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Military Hangover And The Nigerian Democracy

BY ERNEST OSOGBUE

This year marked the 19th anniversary of civilian rule, albeit democracy in Nigeria. Never in the history of the country has there been such a long uninterrupted rule by ‘bloody civilians’ without the all-knowing Nigerian military stepping in to stem the negative drift.

First, it was in January 1966, when a group of Majors in the Nigerian Army led by Chukwuma Nzeogwu ousted the civilian government of TafawaBalewa. Then in July of the same year a counter coup, that ultimately led to the fratricidal Nigerian civil war which ended in 1970, with the then Head of State Yakubu Gowon declaring that there was no victor and no vanquished.

On July 30th  1975, Gowon was overthrown by members of his own government, Murtala Mohammed then emerged as Head of State. An unsuccessful coup on February 13th 1976 led to the assassination of Mohammed and the baton fell on Olusegun Obasanjo, who then successfully midwifed a return to civilian rule in 1979.

This civilian rule was short-lived as another coup on December 31st 1983 swept away the Shehu Shagari administration and brought in Mohammadu Buhari. Buhari himself was to suffer the fate of Yakubu Gowon, when senior members of his government overthrew him on August 27th 1985.

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Ibrahim Babangida emerged from this coup and remained in office until August 26th 1993 when he was pressured into handing over leadership to an unelected civilian Ernest Shonekan. General Sani Abacha only allowed Shonekan’s government to last three months before taking over as Head of State on November 17th 1993. His sudden death on June 8th 1998 paved the way for Abdulsalami Abubakar to assume office as Head-of-State and subsequently midwife this current democratic experience which all Nigerians are celebrating.

A critical look at the above leadership sequence would yield the fact that since independence in 1960, military rule was pervasive in Nigeria until 1999. Nigeria was under colonial rule until 1960; by 1966 there was a coup. Military rule was briefly interrupted between 1979 and 1983.   From 1984 to 1999 military rule was the order of the day.

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While Nigerians have been screaming at the slow pace of political and economic development of the country, and have been making efforts to find reasons civilian rule or democracy has not yielded the expected results, one factor they have overlooked as being a challenge to democratic development is ‘military mentality’.

Democracy presupposes a civilian government based on procedures, where the constitution as the supreme law of the land holds sway at all times, with nobody being above the law and everyone equal before the law with the law being impartial. As our democratic system has unfolded since 1999 can we say that the above three elements of the rule of law are in place?

I have taken a careful look at our development and discovered that outside of the millennials- those born in the new millennium-, most other Nigerians have experienced one form of oppressive rule or the other. Those born before 1960 were born under colonialism, while those born before 1999/2000 were born or grew up under military rule.  Living under oppression has therefore shaped the mentality of the past and present generation of Nigerians thereby affecting our way of thinking.

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A careful observer would notice that the average Nigerian has a tendency to behave in a military fashion; we are either rushing in a panic or urging those ahead to give way or be crushed. This shows in our everyday life of impatience characterized by such terms as ‘now now’, ‘quick quick’  and ‘sharp sharp’. A walk down a street in Abuja or Lagos, or indeed any major city in the country is a nightmare for anyone who has ever lived in a civilized environment. Driving on the roads is no better, as many drivers act like animals in the jungle jostling each other for space.

Long years of military rule have battered the psyche of the average Nigerian into erroneously falling into the trap of; the quicker the better. The average citizen has also unknowingly accepted that all things military are superior to all things civil, inadvertently leading to the militarization of the mentality of the civil population.

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The command and obey structure of the military which brooks no arguments or alternative positions has pushed the average Nigerian into unconsciously accepting that following procedures is a sign of weakness and that might is right. In our daily lives it is manifest when citizens wantonly disobey traffic rules, disrespect each other, jump the queue, drive against traffic and blatantly offer and accept bribes in order to circumvent official procedures.

In governance it is manifest when a democratically elected official drives on the highway with a long siren blaring convoy, chasing those who put him in office out of the way. It is also manifest when a democratically elected president appears in public flanked by an officer in full military regalia either as an ADC or an orderly! State governors have uniformed police officers flanking them as orderlies at all public functions as a manifestation of their power and authority

Other subtle manifestations of our military hangover include our attitudes in public places, when we shout at each other, leave our phones ringing at its loudest and shout while answering the call without caring about our neighbors. We shout at our children at home, shout at our husbands and shout at our wives.   Our car horns are left blaring at the slightest opportunity with total disregard of the law against noise pollution.

Police arrest and detain citizens without bringing them to trial and they are left languishing in detention for months incommunicado. Even the military and all other mushroom organizations can now arrest and detain citizens without recourse to the laws of the land. How can democracy be deepened, how can the dividends of democracy reach the people when the people themselves are daily involved in the raping of democracy?

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While leaders at various levels may be culpable in the institutionalization of military mentality in our democracy, it is pertinent to point out that the average citizen must take his own share of the blame. When attitudes which undermine our democracy are accepted as norms, the end product is anarchy.

As a matter of urgency, citizens must begin to imbibe decorum in their public activities, showing respect for one another and obeying the simple rules of society. On the part of our leaders, they must understand that it is in their best interest and the interest of our democracy to jettison all attitudes of governance carried over from military rule. The use of ADC’s and orderlies by democratic leaders is a misnomer, and must be discouraged.

We must consciously make effort to wean ourselves of these attitudes. Democracy is a process that requires procedures to succeed, expecting immediate results is not a democratic norm, we must all therefore acquire the virtue of patience. Our democracy can only be deepened and the dividends accrue to all citizens, when attitudes and behaviors that tend to undermine democracy are done away with and condemned by all Nigerians.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.