Nigeria Report: How Military Destroyed, Saved Democracy In Nigeria


On 29 May, Nigeria celebrated the 13th anniversary of democracy. The country never had it for this long since the military misadventure to power on January 15, 1966. President Goodluck Jonathan applauded the military for this landmark achievement. BAYO OLADEJI went down memory lane in search of the reasons why the military deserves commendation.

Since Nigeria became independent from the British colonial authority on October 1, 1960, the country has been ruled by 14 different leaders but of the lot only five of them were elected, the rest attained their positions through the bullet rather than the ballot, no thanks to the maladministration of the political class coupled with the lust for power by the khaki boys.

The historic departure of the colonial masters on 1 October 1960 and the installation of the democratic rule under the joint leadership of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister, and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the ceremonial president, was heralded with hope and pageantry for a new nation. But the joy of the founding Fathers that fought for the Independence had a slender body that broke too soon.

In January of 1966, a group of army officers, consisting mostly of the Ibo peoples and led by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, overthrew the central and regional governments, killed the prime minister, took control of the government, and got rid of the federal system of government to replace it with a central government with many Ibos as advisors.

This precipitated riots and many Ibos were killed in the process. In July of the same year, a group of northern army officers revolted against the government (beginning a long history of military coups), killed General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, and appointed the army chief of staff, General Yakubu Gowon, as the head of the new military government.

In 1967, Gowon moved to split the existing 4 regions of Nigeria into 12 states. However, the military governor of the Eastern Region (Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu) refused to accept the division of the Eastern Region, and declared the Eastern Region an independent republic called Biafra. This led to a civil war between Biafra and the remainder of Nigeria.

The war started in June 1967, and continued until Biafra surrendered on January 15, 1970 after over 1 million people had died.
Since that time the military dictatorship refused to let go of the power as they were exchanging the baton through coups and counter coups.

But there was a civilian interregnum when the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo concluded the political transition which was an idea of his boss, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who was assassinated in a failed coup on 13 February 1976. He transferred power to Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari on 1 October, 1979.

But as the populace began to experience a full blown democracy, the military came calling again when the voice of Sani Abacha announced the termination of the Shagari regime which ushered in Major General Muhammadu Buhari on the New Year eve of 1984. Their excuse was the 1983 general election, which according to Buhari “was everything but free and fair”.

But his era too was short-lived when Sani Abacha’s now familiar voice hijacked the airwave again announcing the arrival of the first and the last military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida popularly known as IBB.

Babangida would not let go of the power instead, he turned the whole nation into a political laboratory while the political class was subjected to an endless political transition which was climaxed with the annulment of the presidential poll held on 12 June, 1993, the election that was widely believed to have been won by the late business mogul, Bashorun Moshood Abiola.

The post-annulment protest forced Babangida out of power and he hurriedly replaced himself by an Interim Presidency of Chief Ernest Shonekan.  The latter was soon forced out of the way of General Abacha, the kingmaker that wanted to become the king at all cost.

Abacha kept the country under his jackboot with all sorts of evils being perpetrated under his watch unabated especially the perceived state murders. He locked up Abiola for daring to declare himself the president and arraigned him for treason.

Long story short, Abacha dropped dead when least expected and a Daniel came to judgment with the ascendancy of General Abdulsalami Abubakar to power who hurriedly organized a general election that ushered in a former military leader, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on 129 May, 1999.

Abiola was not allowed to make use of the pan Nigerian mandate freely given to him as he suffered heart attack and died on the eve of his release from the military gulag.

Thus, Obasanjo once began another chapter in the history of Nigeria and declared 29 May as the Democracy Day even though the pro-12 June advocates preferred the day Nigerians voted for Abiola irrespective of their religious and tribal persuasions. Thus, for the first time in history, on 29 May, this year, democracy was 13 years old.

Never before has this happened as we have reviewed and political pundits strongly believed despite of the imperfection of the political class, the democracy has come to stay and this was reflected in the Presidential Address of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to the nation to commemorate the Democracy Day.

He paid tribute to those who have sacrificed one thing or the other that allows democracy to be despite the frequent threats to its survival. Jonathan acknowledged the diversity of the people he ruled and commended them for underscoring the factors that unite them together. He praised them for making their choice for democracy clear through periodical voting.

“As we celebrate this year’s Democracy Day, I pay tribute to all the men and women who have made our democratic experience meaningful: the ordinary people who resisted military rule, and have remained resolute in their embrace of democracy; the army of Nigerian voters who, at every election season, troop out in large numbers to exercise their right of franchise; the change agents in civil society who have remained ever watchful and vigilant”.

Perhaps the first factor that was largely responsible for the 13 years of democracy is the military, which against all odds and despite all the given opportunities by the political class through their blunders, have resisted the temptation to stage a come back to power.

The happenings in the sub-region where coups have returned in recent years are not even strong enough to influence the military to pull down the political structures really give them a kudos not only of the President but of every right thinking Nigerian.

President Goodluck stated “I pay special tribute also to all patriots who are the pillars of our collective journey, most especially, our armed forces who have steadfastly subordinated themselves to civil authority in the past 13 years. They have continued to demonstrate a great sense of professionalism.

They have discharged their duties to the nation with honour and valour. In a sub-region that has witnessed instances of political instability, authored by restless soldiers, the Nigerian Armed Forces have remained professional in their support of democracy”.

The President recalled with nostalgia the struggle and the sacrifice that ushered in the democratic dispensation especially those whose blood gave birth to democracy. He singled out the presumed winner of the annulled presidential poll Abiola who died in the course to actualise the given mandate. He argued that it was the actualisation of their dreams that Nigerians are celebrating every 29 May.

“When General Abdusalami Abubakar handed over the baton of authority to President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999, it was a turning point for Nigeria. We did not arrive at that turning point by accident. Many Nigerians laid down their lives for the transition to democracy to occur. Some were jailed.

Media houses were attacked and shut down. But the people’s resolve was firm and unshakeable. This is what we remember. This is what we celebrate. On this day, I recall especially the martyrdom of Chief M. K. O. Abiola, whose presumed victory in the 1993 Presidential election, and death, while in custody, proved to be the catalyst for the people’s pro-democracy uprising.

The greatest tribute that we can pay to him, and other departed heroes of Nigeria’s democracy, is to ensure that we continue to sustain and consolidate our democratic institutions and processes, and keep Hope alive”.

The President beat his chest for his mantra of “one man one vote, one woman, one vote, one youth, one vote” which he strongly believed has also contributed to the stable polity. He went further to celebrate the last year election that ushered him into power despite all the obvious imperfections even as he condemned the post election violence that greeted the electoral manipulation.

He, however, disclosed the emergence of the Electoral Offences Tribunals that would be handling cases of electoral crises.

If the cynics of this administration would disagree with the 29 May Presidential address on the electoral matters, the commendation given to the military should not be disputed. This is because the politicians have done a lot of havoc that served as an open invitation for the military to sack them but they refused.

Aside from the usual electoral rigging and its attendant problems, the daylight looting of the treasury by the political office holders and their civil service counterparts is too obvious to be doubted. Billions are being stealing and being kept in their bedrooms while people are suffering under their watch. Budgets are implementation on the paper as people could not locate most of the projects being claimed to have being implemented.

During the Obasanjo regime, the crises between the Executive and the National Assemble were unprecedented and the polity was always under one tension or the other. The climax was the aborted third term agenda which was scuttled by the lawmakers. Yet, the military would not interfere!

Then came the sickness of the late President, Umar Yar Adua when the polity was polarized over whether his deputy, Jonathan should be allowed to step in as the Acting President. It was the biggest threat to democracy until the National Assembly intervene with the Principle of Necessity which made Jonathan becoming the Acting President before the his ascension to power after the demise of his principal.

President Goodluck after the calmness of the storm came out to tell the world that there was a time he was under the pressure to sack all the service chiefs. It was the support he got right from that time from the barracks that actually helps democracy to grow that old in Nigeria. But the pertinent question why is the military suddenly become apolitical?

That we have a stable polity today is a prayer answered and two men used to actualized the feat are President Olusegun Obasanjo and General T.Y Danjuma, who was his Defence Minister. It was the duo that wiped out all the polluted soldiers from the barrackes and made politics unattractive again to the men in the khaki. According to a serving top rank military officer, but for this policy the democracy would have been derailed as it was the usual practice.

“We are no more interested in politics again, politics has almost eroded our integrity and credibility. But thank God for former President Obasanjo and General Danjuma who retired every one that had ever held any political office during the military era and since that time no one is interested again.

You don’t want your career derailed and another thing most people do not know is the military dictatorship benefitted those that were holding political offices while the military itself was being destroyed and neglected. No ammunition for the fear of coup and no overseas course for those who desired it. Never again will military intervene in the affairs of our nation”.

This same view was expressed by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Azubike Ihejirika recently while commissioning some Army quarters in Abuja. He disclosed how the military was neglected by the military dictators who ruled the country because of the fear of a coup.

According to him, any officer that moved near any of the arsenals would be dismissed. This would then be another reason why the military would have resolved not to dabble into politics again.

Related to these two factors is the seemingly political maturity of some politicians especially the opposition who have resisted the urge to call in for a military intervention as it was the norm in the recent past.

According to the likes of General Ibrahim Babangida, a veteran coupist, most of the coups were orchestrated by the political class who lost out in power play. He always cited how the political class asked the military to sack the Shonekan-led Interim National Government which led to the emergence of the maximum military dictator, General Abacha.

Not a few believed that the 1983 December coup that terminated the second term of President Shagari was largely responsible for the backward movement of the country. Countries like Ghana and India that did not experience it have gone ahead of Nigeria and this is even reflected in their economy, politics and social life.

The military officer warned the populace against getting impatient with the political class. According to him, “any attempt to interrupt the on-going democratic dispensation would surely backfire and the country might not recover from it again.

Let us encourage our politicians to stop looting the treasury, what we witnessed in the case of the pension scam is not good for us but at the same time, military dictatorship is not immune to corruption as well.

Every right thinking Nigerian should join politics and chase out the charlatans and thieves that are ruling us then we would begin to see the dividends of democracy”.

Credit: Leadership Newspaper

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