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Microanalysis of Nigerian Democracy: Anniversary Imprecations

By John Moyibi Moda
INDEPENDENCE from the British Empire on October 1 1960 ushered in the First Republic of Civilian Rule.  From 1966 to the present, Civilian rule has suffered rude and crude interregna of Nigerian Military Government.

Until 1999 political administration of Nigerian society could be said to be the interruption of long spells of despotic rule by short periods of Civilian rule.  The reflections in the mass media on ten years of Civilian rule are informed by apprehensions about the present.

These apprehensions can be phrased as questions.  Are we in a transition between a system of military administrations interrupted by civilian rule and a system of stabilised civilian rule?

Are we in a transition between military and civilian rule made possible by the democratic and constitutional restructure of the Nigerian political system with a purpose of entrenching civilian rule and deligitimising military rule?

Are we in a transition between military and civilian rule effected through the constitutionalist reform the Armed and Security Forces in Nigeria?  These three questions address the present as a transition.

Transitions by definition are periods of change in which a present system is being replaced by another in a moment of time in which both systems co-exist, one in ascendance, the other in decline, yet in the moment of time fraught with the possibility that which is in ascendance can give away to that which appears to be in decline.

And this is the point, that transitions present two possible readings of facts – the first reading being the description of change of systems; the second reading being the confusing of contestations on change of systems with the facts of change of systems.  Which is the case with Nigeria?

We must therefore first address the fact that Nigeria presently exist in a period and context of transition.  It exist in a context of the transition of the decolonisation of the British Empire, and it exist as Nigeria in the period of transition between the system of military rule and the system of civilian rule.  Periods of existence are determined by context of existence.  Contexts must first change before present periods are replaced by emerging periods.

The Nigerian military order could become so quickly the predominant agency power after the emergence of Nigeria as an independent country because Nigeria existed within the context of transition of change in the British Colonial Empire.

The empire was an institutionalisation of state, polity and economy on the basis of conquest.  The provinces of the empire constituted by the metropolitan citizenry and the subjects in the colonies were institutionalised as sectors of the empire.

The colonial security forces were not destroyed by the departing British colonial administrators.  The management and control of these forces were officially transferred through a process of tutelage to Nigerian officers trained by the British government in their military academics exemplified by Sandhurst.

Reform of the British Empire contained within it the possibility of its escalation into a revolutionary change of the British Empire.  To avert this possibility the British post colonial party and government have managed the change of empire so as to avert the development of reform into revolution.

Thus the sectoral structure of the British Empire has been maintained while the relations between the imperial citizenry and subjects have been reformed.  The structure of the British Imperial Society was its economy sectorally organised.

The British State secured the British Imperial society while the British colonial government provided internal security for the sectors of the Imperial Economy.  Nigeria was a sector of the British Imperial society secured by the British colonial government.  The Armed and Security forces in Nigeria were agencies of the colonial government.

Independence from British Colonial rule did not entail a revolutionary restructure of the British Imperial Society – it involved only the reform of its administration.

The juridical expression of independence was the change of the administrators of the British Imperial Economy was the sectoral structure of the society was not affected.  Thus as long as Independent Nigeria was sustained as a sector of the British Imperial Economy, even nationalist expectations of the Nigerian Independent Administrative Class could be contained within the context of reform politics and as intra-Nigerian pressure group politics.

As the cocoa farmer went about producing cocoa; as the growers of oil palm went about producing their palm oil and palm kernel; as the grower of cotton and groundnuts followed their colonial calling to produce for export, these activities maintained without coercion the British Imperial Economy under the Nigerian Administrators of the institutions of British colonial government and authority.

The colonial economic activities maintained the imperial structure of the colony through the caste of economic roles.

The colonial social structure consisted of (1) producers for export (2) the producers for the sustainance of producers for exports (3) the vast majority of the rural subsistence producers and their complimentary artisans.  Over a colonial society thus structured reigned the Nigerian Independence Administrative Class consisting of (a) the Post Colonial Government (b) the Nigerianised Colonial armed and security services (c) the Nigerianised colonial administration.

The above is the structure, the frame that was dressed up as a new nation of international status separate and equal to that of Great Britain.  The reconstitution of the British Empire into Great Britain and colonies granted their independence constituted this transition between orders – that is the changing of the Order of British Empire into the Order of the Commonwealth.

The political history of British postcolonial countries began with this structural identity, the strategic difference between these postcolonial countries is to be found in the nature of their independence politics and their independence politicians.  They all began their postcolonial existence within the context of transitions between orders.

For India the transition has been shortened – for Nigeria we are still in this transition.  The transition consists in the attitude of Nigerian political class to the political and administrative institutions of the British colonial government and economy.

The Nigerian Post Colonial leadership have been content with adapting the British colonial institutions and economy in service of a post colonial Nigeria.  Adaptation methods presuppose reform not transformation.  It is this commitment to adaptation rather than transformation that has resulted in the maintenance of the roles and functions of institutions of colonial government and security in post colonial Nigeria.

Concretely this has meant that the post colonial army, police and civil service have continued to perform their institutional roles defined and developed for the sustenance of the colony.  The post colonial government has the same internal security needs as the preceeding colonial government for the colonial structure of society in Nigeria remains the same in the post colonial period.

Since the colonial structure of society is assumed as the context of politics and governance, the colonial economic order is also assumed.  In the colony the colonial government was the agent of the British government which was the agent of the British Imperial State.  In independence Nigeria the post colonial political class is structurally dependent on the Nigerianised institutions of security and administration.

It did not take long for the ambitious among the ranks of the Armed and Security Services to come to the conclusion, namely, that if their loyalty to the political class is necessary to sustain the government of that class, then they could rule in the place of “elected” politicians.  The history of government in Nigeria has occurred within a dilemma, a dilemma which remains a challenge to the Armed and Security Forces.

Their dilemma consists in the fact that they are the sustainers of “elected” civilians whose definition of the People are the members of their parties, who are unable to secure their elected leadership in power.  If the electoral parties are unable to secure their elected leaders in power or to restore them in office, why does the Military not continue in office?  Why do the Military share office-holding with civilians?

The capacity of the Military to topple civilian elected government at will and to rule for long periods of time even with the support of the same civilian electoral leadership should determine tenure and stability of military governments.

The conditions that favour military rule also favour exclusivity of military rule.  Sharing office-holding with civilians, no matter for what duration, is the conundrum Nigerian politics present to the critical publics in Nigeria.  This is so because the history of postcolonial politics in Nigeria favours the exclusivity of military rule not an alternation between the military and Nigeria’s electoral political parties.

When the above is the case, the problemmatique of constitutional government in Nigeria is civilian electoral government, not unconstitutional military rule.  The puzzle for the rank and file of the Military as well as the generality of the Nigerian populace is why Military governments voluntarily withdraw from office only to return at will to office.

Thus for the Nigerian mass, both military and non-military, democracy is not contemplated and no group has made the mobilization of the people for democracy its goal.  Given such a situation, should elected civilian governments and the media be indulging in microanalysis of Democracy and Democratic rule annually?

Does this celebration of tenure of civilian rule not represent in fact the substitution of wishfulness for constitutional rule for deliberate and pro-active mobilization of the people for democracy?  The question of the prospects of democratic constitutionalist government and governance in Nigeria are immediately determined by the contestation between military-rule political parties and civilian rule electoral parties within the context of the postcolonial transition.

Any interest for democratic constitutionalist order of politics in Nigeria must as a matter of strategic concern address the structure of the Nigerian society that economically marginalizes the rural and the urban poor.  The structure of the Nigerian society and the prospects of its restructuring are internationally determined.

The international dimension of the structure of Nigerian society must be addressed because Nigeria as it is presently organized is the result of reformist decolonization of the British Empire.  This statement of the political enterprise reflects the balance of power between the pro-reform interest groups and the anti-reform interest groups in the context of demand for change in and of the British Empire.

We may appreciate the issue of contexts better when we remember that the agitations for equality amongst citizens of the United States became a matter of state policy in 1857.  The election of President Barack Hussein Obama in 2008 only marks the ascendancy of the anti-racialist reformist block of the American Establishment.

It is in the same manner as we demarcate the period of reform in the USA by the election of Obama contextualized by the 1857 Dred Scott Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, in similar manner we should demarcate the context of reform by the decision of the Colonial government to plan for responsible government in the colonies.  Independence of the colonies was and is a phase in the reform of the British Colonial State.

To only address issues of politics internal to Nigeria and not to view Nigeria perspectively is to focus attention on the feet with no commensurate attention to the path taken in Nigeria’s political journey.  This focus on the internal to the exclusion of the international has now been problemmatised as realism in contrast to the “escapism” of concern with the past.

The “either-or” problemmatisation of change of order is ideological and is functional for conflict management.  The internal is contextualized by the international and the international is also contextualized by the internal.  The past provides a perspective for the analysis of the present just as the present provides a point of viewing the entire course of past, present and future flow of events.

The pervasiveness of the Either-Or fracture of the course of change denies the statecraft analysts perspectives necessary for preparing plans for change of order politics.  Counting the existence of civilian rule in terms of years of the absence of the Military from government is not a practical exercise when we do not know why.  Why is the military still in the barracks?

Are they now permanently in the barracks?  Are we dealing with taming rather than change of nature?  Inspite of change in the policy of the African Union with respect to Military rule, governments are still being toppled by coups.

The coups in Gambia, in Liberia and most recently in Guinea are coups by the other ranks; these coups show the dissemination of capabilities for staging coups throughout the rank and file of the Armed and Security Forces.

The complexity of managing the affairs of state did not deter the disk jockey of Madagascar or the captain of logistics of Guinea.  In such perilous circumstances, interest in democracy and democratic government must go beyond the “Empire Day” celebration of “Democracy Day”.


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