Suggesting Military Democracy for Nigeria

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

This essay posits that considering the peculiar history of Nigeria, it is time we rethink democracy and its applicability to the Nigerian question because for much of its existence as a nation-state, the country has been mired in poverty and underdevelopment and by succession of socio-political upheavals — mostly made possible by the dearth of visionary leadership, weak institutions and the peculiar characteristics of the federating peoples. Nigeria’s problems are enormous, daunting and complex. Over the years, the country has tried the Parliamentary and Presidential systems of government; additionally, the country has experimented with military dictatorship — all to no avail. The time has therefore come for a new approach to governance; that is, an amalgamation of what is good about the military regimes and civilian rule. This new paradigm is called Milidemocracy.

Robert Dahl it was who said no modern country meets the strict standard of democracy. What we have instead, more so in the West, are Polyarchies, which are characterized by free and fair elections; inclusive suffrage, right to and refusal to run for elective office, freedom of expression, and freedom of association and of the press — supported by an independent judiciary; and a clear delineation of the three branches of government all working for the interest and wellbeing of the vast majority of the people. In the opinion of Dahl therefore, to have a semblance of acceptable democracy, there must be effective participation; adequate control of the agenda; enlightened understanding of the political process by the vast majority of the people; voting equality; and a very high percentage of the populace participating in the political process.

Contemporary Nigeria, under civilian dispensation, has a difficult time meeting the aforesaid requirements. That being the case, why do we then refer to Nigeria as a democracy? We know for instance that Nigerian elections are never free and fair, that the peoples’ rights are regularly abridged, and that the press and the judiciary are not independent and free to function within the dictates of the constitution, and that it is strenuous entering and exiting the political system. Besides, the vast majority of the populace are not cognizance of their inalienable rights or of what the elections are about. In others words, participation in the Nigerian political process is an act of faith, done in the midnight-hour by the dupes for the duplicitous to the disadvantage of the ignorant.

There are no empirical information to support the fact that the military do a better job at transparent and accountable governance. Or even that they could move the country closer to a polycharchy.  In other words, the military does not have a monopoly of good governance. But neither does the civilians! The civilians cannot claim to be paragon of democracy and political liberalization. Because Nigeria — in spite of its enviable human and natural resources now wallows in poverty and poor human security and fetid environmental conditions — the time has come for a rethinking of governance and what it means to be a democracy in a modern world.

In general, the Nigerian Military does not have a cashable check with Nigerians. It has a chequered past; with officers who compromised the integrity of the services and officers who subordinated their authority to the Emirs and Obas and others civilian gods. Nevertheless, this was the exception, not the rule. Overall, the Nigerian Military is a bona fide organization whose men and women excelled at home and abroad and wherever duty and country may call. In spite of this faint blemish, one can hardly point to five militaries anywhere in the world that has performed better than the Nigerian military in terms of peacekeeping operations anytime in the last fifty or so years.

Again, one can hardly point to five countries anywhere in the world, within the last forty years where, after a civil war, the military held the country together better than in Nigeria. Cessation of hostilities is not the same as peace. This is a concept the military fully understands, hence its great unifying role. The Angolans Mozambican and others are still reeling from and trying to recover from years of civil war. Not so in Nigeria. In places like Chile, Nicaragua and Panama, the citizens have yet to recover from years and years of military brutality. Not so in Nigeria. The pre-1999 Nigerian military was just a collection of badly trained boy scouts when compared to these and other Third World militaries. The Gowon era military was much better.

Whatever grouse one may have against the military, one must not forget that the “bloody civilians” are not bankable, either. We have a president and his ministers; we have national and state assemblies; we have thirty-six state governors and hundreds of commissioners and advisers; and we also have hundreds of local government chairs. All are civilians, and have nothing to show for their years in government in terms of economic growth and human development. Some commentators have even argued that if we compared the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Buhari-IBB-Abacha eras, life was better for the average Nigerian than it is now. Nigeria, we must remember, was brought to her knees mostly by the civilians.

Although I have not provided the structure or the form Milidemocracy should take and how officials should be elected, selected and appointed; I am simply suggesting that we take another view of western-style democracy which has not worked for Nigeria, and for that matter, for much of Africa. The task for Nigerians is to find ways of meshing what is good about the military, i.e. decisiveness, tolerance and discipline; and what is great about civilians, i.e. inclusiveness and locality. Together, both institutions can forge a system that works well and work best for the country and still achieve the basic aims of western democracy: accountability and responsiveness in an atmosphere of constitutionalism.

Or, as Juan J. Linz maintained, the “legal freedom to formulate and advocate political alternatives with the concomitant rights to free association, free speech, and other basic freedoms of person; free and nonviolent competition among leaders with periodic validation of their claim to rule; inclusion of all effective political offices in the democratic process; and provision for the participation of all members of the political community, whatever their political preferences.”

Constitutions are a living and breathing source of law. They are primarily meant to help guide a nation. If properly written and or amended, it becomes the source of all law and life for a nation and her people. This, the new Nigerian constitution must do. The military and civilian institutions should band together to make this a viable reality. There is no need to exclude the military from government. As a matter of urgency therefore, we need to set up agencies to map out the structures and modalities for such a new thinking. I would suggest however that the local governments and the judiciary should not be tampered with, only strengthened; however, the state and federal governments, along with state and federal legislatures needs to be restructured in order to accommodate the military. The constitution must be amended to reflect these changes.

In sum, my argument is simply this: over the long run, western democracy will not work in Nigeria because it does not take into account our history, our pec

uliarities and our collective circumstances. The West is completely different from Nigeria; therefore, to import their system — wholesale — for our use is asinine as we do not have the culture, the supporting institutions, the education, and the temperament to make it viable. Hence, Milidemocracy is an option we have to explore in so far as we can amend our constitution to take into account the anticipated reality.


Note: I was recently informed by an editor who is based in the United Kingdom that President Nnamdi Azikiwe once proposed “diarchy – joint military- civilian rule, on the grounds that the military had some qualities that they would bring to the political table just as the politicians would bring their assumed diplomatese and negotiating skills.” He also informed that in 1985 Chief Arthur Nwankwo’s “Cimilicy was published,” wherein he proposed “civilianizing the soldiers and militarizing the civilians.” Until these were brought to my notice I was ignorant of both facts; therefore, the writings of Azikiwe and Nwankwo have no bearing on my submissions. (


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