Demilitarizing Nigerian Democracy!

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Using military capabilities, aggressively, to defend or promote government’s selfish interests should be discarded, for this democracy to survive. Nigerians may not hope to challenge the military by means of force, since our democratic government can. As they prefer to guard against any potential usurpation of powers, a combination of policies, laws, and the inculcation of the values of civilian control in their armed services becomes a necessity.

The presence of a distinct civilian police force, militia, or other paramilitary group everywhere may mitigate to an extent that it could intimidate this democracy. Opponents of gun-controlled regime have cited the need for a balance of power in order to enforce the civilian control of the military. Politicians who personally lack military training and experience but who seek to engage the nation in military action may risk resistance of being labeled “chicken-hawks” by those who disagree with their political goals. The consolidation of democracy is not simply a problem of more or lesser military prerogatives; the high level of military prerogatives there is a moral quest to reduce such privileges.

For all these, members of the professional ex-military chiefs, their serving colleagues and their non-uniformed supporters were participating in Nigeria’s nascent democracy. They stage bureaucratic bargaining process of the state’s policy-making apparatus; engaging in regulatory support and at the same time, attempt to restrict the policy options of elected officials when it comes to military matters. Since Nigeria’s 1999 recovery from authoritarian rule, members of the police and military were not constitutionally prohibited from voting. Other significant law did not bar organizations advocating the overthrow of the government from participating in the political process. These measures, however, were implemented too late to prevent the military’s multiple incursions into Nigerian politics.

Barely 10 years of formal democracy in Nigeria, there is a need to rethink military involvement inside our approach to democracy for several reasons. An analysis of the current process of democratization needs to consider additional factors, such as changes in the balance of power among the main actors of the political system. The second weakness of this approach is that it tends to consider civil-military relations in terms of two “poles” — civilian vs. armed forces — without considering the existence of cleavages within the armed forces and within civilian sectors. For instance, we need to examine the existence of informal coalitions between some civilian political and some of the military service chiefs. The third criticism is related to the concept of subordination. The normative approach emphasizes the need to accomplish an objective subordination; that is, to change the law in order to reduce military prerogatives and strengthen civilian prerogatives over the armed forces.

The issue of sour civil-military relations was already well-known, but now the question of a gap between the two communities began to receive the attention of academics, politicians, and military leaders alike. I received a mind-bugging call this morning fro a “nigeria4betterrulist”, narrating an ordeal about how a naval officer gunned down two police officers in Lagos courtesy of Daily Punch of 14th November , 2008. Because of their clandestine nature, the Nigerian military personnel understand their civilian counterpart with disgust, twist, animosity and misjudgment. In like-situation, this country experienced an un-democratic threat, and these armed forces promptly responded by shifting the focus of its military strategy from external threat perceptions to internal threats of political instability, poverty, and socialism, whereas, in democracies, defense issues and threats to national security is decided by the law-makers.

The military in a democracy exists to protect the nation and the freedoms of its people. It must not represent or support any particular political viewpoint or ethnic or social group. Its loyalty is to the larger ideals of the nation, to the rule of law, and to the principle of democracy itself. The purpose of a military is to defend society, not define it. Any democratic government values the expertise and advice of military professionals in reaching policy decisions about defense and national security. But only the elected civilian leadership should make ultimate policy decisions regarding the nation’s defense – which the military then implements.

A democracy’s military serves its nation rather than leads it: Military leaders advise elected leaders and carry out their decisions. Only those who are elected by the people have the ultimate authority and the responsibility to decide the fate of a nation. This principle of civilian control and authority over the military is fundamental to democracy. Civilians need to direct their nation’s military and decide issues of national defense, not because they are necessarily wiser than military professionals, but precisely because they are the people’s representatives and, as such, are charged with the responsibility for making these decisions and remaining accountable for them.

Military figures may, of course, participate as individuals in the political life of their country, just like any other citizens. Military personnel may vote in elections. All military personnel, however, must first withdraw or retire from military service before becoming involved in politics; armed services must remain separate from politics. The military are the neutral servants of the state and the guardians of society.

History shows that the main reasons why democratic systems of government are overthrown are military: conquest or military coup. Strong defense is required to prevent or deter conquest, but a strong military can increase the threat of military coup, so a delicate balancing act is required. Consequently alliances with other democratic countries seem to play a crucial role as well as internal constitutional checks on the military. This paper analyses the evolution and maintenance of democracy from the perspective of the impact of military considerations. Insurgency arguably has been the greatest threat to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. The activities of the JTF and the Niger Delta militants produced domestic anarchy, which directly challenged the govern¬ment’s legitimacy. This in turn led to the national state of emergency and the draconian governmental countermeasures cited earlier in the human rights portion of this work.

Opponents of the movement for democracy in Nigeria have sought to undermine it by on the one hand casting aspersions on the competence of the people to judge what was best for the nation and on the other condemning the basic tenets of democracy as un-Nigerian. There is nothing new in Third World governments seeking to justify and perpetuate authoritarian rule by denouncing liberal democratic principles as alien. By implication they claim for themselves the official and sole right to decide what does or does not conform to indigenous cultural norms. Such conventional propaganda aimed at consolidating the powers of the establishment has been studied, analyzed and disproved by political scientists, jurists and sociologists.

But in Nigeria, distanced by several decades of isolationism from political and intellectual developments in the outside world, the people have had to draw on their own resources to explode the twin myths of their unfitness for political responsibility and the unsuitability of democracy for their society. As soon as the movement for democracy spread out across Nigeria, there was a surge of intense interest in the meaning of the word ‘democracy’, in its history and its practical implications.

More than a quarter-century of narrow authoritarianism under which they had been fed pabulum of shallow, negative dogma had not blunted the perceptiveness or political alertness of the Nigerian. On the contrary, perhaps not all that surprisingly, their appetite for discussion and debate, for uncensored information and objective analysis, seemed to have been sharpened. Not only was there an eagerness to study and to absorb standard theories on modern politics and political institutions, there was also widespread and intelligent speculation on the nature of democracy as a social system of which they had had little experience but which appealed to their common-sense notions of what was due to a civilized society.

There was a spontaneous interpretative response to such basic ideas as representative government, human rights and the rule of law. The privileges and freedoms which would be guaranteed by democratic institutions were contemplated with understandable enthusiasm. But the duties of those who would bear responsibility for the maintenance of a stable democracy also provoked much thoughtful consideration.

It is natural that a people who have suffered much from the consequences of bad government should be preoccupied with theories of good government. But the conscious effort to make traditional knowledge relevant to contemporary needs was not confined to any particular circle – it went right through Nigerian society from urban intellectuals and small shopkeepers to doughty village grandmothers. Why has Nigerian with its abundant natural and human resources failed to live up to its early promise as one of the most energetic and fastest-developing nations in Africa? International scholars have provided detailed answers supported by careful analyses of historical, cultural, political and economic factors. The Nigerian people, who have had no access to sophisticated academic material, got to the heart of the matter by turning to the words Zik spoke on the four causes of decline.

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