the sale of military assets within a generally unregulated environment has created conditions for rampant corruption. Indeed, a major rise in Nigerian mafia activity is attributed to crime rings set up by officers who sold Nigerian military assets and ferried stolen Nigeria crude oil to western world .We reported corruption involving ship scrapping activities and Nigerian naval officers who benefit from such sales. Few military assets sold off in recent years have found their way back to the national treasury.

Nigerian commanders in the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in Liberia and Sudan have been linked to corruption. Their activities have ranged from black marketeering and running prostitution rings to actively abate it. Continuation of these practices within the ECOMOG peacekeeping mission worries this government, who fear that such behaviour could jeopardize the success of such mission in future. Clearly, the battle for democracy in Nigeria has not been won. It will take all the resourcefulness of the Nigerian people to overcome the crafty machinations of Nigerian’s military and sections of the clerical elite who have thrown their weight behind insurgency. For real democracy to take hold in Nigeria not only will the people of Nigeria have to fight the internal enemies of democracy, they will also have to overcome the crushing power of the military godfathers, who cynically subvert or stymie moves towards genuine democracy in Nigeria.

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