BY OCHEREOME NNANNA
It is now fifteen years since the military withdrew and Nigeria returned to full democratic rule. By Nigerian standards, it is a new record. The immediate post-independence democratic era lasted for only five years and three months (October 1, 1960 to January 15th 1966). It was characterised by parliamentary rule.
The military stayed in power for thirteen years and finally inaugurated a renascent democracy in 1979 under a presidential constitution. The second period lasted for only four years and three months and the military came back to stay in power for another fourteen years and five months (January 1, 1984 to May 29th 1999).
That our latest experiment in democracy has endured this long can be traced to three factors. The first was the masterstroke delivered in June 1999 by President Olusegun Obasanjo as soon as he assumed power. He retired some 93 military officers who had tasted political power and thusly broke the network of conspiracies that tended to see the military as the easy alternative to take over the reins of governance and eagerly waited to cash in on any easy excuse to do so.
The second was that Nigerians were tired of military rule, as its abuse by some regional hawks was threatening the unity of the country. The international community, after the fall of the former Soviet Union, evolved a new world order where democracy became the main selling political mantra and military rule became anathema.
The third and most important factor preserving our democracy was the movement of the seat of power from Lagos to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja in December 1991.
The Lagos environment, with a radical press and vulnerable seat of power made it easy for any group of military conspirators to walk across the street from any of the military barracks, seize power in Dodan Barracks, Victoria Island, and plug a martial musical tape on Radio Nigeria. The new seat of power in Abuja was specially designed by Israeli experts to make it difficult to carry out a coup.
Two ripe opportunities have presented themselves for the military to change the government and yet it did not happen. The first was when General Abacha suddenly died in May 1998.
The second was when civilian President, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua, was brought back to the country after a protracted illness and stay at a Saudi hospital. He was smuggled into Abuja by night. Miraculously, a military coup was averted even when some regional hawks were intent on bypassing the Vice President and keeping the presidency in the North.
The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, had to invoke an unconstitutional “Doctrine of Necessity” in February 2010 to ensure the transfer of power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan before Yar’ Adua eventually died.
A major trend in these past fifteen years had to do with the changing fortunes of the party system in Nigeria. The military registered three political parties: the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) the party with the widespread national appeal; the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which drew majority of its faithful from Western Nigeria, and the All People’s Party (APP), which had most of its adherents from Arewa or the Muslim North. AD and APP went into an alliance in 1999 to try and tackle the PDP for the Presidency but lost. Since then, the AD changed to Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) and again quickly to Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
The APP became the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) and the Muhammadu Buhari faction split to form the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Meanwhile, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a South East-strong party that was refused registration in 1998, eventually got registered and at a point had control of two states. The ACN, CPC and ANPP about a year ago, came together to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), the strongest opposition party in the land.
Meanwhile, the PDP has remained impregnable, mainly because it has retained control of the federal government and majority of states and local councils since the dawn of this renascent democracy. Today, Nigeria can be described as a dominant two-party system, even though the strength and staying power of the APC will be tested in the polls that come up early in 2015.
Our democracy has had its own fair share of vicissitudes. Right now, it is generally smooth sailing, with occasional verbal exchanges between the ruling PDP and the opposition APC seeking to upstage it come next year.
But in the early years when General Obasanjo was crowned as president of Nigeria, there was much turbulence, as the president used raw dictatorial strategies to unsettle other realms of the state, especially the federal legislature, causing it to frequently change its leadership to suit the president’s political interests.
Obasanjo also caused many governors to be removed and he frequently declared states of emergency, removed governors, suspended states’ legislatures and appointed interim military administrators while the emergency periods lasted. But since his immediate successor, President Umar Yar’ Adua took over till date; there has been a healthy dose of respect for all the arms and tiers of government, which has greatly improved the quality of our democracy, including state and federal elections.
In our fifteen years of return to democracy, the nation has been greatly challenged by a series of armed struggles by militants and insurgents. The new dispensation was inaugurated just after the Warri communal crisis in Delta State, which later blossomed into an armed struggle for resource control by militants in the entire Niger Delta.
They targeted oil and gas infrastructure for destruction and kidnapped foreigners. The economy bled profusely despite the best efforts of the military, through the Joint Task Force (JTF) to stamp out the rebellion.
It took a well-packed amnesty deal to bring the militancy to a dramatic close in October, 2009. Meanwhile, another, even bigger challenge to the territorial integrity of the nation was germinating in the extreme north east of Nigeria. Boko Haram, an Islamic sect that forbids Western education and seeks to enthrone strict Islamic rule in the North, clashed with the security agencies and its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was captured alive and killed in police custody.
Thus started the insurgency that has attracted the Al Qaeda global terrorist network to pitch tent with their Nigerian Salafist movement in a bid to establish a new Caliphate known as Sahelistan, which will cover most of the semi-desert zones of West and Central Africa with spiritual headquarters in Maiduguri.
Boko Haram’s real strength lies, not only in the steady supply of fighters, weapons and logistics from enemies of Nigeria abroad, but also enemies of Nigeria within the country. Some of these politicians, who have been frustrated in their inability to snatch power through regional gang-ups, had threatened to make the nation ungovernable for President Jonathan.
Many people share the view that without the sabotage within and outside the military by sympathisers of the insurgents, and also the steady flow of funds from moneybags and politicians in the North, Boko Haram would have been a thing of the past. Right now, following the abduction of the schoolgirls of Chibok by the Islamists, the world has thrown itself at the disposal of Nigeria, offering all forms of assistance to ensure the girls are rescued and the terrorists brought to heel.
There are, indeed, fears that unless great care is taken, our democracy is heading towards uncertain waters in the coming few months. There are loose talks about indiscipline in the army and an alleged mutiny, which was quickly arrested in Maiduguri. Media reports have it that despite the huge sums of money devoted to security in the federal budgets last year and this year, the military is too poorly funded to roundup the insurgency in the style typical of the Nigerian army everywhere it has gone since independence.
Experience in Mali has shown that when the military confronting the enemy of a nation feels it is being denied what is required to defeat the enemy; when it begins to suffer avoidable reverses and stands in danger of losing out to the enemy, it turns around to terminate democracy.
That was what happened in 2012 when General Ahmadu Haya Sanogo, after a series of defeats at the hands of Tuareg and Islamist insurgents in the north of the country, he brought a company of his troops to Bamako and toppled President Amadu Toumani Toure.
It took efforts by African leaders, with Nigeria providing the military muscle and finance, to rush the Malian military junta into handing over to the interim government now working towards a quick return to democracy in Mali.
Something must be done to avoid this turn of events in Nigeria, and nothing short of the rescue of the abducted Chibok girls and total defeat of Boko Haram will suffice to remove the fears for our democracy.