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Dilemmas of Democratic Control in Nigeria  - Intergrating Recent Developments in the Nigeria Armed Forces

Dilemmas of Democratic Control in Nigeria - Intergrating Recent Developments in the Nigeria Armed Forces






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    Dilemmas of Democratic Control in Nigeria  - Intergrating Recent Developments in the Nigeria Armed Forces Dilemmas of Democratic Control in Nigeria - Intergrating Recent Developments in the Nigeria Armed Forces Document Transcript

    • Dilemmas of Civilian Control in a Post-Military State: Interpreting recent developments in the Nigerian Armed Forces by J.’Kayode Fayemi Centre for Democracy & Development (Lagos & London)IntroductionAware of the work that we do at the Centre for Democracy & Development on Civil-Security Sector relations in Nigeria, we have been inundated with requests to providean analysis on the recent exit of General Victor Malu as well as the Navy and AirForce Chiefs, Victor Ombu and Ibrahim Mahmud Alfa and the implications for stablecivil-military relations. What was responsible for this “unexpected” development?Did the service chiefs leave or were they pushed? Were the “resignations accepted”because this was a mutually beneficial face saving way out of crisis? Was it theoutcome of a failed coup attempt? Was it just a routine decision blown out of allproportion by the media? Or a pre-emptive strike against Babangida’s rumoured planto come back to office in which Malu and his colleagues were seen as pawns inBabangida’s political chessboard? Was it the government’s belated response toMalu’s claim at the Oputa Commission that he was loyal to all his political bosses andproud to have served under General Abacha? Or could it just have been a case ofrepeated acts of insubordination to the political authority that required an immediateand decisive response.From the sublime to the ridiculous, these reasons have been given in isolation and incombination as having the explanatory strength for the exit of the service chiefs.While some of the reasons can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny and objectiveanalysis, the views linking this exit to a failed or an attempted coup and the onederiving an explanatory power from Babangida’s ubiquity in every design really haveno basis in fact. Not only do these conjectures ignore the balance of forces in themilitary, which is significantly tilted in favour of “constitutionalists” (and I count thethree service chiefs amongst the constitutionalists), they also ignore the almost total 1
    • control of the intelligence services by people personally loyal to the President.Underestimated also is the opposition among ordinary Nigerians and the internationalcommunity to a military overthrow of government in spite of the growingdisillusionment with the performance of this government. Babangida may be involvedin many harebrained ideas, but people should also credit him with some intelligenceand self-interest not to engage his time in any puerile stoking of the fires of dissensionin the military even if he has the capacity to do so, as his detractors and admirers seemto believe. Although General Malu is a very popular officer like General Musharaff ofPakistan, Nigeria of 2001 is no Pakistan of 1999. Perhaps, President Shagari could nothave done this but it hardly merits a mention that the only reason why PresidentObasanjo could remove three service chiefs in one fell swoop and replace them wasprecisely because he is in charge and the military is not what it used to be. Theobjective of this article therefore is to go beyond the media frenzy, trace the genesis ofthe problem, establish what happened in as dispassionate a manner as possible,examine the implications and make projections into the future.Background to Service chiefs’ exitIn interpreting threats to any ruling authority and explaining the variables responsiblefor any particular decision, it is important to caution ourselves as less emotionallyinvolved outsiders that we do not possess the same information as those in closerproximity to decision making and therefore bound to assess things differently. Sincethreats are neither a product of mechanical causality or technical accuracy identifiableby all, threat perception in unstable polities hinges more on an inference rather thantangible evidence. This is especially so in a country like Nigeria where nationalsecurity and regime survival are intertwined, a factor which makes analysis a veryselective process as a result of which the peculiar mindset of the perceiver, in terms ofhis receptivity to threatening acts or information becomes a key determinant in thedecision making process. The consequence is that a certain level of over-reaction orunder-estimation develops on the part of the ruling elite, as threat perception becomesdriven by often opaque, fragmentary and even contradictory pieces of information.Yet, even though the personality of a perceiver, like President Obasanjo, is key, itshould also be possible to delineate tangible situational factors – factors that have 2
    • exacerbated problems of military disengagement from politics, clear internal politicalpressures and the untoward influence of certain international actors. Viewed fromthese perspectives, our contention is that it is possible to examine the relationshipbetween the armed forces and the civilian, political authorities in the last twenty-fourmonths and reach some definite conclusions about the nature and dynamics of therelationship and what led to the exit of the military chiefs.From the evidence available, it seems obvious that the Service chiefs did not resigntheir positions in spite of claims to the contrary by the Secretary to the Government.Barely two months ago, one of the affected Generals stated in response to a questionabout his possible retirement that he still had at least two years to go having onlyserved 33 of his mandatory 35 years as a public servant with no blemish on his servicerecord (Tempo, March 8, 2001). This was not a statement borne out of any intentionto call it quits, although it would appear as though it was deliberately made to pre-empt any official explanation of his almost inevitable ‘resignation’ as untrue given hisopen criticisms of government’s treatment of the armed forces. Nigerian newspapershave also reported that until the day they were relieved of their service positions, thetwo other service chiefs were still arranging appointments entirely oblivious of anyplans to leave office. (The Guardian, April 25, 2001).This style of announcing departures from government as voluntary resignations is notat variance with President Obasanjo’s pattern of disposing of senior public officialswhose services are no longer required. One of the Ministers disposed of in the lastcabinet reshuffle was informed of his fate at the regular breakfast prayer session onthe day he was sacked. In the previous reshuffle, one Minister heard news of his‘resignation’ convalescing in a hospital after surgery. Although several departingMinisters who insisted that they did not resign their posts have challenged thePresident about the veracity of such claims in the past, he has ignored this andcontinued to be less than forthright about the situation of senior public officialsleaving his government. Of course, it is arguable that since these were appointed,rather than elected officials, the President is not obliged to fully account for theirremoval beyond what he chooses to say no matter how economical he is with thetruth. Yet for a president whose watchword is transparency and honesty, the mannerof official removal also goes to show the extent of the government’s commitment and 3
    • fidelity to its own transparency and accountability credo. A situation where Ministersand Service Chiefs’ receive little or no notice of their removal and the public is left tospeculate about the reasons for the sack neither promotes efficiency of governmentnor trust and confidence in it by the people.On the media’s description of the President’s step as an “unexpected surprise”, keenwatchers of the deteriorating relationship between the military leadership (especiallythe army) and the political leadership over the last twenty months would not haveseen this as surprising nor shocking in the least. What was surprising is that it tookthis long to happen (at least in the case of the Army chief) who seemed to have beenthe main target of the President’s action. The fact that the other service chiefs werecaught in the cross fire between a domineering president and a strong-willed armychief came as a surprise as well, but this is not to suggest that they haven’t had theirdifficulties with the executive branch of government.1 It would appear though thatsacking them alongside the army chief was just a way of cushioning the effect ofremoving a popular army chief without unsettling a restive military. The fact that theChief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi is still in post underscores thepersonality dimension of this frosty relationship.To reduce this to a clash of personalities, however, is to miss the dilemma faced byboth the president and his army chief. At stake has been the fundamental issue ofgovernance in the security sector and how civilian and military leaders handle policydifferences between them. As well, it is about the extent to which professionalautonomy is recognised by civilian control of the military. Equally central to thedebate is the limits of objective civilian control that is not democratic. One canidentify at least four concrete areas, separate and sometimes intertwined in whichpolicy differences between the Presidency and the military have manifestedthemselves in civilian control of the military sector, namely – (a) Role and Mission ofthe military based on a shared understanding of the threat environment; (b)Government’s commitment to military professionalism; (c) Professional autonomy1 The Air Chief, for example, has been involved in the controversial claims by an Abuja based medicaldoctor kinsman of his (Dr Abalaka) regarding the discovery of a cure for HIV/AIDs. He is believed tohave given full backing to the claim and the presidency was not very pleased with this conflict ofinterest on his part. Additionally, while the two have never gone public with their views, they have alsoexpressed serious concerns about the direction of military re-professionalisation programme under thenew dispensation. 4
    • over military matters; and (d) Role of international players in the military & securitysectors.The key issues at stakea) Role and Mission of the Military – A Military mission gives an indication ofthe threat a nation must deal with and its location in relation to that threat. Is itinternal, external or both? A ‘missionless’ military obviously poses a great danger inrelation to its primary role as a defender of the nation’s territorial integrity and it isreally the responsibility of the civilian, political leadership to define the role of themilitary after due consultation with all stakeholders in society, including the military.Grranted this is not always a determination based on an ‘objective’ assessment of thethreat environment, but given the stated commitment of the new administration to aprofessional military, the military had hoped that the exercise in search of militarymission in the immediate aftermath of a discredited era would be subjected to ameasure of professional assessment. Instead, it appeared that the political leadershipcame prepared with its own pre-conceived notions about what to do with a militarythat carries a lot of negative baggage and it felt the solution was to reduce its sizearbitrarily without any objective assessment of the threat environment and thecapability of the institution.Although it later balked at this original intention to reduce the size of the military andthe president even publicly disagreed with his Defence Minister that such a decisionwas taken, there is still a strong perception within the military that various actionstaken were driven by a desire to tame the institution. In spite of these initialmisgivings, the military leadership went embraced the new administration’s declaredcommitment to professionalism enthusiastically. This was partly due to the quality ofthe military leadership and the recognition on their part that reforms were not onlydesirable, but also essential following years of decay. But they soon felt disappointedby the continued lack of clarity over the mission of the military. Whilst many,including the army chief, believe that the military mission should be restricted to anexternal, combat role such as peace-keeping as a means of strengthening civil-militaryrelations and re-orienting it towards a more professional outlook, security chiefs likethe National Security Adviser, insist that internal security operations is a 5
    • constitutional duty “in terms of suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civilauthorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President”(Section 217 cof the 1999 Constitution).For many of the officers keen on redeeming the battered image of their profession, afocus on the external with a clearly defined role and mission in peacekeeping iscritical to removing the military from politically tainted projects internally. Theinvolvement of the military in Odi, Bayelsa State in November 1999 brought this intoclear relief and these officers argued that if the military must get involved in internalsecurity operations, proper criteria would need to be drawn up for evaluating theirinvolvement in such non-combat operations. Not a few of these officers saw the plantherefore to start a new division dedicated to oil protection at a time that the samegovernment was keen on size reduction at best a confusing move deeply suspiciousmove to get the military embroiled in political issues.Although the government has since returned to earlier suggestions to have a defencereview that would guide steps taken in the security sector, by setting up a committeeheaded by Major General Enahoro to revise the country’s defence policy with a viewto clarifying military role and mission, the ownership of the process of defence reviewremains questionable and the issue of military mission remains unclear.(b) Commitment to Military professionalism: The lack of clarity about the roleand mission of the military has affected the direction of the re-professionalisationagenda. Critical to the re-professionalisation of the armed forces as far as the militarywas concerned is the ability of the State to provide efficient and well functioninginstitutions and infrastructures and an enabling environment for their constitutionaltasks to be accomplished. General Victor Malu aptly captured the feeling of hiscolleagues in The Tempo interview: “Having come out of very many years of neglect because of our mismanagement, we expected that the civilian government was going to address issues…Unfortunately, from June 1999 to date, we haven’t got anything meaningful to assist us in the process of professionalisation. Our training institutions have not improved, the training aids with which we 6
    • conduct the training to reprofessionalise have not been provided; the situation in the barracks has not changed; as a matter of fact, it has deteriorated…we did not get anything done last year by way of capital projects and we thought these were the things we were supposed to do if we are going to improve on our well being to keep busy in the act of re-professionalising…”While General Malu’s views above reflect the feeling of despondency both within themilitary hierarchy and the rank and file, it is hardly fair to blame the civiliangovernment for the years of neglect in the military; even less so to expect thePresident and his team to change this anomaly in two years. What the politicalleadership can be blamed for is the lack of shared understanding about the problemand the lack of ownership of the re-professionalisation process even by the electedrepresentatives of the people. The feeling is rife within the military as it is in civilsociety that the life of the average Nigerian has not improved in the last two years ofcivilian governance. Unlike in civil society however, where these things areexpressed daily in the public domain, they have simmered underneath the surface inthe military, partly due to the nature of the institution but mainly due to the military’scredibility deficit with the Nigerian people who blame all soldiers for the mess thecountry is in. Hence, his military constituents saw an Army Chief who raised thesedifficulties publicly as a breath of fresh air, a step which inevitably put him atloggerheads with his political masters.Yet, this is not a dilemma faced only by the new civilian government in Nigeria.Indeed, the transition to democracy in the last decade has presented African countriesin particular with two critical challenges on the important issue of creating aprofessional army: on the one hand, that of establishing an effective and accountablemilitary, capable of protecting the security of the state and its citizens, and on theother, that of establishing effective civilian oversight of the armed forces and securityagencies. The problem for such governments therefore is often how to find thenecessary balance between allowing the military to fully discharge its duties byproviding it with the necessary resources and also ensuring that civilian rather thandemocratic control of military activities is maintained. Given the faustian bargainsthat had been struck with the military in the quest for a civilian dispensation inNigeria, the room for democratic and consensus driven oversight of military activities 7
    • had also been foreclosed. Hence, the ideas of Aso rock had largely become the rulingideas with no alternative mechanism for ensuring balance. Even when the legislatorsin the Defence and Security Committees of the National Assembly argued for a majorimprovement programme for military barracks and military equipment, there has beenlimited means of enforcing their concern for these issues if the executive branch doesnot share it. This disdain for accountability by the executive branch was helped bythe widespread notion in the country that the president’s background in the militaryhad equipped him with sufficient expertise to deal with security issues in a mannerthat can hardly be challenged. The danger was that it also encouraged unnecessarydabbling into issues of strictly professional nature by over-zealous presidential aides.c) Ensuring professional autonomy over military matters and relationship withthe Defence Ministry: Perhaps one of the most critical fallouts of the above tensionwith regards to re-professionalisation has been that of ensuring professional autonomyover military matters. The military leadership is of the view, and rightly so that thepolitical leadership must respect professional autonomy in spite of the temptation towant to display an all-knowing ubiquity in their responsibility for broad policydecisions over military matters. In their view, while it is appropriate for their politicalmasters to set the framework for issues such as size, shape, organisation, forcestructure, weapons procurement and conditions of service on the one hand, it isinappropriate for the presidency or the Ministry of Defence to also want to takeoperational control over these strategic issues. To the military leaders, even if the finaldecision is with the political leadership, success can only come in a climate ofsustained dialogue and interaction between the civilian, political leadership and themilitary leadership. Unfortunately, for much of the last two years, the well-respectedpolitical leadership in the Ministry, General Danjuma, has not paid sustained attentionto these issues due to failing health and his erstwhile affable deputy, Dupe Adelaja, isnot seen to be in charge even though she works very hard. Instead, there is a strongbut hardly substantiated claim that the Ministry is run by the Minister’s SpecialAssistant who is not accountable to any political authority except his boss. The factthat the Minister’s Special Assistant has no military background is seen to be a majorproblem for someone with allegedly limited knowledge of military issues. 8
    • While the mistaken notion that civilians have no business in military operationalmatters is rife in the military, and the civilian bureaucracy in the Ministry of Defenceis seen to be largely deficient, it is also true that the military generally respectscivilians who they are convinced take sufficient steps to understand the institutioneven if you are not a flag-waver for their cause. As General Malu claims in his Tempointerview, “Just because you’re in the Ministry of Defence doesn’t mean you knowexactly how the military operates”. The irony of course is that the connection is notoften made by the same officers that this is the effect of the deliberate policy ofpopulating the Ministry with soldiers when the military was in power. Even, middleranking positions, which should have been held by civilians, were turned into staffoffices for undeployable but politically connected officers who refused to go to thefield. Indeed, throughout the period the military was in power, not only were civiliansworking in the MoD employed independently by the various services, (hardly thefeature in other ministries where they were centrally recruited) at least 90% of thecivilian staff belonged to the junior grade. Even the less than 10% in professionalgrade played no crucial role in defence policy deliberations, thus creating a vacuum inthe knowledge base of civilians about the military.Having acknowledged the fact that military involvement in politics has underminedmilitary professionalism, it also ought to be stated that respecting the professionalautonomy of the military in a civilian dispensation should not mean abdication ofresponsibility on the part of the civilian, political leadership. This is one of theparadoxes of the arguments for objective civilian control. While objective civiliancontrol allows the military to concentrate on military matters and minimise itsinvolvement in political issues, the logic of it also delimits civilian control overmilitary matters. Hence, when layers of civilian bureaucracy are imposed on themilitary, it seems clear that this is bound to generate tensions no matter how wellintentioned the idea might be. Although it is too early to judge whether the newstructure of service ministers superimposed over the coordinated structure of nationaldefence is working, it is not difficult to see that it would exacerbate unresolvedtensions within the Ministry of Defence. Not only will it further undermine theplatform of the Chief of Defence Staff meant to coordinate the activities of theservices – already diminished by General Malu’s seeming disrespect for the occupant,it also actively promotes inter-service rivalries as each Minister pushes the case of his 9
    • or her service rather than enhance a common understanding of the role and mission ofthe armed forces.(d) The place of foreign advisers in the military re-professionalisation programme:Although all of the issues raised above are central to the disagreement between themilitary and the executive branch of government, they pale into insignificance whenthe involvement of foreign advisers in the re-professionalisaion programme enters thedebate. And yet this disagreement is not so much about involvement of foreignadvisers per se. The Nigerian military is not new to bi-lateral military cooperationagreements. After all, it is the product of a colonial army, the British set up the Armyand the Navy, the Germans set up the air force and the premier training institution,Nigerian Defence Academy was established with the assistance of the Indians. Theproblem this time is about the nature and extent of that involvement of externalagents.Although there were various options open to the administration on coming to power,the administration in its wisdom decided to engage the services of a foreign privateconcern of retired military officers known to have close connections to thegovernment of the United States in the re-professionalisation programme. Theorganization, Military Professionals Resources Incorporated (MPRI), describes itselfas a "professional Services Company that provides private sector leader developmentand training and military-related contracting and consulting in the US andinternational defense markets". It has been involved in military training, weaponsprocurement and advisory services in Croatia, Saudi Arabia and Angola beforewinning the US government supported contract to be involved in Nigeria. In 1999,MPRI undertook on behalf of the US Department of Defense and USAID Office ofTransition Initiatives an 8 - person, 120 day assessment mission aimed at developing"an action plan to integrate a reformed military establishment into a new civiliancontexf”. In the course of the assessment mission in the country, it also ran a series ofworkshops on civil military relations for senior military officers, civilians and variousarmed formations across the country. Since completing the initial assessment, it hassigned a new contract "The Transition-Civil Military Program for Nigeria" whichfocuses on three key areas - a) Military reform; b) Creation and development of newcivilian institutions for civil-military affairs; and, (c) Support for de-militarisation of 10
    • society.No doubt, all of the above constitute areas in which support can be rendered to theNigerian military, as long as local ownership is not jeopardised and this involvementis under the purview of the legislature and the professional military, not just thepresident and the Minister of Defence. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.MPRI has become a permanent fixture in the Ministry of Defence with an office andfull complement of staff. Apart from the undisguised opposition of the militaryprofessionals to MPRI’s unrestricted access, MPRI’s belief that models of civilmilitary relations from a different social-cultural context can be transferred intoanother context wholesale is seen to be more problematic. Since this is also a patternthat Nigerians have become familiar with in other fields of government – the seemingdependency on foreigners for assistance even where local expertise will do - GeneralMalu’s public criticism of the need to “protect our nation” struck the right chord witheven people such as Gani Fawehinmi and others not known for their endorsement ofanything coming from the military. General Malu went to great lengths in hisinterview with Tempo to explain his opposition to the involvement of MPRI and theFord Bragg team: We are a sovereign nation and we should protect our national interest. I don’t think it’s the duty of any foreign country to tell us what our defence policy or what our strategic policy or those things that can only be determined by Nigerians should be… …Part of the misunderstanding we had with the Americans coming to train us was that they wanted to train us in the rudimentary art of soldiering. We objected to that because we are an army of well-trained soldiers and seasoned officers that lack logistics…Unfortunately, General Malu lost this media war. The fact that his position on foreigninvolvement can hardly be faulted was damaged by his seeming endorsement of theatrocities committed under General Abacha at the public hearings of the OputaCommission and for this, the media pilloried him to no end. Although the president is 11
    • not unaware of the argument about the potentially negative role of a private Americanorganisation that is not even accountable to its own government nor Congressdirecting the re-professionalisation of the Nigerian military, it was important to himthat his position prevailed over the military leadership’s stance in favour of abrogatingthe MPRI contract if civilian control is to endure. Whilst he did not concede to awholesale review of the contract, he was not opposed to ‘diluting’ the Americaninvolvement by inviting bi-lateral actors by key players such as the British MilitaryAdvisory Training Team (BMATT) or the South Africans with which a Defenceprotocol was recently signed.What enraged President Obasanjo would appear to be the manner of General Malu’suse of the media flank, which was construed as an open insurbordination clearlymeant to challenge his authority. Although he realised that many of the issues raisedare serious even if he has refused to admit this in public, his position became akin toPresident Truman’s when General Douglas Macarthur, as Commander of the US &UN forces in Korea publicly criticised the limited nature of the war efforts, continuedwith the war into China and jeopardised the delicate negotiations in Korea. Realisinghow popular Macarthur was with his troops and the republican dominated Congress,Truman still went ahead and relieved Macarthur of his Command position. In thesame vein, President Obasanjo was absolutely correct to have relieved General Maluof his job. If he hadn’t done so, he would have risked a military institution ridden withinsurbordination and disloyalty to him as an embodiment of the State. Indeed, myown view is that General Malu had calculated the risk involved in what he was doingand felt sufficiently determined to sacrifice his military career on the altar of insistingon a professional principle. It would have been unprofessional of him to raise theseconcerns publicly if he wasn’t ready to leave the job. Indeed, those who know himinsist that he resorted to speaking to the media because his private pleas in the pastyear have largely gone unheeded.By bringing these issues to the public domain, it is also my view that General Maludeserves commendation rather than abuse even as he deserves to lose his position.General Malu has clearly helped civil society in general by ensuring that militaryissues do not remain in the dark recesses of the executive branch of government byraising the stakes in the media. By this, he has raised a fundamental issue of 12
    • accountability of the political leadership to the citizens even as the political leadershipdemands the accountability and subordination of the military. This is the silver liningthat has come out of this event and society must not allow this opportunity to be lost.Which way forward for military reform?It is tempting to think that the removal of General Malu and the two other servicechiefs will improve civilian control of the military and security establishments andenhance military professionalism. It is also tempting to treat the symptom of externalinvolvement as the cause of the crisis of military professionalism. The truth is thatnone of this would happen if there is no structured and sober response to the validpoints contained in General Malu’s critique. Indeed, the new service chiefs will facethe same problems with the political leaders if military reform does not address thegermane issues raised above nor will it address the dilemma of a post-militarygovernment in search of a fool proof anti-coup strategy. The challenge that still has tobe dealt with is how to ensure not only civilian oversight, but also democratic controlof our military and security establishments whilst at the same time equipping them tocompetently discharge their duties in defence of the nation?The crucial point to make is that civilian control should not be seen as a set oftechnical and administrative arrangements that automatically flow from every postmilitary transition. It must be seen as part of complex political processes, which mustaddress the root causes of militarism in society, beyond the formal removal of themilitary from political power. While formal mechanisms of control are not inthemselves wrong, the reality underpinning the crisis of governance in Nigeria is thefact that subordination of the armed forces to civil control can only be achieved whencivil control is seen as part of a democratic struggle that goes beyond obeyingpresidential orders, but one that ensues accountability to the rest of society.The conclusion this leads to therefore is that what we need is not just civilian, but alsodemocratic control of the security sector (including the military) and this can only befully addressed through a range of measures – ensuring comprehensive constitutionaldimensions of democratic oversight of security sector activities; redefining the roleand mission of the military, developing a civilian, security sector expertise; ensuring 13
    • professional autonomy over military matters and recognising the holistic nature ofhuman security in terms of ensuring freedom from fear and want and not just absenceof war and societal violence. By encouraging further public debate on our securitysector in an issue oriented manner - as the government embarks on its constitutionreview road show around the country – we would be giving voice to the voiceless andtaking the views of ordinary Nigerians on security and military reform into account.Let us seize the moment! 14