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Review of the 1999 Constitution, Nigerian democracy (1)

By John Amoda
AS steps are taken for the review of the 1999 Constitution, it is appropriate for a perspective on this initiative to be provided. The review of the Constitution should have one overriding aim, namely: to sustain the Democracy Project in Nigeria. The citizenry must be engaged and this as critical participants.

The Tuesday Platform will address this exercise in a four-parts series of discourses designed to empower the citizens through informed analyses of the implications of democracy as a sustainable project in Nigeria and as a Nigerian project.

In this introductory essay we proceed by explaining terms by which we can understand and hopefully participate in sustaining commitment to democracy as a Nigerian campaign. The Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged defines the verb sustain thus: (a) To maintain, keep in existence, keep going; (b) to keep supplied with necessities: to provide for. (c) to support from as from below.

This verb sustaining employed in the present participle in the title of this series, implies the need to maintain democracy or keep it in existence: to accomplish this end by supplying democracy with what it needs to keep it in existence, to keep it going or to support it. The problem that is described in the topic follows from what is implied – that unless deliberate effort is made to support democracy in Nigeria, it may expire.

The problem as impliedly stated is that Nigeria as an environment for the cultivation of democracy is a hostile or inimical one and the need, therefore, arises for commitment to democracy to be sustained and for democracy itself to be supported. The environment is hostile not only to the commitment but also to the democratic project in Nigeria. A corollary issue to this phrasing of the topic is propositional; it is proposed that the democratic project be sustainable, so as to make it capable of being sustained.

The question suggested here is one of procedure – How is the democratic project to be sustained? How or what is the sustainer of the democratic project? For the sustainer is defined as one who or that which sustains. Related to this concept of the sustainer is the action verb expressed in present participle, sustaining. The dictionary defines sustaining as ability; that which has the ability to sustain or give strength and therefore provide the necessary support to a project, process or programme.

Who or what and by what process does the sustainer sustain the democratic project in Nigeria? Once the issue is rephrased in this manner, one is drawn to ask: Who are the opponents of the democratic project in Nigeria and by what process can their opposition to the democratic project be overcome? This question suggests itself because of the need to sustain the democratic project.

In historical terms the enemy of democracy has been defined as the Nigerian Armed Forces and its national and international collaborators. And if the enemy of democracy is so defined, it follows that democracy itself is defined in constitutional terms; that is in terms of constitutional government where the Armed Forces are defined as the opponent of democracy. Military government is thus contrasted to constitutional government in this definition.

Phrased in this manner, the problem of sustaining the democratic project in Nigeria ceases to be a straightforward task. This is so because democracy as post-military constitutional government has been, since the 1966 coup, a product of military governments. Military governments have been responsible for:

*convening constitution review committees;

*convening constituent assemblies;

*promulgating constitutions;

*establishing party certifying bodies;

*establishing electoral bodies;

*funding parties;

*creating states and local governments;

*effecting their own withdrawals into the barracks;

*and have been responsible for overthrowing with impunity governments established by their constitutions.

In a Nigeria, in which the military have played the above roles, democracy cannot be defined as constitutional government, nor can the democratic project be defined as preventing the return of military rule. This conclusion follows from the fact that we are concerned with Nigeria and with the task of sustaining the democratic project in Nigeria. If we cannot define democracy as that which the military government allows, and which the Armed Forces who constitute military government have with impunity overthrown; (1966-1979 and (1983-1999) and if the constitutions and the governmental structures, federal, state and local governments that operate these constitutions have been promulgated by military governments. then indeed, the democratic project in Nigeria must be other than running civilian successor constitutional governments brought into being by military governments, the point is in order for three reasons:

*The first military overthrow of constitutional governments which they authored and mid-wifed have been unhindered; the military come and go at their discretion – so it seems to the vast majority of the population. This autonomy of action makes the life-span of constitutions and governments operating those constitutions dependent upon the will of the military;

*The second reason is that the capacity and the ability or the military to overthrow the constitution and the governmental system it authorises has not been destroyed. So the “Military-In-Barracks Today Can Become The Military-In-Government Tomorrow”;

*The third reason is that the civilian the military overthrow today becomes tomorrow the collaborators of the military both in the political and economic sectors.

For these three reasons the “Civilian-in-the-Private Sector” can be described as the “unofficial opposition” of the Military-in-the Barracks. Coups may therefore be explained as a negotiated transaction of change of governments between factions of the elite. Nigeria can thus be described as an elite – mass political society, where elites are also the rulers. In this construction, the Military has been the dominant faction, and the Civilian, the subordinate faction. This conception of Nigeria suggests itself, because of the three reasons mentioned above.

In Nigeria, constitutional elite government has been described as democracy, where competition for office has been through electoral competition among candidates fielded by state approved parties.

And even in this highly restricted definition of democracy, the life span of constitutions and constitutional government have been determined by the military.

The first Military Constitution was from October 1, 1979 to December 31, 1983. The second Military Constitutions of the Babangida and Abacha Administrations never saw the light of day. It is the 1999 Constitution of General Abdusalami that is now under review.



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