POST-WARLORD POLITICS AND GARRISON DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA: A cross-military examination of Babangida, Obasanjo, Ironsi, Murtala, Gawon, Abacha and Buhari.
This study examines the political authority that Nigerian military presidents and post-warlords use to perpetually remain in power by utilizing states’ resources for their benefits and interest. It explains the meltdown of warlords’ military hierarchy(s) into civilians in Nigeria, as witnessed in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The study argues that the rise of post-military warlordism exacerbates socio-economic problems, which pave way for garrison democracy in Nigeria and generally in Africa. The rulers’ efforts to manage external challenge and the transformation of old military officers into emergency democrats, establish local power bases in Africa that proliferates warlordism. Post-warlord politics in weak, but very rich and endowed states such as Nigeria, Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo become incessant where rulers privatize and own public sector companies via patronage and clandestine economic exchange with foreign markets. This study therefore provides an alternative approach and new model based on paradigm shift from the politics of warlords’ Godfatherism, clientelism and patrimonialism in weak states such as Nigeria to a clear model of ‘rational’ politics that can work in Africa’s political-economy.
Thus warfare and chaos in Nigeria, especially during civil war aggravated internal security dilemmas for rulers in neighbouring states with vulnerable patronage systems. The cross-border dimension of the Liberian conflict played a pivotal role in forcing Nigeria’s and Sierra Leone's rulers to innovate with new political and military arrangements, some of which mimic Taylor's practices. This they did to address this threat to their survival in the absence of formal state
institutions (William, 1997). Taylor also encountered others among Doe's former associates who adopted his methods for their own purposes. The remnants of the Doe regime called upon a regional organization, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to intervene to defend what had now become the Monrovia enclave. Some speculate that this Nigerian-led intervention followed close commercial ties between some military officers in Nigerian president Babangida's entourage and Doe's military (Ellis, 1995). An equally valid possibility is that a concert of vulnerable West African rulers may have also acted to deny control of Liberia to a strongman who so closely resembled would-be rivals in their own vulnerable patron-client networks.
As Godwin (2012) had it in his “countdown on Nigeria’s military leaders from 1960-2007”, i.e. General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, clearly, is the worst head of state Nigeria ever produced, because he self-styled himself as president by overthrowing the Buhari-Idiagbon government, which was doing very well in fighting corruption. But because he wanted to satisfy his personal interest, he confiscated power from them and corruptibly presided over Nigeria. He devalued the naira greatly, collected IMF loan, introduced SAP and legalized corruption and bribery in the Nigerian civil service. He is the father of corruption in Nigeria and still wields considerable corrupt military political influence in happenings in the country today. Upon all the best brains he used in his cabinet, Nigerians could only witness corruption in perpetuity. He was the very person that gave local government councilors, who most of them could not write down their names a monthly salary of over N30, 000 when a Professor in the university was earning a pay of less than N10, 000 monthly. The first ASUU strike in Nigeria took place during Babangida’s time and up till today it has a chain effect on every Nigerian student that goes to university. He was the person that introduced mediocrity in the civil service. His military hey presto schematically supported the coming of pro tem military government of Abdussalam after the demise of Abacha, and interim transitional government of Shonekan that in the end handed over powers to Obasanjo and Abacha respectively. That was how Babangida presided over Nigeria as if it was a chattel government based on military patrimonialism!
The second worst Nigeria’s military president is General Olusegun Obasanjo: He was very loyal to his boss, Murtala Ramat Mohammed. He continued with his (boss) agenda and handed over power to a civilian government in 1979 until in 1999 when he mysteriously emerged from prison via one of the Babangida’s corrupt military tactics and antics that he found in the new and emergency military democrat- Obasanjo. His government was marred by all sorts of atrocities. Every responsible mind that witnessed or lived during Obasanjo’s militarized politics will definitely sympathize with Nigeria on two things. First, her position as a failed state under the his own kind of democratic regime; where all democratic etiquettes, principles and freedom are no longer harmonized and permutated but intertwined with disequilibria forces, which disproportionately act and transform the citizenry into everlasting corruptible generations. Second are the pathological symptoms and chronic signs of power-mongering that are explicitly manifest in our leadership style throughout his stay in power from 1999-2007.
Under Obasanjo’s Nigeria, when a public officer, elected or appointed, assumes responsibility of the affairs either at Federal, State, or Local government levels, the congratulatory message among his/her relatives, friends, siblings and even parents are centred on one common impression that God has answered their prayers, because they believe that they are secluded from poverty, hunger and starvation. Almost all pieces of advice that such an officer will come by from close associates is that he/she should by every means try and maintain that position for the second, third or even fourth time. He/she will be told to amass as much wealth as possible from the public treasury, just in case power may be relinquished! And once this is done, the thinking of the officer in question will be narrowed and confined to those close allies, relatives and parents. All the ‘accumulated wealth’ (loot) will be enjoyed by him/herself and also by their kith and kin. This is the definition of leadership in the then Obasanjo’s Nigeria! The egocentricity was so obvious that it had even reached its ‘peak value’, where other significant moral indexes like good human conscience, patriotism, discipline, accountability, honesty, and nationalism have been swept under the carpet. In this context, the providential revenue from oil has become the basic way of getting things done, but also the objective of the competition between political factions – something which perpetuates the vicious circle of clientelism. It is entirely characteristic of such a system that Obasanjo added the functions of Oil Minister to his Presidential duties. Thus, it is clear that Obasanjo never broke with the methods of the privatization of state assets practiced by his predecessors, Babangida and Abacha.
The third worst military president in Nigeria is General Aguiyi Ironsi: Though history did not state his involvement in the senseless and bloody coup that brought him to power led by Major Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu, but he did not help matters in exonerating himself completely from the act and that led to his ousting by the Gowon group of T Y Danjuma and co coup. He is the third worst president of Nigeria, because of his die-hard tribalism.
The fourth worst military president was General Murtala Ramat Mohammed. He was one of the seven military rulers Nigeria produced. He had noble agenda, but his sense of judgment was marred by ethnic sentiments as it was alleged in his reshuffling of the civil service and appointments. This action of his provoked hatred from groups that felt marginalized and that led to his assassination in the hands of Col. Dimka and co. coup.
The third best Nigerian military president was General Yakubu Gowon. This was a man that defended our unity, due apologies to the Igbo nation, our country was somehow better off as one. With due regret over lives lost during the civil war, Gowon made the right choice as enshrined in our National pledge. According to Godwin (2012), Gawon, defended Nigeria’s unity and uphold her honour and glory.
The second best military leader was General Sani Abacha. Though lots of people will disagree with second place for a second best, especially for a dictator like Abacha, but he was able to address pressing issues during his time. Security in Nigeria under Abacha, was almost impeccable, the economy was relatively stable, and albeit excommunicated by western powers, but Nigeria did relatively well. We won Atlanta 96 and had the best players then. Abacha may have hurt some persons, but on general assessment, he earned second best place. No wonder Professor Sam Aluko preferred Abacha’s economic policy than the Babangida’s and Obasanjo’s.
The best military man, coming first place was General Muhammadu Buhari. He merits this place by his love for the common man, and by extension, the masses. He had the love of the country at heart. Everything he did was geared towards improving the attitude and economy of the common man. He introduced WAI. He crushed the Maitatsine uprising for good. He maintained a stable economy. He provided a dependable security. He was not guided by greed like most of his counterparts. He sure took first place. However, Buhari, is the worst military democrat Nigeria ever produced, because he was ravaged by his military opponents in politics as a religious bigot and as someone who had a bad record of human rights abuse. Buhari in politics, fails to learn the rudiments of Nigeria’s garrison democracy by allowing himself to be waylaid by many opportunists in Nigeria such as El-rufa’i, Kanti Bello, Buba Galadima, Sule Hamma and co. He is today one of the frustrated military political elites who has been messed up by certain segments of Nigeria’s most corrupt political party-the so-called ruling party in Nigeria.
In spite of all these military Heads of Nigeria positions in military juntaism and undertaking, Nigerians are in no way better off, because all of them succeeded in transferring their personal vendetta and grudges into unprecedented national problems that today negatively affect virtually all Nigerian citizens. They unnecessarily transformed their personal military problems and differences into a national leadership problem that lives Nigeria in terrible governance quagmire.
As Spinoza et al asserted in his own analysis of Nigeria “Is the end of mafia politics in sight?” i.e. Nigeria should be one of the richest states in Africa, yet it has one of the highest rates of poverty, and can scarcely boast a middle class. This suggests an examination of the relationship between the economic system and the political one.
We must not be deceived by the consistent growth recorded between 2003 and 2006 (and not only in the oil sector) by the repayment of $35 billion of debt and increasing foreign investment, nor by the increase of GDP per capita from $450 to $800 between 2003 and 2007, according to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook( Spinoza et al, 2007).
First of all, whatever the level of satisfaction of the Bretton Woods institutions with the macro-economic results and the reforms during the second mandate of the departing President, a degree of circumspection is in order. In reality, the Nigerian elites, concerned to retain their grip on the clientist system, even whilst acceding to foreign demands.
The Nigerian state, still remains congenitally weak as it is, has difficulty projecting its authority, in the face of cultural diversity (almost 250 ethnic groups) a surface area twice that of France, demographic centres of gravity pulling against each other, a weak fiscal position and corrupt political elites which are very different from each other even if forced to work together.
The departure of Michelin and many companies from the country says more about the reality there than statistics can. Confronted by a greedy garrisoned military political class which has turned corruption into a standard procedure, businesses – local or otherwise– endure power cuts almost on a regular basis, which affect production. In parallel, and in contrast to the CFA zone, the independence of the Nigerian currency means that both foreign investors and the local middle classes continually risk finding the assets they hold in Nairas becoming less valuable (Spinoza et al, 2007). The modern image of Abuja demonstrates only that a lot of petro-dollars can finance a shop window disguising the economic reality behind. (Likewise, Abidjan demonstrates how this type of Manhattan built on an economy of rent can fall apart).
By an exquisite irony, Abuja suffered oil shortages in January 2007 and January 2012. That said, these particular weaknesses in the Nigerian economy, often exacerbated by the sabotage of refineries to facilitate the import of petrochemicals from abroad, should not cause us to overlook the dynamism of the economic centres of North and South alike (Spinoza et al, 2007).
Clearly, what Nigeria needs is structural diversification of the economy. The country is grossly underdeveloped. It fell from 151st in the UNDP Human Development Index in 2004 to 159th in 2006, and its population living in poverty doubled, to 80%, between 1981 and 2012. But there is very little progress being made in this direction. There seems no other explanation than that the political class, irrationally from its perspective, sees a diversification of the economy as too risky.
Such an economy would start to produce a middle class focused around businessmen. These developments would damage the existing elites, whose power is based on tight allegiances depending on the manipulation of a flexible combination of public and private measures – laws and regulations, institutions, finance and oil companies – and developing in step with globalization.
The ‘garrison’ process of politics and democratic election and their implications for the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria, is quite unwholesome to our national democratic savvy. As Shola (2007) argued that garrisoned electoral processes represent a powerful source of democratic instability that can threaten the consolidation of democracy. He illustrates these processes and concludes that much will, however, depend on how ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ manage their successes and failures, respectively. The greatest threats to the consolidation of democracy in the aftermath of the garrisoned military politics and elections in Nigeria relate to the handling of post-election issues, especially election petitions, tribunals and court processes, by all stakeholders in the democratization process. So far, he suggested that these issues must be properly handled by all affected parties, raising hopes of the possibility of mitigating potential pitfalls. Sustained efforts are required both to ensure that these democratic gains endure and in order to avoid democratic regression, potentially leading to military post-warlordism intervention and the perpetual continuation of garrison democracy in Nigeria.
Jibo Nura, is lifetime member, West African Research Association (WARA), African Studies Centre, Boston State University, United States. E-mail: email@example.com