PROJECT TOPIC- NIGERIA SEARCH FOR STABILITY: THE MILITARY AS A FACTOR
The study into the search of stability in Nigeria will not be complete without a careful and thorough discussion of the involvement of the military institution in the government, politics and socio-economic live of the country. These involvement which has been a regular feature of her political live, took a more important dimension during the period after independence in 1960 when the military out rightly interrupted the political situation of the country on the 15th January 1966 coup.
Military regimes are established by a group of like minded soldiers with a determination to push through a particular agenda within the state. It is established through coercion and violence without recourse to popular mandate or public opinion. The operating word is coup détat. The frequency and rapidity of military intervention in the political affairs of the Nation has reached a stage where one may be compelled to see it as normal way of life. The situation has deteriorated very rapidly due to the persistent inability of the political class to create or nurture a stable democratic culture.
The result of this political absurdity is a unique socio-economic and political development which has been characterized by economic decay, political stagnation of society, violence, abuse of human rights and general state of instability. Therefore, the topic of the research work tends to highlight more on the role of the military in the search of stability for the nation.
Aim of study
The aim of this work is to determine the remote and immediate cause of the phenomenon of military intervention in Nigeria’s politics. In view of the continued unstable nature of the Nigerian society. Politically, economical etc. the study will throw more light on the role of the military, and there by ascertain if military intervention is not actually an impediments to national stability.
Scope of Study
This study covers the period from the fall of the first Republic, through the Military coup in1966 to the last major coup that established the last military
regime in Nigeria and advance reasons either for the advance or avoidance of further intervention of the military boys in Nigeria politics.
1.2: Factors Responsible for the Military Intervention in Nigeria
The path way for the precipate arrival of the military in Nigeria politics was paved by the disturbing events that engulated parts of the country in the year that followed the 1959 elections. The general election which preceded Nigeria independence was contested under the banner of three major political parties. The Northern peoples congress (N.P.C.). The National Council of Nigeria Citizen (N.C.N.C), The Action croup (AG). Each of these three parties enjoyed strong following in the home regions of their leaders. The N.P.C dominated the political and social life of the Northern Region under Sir, Ahmadu Bello. The NCNC led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, had the South East as its strong base while the A.G, held the ace in the South west under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The N.C.N.C that won a parliamentary election in the Western region was the only party able to show any meaningful presence outside its traditional home. But was eliminated when the A.G. unleashed an avalanche of hatred and tribalism against the party and its followers.
Nigeria therefore attain independence as a country sharply divided along tribal lines. The N.P.C slogan probably said it all “One North one People”. The battle far control of state power was fiercely fought on ethnic ground. The fear was that the future of any ethnic group in the new order of things could only be guaranteed by its ability to control the apparatus of the state.
The politics of the first Republic was as chaotic as it was unsavoury, within the first six years of independence, Nigeria passed through several constitutional and political crisis with which the leaders showed profound inability to cope. Assessing the situation of Nigeria in the first republic, Godwin Iroegbu came to the conclusion that…
events in Nigeria within the first five years
of independence clearly show that most of
the politicians that emerged were ill equipped
for the leadership that they had acquired.
The inability of the politicians to cope with the problems of the young state manifested itself in several major crisis. Between 1960-66. The Balewa government had to cope with several problems most of which were caused by the intolerant attitude of the politicians. Some of these problems deserve a brief mention here.
The Western Region crisis, a mere party squabble which the NPC controlled federal government saw as an opportunity to decapitate the AG and erode its massive influence in the Western region, developed into a national calamity.
The creation of the Mid-Westerns region amidst- strong opposition from A.G. was a political moved aimed at weakening the strength of the Western region in national politics, it was also meant to curb what the NPC saw as the excesses of Awolowo and the AG.
The serious controversy surrounding the result of the 1963 census created a major problem. The census figure was inflated by the federal government in the favour of the Northern region.
Corruption and abuse of office by politicians and other public officers had become part of Nigeria national attitude, the result was that the nation economy began to develop signs of decline. Social services were not provided at a proportionate basis to serve the population.
Dickson Agedan notes that “well intended plans that did not satisfy the selfish and regional prompting of the politicians were distorted.2
The management of these crises by the major actors lacked the seriousness and commitment needed at such critical times. The politicians attitude was weak, sloppy, half hearted and vindictive. There was in fact a deliberate disregard, on their part, for the well being of the nation and its citizens.
Prior to this time, the Nigeria Army had strictly up-held the tradition of its mentor, the British army, which is clear detachment from political issues. The events of 1960 to January 1966 however appeared to have robbed the civilian government of all the semblance of legitimacy in managing the affairs of the nation. This loss of authority was manifested in the disenchantment of the people and the alienation of the masses. The stage was set for a staggering political up heaval and in the early hours of January 15, 1966, a section of Nigeria army attempted to seize power from civilian government in what was tagged “operation Damisa” a coup led by Major Chukuma Nzeogwu and during which the prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the premiers of Western and Northern regions Chief S.L. Akntola and Sir Ahmedu Bello and many leading politicians were killed. The coup failed. But the military had arrived on the center stage of the nation political theatre. Two days later, Major General Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi Ironsi, the General commanding the Nigeria army took up the gauntlet as head of Military Government and commenced the process of establishing a military government in the country.
However, the young officers who led the coup of January 1966 saw their mission as a rescue operation to save the nation from disintegration.
1.3: Military Coup Détat in Nigeria.
Coup détat, has become the most common incidence of military involvement in the political life of the county. Following the event that took place on the early hours of 15 January, 1966. When a group of young majors led by major Chukwuma Nzeogwu mutined and dislodged the political civilians from the centre of Nigeria leadership.
The large scale slaughter of the Northern and Western political and military elites, during the coup left a very bitter impression on the peoples mind, especially the Northerners who saw it as a calculative move against the NPC and the interest it primarily represents, it was interpreted as an Igbo plot. Dickson Agedah noted that…
Although Nationalist saw it as true and
sincere action, northern radicals and certain
elements in the West saw it as a master plan
that is telegiuded to perpetrate the domination
of the east 3.
General Ironsi established the first military government in Nigeria by suspending the structure which the civilian regime had operated. His efforts to rekindle the spirit of unity among Nigerians which had been viciously shattered in the last six years of civilian leadership and the passing of the unification Decree No. 34 of 1966 designed to unify Nigeria’s civil service inline with his goals of de-emphasizing Nigeria’s long standing regional polarization was viewed with extreme misgiving in other parts of the country. Humphery Nwosu and Ray Ofoegbu noted that the unification Decree was seen by the reactionary forces in the north as a culmination of much Igbo suspected plot to dominate the political and economic life of Nigeria. “The reaction of the centrifugal forces to this decree was both immediate and violent”4.
On July 24, 1966, Ironsi was murdered on official visit to Ibadan and his government was over thrown. Amidst the ensuring confusion, colonel Yakubu Gowon, an unknown officer of northern extraction emerged as the new head of state. Gowon’s early months in office was enmeshed in so much confusion and disorder that the country seemed to have come to an end of its existence as single political entity. He presided over Nigeria’s’ war and post war economy for nine years.
The inability of Gowon regime to lay a foundation for Nigeria’s economic well being portrayed him as a visionless and frivolous leader. His inability to check the excesses and corrupt practices of his governors betrayed his weakness as a leader. He became increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of criticisms. His greater undoing was the abandonment of the transition programme on the lame ground that,
… if the supreme military council surrendered
power too soon, it would not take the politicians
long to return to the cut-throat politics that once
led the nation into series of crisis…5
On July 29, 1975, General Murtala Mohammed overthrew Gowon’s regime in a bloodless coup. When Gowon was away to attend the 12th summit meeting of the organization of Africa unity (O.A.U), in kampala. He accused Gowon of ineptitude and loss of vision. According to General Mohammed.
… despite the resources available to the nation,
the aspiration of the people were not met. As a
result, the people and the members of the
Armed forces had become disillusioned
with his regime as a corrective one… 6
Although General Mohammed lasted only seven months in office, most of the step he took were seen as progressive and commendable. He created seven states bringing the number to a total of nineteen. He also commenced a programme of transition aimed at returning the country to civilian rule in 1979. He initiated the process of moving Nigeria’s capital to Abuja. His death on 13th February, 1976 led to the emergence of general Olusegun Obasanjo as head of state. Obasanjo promised to continue with the political and programmes of the Slain Leader. Nwosu and Ofoegbu’s assessment of General Mohammed’s regime was one of empathy.
…The policies that Mohammed executed within
his short stay, in office lad a near revolutionary
impact on the civil service, attitude to work,
foreign policy and pattern and style of leadership.7”
There seem to be a common belief among the Nigeria people that if Murtala Mohammed had lasted in office. So as to implement his policies and programmes conclusively, the course of Nigeria’s history would have been significantly altered.
General Olusegun, in keeping with his promise faithfully executed the remaining agenda of General Mohammed particularly the transition programme and on October 1 1979, it willingly handed over power to the civilian and Alhaji Shehu Shagari, of the National party of Nigeria (NPN) was sworn in a Nigeria’s first Executive president. Nigeria second Republic was born.
The December 31st 1983 coup by the military boys against the civilian government of Alhajo Shagari, was viewed to be as a result of a replay of the political atavism that characterized the first republic.
The politicians, especially those of the N.P.N, became reckless, insensitive and out of control. The re-election of president Shehu Shagari in 1983 for a second time was a mockery of reason and civilized conduct. The election was massively and recklessly rigged in favour of the NPN. Efforts by other parties to seek redress in court turned out to be as comical as it was tragic. The land slide victory of the N.P.N in 1983, left the nation in a discredited government had arbitrarily foisted itself on a people that clearly did not want it. And on 31st December, 1983, some members of the armed forced staged a coup détat and reclaimed the throne they have vacated. Brigadier Mohammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbo emerged as the new head of State and Chief of Staff supreme headquarters respectively.
They expressed serious and immediate willingness to check offical corruption, economic mismanagement, planlessness, reckless borrowing, and indecency of national dependence of foreign goods. The Buhari regime lasted for 20 months and was noted for its harsh human rights policies, but it also attempted to bring orderliness to Nigerian public life with the war against indiscipline, W.A..I campaign. He has been described as the ‘nemesis’ of those pondering politicians of the second republic, who discovered for Nigeria the importance of law as the main instrument of social change.
The inflexibility of the Buhari regime, its high handed approach to issues and the climate of fear created in the land gradually eroded the good will which it enjoyed in the beginning. And on August 27, 1987. Major General Ibrahim Babaigida, Buhari’s Chief of Army staff, cashed in on this apparent disenchantment and swept away Buhari government in a blood less coup. He assume the tittle of president, considered un-usual in military regimes, renamed the supreme military council and settled down for business with the promise” to sanitize the policy, build a strong economy and organized a durable transition of power to the civilian” 8.
Amongst these promises made by the president his transition programme turned out to be the longest political drama in Nigeria history. The transition had become a endless exercise from 1990-1992, from January 1993 to August 1993. Steve Egbo noted.
…the inconsistencies, intrigues, scheming
and deliberate abnegation which characterized
Babangida’s transition programme left the
Nation in a state of bewilderment and predilection 9.
At last, a presidential election was held on the 12th of June under two political parties which were Babangida’s personal creation after his rejection of the political parties which had put themselves towards for registration.
Events however took a totally unexpected twist when Banangida suspended the election result just as it was being announced in Abuja. Brandishing a long list of atrocities by the candidate, he cancelled the election and ordered for the process to set in motion for a new presidential polls. He accused the two candidate of electoral malpractice’s, vote rigging, vote buying, and other form of malpractice. The annulment of the June 12 presidential election by Babangida and his gang raised so much angst in Nigerian, political economic and social equilibrium that the nation was brought dangerously close to the events of 1967.
Steve Egbo has asserted that
…it is clear the problem of June 12 was in
it self a manifestation of Banangida desire to
create National havoc of which he hoped to reap
some personal dividence…10
He concluded that June 12 Marked another climax of what Ahmadu Bello described as the Mistake of 1914.
On August 27, 1993, when the heat became unbearable. Babangida finally realized that the game was up. He abandoned his agenda of self – perpetuation. He told the world that he was “stepping aside” and hurriedly set up and international government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, one of the biggest names in Nigeria’s private sector. The interim National Government was charged with an awesome responsibility. To assuage the mood of the nation and conduct a fresh presidential election. These were to be achieved within months.
Instead of co-operation and understanding which Shonekon and his team pleaded for, what they got in abundance was scorn and derision, and from many quarters. The ING was seen as a pawn in Babangida’s manipulative hands who having stepped aside was still determined to exercise influence over the affairs of government.
The Lagos high court dealt what was probably the most fatal blow when it declared the ING, null and void. The court reasoned that Babangida had ceased to be the head of state when the decree that established the ING was signed. The court decision sparked of riot and protest in Lagos and other Major cities throughout the South-West. Undaunted, Shonekan vowed to plough on. He said the ING was not “in search of identity” and would continue to move towards it’s goal.
Amidst the chaos, the ING announced a 700% increase in the price of petroleum products. The price hike amounted to stoking a blazing furnace, Riots, demonstrations, strike, arson and general lawlessness on several part of the country to protest what is seen as the insensitivity of the ING. It was under this climate of near anarchy that General Sani Abacha quietly stepped in, on November 17th, 1993.
The ascension of General Sani Abacha into the number one position was seen as the climax of Babangida Abacha conspiracy against Nigeria. A conspiracy that commenced on August 27, 1985.
The argument was based on the nature at which the ING was established, Steve Egbo asserted that
… on November 17th1993, General Babangida
handed over power to General San Abacha in
the same way Obasanjo handed over to Shelu
Shagari in 1979. And Abubakar to Obasanjo in 1999. The only difference was that the 1993 hand over was surreptitious, secretive and conspiratory…11
On assumption of office, Abacha went ahead to dissolve all political structures and institutions in Nigeria which had any bearing on democratic practices. He described his government as “ a child of necessity which had come to rebuild, reconcile and repain a much battered nation”. He left no one in doubt about his desire to rule Nigeria whether Nigerians like it or not. He signed off his maiden broadcast with the warning that any attempt to test our will “will be decisively death with”
Events were later to prove that off all the promises Abacha made to all Nigerian people, this was the only one he kept. He intimidated every one and feared on one. Nigeria steadily assumed the status of a pariah nation, yet he remained unbending and unwilling to bow to pressure. He was also corrupt. Another Nwankwo described him as
…a good student of his predecessor
who came to with a single mission to
dupe the nation through ‘Monumental thievery
and plunder of state resources…12
General Abacha died at the time he almost succeeded himself as a civilian president of the federal Republic of Nigeria. On the 8th of June 1998.
His death saw to the emergence of General Abdusalam Abubakar, who was his minister for defence and the most Senior serving General.
Abachas coup against Chief Ernest Shonekan marked the last coup in Nigeria. General Abadusalmai Abubakar came as a result of his death and he organized a transitional process that established the present democracy in Nigeria. He handed over power and government of Nigeria to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. On the 29th of May 1999.
- Godwin Iroegbu, Military involvement in Africa Policies, an unpublished Research work school of social science, ABSU, Uturu, 1998 P.84.
- Dickson Agedah, The Military in politics, perception communications, Limited Enugu, 1993. P.1
- Dickson Agedah, P.5
- Humphrey Nwosu and Ray Ofoegbu, Introduction To politics, Enugu, Fourth Dimension, 1980, P 248.
- Colin Legum, (ed), African Contemporary Recorded, 1974-75. New, New York: Africana publishing Company, 1975, pB 753.
- See Daily Times, July 31st, 1975 P. 24.
- Humphrey Nwosu and Ray Ofoegbu, P.250
- Humphrey Nwosu and Ray Ofoegbu. 1.
- Steve Egbo, Political Soldiering, African men On Horse Back, John, Jacobs Classic Pub. Ltd. 2001 P. 94.
- Steve Egbo, P.98
- Steve Egbo, P. 100
- Arthur Nwankwo, Stolen Billions, Enugu, Fourth Dimension, 1999. Pp.90-9