Entrenched Militarism and the Politics of Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria

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Entrenched Militarism and the Politics of Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria

  1. 1. Entrenched Militarism and the Politics of Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria J ’Kayode Fayemi Abstract This paper traces the entrenched nature of military involvement in Nigeria’s chequered nation- building project and interrogates the prospects for demilitarisation and democratic consolidation in the country. This is done with theoretical and empirical illustrations of the making of the military, the nature and structure of the military institution and its involvement in the body politic, the implications of its involvement and the challenges to overcome if the transition to democracy is to be sustained. By injecting a historical perspective to a structural analysis of the institution – its organisation, military strategy, military spending and military politics, the paper seeks an understanding of the agent-structure triggers of a political army and the impact of this on the fledgling democratisation project. While the paper recognises the historico-structural dimensions of militarisation as well as the behavioural obstacles to demilitarisation, it captures the challenges in terms of the complexity of the State-civil society relations and predicts the presence of the military in politics in one form or another for some time to come. To address the entrenched pathology of militarism in the body politic, the paper suggests a wider definition of security which promotes an inclusive institutional framework for the demilitarisation and development agenda whilst de-emphasising force in the nation-building project.IntroductionThe conventional wisdom today is that the Nigerian military is in retreat after close to four decades at the centrestage of politics. The decisive, albeit disputed victory of the dominant People’s Democratic Party in the 1999presidential polls which produced an ex-military leader, General Obasanjo as elected president and the subsequentactions undertaken by the government since assuming power in May 1999, is seen as concrete evidence that this isso. Without a doubt, President Obasanjo has surprised many people by the boldness of the steps he has taken tobreak the grip of the erstwhile military elite, to attack corruption and to espouse an agenda for transparency andaccountability in the polity.Nevertheless, a contrary wisdom would contend that there is as yet little evidence of the politicalinstitutionalisation of several of these bold steps and it may be misleading to overemphasise the scale and intensityof the military retreat. Indeed, in light of the numerous false starts that Nigeria has witnessed in her past attempts at 1
  2. 2. democratic experiments, there ought to be a growing realisation of the need to think less teleological aboutdemocratic transitions brought about by a combination of military fracturing and incoherent civil society agitation.After all, if the experience of post-cold war Africa is anything to go by, it seems clear enough that whiledemocratic transitions may lead to democratic development in stages or “in parts”i, pacted transitions have notnecessarily led to consolidated democracies nor stemmed the tide of democratic reversals, especially in placeswhere militarism has eaten deep into the fabric, ethos, language and character of public discourse and action.The above underscores the need to temper euphoric and triumphal outbursts with a cautious optimism thatencourages an investigation of the prospects for democratic control over the military and security establishments.This paper therefore focuses on the role of the military in Nigeria’s democratisation project. Its departure point isthat without an in-depth look at the locus of military control (or lack of it thereof) – and how it has developed andcoursed through the system, we run the risk of either underestimating the rather convoluted network of militaryinfluence or inflating the importance of an “democratic moment” in the quest to deconstruct the military ‘problem’in fluid and pluri-form societies.Any attempt to accurately assess the role of Nigeria’s military in the democratisation process and its impact on thefuture of the fledgling democratic dispensation, therefore, would benefit more from a nuanced assessment that doesnot treat the institution as a monolith. Neither should it be defined simply by the excesses of its aberrant officercorps nor seen through the prism of the distinction often made in the literature between reformers and hard-liners,moderates and radicals. Consequently, it is important to trace the sociological and institutional underpinnings ofthe military’s role in the Nigeria’s chequered history of democratic transition, to enable us assess: (a) theconditions, ingredients and consequences of military projects for nation-building (political institutionalisation andeconomic development through democratic transition); (b) the impact of the post-civil-war ‘democratic pressure’on the political role of the military and their nation-building agenda, the impact of the post cold war pressure on themilitary and the State and, (c) the likely impact of the manifold legacies of Nigeria’s authoritarian past on theconsolidation of civil politics and democratic governance. Approached this way, it should be possible to review thepolitical role of the military and project into the future about the emerging realities of post-military politics inNigeria.Background to Military Involvement in PoliticsUnderstanding the colonial character of the military is a crucial factor in explaining the rise ofthe praetorian instincts in post-colonial militaries in Africa. As William Gutteridge observed,“the armies of Africa…are the direct descendants of the colonial forces raised in the territoriesof the imperial rulers to sustain the old order”ii. What emerged as the Nigerian Armed Forces in1963 had a long history as a product of British colonialism. Established as a small constabularyforce at the beginning of the century, it became part of the Royal West African Frontier Force 2
  3. 3. just before the Second World War, comprising of soldiers from all the satellite states of Nigeria,Ghana (formerly Gold Coast), Sierra Leone and the Gambia.In its recruitment policy into the colonial army, the British promoted the concept of “martial and non-martialtribes” in West Africa. To achieve these objectives, some ethnic groups were found more loyal and co-operativethan others and they also happened to be less literate in western education than their southern counterparts andtherefore more amenable to orders. Given the long history of interaction with the metropolitan force and the crucialrole of the dependent territories in the victory of the allied powers in World War II, Africans in the colonial armiesdeveloped a more confident political and social outlook that did not exclude direct involvement in political affairs.As Michael Crowder argued: "Africans had fought alongside white men, killed white men, seen brave Africans and white cowards… met white soldiers who treated them as equals, or who were like themselves, hardly educated… Above all, having fought in the defence of freedom, they considered it their right that they should share in the government of the land " (my emphasis)iiiThe new political leadership at independence was unanimous in their ambivalence andprolonged indifference to the growth of the military institution - since they saw the military asan extension of the colonial authority. This unanimous ambivalence was coloured by theconcern over the constitution of the military and its likely impact on the regional politics of theperiod. The concern and ambivalence of the post independence political leaders about thearmed forces was understandable but somewhat exaggerated given their own close connectionto the metropolitan power. Whereas they distrusted the local military institution put together atthe instance of the metropolitan power, the ruling elite still had tremendous confidence in thecolonial power to accede to an Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact at independence. Even after theabrogation of the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact, the dependence on the colonial power by theruling government was still ingrained in the leadership, hence the absence of any locallycodified or articulated defence policy broadly outlining military objectives as well as identifyinginternal and external threats based on emergent developments, and not as a proxy in the superpower rivalry of the period.In this context, the relationship between the military and the political leadership of the countrywas understandably fraught and this multi-layered colonial hangover was to define thedevelopment (or lack of it) of the military political doctrine – especially as this related to‘development’ and security. Indeed, since the post-colonial State inherited, and in most casesexpanded the hegemonic tendencies of the colonial period, the post-independence army 3
  4. 4. remained essentially colonial in character, and the nationalist leaders thought the most logicalway out of this dependence was an accelerated Nigerianisation policy. Whilst this showedevidence of direction and purpose on the part of the leadership, the political coloration of theNigerianisation policy undermined the professionalism of the military as loyalty among thefighting men became divided along regional and political lines. According to Billy Dudley, the1962 law that sanctioned a quota system in the army recruitment process created the impressionthat: "Whereas before the system was introduced, recruitment and mobility were thought to be dependent on the individual’s ability, with the [new] system the suspicion grew that this mattered less than who were one’s patrons. The ‘unintended consequence’ of the political decision to introduce a quota system was the politicisation of the military."ivYet, in spite of the notion that the military had become an extension of the dominant politicalelite as Dudley suggested, it is equally arguable that the Nigerianisation agenda merelyreproduced and expanded the colonial armed forces’ recruitment pattern. Representativenesswas never an issue for the colonial army and the bulk of the recruits came from the northernethnic groups, but in the recruitment of the officer material where the forces needed fairly welleducated men, the bulk of the educated men came from the southern ethnic groups.v This earlypattern of recruitment was replicated in the post-independence armed forces. Clearly, thepolitical elite of the immediate post-independence era was very sensitive to the fact that two-thirds of the officers by 1962 were from the South (and mainly Ibo), hence the 1962 quotapolicy was aimed at redressing the imbalance already dominant in the officer ranks.viDoctrineIf the decision to adopt a quota system for recruitment into the armed forces was seen as aninnovative mechanism in dealing with diversity and a genuine effort to ensurerepresentativeness in an important national institution, the political-military doctrine of the timedenied the very existence of that diversity. The leadership, in a very significant way, upheld theold order bequeathed by the British as national security assumed a military and externalcharacter. Indeed, the leadership’s description of the nation-state as co-extension of the ethnicand individual boundaries followed closely in the tradition of classical realists. To legitimisethis view, the constitution that regulated the affairs of the State at independence institutionalised 4
  5. 5. Table 1 A profile of Nigeria’s governments since independence Dates Type Main Protagonists Control of the MilitaryOct 60 – Jan. 66 Elected, civilian Prime Minister Bale- Small military (10,000) Colonial in with strong regional wa, Alhaji Ahmadu orientation, but professional in bias Bello (Premier of the character, increasingly drawn into North), Chief Awolo- internal security by rising political wo (Premier of the tension West), Dr Okpara ((Premier of the East), President AzikiweJan – July ’66 Military junta after Major K. C. Nzeogwu, Assassination of prominent political first coup General A. Ironsi leaders – especially in the north destroyed military espirit de corps and threatened professionalism.Jul ’66 – Jul 75 Collegial Military General Gowon and Broad-based support of all armed junta, weak at members of the forces for military junta inspite of inception, but Supreme Military earlier problems, partly due to lack of strengthened by civil Council commitment to a political timetable. warJuly 75 – Sept Military junta Generals Mohammed, As above, but with more credibility79 Obasanjao, YarAdua, and more emphasis on professionalism Danjuma, and middle- and political change. level officers who overthrew previous juntaOct ’79 – Dec 83 Elected civil rule President Shagari of the Limited control of the military; under 1979 National Party of creation of alternative base in police constitution Nigeria; multiparty force as well as patronage to ensure political structure, loyalty to government. 5
  6. 6. presidential style of governmentDec ’83 – Aug Popular military Generals Buhari, Professional-political prerogative;85 junta Idiagbon, Babangida, increasing authoritarian tendency in a and Abacha largely internally oriented policy agenda.Aug ’85 – Aug Transition from General Babangida was Co-optation of the military in the93 junta to personalised the main player with bit rulers personal project via patronage dictatorship in a parts to close civilians and deft political manoeuvrings. palace coup and military politiciansAug ’93 – Nov Interim government Chief E. Shonekan, Clear military control of a government93 representing Head of Interim that lacked legitimacy and popular interregnum after the Government, and support in a period of high political annulled elections General Abacha, tension. and exit of Defence Minister BabangidaNov ’93 – June Full-blown military General Abacha Undermined military professionalism,98 dictatorship increased use of intelligence and security outfits, especially death squads, against political and military opponents.June 98 – May Military dictatorship General Abubakar Focus on political transition and99 with a human face - Abdulsalami preparation for withdrawal from under pressure to government. reform politically and exit gracefullyMay 99 - ? Elected civilian General Obasanjo, Increasing presidential, rather than government civilian government democratic, control of military; with a non-ideological, commitment to military centrist notion but weak professionalism and diminished 6
  7. 7. party structure and likelihood of full-blown military coup. militarily imposed constitution.the towering of the “idealised” State over the “real” society. Just as it happened during thecolonial era, the military soon became the most visible face of this forced notion of unity.Additionally, given the historical circumstances within which African countries emerged which guaranteed theprimacy of the State and the monopoly of coercive instruments by the anointed ruler, threats to national securitywere not seen in comprehensive enough terms to include domestic threats to national stability. Instead, domesticthreats were seen as “little local difficulties” among competing political interest groups for state control. Inconsequence, the pre-1966 political violence in the country hardly provided any lessons for innovative conflictmanagement in the interest of the nation-building project. Indeed, it soon became a political-military doctrine thatresonated in the decision-making process of successive regimes in that any challenge to the “idealised nationalcommunity” was often interpreted as a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the government in power. Inconsequence, internal dimensions of threat often needed to assume the cloak of regime security, to receive theattention of political leaders and it was in this context that the existing military force was seen to have a politicalrole. For example, the near total dependence of the first republic government in Nigeria on the army to quell thepolitical turmoil in Western Nigeria and the Middle Belt region has been cited as a major factor in the eventualoverthrow of the regime given the manner in which the military was encouraged to become a pliant instrument ofthe ruling elite in dealing with opponents.As a result of the growing influence of the military, those who felt excluded from the competition for politicalpower also courted the institution. Having discovered its own indispensability to the political elite, the place of themilitary was enhanced and at the same time undermined by the politicisation of its post-independence recruitmentand many who entered via the political route owed allegiance to political forces external to the military institution.Additionally, the politically minded officers, some genuinely frustrated by the venality of the political leadership,began to see the institution as a genuine alternative power centre for ‘social change’. The consolidation of thearmy’s place in society was in large part facilitated by the fact that it controlled all the instruments of violence andcoercion and radiated order amid disorder and chaos.These local conditions were reinforced by the intensity of the super power rivalry that characterised Cold Warpolitics and the impact this had on the growth and development of the post-colonial state in Africa. Violentoverthrow of elected governments had started receiving political and intellectual justification, from the action ofthe Free officers in Egypt to the coup against President Olympio in neighbouring Togo. For example, there wasthe ideological and intellectual arguments that military rule correlated to nationalism, and therefore modernitythroughout the Cold war era. Leading intellectuals of the era promoted praetorianism on the basis of the alleged 7
  8. 8. modernising characteristics of the military. Imbued with this intellectual justification of ‘nationalism’ and‘modernity’, it was no surprise then that Major Nzeogwu, the leader of Nigeria’s first coup could make such agrandiose claim that ‘the men and officers who carried out the 1966 operation in Kaduna was a truly Nigeriangathering, and only in the army do you get true Nigerianism.viiThe above notwithstanding, it would be wrong to contend that there were no structuralproblems that encouraged the involvement of the armed forces in politics. Indeed, militaryinvolvement in politics has often been seen as the result of chronic societal dis-equilibriumexemplified by the corruption of politicians.viii In effect, it has always been consistent withmilitary organisations involved in ‘role expansion’ from its "satrapic"ix orientation to activepraetorianism in Africa to explain its intervention in politics as resulting from the "corruption" ofthe political elite. For example, Nzeogwu coup speech of January 1966 has very much provideda template for subsequent military coups in Nigeria. According to him: "Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as Ministers or VIPs at least; the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country big for nothing before international circles; those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian calendar back by their words and deeds."xQuite correctly, praetorianism grows faster in situations of structural disorientation and unsettled nationalityquestions. It is also true that coups have a greater chance of success in moments of overwhelming national frustrationwith irresponsible political leadership. The Nigerian experience confirms that insufficient weight is placed on thepersonal motives of ambitious, discontented officers that find legitimate cover in periods of structural fragility andprebendal politics.xiPlaced within the above context, the next section examines the role of the military in the country’s transition andnation-building project. It seeks to elaborate on the thesis advanced in the last section on how the military becamecompliant in the consolidation of the old order, be it colonialism or patrimonialism, even when the rhetoric was oneof reform. We argue that the political military doctrine that became the referent point of successive militaryregimes, was one in which internal threats were relegated to the status of a dependent variable whilst primarilyfocusing on external threats in the pursuit of the “idealised nation” which ensured a “permanent transition”.It is the contention of this paper that all military regimes allowed this to happen deliberately by exaggeratingforeign threats as a way of diverting attention away from seemingly unresolvable domestic problems. In effect, thesearch for grandeur and institutional aggrandisement tended to under emphasise the unsettled nationality questionsin the country, the damaging effects of military involvement in politics and the personalised nature of rule. This, inturn under emphasised the extent to which the Nigerian public disapproved of military rule, and obviated the extent 8
  9. 9. to which the nationality question, which led, in the first instance to civil war had been unresolved. So consistent didthis become, as we will show below, that the few military regimes that deviated from this political-military doctrinefailed to last.Transition to Militarismxii: Military Politics and the Nation Building ProjectWhen the Nigerian military first intervened in politics in January 1966, their action wasacclaimed as a nation-building project aimed at eradicating corruption and reordering the State.Six months after, the Nigerian army had become the catalyst for national disintegration as itbroke up into ethnic and regional factions and exacerbated the pre-existing primordial cleavageswhich had earlier undermined its professionalism, eventually leading to the three year civil war.To those who had proclaimed the attributes of the military in terms of its espirit de corps,cohesiveness, and unified outlook, this sudden turn of events became difficult to explain. Truly,as an authoritarian structure of control preoccupied with regime security, it was only within themilitary that the colonial authorities encouraged and fostered the interaction of Nigeria’ssegmented elite in any common fora, a feature which seemed logical given their role as agentsof imperial power for the limitation of militant political activity by nationalist politicians. Inthis manner, the tradition of cross sectional consociational elitism seemed better developedwithin the military than in any other professional group and their training and orientation inforeign and local institution may have been crucial in their socialisation process.Although, its training and orientation promoted a socialisation process that fostered the meetingand inter-ethnic interaction of the country’s elite, the fact that the ethnicised nature of politicsand personalised form of rule consumed the military elite and made it possible for it to serve asthe vanguard for interests that are neither institutional nor majoritarian underscores the failureof a nation-building project that was not derived from a significant level of consensus. Whilethe inter-ethnic interaction showed that military officers might have been predisposed to thenationalist project as a result of this socialisation process, the enemy was no longer as clear-cutas it was under colonialism due to other cross-cutting links that went beyond institutional links.As Robin Luckham explained in his authoritative work on the Nigerian military, outside ofcreating an organisation with a unified outlook, 9
  10. 10. "... such an organisation… requires a higher degree of goal consensus than those in which relationships are more segmentary. Brotherhood only creates genuine integration of officers and men only if they show self-discipline and if the system of command and control is itself adequately institutionalised. Otherwise it may be disruptive."xiiiIn Nigeria it was disruptive in the early days and has continuously been disruptive as officers carved up their ownniches and groomed protégés using the same authoritarian structures of control that allowed for the layering offraternities prevalent in satrapic military organisations. Consequently, the military could no longer lay claim tobeing cohesive, a condition often attributed to their sound training and collective military honour. Equally, theNigerian military could also not stretch the collegial links that had served the military in good stead – especiallyLatin America. Not even the supposedly collegial ruling councils served this purpose beyond the interim periods ofevery military administration. It was for this reason that Luckham observed that the disruption of the professionalcohesion "... goes to suggest that we need to seek for other factors than common training which might generate solidarity among military equals; that the officer corps was held together by something more than the mere agglomeration of different brotherhoods and course mates ..."xivWhat became even clearer since Luckhams work on the Nigerian military is the degree of sectional loyalties thatexisted within the military hierarchy and the way this has been used to advance the ruling elites prebendalproclivities. Although the military caste consistently maintained the professional and accommodational strategythat kept it in power for three decades, the nature of the strategy would appear to have assumed a far moresegmental edge after Nigeria’s second republic. At this stage, professional camaraderie and institutional cohesion,seemed relatively less important in the alliance used in sustaining the military in power. On the one hand, it waspossible for successive military regimes to retain power with some measure of authority in areas where thepersonal projects of the military ruling elite coincided with group or corporate interests. On the other hand, inareas where the rulers made no attempt to respect institutional interest or restraint, they hung on to power on thestrength of their coercive capabilities and co-optation strategies which depended on alternative power centresoutside the military – in the civilian bureaucracy, business sector and intellectual circles. To varying degrees,successive military regimes adopted this strategy – from General Yakubu Gowon to the recently departed GeneralAbdulsalami Abubakar, however the regimes of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha represented twoextremes in the continuum. The Gowon Years (1966 – 1975)Strengthened by the favourable aftermath of the Nigerian civil war, General Yakubu Gowon utilised the legitimacyprovided by the successful ‘resolution’ of the civil war to project the military into the vanguard of the nation-building project. Consequently, the civil war which albeit fragmented the military as an institution now provided itwith an opportunity to redeem its image, yet this was not necessarily on account of its professionalism in theprosecution of the war. Although the civil war per se is not the focus of this paper, it is important to highlight the 10
  11. 11. degree to which it influenced the actions of the military regime, especially its claim to a pride of place in a nationbuilding project.The post civil war agenda of reconstruction which was to culminate in political disengagement in 1976 elicited ahigh level of consensus from within the military and the political society, yet it meant more of continuity of the oldorder than change. Indeed, Gowon personified the legitimacy of the era and his name soon became an acronym for“one Nigeria” in popular culture. The support his agenda gained from civil and political society derived from theunderlying acceptance that power belonged to the people and this was demonstrated by Gowon’s specificannouncement of a timetable for military disengagement from politics. Although it was evident that the militaryhad now become politicised, Gowon was able to involve credible politicians in the work of the administration bykeeping within their purview a political order to be controlled by them. Even those who had concerns about thegrowing concentration of power at the centre saw the benefits possible from wielding power at the centre. Whatdestroyed this overwhelming support from both the military and political constituencies was the gross inability ofthe Gowon administration to consolidate the nation building project, in the aftermath of the civil war.First, while State power was enhanced by the civil war, the improvement in the countryseconomy through oil wealth sharpened the predatory instincts of the military ruling elite andtheir consosciational allies in the civil service and business sector and this greatly underminedthe institutional capacity for independent action and, in turn the nation-building project. Eventhough corruption was rampant during the civil war, it was the rapacity of the regimefunctionaries in the aftermath of the war that focused attention on General Gowon’s weakleadership qualities in a situation where state governors behaved as though they were‘provincial chiefs in a decentralised patrimonial order’ charged with the plundering of the newlyfound oil resources.Second, while state military power was potentially enhanced by the post civil war "no victor, no vanquished"reconciliation policy, (especially given the fact that the federal forces merely muddled through), the Gowonadministration failed to concentrate on reorganising the internal workings of the military institution. Althoughmilitary planners sought to improve service co-ordination and came up with suggestions for demobilising andmechanising a military which was now spending 90% of its budget on salaries for the 250,000 strong force (from apre-war strength of 10,000), there was no doctrinal principles that guided defence management. Indeed, as hisofficial biographer noted, ‘as Gowon settled to issues of state governance after the war, his contacts with themilitary gradually decreased as his relationship with the civilian bureaucracy grew.xv It was the failure to seize theopportunity provided at the end of the civil war to re-organise the institution that laid the basis for the contest fordominance between praetorians and professionals which eventually led the military on its slippery slope.The above situation was exacerbated by the growing dependence on the civilian bureaucracy,some of whose personnel had become so powerful and indispensable to General Gowon. This 11
  12. 12. long-term dependence on the civilian bureaucracy manifested itself in various ways in the post-war years. The political involvement inevitably acquired economic imperatives after theNigerian civil war with Nigeria’s new-found wealth in the oil sector. The origins of Nigeria’s‘bureaucratic-economic militariat’ could indeed be traced back to the central role played by themilitary in the control and management of this new found wealth, especially after itspromulgation of the Nigerian Enterprises Decrees of 1972 and 1977. What became apparent atthis stage however was the personalised pattern of private capital accumulation, whichprevailed, even if this was sometime held in proxy by the military officers’ fronts. The abovegenerated a crisis of confidence within the military. As an authoritarian structure preoccupiedwith its own institutional survival, there was a growing perception that Gowon was isolatinghimself from the institution – a situation his colleagues in the military found disconcerting – asituation which eventually led to his overthrow. As his successor, General Murtala Mohammednoted in his maiden speech: "After the civil war, the affairs of the state, hitherto a collective responsibility, became characterised by a lack of consultation. Things got to a stage when the Head of the Administration became inaccessible even to official advisers"xviNotwithstanding the failed national development agenda and the evident lack of the military’s much acclaimedmodernising characteristics, General Gowon might still have survived if he had not reneged on the transition time-table. As aptly captured by the late social critic, Tai Solarin, the regime’s tattered credibility came crashing downand it was the ‘beginning of the end’ for the Gowon administration. The refusal to keep the transition agenda inview provided a unity of purpose for all his opponents both within the military and in civil society. The Mohammed-Obasanjo Years, (1975 – 79)Based on the experience of the Gowon administration, it would appear that one of the firstlessons of the new administration (Mohammed-Obasanjo regime, 1975-79) was the need todiffuse the power concentration in the Head of State. Indeed, it was thought at first that theoriginal intention was to constitute the three most senior members of the military junta into aruling triumvirate with a rotational leadership – a style common to Latin American military junta.When the junta finally settled for what was essentially the mode of rulership under GeneralGowon, with the Supreme Military Council intact, power was to be shared between the Head ofState, Brigadier [later General] Murtala Mohammed and the Chief of Staff, SupremeHeadquarters, Brigadier [later General] Olusegun Obasanjo. 12
  13. 13. In spite of this attempt at power diffusion, the strong leadership exhibited by General MurtalaMohammed not only demanded but received a variety of alternative options from hisintellectual circle and the military itself, but it also precluded the structure from working in adelegatory manner. As the regimes Chief of Staff, General Obasanjo later revealed in hismemoirs, the relative ease with which service chiefs and corps commanders established a linkwith the Head of State and the Chief of Staff created an impression as though the regime hadno need for a Defence Minister. This perceived neglect was raised repeatedly by the DefenceMinister, Brigadier Iliya Bisalla, especially after the military promotion exercise which sawthe Army Chief higher in rank and this was adduced as a reason for his involvement in theabortive coup that resulted in the assassination of the Head of State, General Mohammed.xviiUndoubtedly, Brigadier Mohammed also assumed a creative role in the defence planning process himself,xviii and as aresult the first steps towards the systematic realignment of the ends of security policy to the means of achieving policygoals began under the regime. However, the regime still failed to resolve the problem of co-ordination of structure, thebane of the armed forces since the civil war days and it probably complicated its resolution more when GeneralObasanjo assumed office as Head of State, Commander-in-Chief and Minister of Defence. Although this was informedmore by the development leading to the assassination of the former Head of State, the combination of the defenceportfolio with his primary duty as Head of State heralded once again the issue of overly concentrated powers.First came the renewed ascendancy of the civilian bureaucracy in the defence policy making and implementation, afeature the regime leaders had relentlessly criticised under the Gowon administration. For a government thatdemanded more discipline from the civilian bureaucracy by sacking over 11,000 public officials all over thecountry, the fact that the government resorted to the same bureaucracy exposed the superficiality of that populistmove. It also meant that nothing was done to resolve the structural problems that plagued previous administrations interms of ensuring an effective synergy amongst different aspects of governance.To its credit, the regime made a determined effort to address substantively issues relating to the reorganisation ofthe armed forces and the renewal of the political transition programme. However, the implication of this was thehuge capital outlay that accompanied these efforts, and this further deepened the centralisation of authority andincreased the dependence on the civilian bureaucracy. This has yet its own implications for the eradication ofcorruption in spite of their best effort. As Richard Joseph correctly argued, "…the transitional military regime of Mohammed and Obasanjo, …by dint of enhancing the state’s omnipresence and omnicompetence in the devising and implementing of national projects, added even more fuel to prebendal politics in Nigeria…"xix 13
  14. 14. Although clearly more reformist in character and orientation than the previous military leadership, the regime’sonslaught on corruption was largely superficial and unsustained. Unsurprisingly, many of the military officers whoruled the country between 1975 and 1979 soon found themselves in business and politics courtesy of their contactswith the civilian bureaucracy and the business sector. Indeed, if one traced the personal, political and financiallinks of a number of individuals associated with the military prior to their exit from government and in theimmediate aftermath to civilian politics in 1979, there is a clear trend of a network including the military, thecivilian bureaucracy (the ex-Super-Permanent Secretaries) and business moguls.xx At this stage though, it wouldappear that the acquisition was largely in pursuit of personal wealth, rather than a conscious institutionalprogramme of neo-militarism.The proclivity of the ex-military generals to wield financial control was however not limited to their top-mostbrass. Others who retired before them and several who did so after them entered the boardroom game too. As oneobserver of the retired military phenomenon noted, “an increasing number of retired senior military officers…combine chairmanships/directorships of their own private businesses, with part-time appointments to keygovernmental posts and parastatals relating to agriculture, commerce, and industry, in addition to interlockingdirectorships of many foreign companies incorporated in Nigeria.”xxiYet in spite of the growing tendency towards personal accumulation that had become noticeable in the post 1979transition phase, and which was certainly continued under the post-1983 Buhari-Idiagbon junta, a distinguishingfeature of these pre-Babangida military regimes was that they were less directly subservient to foreign capital andless inclined to flaunt political influence, although an insignificant number of military officers went into politics inthe second republic. While there were officers committed fully to the market orthodoxy of privatising the State onthe economic front, those who advocated economic nationalism and greater State control won these internalstruggles – and several government institutions in the oil, energy, water and telecommunications sector remainedunder government control.On threat analysis, the Mohammed/Obasanjo regime acknowledged that Nigeria confronted both external andinternal threats, although their own preference too was for prominent forays into the foreign arena. However,unlike the Gowon era before them, the regime shifted from a whimsical determination of defence, foreign andsecurity policies to a more rationally ordered identification and prioritisation of the objectives guiding foreign anddefence policies. The ideas underlying these objectives had a significant impact on policy formulation andfashioning of doctrine. The Adedeji panel set up to review the state objectives broadened the foreign policyobjectives to include continental security, making Africa the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign and defence policies.Simultaneous with the new regime’s pursuit of Gowon’s nine-point domestic programme, its declaratory stance onthe continental scene depicted an offensive doctrine and an expansion of the previous regime’s concentration onregional integration efforts especially on questions of de-colonisation on the continent, but this was not done to thedetriment of domestic issues. Indeed, the external agenda dovetailed nicely with the regime’s internal agenda inmany areas. For example, demobilisation was identified in the immediate aftermath of the civil war as an issue thatrequired urgent attention. Equally, the military leadership was aware that the battle readiness of the armed forceswas inextricably linked to the uncertainty surrounding the demobilisation programme, especially given the neglect 14
  15. 15. of this issue by the previous regime. By the time it was leaving government, the regime had reduced the size of themilitary by 100, 000 by far the most ambitious reduction ever conducted by any government in Nigeria to date.xxiiOther issues given priority by the Mohammed/Obasanjo regime in the pursuit of foreign and defence policiesincluded barracks reconstruction weapons procurement, training, defence production and cohesion – all aimed atthe institutionalisation of military professionalism.xxiii The perspicacity of its actions not only provided a clearpolicy guideline to implementing agents about the country’s military mission, but also gave decision makers alogical sequence to the employment, deployment and acquisition policies for the military organisation.In spite of their unflinching commitment to the transition project, the regime left an inherently inoperable politicalsystem, which made it impossible for the new government to transform itself into a truly democratic dispensation.So influential was the military even after formal disengagement that the civilian president conceded that there wereonly two parties in the country – the ruling National Party and the Nigerian Army. The Civilian era – 1979 – 1983After thirteen years of military administration, a civilian democracy returned to power in Nigeria on 1 October 1979and the civilians were in government till December 31, 1983. The period witnessed a different defence structure that,for the first time, placed all services under a single Chief of Defence Staff who also doubled as the Principal Adviser tothe President on defence through the Defence Minister. Two key advantages of this development were thought to bethe better co-ordination of political and military ends of policy and the standardisation it would bring to employment,deployment and acquisition policies in the entire armed forces. The lesson of the previous years had been that servicesembarked on different, often conflicting, and sometimes duplicating programmes which exacerbated rather than healnational contradictions. Inter-service co-ordination was also thought to be the key to enhancing the doctrinal positionof defence in line with governmental objectives and national interests.As a result the civilian administration continued with the continental programme of the erstwhile regime with little orno modification, although the rhetoric had become less fiercely anti-west. On the doctrinal question, the governmentessentially reverted to the days of reactive doctrinal postures. While most security problems the regime experiencedwere within predictable range and manageable limit, when they occurred the administration reactions were neitherplanned nor within the ambits of any articulated doctrinal principles. The relatively high incidence of threats to thecountrys territorial integrity and the eventual (mis)management of the threats during the period pointed to agovernment in which the military still had a great deal of influence, outside the normal channels opened to theinstitutions. The effect was the low level of complementarity between foreign and defence policies, the consequence ofwhich was a doctrinal standpoint dictated by occasional exigencies and prestige considerations rather than requirementsof long term survival in the countrys strategic environment.xxiv In the end, military officers closest to the civilianadministration were the leading figures in the coup that engineered its overthrow, and there are many who still hold theview that the coup leaders had acted in concert with some politicians to save the country from a bloodier resolution ofthe crisis that had plagued the country. However, there were also members of the ruling party who felt the coup plottershad acted for themselves. 15
  16. 16. The Buhari-Idiagbon regime – 1984-85What distinguished the Buhari-Idiagbon military junta from all the military regimes examined in this paper was itsrefusal to even pretend that it had a transition programme for the country. Although it came into office on agroundswell of support from a public fed up with the venality of the politicians, even the refusal to adopt an agendafor civilian transformation was seen by various interest groups both within and outside the military as a carefullyarticulated political agenda. Indeed, their authoritarian administration was largely resented by Nigerians, and somehave traced their ouster in a palace coup, after twenty months in government, to their single minded pursuit of anisolationist foreign and defence policy and their intransigent political stand that gave no indication of a political plan forthe return of the country to civilian rule.The Buhari regime, for instance, acknowledged Nigerias security problems as mainly internaland it reduced the overtly rhetorical continental agenda hitherto pursued by previous regimes andlooked inwards.xxv While this earned the regime widespread criticism as well as pressures fromexternal powers and neighbouring countries that saw their interests in sharp conflict with thecountrys international policy, local opprobrium was minimal.xxviIn terms of transition politics and military doctrine, a fair conclusion will be that their period in office was too short forany clear direction to have emerged; they operated a more collegial rule but suffered seriously from the court of publicopinion as nasty and brutish. Also, the fact that they ruled at a time of wide ranging economic problems may haveprecluded effective monitoring of defence spending in terms of direction and agreed goals of policy.Suffice it to say that their relatively short stay in office saw a reversal in the military’s “usual way” although it carriedon the traditional service preference than an integrated national security package and funds allocated were notnecessarily used in enhancing the non-military dimensions of security as the regime, like others before it still perceivedsecurity through the narrow power-prestige prism, even in its pragmatic handling of erstwhile conglomerate themes. The Babangida Years (1985-1993)With the arrival of General Babangida at the helm of affairs in 1985, for the first time, Nigerians had a militaryruler opt for an all-encompassing title of “President”, thought to be restricted to democratically elected rulers, andnot the low profile “Head of State” that had become the norm for military rulers. Indeed, the situation began tomore closely resemble the institutional and personalist agenda of control pioneered in countries like Thailand andChile. As the country became mired in an economic crunch, which resulted in the structural adjustment programmeunder General Babangida, the elevation of speculative finance over industrial capital became the definingcharacteristic of economic policy. Short term monetarist policies of exchange rate devaluation, removal ofsubsidies, sale of state enterprises, freeing of prices and generalised deflationary policies took precedence overstructural reform of that debilitating economy which was the favoured national consensus for addressing theproblem at the time. The deregulation of the financial market ensured that the financial sector became the only 16
  17. 17. growth sector with interest rates determined by speculators as agriculture, manufacturing and industry floundereddue to low capacity utilisation.Not even the mini-boom engendered by the Persian Gulf Oil crisis in 1990/91 - the latter years of the Babangidaregime brought any respite to the generality of the population. Instead, the extra funds gained were regarded asdiscretionary income which went on a massive spending binge that diverted revenues into corruption fundedpatronage, sharply expanded extra-budgetary expenditure and bloated an already inflation ridden economy. Indeed,according to Dr Pius Okigbo’s official inquiry into the finances of the Central Bank of Nigeria, "betweenSeptember 1988 and 30 June 1994, US$12.2 billion of the $12.4billion (in the dedicated and special accounts) wasliquidated in less than six years... spent on what could neither be adjudged genuine high priority nor trulyregenerative investment; neither the President nor the Central Bank Governor accounted to anyone for thesemassive extra-budgetary expenditures...that these disbursements were clandestinely undertaken while the countrywas openly reeling with a crushing external debt overhang.xxviiLittle wonder then that the economic reform programme started by the military regime in 1986(under General Babangida) finally collapsed under the weight of the 1993 annulled election andthe massive capital flight that followed. By 1993, Nigeria, according to the World Bank, wasamong the 20 poorest countries in the world. The situation worsened under the Abacha regime;GNP grew only 2.8 percent in 1994, inflation ran at over 60 percent just as the countryexperienced exponential unemployment growth rate and the Nigerian naira virtually collapsed.But it was not just the economy that suffered in this State retrenchment exercise. The prospectsfor democratisation and meaningful politics also dimmed. Given the diffused level ofautonomy exercised by the military institution that resulted from the parcelling out of the stateto private military interests, the class and group project engendered by previous military rulewas exchanged with the personal rule of the ‘benevolent dictator’. Through his benefaction,many, including his superiors, had become beholden to Babangida as direct beneficiaries of hisgenerosity. While it may be stretching credulity to assume that all of those involved were awareof their role in class terms – especially given the linkage of finance capital to the stateapparatus, they were in no doubt that the conjuncture of a shared out State and personal rule hadbeen responsible for their financial success. They also realised that support for GeneralBabangida’s continued rule in one form or another represented the least line of resistance andthe price to pay for their financial benefits if it was to continue.In the larger society, privatisation exacerbated the prebendal politics with its attendant pressureon ethnic relations as many who lost out in the scheme of things concluded that theoverwhelming power of the centre was responsible for their fate. But if these tendencies were 17
  18. 18. simply limited to the government, it would be less disturbing. By institutionalising favouritismand bribery as legitimate instruments of governance, the military regime headed by Babangidasucceeded in breeding a myriad of anti-democratic practices reproduced regularly in the worldview of the ordinary Nigerian, either in the form of the common belief that everyone had aprice, or in the disappearance of loyalty to the State as militarism became embedded in thepsyche of the average individual.The restructuring of the economy along monetarist lines could be said to have represented an ambitious attempt bythe ‘techno-military’ authoritarian state under General Babangida to generate a new hegemonic bloc and this wascarried out on two broad levels – economic and political.xxviii First, as a result of the government’s privatisationagenda, several of the state-owned industrial and commercial ventures were sold directly to ex-military generals orto conglomerates linked to them. In addition, the new merchant banks that emerged to take advantage of theliberalisation of the financial sector featured several retired military officers on their boards. In fact, it was commonknowledge in the late 1980s and early 1990s that no matter how solid one’s capital base was the likelihood of onegaining a bank licence was dependent on having at least one ex-military personnel listed on your board. The factthat many of these banks eventually collapsed under the weight of bad management was not unconnected to theexcesses of bank executives who concluded that military presence on their boards was a licence to steal as long asthe military board members were kept happy. Indeed, many military generals were prominent beneficiaries of thebad loans allocated by these failed banks.xxixSecond, General Babangida went beyond the personal pecuniary motives of erstwhile military rulers by ensuringthat the stratification of the military from the rest of society did not just exist at the level of retired officers, but alsoat an institutional level. Hence, by adopting a practice common to Latin American and some South East Asianmilitary institutions, he announced the formation of an Army Bank (which never took off!), an industrial armamentcity – (which also did not see the light of day) and the Nigerian Army Welfare Insurance Scheme (NAWIS). Toensure that every military officer saw the stratification project as an institutional agenda, the government spentN550 million ($60 million in 1992) advertised to a hapless public as loans to purchase cars for serving militaryofficers of and above the rank of Captains. This was later extended to the non-commissioned officers in the form ofmotorcycles and the rank and file got bicycles.By now, a paradigmatic shift had already occurred in the mindset of the military cabal intent on remaining inpower. Unlike before when it was an anathema for serving officers to flaunt their involvement in the economicsector and to stake a claim to permanent political control, many became closely identified with oil, financial, andshipping interests whilst also justifying their new role as political players. Serving officers declared in severalpublic fora that they were best placed to take Nigeria into political and economic heights because of their militarytraining and the advantage of liberal university education. This became more pronounced under General Abachawhen military officers began to threaten Nigerians that even if they were removed from direct political role, theywould return by hook or crook.xxx Indeed, the idea of a military party took firm root and some of the officers andcivilian intellectuals involved in that project on behalf of General Babangida were assigned the task of studying the 18
  19. 19. Nasserist/Baathist models in Egypt, Syria and Iraq as well as the foundational regimes in Latin America and SouthEast Asia.xxxi In the end, he had to vacate the seat of power unceremoniously on account of his failure to deliver onthe transition project. The Abacha and Abubakar Years (1993-1999)Knowing how considerably weakened the military had become on assuming power, the militaryreturn under General Abacha was widely portrayed as a reluctant comeback and the ‘onlyalternative’ to save the nation from disintegration. On the political front, General Abacha wontentative respect by his deft assemblage of a broad-based civilian ‘diarchical’ coalition ofprominent politicians. As with the political militaries before him, Abacha’s promise of a ‘brieftenure’ and the announcement of a National Constitutional Conference with “full constituentpowers” were presented to their constituents as their main reason for service by politicians. Thefact that General Abacha adopted the characteristic rhetoric of his predecessors - promises to‘clean house’, free the nation’s economy from corruption and ruin, reduce dependence on thefluctuating international market and return the economy to ordinary Nigerians wasunconvincing. Not lost on them was the fact that this ‘cleaner’ of the stable was not untainted,having been in the corridors of power for the last decade, announced three coups d’etat,rumoured as the most corrupt General, leaving aside his role in the annulment of the 1993presidential election. Yet the crucial point here was that General Abacha succeeded in gainingthe benefit of the doubt that he needed for initial legitimation.Within the military, this was also a favoured strategy. On coming to office, the ‘professionals’wing were left in charge as they controlled the army in the dying days of the Babangida regime,especially after the purge of the so called “IBB Boys” - hence Major General Chris Ali, a ‘pro-democracy’ officer was put in charge of the army, Rear Admiral Alison Madueke, in charge ofthe Navy and Air Vice Marshal Femi John Femi in charge of the Air-Force. What gave theseofficers more confidence was the presence of General Oladipo Diya - the main fixer of thepolitical class during the early days of the coup and one of the few officers who openlychallenged Babangida’s continued presence in the military during the heady days of the 1993national crisis.All this was soon to change. By mid 1994, revelations by a disaffected coup participant (Brigadier-General DavidMark) in the November 1993 coup that the regime did not in fact intend to limit itself to a brief stay in powerstrongly supported the view that the Constitutional conference was, after all, only part of the government’s attemptto create a veneer of legitimacy. Outside of the military, the public had woken from its battle wearied slumber and, 19
  20. 20. national strikes, co-ordinated by the Labour unions and a newly formed broad coalition of civil societyorganisations, ethnic pressure groups and political groupings - NADECO - paralysed the government for ten weekswith a seriously negative impact on an already parlous economy. Chief Abiola, winner of the annulled electionsused the opportunity to reclaim his mandate as the elected president of Nigeria. In desperation, the regimejettisoned its collegial facade and adopted a repressive edge which earned Nigeria its pariah status and led to hersuspension from the Commonwealth in 1995, after the regime murdered environmental rights activist, Ken SaroWiwa and his fellow minority/environmental rights activists.Inside the military however, dissension was also growing. When two of the outspoken servicechiefs, - Major General Chris Ali, the Chief of Army Staff and Rear Admiral Alison Madueke,the Chief of Naval Staff - urged the release of political prisoners from jail, General Abachasimply sacked them and replaced them with officers he considered more complicit of apermanent transition agenda. Further repressive measures were soon to follow, including theconviction of several retired and serving officers including ex-Heads of State and his deputy,General Olusegun Obasanjo and Major General Shehu Musa Yar’adua now in the vanguard ofopposition activities. Leading democracy activists and journalists like Dr Beko Ransome Kuti,Malam Shehu Sani, Mrs Chris Anyanwu and Mr Kunle Ajibade were also jailed on apparentlytrumped up charges of plotting to overthrow the Abacha regime.As with previous rulers, there was an external dimension to this internal attack on civil societyand the military institution. In doing this however, he also displayed method. Having ridhimself, albeit temporarily of his main threats within the civil-society, the military and amongthe political elite, and in order to sustain a public image of seriousness, legitimation throughbourgeois technocracy became a major credo. Even so, regime legitimation via technocracyonly offered temporary reprieve, rather than long standing nation building strategy since thecontradictions within the Nigerian state and the failure of government cannot be dealt withwithout addressing questions of democratic governance and accountability of state structures aspart of the quest for an enduring nation-building project.Drawing significant inspiration from the neo-militarist credo in Latin America and South Asian,General Abacha and his advisers believed it was still possible to engineer a succession plan aslong as he could convince the west and the IFIs of a deregulated, market reform agenda. Therewere two planks to this agenda - both aimed at convincing the international community. Firstwas the version of Dr Mohammed Mahatir’s Vision 2020 agenda in Malaysia called Vision2010. This liberal economic policy agenda was co-ordinated by the deposed interim government 20
  21. 21. leader, Chief Ernest Shonekan. Principally encouraged to introduce this agenda because of whatwas seen as the dramatic reduction in the level of international campaign for sanctions againstthe regime barely months after the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and the apparent lack of anyinternationally co-ordinated policy agenda to expedite democratic reform in Nigeria. Theregime’s contention that a significant section of the international community agreed that a levelof individual freedom and democratic reform should be sacrificed for economic growth andstructural reforms was backed by the apparent inaction from world powers to the campaign forinternational sanctions against the regime.Simultaneous with this technocratic legitimacy and re-assurance of the international communitywas the second plank of seeking legitimacy within the region with military turned civilianpresidents, with a view to establishing a conducive climate for General Abacha’s roletransformation. There is now evidence that resources were provided for the military-led politicalparties in Niger and Gambia by the Abacha regimexxxii as well as claims that the President ofGhana also received pecuniary benefits for his unwavering support of the dictator. Yet, in spiteof his heavy handed treatment of opposition, General Abacha also kept the political transitionproject in full view, just like his predecessors. He concluded, perhaps consistent with othermilitary rulers, before him, that participating in that political project mattered less than nothaving any project.Although it was General Babangida who put in motion the idea of constructing a disguised military party, it wasGeneral Abacha, his military successor who dusted up the blueprint and successfully implemented it through thebrazen creation of artificial political parties. At the time of his death, all the five parties in his democratictransition project had “unanimously” adopted General Abacha as the presidential candidate. Even with the strongopposition in civil society against this undisguised manipulation, many - including leading figures in theinternational community had resigned themselves to an Abacha civilian presidency.xxxiii The diminution of anyofficial pretence of a collegial façade which military rulers always projected was total by the time General Abachadied in June 1997. Unlike General Babangida who parcelled out the State to friends and mentors within themilitary, General Abacha kept the spoils of office for himself and his family, a small coterie of his securityapparatus and his small circle of foreign friends. He made a specific point of ignoring the military institution. Theruling military Council hardly ever met and an alternative power centre, personally loyal to General Abacha, wasset up in the security/intelligence units which undermined the institutional legitimacy of the military. In fact, thereare credible but unconfirmed claims that it was the insignificant attention he paid to the military constituency thateventually paved the way for his unexpected demise. 21
  22. 22. The nature of General Abacha’s exit and the arrival of General Abubakar on the scene arguably determined theoutcome of the democratisation project. However one may view the eventual outcome of the rushed transitionprogramme, the fact that General Abubakar was not responding to a full defeat of the military could hardly bediscounted in understanding the push for a graceful exit and elections of what was thought to be the closest party tothe military hierarchy. The compromised nature of the political settlement was therefore a product of thedemocratic pressure on the military’s political agenda. The fact that military influence is still very strong in thecountry – albeit in a disguised form - is an indication of the huge challenge the country faces in the post militaryera. It also underlines why the democratic experience remains fragile, under the threat of various unresolved issuestraceable to the influence of the political army.Impact of Transition Politics on Military ProfessionalismGiven the extent of military involvement in politics for over thirty of forty years of independence, it is hardlysurprising that the institution was riven by a variety of corporate, ethnic and personal grievances developed overtime in the prolonged years of the military in government. The negative impact on professionalism and theoperational effectiveness of the military had become noticeable in the confusion and lack of direction that attendedthe professional outlook of the Nigeria Armed Forces in the immediate aftermath of the civil war. Unfortunately,the euphoria of federal victory and the immediate pressures of rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction of thepolitical terrain fostered the creeping organisational inertia in which the armed forces had become embroiled. Militaryplanners were less sanguine to believe the war was won by effective organisation of the militaryxxxiv , and honest enoughto admit that peacetime deterrence will be harder to achieve if renewed attention was not paid toprofessional/organisational issues around doctrine, force posture, force levels, combat operational command, resourceallocation and weapon procurementxxxv .In spite of this recognition, Nigerias immediate post war defence organisation did not depart markedly from whatexisted in pre-war circumstances, mainly because of the preference for incremental change was overwhelming. Indeed,a wide gap existed between defence organisation and strategic purpose, in terms of force design, posture, weaponsprocurement procedures, resource allocation and combat operational command. Although a few cosmetic attemptswere made in reorganising the defence organisation, subordinating the service viewpoint became the main problem inthe promotion of the defence view. Service interests, service needs and service power have dominated the Nigerianmilitary structure, frustrating all efforts to establish a rational system of strategic planning, force development, resourceallocation and collective military co-ordination.Not only did the succeeding military regime inherit the weaknesses of the service dependentstructure without much hope for central co-ordination, its successful separation of the office of thedefence minister and that of the Head of State early in its life was one in which the incumbentlacked a clear picture of his role and this threatened regime security. This was a problem thatplagued all successive military regimes. 22
  23. 23. Yet, the implications of the military’s transition politics transcend the defective defenceorganisation and management. One aspect that deserves a particular examination is the impactof military coups on corporate professionalism. By their very nature, coups are high-riskventures, which in their success or abortion almost always result in the loss of perpetrators ortheir targets, or both. The persistence of coups and the decimation of the officer corps had anegative impact on the profession and invariably, national security. For example, the 1966coups saw the loss of at least two thirds of the officer corps; the abortive 1976 coups led to theexecution of 116 military men, police officers and civilians; the 1986 abortive coup resulted inthe deaths of some of the countrys best pilots, and this in part led to the near total decimation ofthe air-force under General Babangida, a situation which further resulted in the avoidable deathsof 150 military officers in a defective C-130 Transport plane crash in 1991. The April 1990coup led to the deaths of at least fifty military officers. Altogether no fewer than 400 officershave lost their lives in or as a result of coup detats.In addition to the loss occasioned via executions was the scale and intensity of premature retirements, dismissalsand promotions that resulted from abortive or successful coups. Ordinarily, retirements and promotions in themilitary establishment is ideally a routine thing. Yet despite the surface plausibility of “routine exercise”, “naturalattrition” or “declining productivity”, that accompanied the dismissals and promotions of this period, theoverwhelming consensus was one of an exercise overtly politically motivated. Under the regimes of GeneralsBabangida and Sani Abacha however, the Nigeria Armed Forces became an organisation where anything “waspossible” to paraphrase the anguish of a former Army chief - given the nature of dismissals and promotions thattook place. In the quest for total personalisation of power, there was a desperate need to abandon the collegial andinstitutional agenda and turn the group project to the personal wishes of the individual autocrat, with little regardfor the general wishes of the military constituency and its corporate interests. Consequently, the strategy becamethat of neutralising all real and imagined opposition - and leaving no one in doubt as to who was in control of themilitary establishment, and indeed the country. By the time General Abacha died in June 1998, the militaryinstitution had suffered seriously from this blatant disregard of its structures and no fewer than 300 members of theofficer corps had lost their commission in the course of these haphazard retirements and dismissals.The flip side of the above situation was the excessively rapid promotions that accompanied them which tended tocreate false expectations through rank inflation and this had other implications for the countrys security ascommanders kept changing and not enough time was given for familiarisation in command and staff posts, theoverall consequences of which was acute disorientation and organisational dysfunction among the rank and file. Atanother level, the political careerism resulting from successful coups also engendered resentment, rivalry anddisunity amongst military officers. Thus, organisational dysfunction in the Nigerian military organisation resultedprimarily from this political involvement. Both played a mutually reinforcing role in their impact on 23
  24. 24. professionalism. The military cannot govern the civil society directly or effectively without losing its professionalattributes and without ceasing to be an army.Apart from the threat which the political military constituted to its profession, the increasingpersonalisation of power also led to the loss of morale and the ascendancy of policies andprocesses that did not emerge from the military constituency. This breakdown in institutionalcohesion and espirit de corps in the context of the personalised nature of rule over the lastdecade, especially under Generals Babangida and Abacha, saw the rise of alternative powercentres in shadowy security and intelligence outfits which inevitably became the anchor forregime security. Consequently, the rise in influence of the intellectual architects of militarypolitics and the overwhelming influence of military intelligence and associated bodies becamedirectly proportional to the loss of influence by the military as a corporate institution.Unfortunately, the policy of divide et impera which had either seen the sidelining of the bestprofessionals within the military or reduced good people to the status of mere purveyors of theindividual autocrat project served to mask the growing mutinous tendencies within the militaryestablishment. It is to how the alternative power-centre undermined military professionalismand the role that it played in hampering the nation building project that we now turn.Role expansion and the Security/intelligence servicesAlthough the internal crisis within the armed forces can be addressed through a redefinition of its role and missionby the political leadership, a rethink of the force design, posture and structure, weapon acquisition and politicalreorientation, retraining and demobilisation, any serious quest for military reform has to address the alternativepower-centre that has developed around the security/intelligence networks and used by successive rulers toundermine the military institution in order to remain in power.Consistent with the position of every post independence sovereign country in AnglophoneAfrica, Nigeria’s intelligence activities were largely conducted under the auspices of theSpecial Branch of the Nigeria Police Force since independence, except for military relatedintelligence work. Indeed, military intelligence had been blamed for failing to read accurately thestrength and weaknesses of the breakaway republic of Biafra, military intelligence was partlyblamed for the failure of the Nigerian armed forces to complete the civil war operation in forty-eight hours as envisaged by military planners. It was also blamed for not articulating correctlythe role played by Nigerias neighbours in the crisis. Although the post-war regime considered re- 24
  25. 25. organising the structure of collection, collation, evaluation, analysis, integration andinterpretation of all collected information, this only resulted in a strengthened internal covertoperation in the Special Branch.xxxvi Besides, since the weakness of the military intelligencebranch was neither articulated nor seen as a threat to regime security, the likelihood of ignoringthe concerns was much greater in the prioritisation of national security needs.The Special Branch, modelled after the metropolitan arrangement in Britain was responsible fordomestic security intelligence but it lost its pre-eminent role in this regard after its failure touncover the 1976 abortive coup detat in which the Head of State, General Mohammed wasassassinated. Hence it took the security of the single individual heading the government for theinstitution to come to the realisation that something had to be done about the intelligence aspectof national security. Even so, as Major-General James Oluleye observed, “one cannot fullyblame the Special Branch of the Nigeria Police for non-detection of the plot...the army or theservices have intelligence organisations that could detect the planning of a coup, but regrettably,the plan (Dimka’s) never leakedxxxvii . Add to this the fact that the Special Branch was dissuadedfrom doing anything about the last coup plot it uncoveredxxxviiiThe newly created organisation after the abortive coup detat that killed General Mohammedcalled - Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO) assumed wider powers in intelligence duties,including responsibility for external intelligence. The decree setting up the NSO incorporated theExternal Affairs Ministrys Research Department as NSOs external wing). While administrativesupervision of the section remained with the ministry, the operational control was with the NSO.This affected relations between the two bodies later. The other complication arose from the factthat a military intelligence officer was drafted to head the new all-encompassing securityorganisation. The officer, Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed, who had served as the General StaffOfficer for intelligence duties at the planning headquarters during the civil war, was at the timeMilitary Governor in the then Benue-Plateau State, Colonel (later Major-General). Mohammedheaded the security agency till the civilian government assumed office in October 1979.Although General Obasanjo was concerned with the role played by military intelligencedirectorate in the July 1975 coup plot which brought their government to office, a concern whichconvinced him of the need to curb military intelligence involvement in national security policymaking,xxxix and this was reflected in the prominence of civilian intelligence officers in theorganisation’s operations. In spite of this balancing act, a participant observer still noted that theorganisation could have easily become a witch-hunting Gestapo unitxl. The discovery of a 25
  26. 26. government secret detention camp by the human rights body – Civil Liberties Organisationconfirmed the view that the NSO was not only a product of regime security, but also performedits duties in a manner that perhaps created the impression that it was not driven by nationalsecurity concerns if these are not couched in regime security terms.The succeeding civilian government expanded the powers of the NSO while its Director, AlhajiUmaru Shinkafi also doubled as the President’s Principal Adviser on Intelligence matters. Whilethe nature of the democratic set up made the organisation more accountable, its public image as aGestapo unit for hounding private citizens equally gathered pace. By the time the militaryoverthrew the civilians in December 1983, the tension between the NSO and the foreignministry’s “research department” had reached a high point. Simultaneously, the competition fordominance in the intelligence service between military intelligence and NSO had become intense.The change of leadership at the NSO seemed to have worsened relations between the Head ofMilitary Intelligence, Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed and the NSO Director-General, AmbassadorRafindadi, a career diplomat with a wide ranging background in intelligence. As if to exacerbatethe tension, the Head of the NSO was made a member of the Supreme Military Council - thehighest policy making body alongside the Director of Military Intelligence, who had always beena member.On the other hand, the personal animosities between the NSO Director and the administrationsexternal affairs minister affected the smooth running of the external aspect of the intelligenceservices. According to the Minister, since the Director of NSO was a member of the rulingcouncil and he [the Minister] was not, he appeared to have seen himself as the member of theSupreme Military Council with the supervisory role over the ministry.xli Having contributed tomajor decisions affecting the Ministry prior to the Ministers appointment, including the selectionof new ambassadors and the reduction of Foreign Ministrys staff, the NSO head was widelyrespected by the military leadership as a professional intelligence officer whose experience wasinvaluable. Apparently, that much confidence was not reposed in the Minister, an academicwithout practical experience of government. Equally, the confidence the leadership had inmilitary intelligence at the time was low.xlii To regain its front-line status, military intelligenceresorted to a portrayal of the other services as uncouth and brutal with no regards for humanrights. So successful was this campaign (which was hardly helped by the treatment meted out topoliticians and journalists by the NSO under the Buhari/Idiagbon regime) that the publicperception saw the NSO as an organisation completely out of control. Equally, the Directorate of 26
  27. 27. Military Intelligence (DMI) continue to agitate for prominence, albeit unsuccessfully, at leastunder the Buhari/Idiagbon junta. Perhaps this was responsible for its [military intelligence] deepinvolvement in the palace coup that ousted General Buhari in 1985. As the former Head of State,General Buhari later revealed in a rare interview, I realised it was one of the master plans of thefifth columnist to embarrass and discredit my administration...I knew it was the militaryintelligence, not the police, not the NSO.xliiiEven though the Babangida regime made a much publicised attempt to expose the ‘excesses’ ofthe Nigerian Security Organisation under the previous administration and to ‘re-instateprofessional credibility to the intelligence service’, the attempt appeared superficial and directedtoward regime security. The ultimate beneficiary of the move by the new administration was theDirectorate of Military Intelligence, which had lost much ground in the Buhari administration.Not only was its head – Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, [threatened with dismissal by theprevious government], re-instated, the NSO was disbanded.xliv But as with previous regimes,General Babangidas determination to re-structure the intelligence service only gathered paceafter the abortive coup of April 1990. As he informed the Command and Staff College graduatestwo months after the abortive coup: "We must in the light of the April [aborted] coup also review and reconceptualise the responsibilities of the security and intelligence services...The leadership must evolve a professional rigour of threat identification which enables it to respond to early warnings against all forces of destabilisation as well as develop the capacity to differentiate categories of threats".xlvThe new regime centralised the intelligence services by creating the post of a Co-ordinator for National Security(CONS) in 1988 to superintend the activities of three earlier created bodies - State Security Services (SSS) responsiblefor internal security; National Intelligence Agency (NIA) - responsible for external intelligence and DefenceIntelligence Agency (DIA)- charged with responsibility for co-ordinating intelligence among the armed services. Yet,units like the Military Intelligence Directorate (DMI) remained in place and still appeared more powerful that the DIAand SSS in matters relating to perceived and real military threats to regime security. Clearly, the in-bred tension did notcurb inter-agency rivalry fully, but the intelligence services became more powerful in the institutional hierarchy ofnational security policy making, particularly in ensuring regime security and the determination of threats internally andexternally.There is however a non-institutional side to the rise of the intelligence services under the Babangida regime. Thecreation of these parallel structures by military leaders assumed far more importance in their distaste forinstitutional arrangements that could mediate excesses of the Head of Government – a factor which made the 27
  28. 28. Supreme Military Council very central to previous military rule in Nigeria. However with the ascendancy of thesecurity/intelligence units, the associational and corporatist character of the regimes at inception assumed anauthoritarian regimen for power consolidation as their dependence on the security intelligence network grew.Although this practice had started with the creation of NSO in 1976, it was institutionalised under GeneralBabangida when he set up a plethora of security networks culminating in the creation of the alternative para-military service - National Guard – to undercut the military institution. By this time, the role of private militarycompanies in the activities of the intelligence services and in the overall arrangement of the regime security hadbecome a source of concern within the military as an institution.xlvi Equally, a regime that had come into officetouting respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights had lost all credibility with civil society and agitationhad increased exponentially by 1989. Through its responsibility for discovering and nipping ‘undue radicalism’and ‘civilian versions of military coup d’etats’ in the bud, the role expansion of the security services guaranteed itan autonomy and influence not hitherto accorded security and intelligence services.This growth in influence however took on pernicious proportions under the late General Abacha with the formationof the Libyan and Korean trained Special BodyGuard Services for the personal protection of the dictator as well asthe Strike Force and K Squad – responsible for carrying out state sponsored assassinations of political enemies.That this alternative power bloc around General Abacha completely made a nonsense of the military institution anddestroyed the hierarchy that is so central to the institution, became obvious in the current trials of the junior officersrunning it.xlvii Credible military intelligence sources claim that there are at least 5,000 were trained and the shortperiod of General Abubakar’s regime which concentrated on military hand-over to civilians failed to addressmilitary reform in any significant manner.Interestingly, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Even under the new dispensation, many aresurprised that President Obasanjo has resorted to using some of those responsible for the creation of these shadowysecurity agencies responsible for serious human rights abuses in the past.xlviii While this may help the governmentin achieving a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the intelligence services, it has reinforcedthe personality driven, rather than a structured and institutional approach that will ensure professionalism in anatmosphere of accountability. Ultimately, the key to ensuring that intelligence services act within the rule of law isto ensure an institutional strategy that will ensure proper accountability through an ethical code, legislativeoversight and executive control. Clearly, democratic control over the activities of the armed forces is central tocurbing the excesses and restoring the military into its pride of place and legitimacy among the people and there isno doubt that the intelligence services are still not accountable under the democratic dispensation, although they aremore sensitive to criticisms.Whatever professional difficulties the military had experienced in the past, the shocking revelations about militaryexcesses after just one year of civilians in power supports the growing view that the organisational inertia can onlybe arrested through concerted efforts that centre on redefining the role, mission and ethos of the institution. 28
  29. 29. Farewell to Political Armies or Transition to Neo-Militarism?Military disengagement from politics represents an important first step towards democraticcontrol, even if it does not equate with or immediately translate to civilian, democratic control.From the evidence available in Nigeria so far, the formal demilitarisation of politics haswidened the space within which concrete democratic reform is possible and sustainable but ithas also thrown up various centrifugal fissures in the country – which often provide the rightopportunity for previous military interventions. Even with this dispensation, a completeoverhaul of politics from its military roots, especially in a body politic that has become soatomised and, in which the symbols, values, and ethos of the military are replicated in largesections of the civil-society, still appears a long way to come.Yet for the country to attain stable civil-military relations, a critical task in consolidatingNigeria’s fragile democracy and rebuilding stable civil-military relations is reclaiming themilitarised mind, which has been fed by a deep-seated feeling of social exclusion under militaryrule. Given the prevailing political culture - bred by three decades of militarism andauthoritarian control in Nigeria, the current political transition only represents a reconfigurationof the political, economic and military elite, rather than an opening up of the political systemand broadening of participation. Indeed, what we have witnessed is the creation of “shadowmilitary and security hierarchy in a certain sense. One indication of this feature is the influenceof the political military, retired and serving in the affairs of the State. Another is the rise ofmilitant political activity in various parts of the country, believed to have been fuelled by thoseclosely connected with the erstwhile military leadership who seem dissatisfied with thedirection of the State. Broken free of years of repression and control under military rule, manycommunities are adopting military strategy in responding to any form of domination in theirlives.The greatest challenge to addressing the scourge of political militarism therefore is addressingthe psychology of militarism that has become reified in the context of this exclusionary politics.Herein lie the paradox of democratisation and demilitarisation not just in Nigeria, but the rest ofpost-cold war Africa. Dominant theories of civil-military relations contend that all that isrequired to correct the above anomaly is for the authority to use and control military power toreside fully with the elected authorities and completely outside the realm of professional 29
  30. 30. soldiers. This Huntingtonian model of civil-military relations assumed a level playing field inwhich “autonomous military professionalism” can be predicated on “objective civilian control”which encourages an “independent military sphere” that does not “interfere in political matters”.In reality, this perspective treats civilian control as an event, a fact of political life, not aprocess, which exists along a continuum.xlixIn our view, civilian control should not be seen as a set of technical and administrativearrangements that automatically flow from every post military transition, but part of complexpolitical processes, which must address the root causes of militarism in society, beyond theformal removal of the military from political power. There is a need to redefine our notion ofthe a-political military – a notion that has been central to the discourse of the dominant civilmilitary relations literature. In Nigeria where the military has become entrenched in all facetsof civic and economic life and where politics has just featured a reconfiguration rather than atransformation of power, simply anchoring the need for an objective civilian control to thenotion of an apolitical military underestimate the seriousness of the issues at stake. Whileformal mechanisms for control are not in themselves wrong, the reality underpinning Nigeria’scrisis of governance underscores the fact that subordination of the armed forces to civil controlcan only be achieved when civil control is seen as part of complex democratic struggle that goesbeyond elections.l These processes are expressions of relationships that are inherently political,subjective, and psychological.liIt is only when the political and psychological issues arising out of military involvement in politics are grasped thatwe can begin to look at objective control mechanisms. In our view therefore, addressing the constitutionaldimensions of democratic control, redefining the role and mission of the military, developing a civilian, democraticdefence policy expertise, ensuring professional autonomy and creating the necessary opportunities for networkingand dialogue between military representatives and civil society workers are the areas that need serious policyattention in Nigeria to enable us turn things around. But they must be presaged by a careful review of thepernicious but often indeterminate dimensions of the cumulative nature of the military crisis.Even so, this resolution cannot just be premised on the isolating the domestic arena from the international. Thisbecomes a central issue given the increasing importance of private, external military companies are playing in theagenda for military reform in Nigeria. Indeed, viewed within the context of globalisation, ownership of theprocesses of change and military reform in a manner that is process led and people driven, is being sacrificed foranother top-down security agenda driven by external players in the promotion of their own interests. The fact thatall of this is taking place with no discussion by the people underlines the need to locate change within aconstitutional framework. 30

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