Monday, 28 January 2008

THE ARMY AND POLITICS OF TRANSITION IN NIGERIA

THE ARMY AND POLITICS OF TRANSITION IN NIGERIA

Discussion Paper for Nigerian Union of Journalists Seminar
14th August, 1987 at Press Centre

By

M. M. Yusif
Department of Political Science,
Bayero University, Kano

I
When I was invited to deliver this lecture, the topic given to me was “The Military and Nigeria Politics”. I was not sure what precisely the organisers wanted me to discuss. But as the whole programme of the week is on politics of transition to civilian rule, I simply assumed that what I was required to talk on is the role of Military in transition to civilian administration which is finally in the year 1992.

Given the numerous problems associated with the Army and the Military regime itself, the diversity of the views expressed on the military during the political debate and the government view on the recommendations of the Political Bureau, one cannot easily pin down on what aspect is more topical at this moment of Nigeria’s politics and at forum of journalists like this.

However, it suddenly occurred to me that the most serious problem faced by all military regimes in Africa is that after seizing power, how can it disengage from politics? This problem has contributed immensely to cases where military Head of States become civilianised and remained in power or just become life presidents.

This question of disengaging the military from politics is also a real problematic of the present military junta. Why is this the case? It is my firm belief that the programme of disengagement announced by this administration is tied to a number of objective material interests of the top leadership of the Army, whether retired or serving.

These interests include:
1. That this administration wanted a reasonable ground or make a deal with the coming administration, not constitute a constraint on the interests of the leadership of the Army.
2. They want a situation which will prevent a coup against the coming administration by Army opposed to the class and sectional interests of the top ranking officers of Armed Forces.
3. That there should emerge a political leadership that will guarantee the out-going leaders property and that of their allies in the public and the private sector.
4. They also have to be sure of a safe exit and that there would be no persecution or prosecution after they left.
5. Tied to all the above factors is to see that IMF prescribed adjustment programme are not reversed.

II
In 1979, when the Military Regime of Olusegun Obasanjo disengaged from politics, it was more or less a successful exercise, because all the above conditions were satisfied. Contradictions within the Armed Forces and the Larger Society were not as sharp as they are now. The government did not face acute form of economic and political problems. Throughout the period of that administration 1975-79, except a temporary setback in 1978, the economy enjoyed a period of splendid buoyancy. It was the period when most of the institutions and legislative instruments promoting indigenous private entrepreneurship were started. Because of the promise to civilian rule which was refused by Gowon administration, various sections of the petty-bourgeoisie were effectively behind the regime. The only formidable oppositions came from workers and students. But were neutralised by the process of the re-organisation of the Labour Unions and the killings of students and banning of their organisations.

Although many political parties were formed when a ban on politics was lifted in 1978, the military regime choosed the National Party of Nigeria, the most reactionary organ of the bourgeoisie to succeed them. The support that administration gave to National Party of Nigeria was vindicated by the controversy over the results of the 1979 Presidential Elections. While the Military disengaged safely, the top ranking officers took to farming, banking and other private business ventures. They now constitute a powerful business group in the country.

III
The success of the transition to civilian administration in 1979 is perhaps the secret of the difficulties of the disengagement process of the present regime. From 1979 through the period of the civilian administration many changes have taken place in the society which have implication for the military itself.

On the one hand the top echelons of the military, retired and serving have formed an important economic bloc whereby wealth is being concentrated in their hands. They have established strong links with National and International Private Business interests through Armed trade and Production and related businesses. Through years of control of the state institutions, Army officers hold positions in government parastatals and companies. All past revelations about the conduct of public officers did not exonerate the Armed Forces. So, it is not surprising that now in Nigeria we get such Army officers with controlling shares in Farm ventures, banking, manufacturing and in commerce. On the other hand larger sections of the Armed forces are living in poverty and want producing polarisation of great political concern to the leadership of the Armed Forces.
IV
In 1983 when Army Generals seized power from the civilian administration, there were popular rumours that a section of the Junior Officers of the Armed Forces were planning a coup and cleaning up exercise similar to that of Rawlings in Ghana. The Army Generals felt threatened by this rumour that two Retired Army Generals commented that if that coup had taken place it might be more disastrous than that of Ghana.

Thus it was believed that the coup of 1983 was to pre-empt the Junior Officer coup. Even when the 1985 counter-coup of Ibrahim Banagida was announced it was believed by many people that it was to forestall a combined resistance by ranks of the Armed forces and civilians against Buhari regime.

V
Thus the present administration’s programme of transition to civilian rule is designed to negate the emergence of an administration, or a future military coup that will not protect the class and sectional interests of the top military officers. One important way of doing this is the way this regime is selectively releasing many public officers and their accomplices in the private sector, who are known to be corrupt and who are most likely to grab once more the government in 1992. Secondly, by evolving a programme of transition which will until end of 1992, the government will be a diarchy. Thirdly, by narrowing the base of power competitions by allowing only two parties to operate, so as to zero all social forces around reactionary bourgeoisie tendencies. Fourthly, by a campaign by leading Army Officers that the traditional role of the military is to protect the motherland.




VI
By way of conclusion, I feel that if the military is serious about disengagement:
1. Probes should be instituted into the assets of all Senior Army Officers, retired and serving and all public officials and their accomplices in the private business sector.
2. Further measures are to be taken to break up the nexus of business relations that had developed between Senior Army Officers and the private sector, if a good image of Armed Forces is to be maintained in future civil society.
3. That the two-party system recommended by the political bureau and accepted by government be reversed, as it will only entrench the rule of top military officers and their class allies.
4. That the rank and file members of the Armed Forces be allowed to legally associate in Democratic Associations of their own choices so as to see in proper perspective the political dimension of their objective conditions with larger members of the civilian society.

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