MILITARY RULE AND GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA

R.1. Ohikhokhai


Introduction

A number of assumptions are inherent in any attempt to analyse socio-political issues of contemporary historical significance. Such assumptions are often times predicated upon the general tendency to perceive issues in isolation rather than in a holistic perspective. Once an idea about something has an emotional appeal there is often the tendency to hold on steadfastly to it like partisans without checking the veracity of the available evidences. Moreover, existing assumptions may be based upon the fact that personal prejudices are allowed to colour one’s perception of events. No cognizance is taken of parts of the events. The strands of analysis usually do not have much to do with history, rather they are reflections of individual feelings and therefore do not lead to a better understanding of the forces of history that occasioned their existence.

And unless there is an understanding of the underlying structural forces at play, one might miss the point completely. A thorough going analysis of the crisis of governance civil or military in the Nigerian State must therefore be holistic and objective. An interpretation therefore which dwells merely on the predicament of the ruling class be considered too narrow for a crisis which is societal and structural. True history, is the study of the conduct, of the things that men and women in past have done, why they did them and what the doing caused. It may study man in the mass, but not in the abstract, for it does not forget that the mass is made up of men and that man is changeable and subject to various vicissitudes.’ The historian must stand at a certain detached distance from the events he is investigating. Even if it is hard at all times to disengage oneself and look at events dispassionately and with a critical eye, there is the need to refrain from conclusions and value jugdements.

Nigeria’s Political and Economic Crisis: Structural Origins

It is the contention of this paper that a serious study of any phase of the Nigerian crisis should recognize the historical origin of the structural deformities of Nigeria and their concomitant consequences on the process of governance in the country. Nigeria is a country or a federation of countries each of which has a culture of its own, and outwardly at least with a reasoned way of life.

The period of British colonization and exploitation of the country’s resources culminated in the severe under-development of the country. It created a dependent and unproductive dominant class and accentuated the spatial inequalities among the people. It also created a non-hegemonic, weak, yet repressive and exploitative state and incorporated a dominant elite into the service of foreign capital which dominated virtually all aspects of the Nigeria economy and society.= If the various nationalities that make up the country had been left to unite by themselves and had been given the chance to evolve slowly, there is every reason to suppose that they could have been able to evolve a satisfactory way of relating, and developed a coherent socio-political culture of their own.’ But they were not left alone, because they were brought together and programmed to serve a purpose in the imperialist scheme of the British and other Western industrialized nations.

The immediate effect of this according to Akin Fadahunsi, was the elimination of a thriving craft industry and trade in the products along traditional routes within the country and neighbouring state.’ For the more than 150 years when the British colonial rule lasted, the country’s natural resources were exploited with reckless abandon and when Nigeria finally secured her independence in 1960, the country was in dire need of direction and good leadership.’

The multi-ethnic politics that has continually sharpened the process of governance in post-independence Nigeria is another point in the fight with the destabilizing legacy of colonialism. At the bottom of the Nigerian political crisis was the quarrel over spoils. And this, took place at two levels. The first was the rivalry of the regions, which competed against each other for a large share of the federal revenue, and of the export trade, over the location of industries and the allocations of development capital. On the second level of the quarrel, there was competition often called tribalism for jobs, for promotion, for vice-chancellorships of Universities and Chairmanship of corporations.’ The politicians had produced no ideology of national unity which would interpret conflict in social or class terms; and the structure of Nigeria at independence filtered all contests into regional, and so inevitably, ethnic or communal channels.’

Therefore, the ripples of ethnic wrangling over power sharing has consistently threatened the basis of national unity and the co-existence of Nigeria’s component nationalities. The country has been painstakingly patched together for many years through mutual adjustments, forbearance and the readiness to cater for the collective interest of the various sections of the country.

Arising from the above is the religious question, a derivative of the religious plurality of the state. This is another very important underlying determinant of the current of events in Nigeria’s polity. The dysfunctional consequences of this factor and its counterpart inter-ethnic tension, affect the entire processes of policy formulation and decision-making and have always been a recurring decimal in administration and the crisis of the Nigerian state.

Furthermore, a problem that has both political, social and economic dimensions which the country has tended to contain is corruption. Social relations in pre­colonial Nigerian Communities accommodated the use of `dash’ or `gift’ as a form of traditional hospitality. Elders and leaders were not only highly revered; they enjoyed seemingly absolute authorities in all social and political matters. The extended family system accommodated the need for individuals to be hospitable and polite to all members of the family. One implication of this is that a member of one’s family was always welcomed even when he invades your household with a retinue of his siblings and attendants. Relationships of this sort Collins observed, are a frightful expenses and one of the reasons why most Nigerians live above their means, whether poor or rich.’ On attainment of independence in 1960, these traditions which did not apply in colonial administration, reared up its head when government became an all Nigerian affair. It metamorphosed into corruption and has developed into recurring resident `monsters’ in state houses and government departments. Succeeding government leaders have always announced elaborate plans in their early reign to destroy this `monster’ but have themselves turned out to be more corrupt than their predecessors.

If the above analysis have any degree of validity, it would seem reasonable to say that the dynamics of Nigeria’s crises have long been entangled into mammoth complexities. It is not merely a matter of the exigencies linked to maladministration, it has a much more complex root in the entire structural defect entrenched in the socio-cultural life of the people and the colonial legacies of its erstwhile colonial masters and their western collaborators.

Military Rule in Nigeria (1985 -1993).

The task to be addressed now is how to situate military regime, especially the Babangida regime in the entire difficult and chequered Nigeria history. It must be said immediately that this is a very tall historical assignment, considering the fact that virtually all actors in the period in question are still alive. Perhaps taller because the scope of this research does not seem to fit squarely into the purview of proper history. At best it might be assigned to the ambit of history used to drive home an idea: propagandist history or what Dibua referred to as “Quick history.

Moreso, when there is also the grave impediment of sources and documents, particular classified documents which government will not make available to historians for at least one generation. This notwithstanding, there are a variety of documents such as news magazines, newspapers, government gazettes etc which the historian must use with a high degree of scepticism. Another tall aspect of this assignment lies with the fact that it has been speculated that Babangida who was the military president of Nigeria during this period of our study still wields a tremendous political influence in present day Nigerian politics such that he is said to have the possibility to rise again to leadership position.

It is still too early to properly place and access his “reign” or position in the contemporary Nigerian polity. Be this as it may, there have been some attempts to hastily place the Babangida regime by many writers. First, there is a spate of write-ups which are usually orchestrated attempts to justify most of the regimes policies. This group has their chief proponents among government officials. The kernel of their argument, that is, of this strand of history writers, is that the Babangida era constitutes a revolutionary period in contemporary Nigerian history.

This school of thought further contends, using the familiar argument of tracing Nigeria’s political problems to the colonial policy of divide and rule, that attempts or efforts of preceding government at addressing Nigeria’s structural development problems that were not far-reaching enough to rectify the failures of the past. What is implied by these comments is that before the advent of the Babangida regime, no ruler had taken any meaningful and fundamental step towards grappling with the problem of nation-building. According to these official apologist, the Babangida administration inherited several structural and normative defects which constrained the evolution and development of democracy.

The most important being the dependent, under-development and integrated urban-rural economic base. They went on to argue that the extent and limitations of the problems were not fully appreciated by Babangida predecessors. Hence, the policies that they adopted were either ill-conceived or implemented half-heartedly or were downright inadequate.

Moreover, they lacked “the requisite political will, foresight and doggedness to undertake and sustain a fundamental restructuring of the economic base and the socio-political super structure” Therefore like the biblical John the Baptist, Babangida has been assigned a forerunner role of clearing the stable for the emergence of a future Nigerian Messiah with the revolutionary spirit who will usher in an era of Saints and Angels on the political stage of Nigeria. Inspite of the above views, it is however curious enough to note that succeeding regimes since Babangida era have been everything else but messianic, even when they claim to be.

Though these sources seem tendentious and biased, they provide an insider-lead to understanding the current of thought in government circles during Babangida’s regime. They however must be handled with some degree of circumspection. Another window opened for an insight into the character of Babangida’s regime arises from the available and numerous vexed issues that dominated the analysis, interviews and commentaries by the media and the Nigerian populace. These are also found in some scholarly journals and publications. These issues include the profligate life style of government ministers, top officials and those of their attendant contractors and hangers-on: the structural adjustment programme; the prolonged and wasteful transition programme and the obnoxious Decree 2. Political parties it is argued, comprise individuals with similar ideals and therefore must be allowed to evolve from the people. The normal practice is to ask people to form parties. Legislating them into existence is fundamentally wrong. In Nigeria under Babangida, people were told to form associations.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) recommended six out of the thirteen that applied, and they were rejected. Government instead created and imposed a two-party system, drafted manifestoes for these parties, built their secretariats and provided party vehicles bearing official government plate numbers. These are all unprecedented practices in the process of democratization. It is the contention of some schools of thought that most of the regime’s programmes were self-serving because they were diversionary, inconsistent and meant to pave way for IBB to perpetuate himself in power. This perceived hidden agenda is believed to have culminated in the annulment of the 1993 presidential election.

It has also been said that the IBB regime was the most difficult, oppressive and corrupt. Some even say that IBB is Nigeria’s greatest problem because he laid the foundation for the emergence of the most traumatizing era in Nigeria history – the Abacha era. He is also widely perceived as the driving force in the government of his era. He was clearly not afraid to set and maintain the pace of and to dispense with the services of ministers and officials whom he felt had outlived their usefulness or are no more relevant to his set policies. Babangida dominated his executive to the extent that his discussions and at times perceived moods were law. He was not only the chairman of the Armed forces Ruling Council (AFRO) with others holding letters of appointment from him, he was also chairman, Council of Ministers, Chairman, National Council of States, Chairman Police Service Commission, Minister of Defence and he had the SSS, the Central Bank and Budget Affairs under him.” Inspite of this powerful grip on his officials and the state, Babangida was too open-handed and generous to the extent that officials took advantage .of these weakness to help themselves with public funds. The public service became a source of wastage of national resources as there were plenty of pilfering of public funds and the neglect of infrastructures.

IBB’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), the Directorate for Social Mobilisation (MAMSER) and his wife’s Better Life for Rural Women (BLRW), have all attracted mixed reactions from a cross-section of the Nigerian people.

It was believed that the various committees, commissions and boards, instituted or constituted by the government were simply meant to divert the attention of the people and to provide accommodation for vocal members of the civil society and close friends of the military. The Political Bureau, Constitutional Review Panel, Constituent Assembly, Federal Road Safety Commission, Technical Committee on Brain- Drain, Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation, various reconstituted boards and newly formed boards of parastatals were conceived and geared towards fulfilling that objective.

Babangida’s greatest undoing, it seems, lies not only in his failed structural adjustment programme and other perceived deceitful structures but particularly, in his annulment of the June 12 1993 Presidential election. This annulment has attracted the most acerbic condemnation from the people. The vitriolic nature of this on what was left of his image was more devastating, given the fact that the election had been adjudged the “most free and fair” election in Nigeria’s electoral history.

It is not possible now to ascertain the causes of the annulment, Omo-Omoruyi’s recent publication notwithstanding. Therefore, even if we admit that Babangida is responsible for all of Nigeria’s woes, it cannot be said that Nigeria of the year after his rule was in any way different. The various anomalies of Nigeria’s political system, the various issues that have more or less kept Nigeria apart are still very much with us. Corruption, ethnic inequality, religious intolerance, armed robbery and all other variables that detract from peaceful co-existence are becoming more endemic in Nigeria’s polity. Leadership in Nigeria before IBB and after him, has continued to be characterized by god-fatherism, self-centredness and insincerity to the citizens of the nation. The search for a true Nigeria is still in progress. For now, it can only be said that there is a “geographical collectivity” called Nigeria. This geographical collectivity is cohabited by three dominant ethnic nationalities and a conglomeration of more than two hundred and fifty minor ethnic nationalities. Each of these nationalities retained a concern about the preservation of its language and, its distinct culture.

They regard the Nigerian state as a national cake which must be shared. The struggle over the lion share among these groups has been more pronounced amongst the Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani. And their struggles for power have come to symbolize the mood and pulse of the Nigerian nation state in such a way that their socio-political feelings and reactions have often times set the pace of events and their subsequent outcome.

The outcome is that the Nigerian state has been run like a colonial state ruled over by the victorious winner in a perpetual contest for power among the Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani. Successive Nigerian leaders have always demonstrated their loyalty and commitment to clannish interests and complete disregard of the need to create a Nigerian state where national interests override every other interest. In this process they have become corrupt, and deceitful. Nobody was born to be corrupt or weak. It is the social system that corrupts. A good social and integrative system will make the Nigerian state an efficient one.

Since independence, Nigeria has been in the throes of needless but calamitous crises. The country has regressed drastically, from a fairly sane and tolerable order to an acute and despondent state of uncertainty and fear.” Leadership has become more problematic than the socio-political problems. Whenever a leader is elected or `guns’ his way to power, he is immediately hailed, surrounded and captured by sycophants, security operatives, hangers on and the chieftains and members of his clan, in such a way that at no time he loses touch with the actual political, social and economic realities of the country, as well as his role in governance.

Therefore, Babangida was a victim of the Nigerian state system. No nation gets a leader that it does not deserve because if a government does not reflect the collective will of the people then it reflects their collective weaknesses. And Nigerian weakness are displayed everywhere then why not in government. Babangida therefore is a Nigerian phenomenon. There is “Babangida” in every one of us. Whatever commentaries or analyses that abide now – negative or positive – would still have to wait for the shifting sands of historical interpretations and a conglomeration of more than two hundred and fifty minor ethnic nationalities. Each of these nationalities retained a concern about the preservation of its language and, its distinct culture.

They regard the Nigerian state as a national cake which must be shared. The struggle over the lion share among these groups has been more pronounced amongst the Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani. And their struggles for power have come to symbolize the mood and pulse of the Nigerian nation state in such a way that their socio-political feelings and reactions have often times set the pace of events and their subsequent outcome.

The outcome is that the Nigerian state has been run like a colonial state ruled over by the victorious winner in a perpetual contest for power among the Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani. Successive Nigerian leaders have always demonstrated their loyalty and commitment to clannish interests and complete disregard of the need to create a Nigerian state where national interests override every other interest. In this process they have become corrupt, and deceitful. Nobody was born to be corrupt or weak. It is the social system that corrupts. A good social and integrative system will make the Nigerian state an efficient one.

Since independence, Nigeria has been in the throes of needless but calamitous crises. The country has regressed drastically, from a fairly sane and tolerable order to an acute and despondent state of uncertainty and fear.” Leadership has become more problematic than the socio-political problems. Whenever a leader is elected or `guns’ his way to power, he is immediately hailed, surrounded and captured by sycophants, security operatives, hangers on and the chieftains and members of his clan, in such a way that at no time he loses touch with the actual political, social and economic realities of the country, as well as his role in governance.

Therefore, Babangida was a victim of the Nigerian state system. No nation gets a leader that it does not deserve because if a government does not reflect the collective will of the people then it reflects their collective weaknesses. And Nigerian weakness are displayed everywhere then why not in government. Babangida therefore is a Nigerian phenomenon. There is “Babangida” in every one of us. Whatever commentaries or analyses that abide now – negative or positive – would still have to wait for the shifting sands of historical interpretations.

REFERENCES

  1. Mackenzie A. M., In Why We Study History (Manson Historical series I. Oron 1990 p. 7
  2. Ihonvbere J. O., Structural Adjustment, the April 1990 Coup and Democratization in Nigeria in Africa Quarterly Vol. 29 No. 3 – 4 1990 p.
  3. Collis R., Nigeria in Conflict, London 1970 pp 181 – 185
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Fadahunsi A., A Review of The Political Economy of The Industrialisation Strategy of the Nigerian State, 160 – 80 in Africa Development Vol. IV No. 213 1979 p.
  7. First R, Barrel of a Gun, Political Power in Africa and the Coup d’etat Penguin Book Harmondsworth 1972 p. 158
  8. Collis Op Cit
  9. Dibna J. I., Babangida and the Foundation of a New Nigeria: A Reviewed Article in ITAN, BENSU Journal of Historical Society Vol. 1, 1990 p. 132
  10. See Tell 27, July 5, 1999 p. 32
  11. Dibna op cit p. 122
  12. Ibid
  13. Momoh, The Nigerian Military And The Crises Of Democratic Transition, A Study in the Monopoly of Power Lagos. 1999 p. 228
  14. Ibid
  15. See Newswatch September, 13 1993. P. 13