Translating Transition to Transformation in Nigeria - Options and Issues for the New Government

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  • 1. Translating Transition to Transformation in Nigeria: Options and Issues for the New Government. Democracy is a process…Election is just an important event in that process…Under my leadership, we shall continue the process of deepening and widening the democratisation process, through dialogue… (General Olusegun Obasanjo, March 1, 1999) Given the grip of the military as described in the preceding paragraphs, thereare two ways of approaching the problems of military control and domination of thebody politic. The first is more cautious and incremental and there are merits in thearguments of its proponents who have posed the question thus: “how, given theexisting forms of domination, of military occupation and social stratification, can themilitary be ignored, if conflict is to be averted and democracy consolidated in afractious setting such as Nigeria’s?” The second approach is to tackle the issue morecomprehensively: what transformations and institutional mechanisms in classstructure, power sharing and ethnic relations will be required to assure conditions oflasting peace in Nigeria? An innovative use of both approaches would certainly workbetter than an isolated use of either. Of equal importance is what becomes of thestate-building project itself in an atmosphere where the growing orthodoxy is thatwhat is the retrenchment of the state and its replacement with the market. Clearly,this orthodoxy is gaining influence in the current transition with the pressure toprivatise remaining state institutions in a setting where the only people who have theresources are those lose to the military, and perhaps backed by foreign resources.While it is arguable that retired military officers have the right as citizens tocontribute their experience and expertise to the vital sectors of the economy given thefact of their premature retirement from the services, it is difficult to ignore the linkbetween those clamouring for state privatisation with the current financialinvolvement of the military with the explicit agenda to collapse the military andcapitalist classes in society under military hegemony. The seeming hijack andsubsequent control of the leading political party in the current transition programme –Peoples Democratic Party, certainly raises the spectre of unrestrained domination inthis direction. There is now no doubt that the military will exercise considerable “behind thescene” influence after May 1999. The litmus test for General Obasanjo and his newgovernment will come on three major fronts – (1) Its response to the clamour formilitary restructuring and re-professionalisation; (2) Its response to the clamour for aninstitutional framework for the management of ethnic, regional and religiouspolarisation in the country; (3) The demand for an accountable and transparent stateand the government’s response to the pressure to privatise the State and allow a freerein of the market.(1) The Place of the Military and Security Apparatus in the New Dispensation:In the context of creating a stable civil-military relations, the overriding fact that themilitary in Nigeria has now become entrenched in all aspects of civic and economic isone the elected authorities will ignore at their peril. Finding an appropriate role andmission therefore for those left behind in the institution who want to maintain their 1
  • 2. professional autonomy, developing a civilian, democratic defence policy expertiseand creating the necessary opportunities for networking and dialogue betweenmilitary representatives and civil society workers are the areas the government need towork on. While General Obasanjo may not be in position to get rid of the image of amilitary supporter, he must not shirk the determination to assert civilian supremacyand oversight and the subordination of the military to objective civilian control –especially in a context – where he is already perceived as a cloak for continuedmilitary rule. In ensuring civilian supremacy and a democratic pattern of civil-militaryrelations, the civilian leadership in a post military state must define the role theNigerian military must play in a clear and precise manner. A ‘mission-less’ militaryposes a serious threat in relation to the military’s primary role of defence of thenation’s territorial integrity. By overextending its responsibilities beyond defenceduties or redefining its defence duties to include other elements like nation-buildingand internal security, the efficiency of the fighting force was severely underminedunder military rule. This political usurpation of military talents has been shown to bebad in areas where the military is now needed to function like a fighting force such astheir multi-purpose, peace operations. While the Nigerian military has a somewhatfine reputation in its commitment to and participation in international peacekeepingduties, the professionalism of its soldiers on peace keeping missions has also left a lotto be desired. The recent experience of losses suffered by the Nigerian armed forcesin the hands of a rag-tag rebel force in Sierra Leone underscores this point. As muchas possible, this military mission must be restricted to its traditional external combatrole as a means of strengthening civil-military relations. If it must get involved in anyinternal security operations like Operation Sweep etc then a proper criteria wouldneed to be developed for evaluating the involvement of armed forces in non-combatoperations. Without being prescriptive about this, any attempt to redefine the role andmission for the Nigerian military, given the declining external security threats facedby the country must consider security in a holistic manner, and pay particularattention to the protection of offshore interests and promotion of a professional peace-keeping command given Nigeria’s good record in international peacekeepingoperations. If the primary role of the Nigerian military on the external front is going tobe peace-keeping and peace enforcement, this would no doubt require acomprehensive strategy that sets out in very clear terms – conditions for involvementin external missions, extent of commitment, conditions for withdrawal of Nigeriantroops, rotation of soldiers, training and doctrine as well as legislative oversight. In addition to the task of identifying the military mission, the second issue forconsideration is therefore the separation of operational and policy control over broaddefence matters such as size, shape, organisation, equipment, weapon acquisition andpay/conditions in the services on the one hand, and administrative control over theservices on the other. The professional military loves a civilian head that understandstheir predicament, value unrestricted access to the President as well as autonomy overtheir internal organisation and operations. Any redirection of the defence policyprocess will inevitably require a different kind of expertise, which must be a mixtureof civilians and military professionals. There has to be a redistribution of knowledgebetween the military and civilian political elite and a significant increase in contactbetween the military and the larger civil society. The process of agreeing anappropriate role for the military can only be successfully achieved in a climate ofsustained dialogue and full consultation with the larger population. At the moment,the level of contact is non-existent, or just on a social and unstructured manner. In 2
  • 3. introducing civilian expertise however, care must be taken not to substitute militaryincompetence in a political setting as depraved as Nigeria’s with civilianinexperience. A good bridge might well be a Strategic Cell that may serve as a bufferbetween a civilian presidency and the military professionals Equally, the current leadership must respect the professional autonomy of themilitary in spite of the temptation to want to display superior knowledge of theinstitution. The immediate challenge is for the civilian, democratic leadership to makethe right choice of military chiefs to lead the military restructuring/re-professionalisation project. When the military left the scene in 1979, GeneralObasanjo and his colleagues showed their commitment with the choice of Lt.GeneralAlani Akinrinade as Army Chief (the most important post at the time), although hewas not the most senior military officer, was widely applauded as a good one becauseof his reputation as a sound, military officer. Barely six months into the job though,Akinrinade was ‘promoted’ into the newly created office of the Chief of DefenceStaff in a decision perceived in military circles as politically motivated and the reformprogramme started by him was largely stalled. Although General Obasanjo has theadvantage of knowledge of the military, often lacking in the civilian political elite,his detailed knowledge of the current military officers is suspect, (since they weremostly young officers barely out of the Defence Academy when he retired).Therefore, recommendations from the current military hierarchy should be handledwith serious scepticism and thoroughly checked in order to avoid the danger ofmilitary politicisation in the ranks of serving officers. Besides, the damage done to theprofessional military hierarchy by the inexplicable purges of the 1980s and 1990s andthe preferment given to junior officers over and above their superiors under GeneralsBabangida and Abacha, had ensured that the decent arm of the officer corps leftbehind is understandably less hopeful about efforts to reform the military. In any serious quest for military reform, another albatross to address is thecollective damage that has been done to the armed forces by the alternative power-centre approach that has been used by successive rulers to undermine the institution inorder to remain in power. Military professionalism had been seriously damaged bythe transformation of intelligence gathering networks into gestapo units for regimesecurity. Although this was institutionalised by the plethora of the security networksset up under General Babangida, which culminated in the creation of the alternativepara-military service- National Guard, it turned into a pernicious act under GeneralAbacha with the formation of the Libya and Korean trained Special BodyGuardServices, which General Abacha used for his own personal protection. Crediblemilitary intelligence sources claim that there are at least 5,000 of such elements withinthe syetem and General Abubakar had failed to do anything about them. As a victimof this gestapo unit himself, there is no reason to believe that General Obasanjo doesnot know of its existence. The key however is to ensure an institutional strategy thatwill ensure proper accountability and legislative oversight over all security networks The question of recruitment into the armed forces is also one that will test thenew regime as part of the military reform exercise. This will be tied to the issue ofsize of the Nigerian military. This is an issue that will also feature strongly in thepost-election debate on the structure of the nation. There is a strong perception,rightly or wrongly, that a dominant recruitment of ‘Northerners’ into the Nigerianmilitary persists in spite of the principle of quota system introduced duringObasanjo’s first coming. Only recently, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN),raised this as a fundamental problem. While this is a political problem that cannot beresolved on a rational basis, central to the issue of military recruitment pattern in 3
  • 4. terms of military professionalism are three central questions: Should the Nigerianarmed forces in a democratic dispensation be an equal opportunities institution?Should it be a combat effective, battle ready force recruited from the most able in themost rigorous and competitive manner? Should the manner of recruitment matter – ifthe training is standardised and geared towards bringing out the best in every recruit?1Although the above are the rational questions to which answers must be found, thereis no evidence to suggest that you cannot have an equal opportunities military that isprofessionally competent and up to the task of defending the territorial integrity of thenation. But in order to resolve the problem of recruitment, especially at a time ofdeclining national resources, the size of the armed forces itself must come up fordebate. These are political issues that can only be resolved through a process ofconfidence building and conflict resolution mechanisms. There is no accurate figureof the size of the Nigerian armed forces, but most estimate range between 70,000 and80,000 men, which makes an accurate headcount of Nigerian soldiers an immediatestep in this direction. There is also a consensus that given the level of threats faced bythe nation, Nigeria can make do with a significantly reduced armed forces, although itmust be said that traditional assessment would consider the current size inadequate tothe country’s population and its regional responsibilities. To buttress the demand forreduction in size, even the much discredited Constitutional Conference that producedthe 1995 constitution agreed that the size of the military should be cut down to50,000. Instead of such arbitrary reduction, the new civilian leadership can conduct anassessment of the force structure in a much more objective manner. For example, ifthe military mission is primarily coastal – protection of offshore economic interests,and external – peacekeeping duties, are the personnel currently emphasised in thearmed forces order of battle suitable for the types of missions the military may becalled upon to perform? Are the manpower levels cost-effective, and mostimportantly, does the institutional recruitment process procure individuals that arewholly dedicated to their military duties, reliable and efficient. Put more graphically,why is the Nigerian Navy virtually dead and the air force almost non-existent if thereal threats are as explained above. Why does Nigeria need four divisions of over65,000 men and officers in the army, and why was recruitment up till the late 1980sprocess geared towards sophisticated equipment and modern technology, whenofficers are not fit enough to withstand pressures not otherwise common in theirprevious infantry based experience? Although the Army’s Training and DoctrineCommand of the Army,[TRADOC] has tried to address this confusion by formulatingdoctrine centrally, this has only slightly reduced the degree of subjectivity andprejudice hitherto prominent in policy making because the distortions in the careerbuild up of officers has been largely compounded by the political encumbrances ofthe military, not by lack of ideas as to what is right and proper. Again, General Obasanjo has a particular advantage here if the discreditedofficers involved in his entry into politics do not draw him back. He was one of thefour senior officers who designed the post-civil war demobilisation strategy, whichwas ignored by the Gowon administration. His government later implemented thispolicy and it is to their credit that they reduced the size of the armed forces by at least100,000 from the 250,000 men at the end of the civil war in 1970. The lessons thatwas learned and experience gained from the demobilisation process the last time1 See Kayode Fayemi, “The Politics of Military Recruitment: What is to be done?”, Tempo Magazine,28 August 1997, pp.4-5 for an extensive analysis of the Nigerian Armed Forces’ recruitment. 4
  • 5. around can help them in addressing the problem, once again. The challenge herewould come in the form of what to do with the demobilised soldiers – a sort of “jobs”for “guns” strategy that would ensure that violent crime do not rise exponentially inthe course of the demobilisation effort. The most important point at this stage is totake a principled stand to address the crisis posed by a huge, bloated army that hasbecome flat-footed and grossly incompetent.(2) Restructuring and National Cohesion: Military restructuring can only take itsproper place within the context of national restructuring. Very little has been said byGeneral Obasanjo and his party on this particular subject, except for the glib referenceto “making every Nigerian have a sense of belonging” in the country. The depth ofalienation to the concept of Nigeria is so overwhelming in certain parts of the countrythat this simply would not do. If the government buries the past, rather than revisit itin the name of “one nation, one destiny” and “peace and stability”, popular mantrathat have no meaning within the context of Nigeria’s damaged structure, thegovernment will only remind ordinary people of the Shagari days when these wordswere in popular use, even as the fabric of the nation was being destroyed by prebendalpolitics. The newly elected authority has an advantage in the fact that no constitutionhas been promulgated. As the president of all Nigerians, and not just those who votedfor his party in the elections, he should seriously consider a national forum forconstitutional reform. Whilst using the constitution likely to be promulgated by themilitary before its exit as a basis for civilian rule, the three months interregnumbetween election and inauguration should be used to prepare a fully worked outconstitutional reform project to which all sections of society can subscribe. The ideathat the constitution promulgated by the military should be the permanent basis of thisdemocratic dispensation may not necessarily augur well for the consolidation of thisnarrow opening. To promote the idea of an incremental, constitutional framework in the face ofopposition to political reform by conservative elements in the military, bureaucracy,political parties and the hegemonic class, any constitution promulgated by the militaryshould be treated as an Interim Constitution. It is probably too late to ask the outgoingmilitary regime that the process for the Constitution and consultation be written intothe constitution that will be promulgated to ensure an inclusive, participatoryapproach in which public input is paramount, at least a new government with anelected mandate of the people can do this if it is really keen to break away fromNigeria’s sordid past. A few issues that have been strong in the minds of Nigerianswhich should form the general principles used by the incoming government (in casethey are not addressed by the military constitution) include: Devolution of powersfrom the Centre to the constituent/federating units; Effective IndependentCommissions with broad invesigative powers and prosecutorial authority to combatcorruption, and promote transparency and accountability; representative institutionsfor Citizens participation in democracy and power sharing; Sustainable mechanismsfor Economic Development, Social Justice, Rule of Law, Human Rights and GenderEquality, Institutional Mechanisms for sustainable military and police reforms. The idea of an interim constitution leading to a more inclusive constitutionalframework is not a unique one. This was the process adopted in South Africa and ithas been recently used in the formulation of the 1997 Thailand constitution. This isgoing to try the resolve of the incoming government, but if the government is to go 5
  • 6. beyond “business as usual”, leadership requires that tough measures are taken to getthe country back on track.(3) Between the State and the Market: The Challenge of Creating an Accountableand Efficient State: Of all the challenges that the new government in Nigeria is goingto face, the pressure from forces – external and internal – who are eager to havedemocracy without the State – will be the most intense. Already, the stage is set forthe privatisation of several State assets under the pretext that they have beeninefficiently run and many foreign interests are angling for the huge divestmentprogramme as soon soon to be unveiled. General Obasanjo seems to know that theresolution of the Nigerian economic crisis is not a choice between the State and theMarket as he pointed out in his pre-election dinner at the Lagos Chamber ofCommerce. Many Nigerians also remember his public opposition to the StructuralAdjustment Programme because of its lack of a “human face.” The trouble that many observers notice is that those who have invested inGeneral Obasanjo’s election want divested state assets in return for their support.Equally, Western diplomats have backed him in the hope that he can unleash themagic of the market in a country that has been bedraggled by the strictures of SAPsover the last decade.2 None of these constituencies are particularly bothered by thefact that what they are urging upon the new government in Nigeria is anti-democraticeven as they promote good governance and democracy. To suggest the parcelling outof the Nigerian State assets as the only option for saving the State without adequateconsultation with the citizenry in order to seek a national consensus in support of suchan action is a travesty of democracy. The idea of privatising the State’s oil assets ashas been suggested in several circles for example, without adequate consultation withthe Niger-Delta people can only result in democratic reversal, rather than democraticconsolidation. Yet, the crisis of governance and economy in Nigeria is a serious onerequiring serious attention but the experience of other African countries whosedemocracies have been undermined by this unrestrained market orthodoxy isparticularly apt3 and the challenge is how to carry out economic reform withoutundermining democratic governance.4 As Olukoshi argued, “in sticking to the neo-liberal reform project, several elected governments have presided over theundermining/dissolution of the coalition of mostly anti-adjustment forces thatpropelled them to power in the first place.”5 It is possible that the people might evenbe prepared to go farther than the regime is willing to in respect of economic reform ifall the options are put before them and national consensus is sought widely. This ismoreso in an atmosphere where they are convinced that institutional corruption andpersonal graft will be stopped and a realistic development plan is in place. The problem with the current incoming government in Nigeria is that itscampaign was very thin on ideology or issues and little is known in terms of what it2 In a recently released Survey on Nigeria, Financial Times confidently wrote that “virtually allNigerians are now agreed that the sale of state assets, even to foreigners, is the best way to arrest thetide of inefficiency in the country.” Financial Times Survey on Nigeria, February 23, 1999.3 In Benin, the democratic government of Nicephore Soglo lost out to his opponents because of thepoliciesd adopted by his government. The revolt against President Rawlings by the Ghanaian populacein 1994 is also a pointer to the opposition that might accompany policies that have not been agreed bythe people.4 For an extremely persuasive critique of the new market orthodoxy of State privatisation, See AdebayoOlukoshi, Structural Adjustment and the Crisis of Governance in Africa, Research Report 104,Nordiska Afrikainstutet, 1998.5 Ibid., p.51 6
  • 7. seeks to do to redress the economic crisis the country has faced. Setting up agovernment and an institutional system that is broadly accountable and transparentmay be the best place to start, but even this will not succeed if those involved in pastgraft were to escape any punishment for the crimes perpetrated against the state. Forexample, it would be necessary to revisit the Okigbo report into the account of theCentral Bank between 1988 and 1994 as well as the set up investigations into thefinances of the Abacha government between 1993 and 1998. It is therefore worryingwhen General Obasanjo says his government is not interested in probing previousregimes for corruption, even though his resolve to “seek, to search, to find internallyand externally” ill-gotten wealth deserves commendation. Simultaneously, the government can put together a team of independentexperts to review the proper state of the Nigerian economy as part of its transitionalarrangement in the three month period preceding its inauguration which shouldseriously consider the economic agenda as one of the issues to put forward before aNational Forum.(4) The Case for a Truth Commission: It is why the central issue to be resolved isthe need to negotiate a process of reconciliation (Argentina/Chile) or restitution(South Korea) between the military and the civil society that takes into account whatis in the long term best interests of human rights and fundamental freedoms inconsolidating democracy. In Nigeria where the military has had a long and chequeredhistory of political intervention and built up immense economic clout, assuaging thefears of the military in a consolidating democracy by a declaration of amnesty for pastmisdeeds poses a serious challenge to the strengthening of a stable civil-militaryrelations. Already, several people in Nigeria are yearning for the day when themilitary would be brought to account for past actions and any attempt to stop thatprocess happening will be opposed by those important opinion leaders. Yet, thequestion must be asked, as others must have asked themselves in Chile, Argentina andPhilippines: While restitution may be a necessary, even cathartic exercise, in terms ofa sustainable, civil-military relations, is it the nest way to promote a stable, civil-military relations or is there a way to achieve a balance between restitution andreconciliation. This is one of the areas where the right balance must be reachedbetween the search for immediate justice and the need for long term stability. Clearly,any new government that refuses to acknowledge the scale of abuse and injustice inNigeria over the last decade would be confronted with the pressure from the civilsociety. Equally, any attempt to rush into issues bordering on the role of the militaryin the last decade would raise serious concerns in military circles.ConclusionIt seems obvious from the available evidence that while demilitarisation of politicsmay widen the space within which democratic reform takes place, it will notautomatically translate into a complete overhaul of politics from its military roots,especially in a body politic that has become so atomised and, in which the symbols,values, and ethos of the military are replicated by large sections of the civil-society. Even so, it would be wrong to reinforce the impression that everything isgiven and pre-determined and that there is nothing that we can do about demilitarisingthe state and ridding it of its military excesses. If the new government is not a hostage 7
  • 8. to its supporters, and if it understands the civil-military relations dilemma in terms ofthe complexity of the state-civil-society relations in Nigeria whilst explaining how thenature of state power relates to the key forces of production in the economy andsociety within a political synthesis, then we will be in a position to address the crisisof governance that is likely to confront the new and fragile democracy about to beinstalled in Nigeria. 8