Opinion: Military involvement in politics: Implications for Nigeria’s Democracy

From First to Fourth Republic, there has been a huge challenge of establishing strong democratic institution in Nigeria, and this is mainly as a result of continuous military involvement in politics. Although there are many scholarly researches that try to establish the reasons for military involvement in politics, weak political institution and political corruption continue to be dominant factors that trigger Nigeria military involvement in politics.

Attempt will be made to understand the factors that propelled military involvement in Nigerian politics and the militarization of electoral process, particularly the re-emergence of the military becoming a dominant actor in the democratic process, which violates the principal of representative democracy.

Historically, Nigeria has witnessed series of coup that saw military taken over power from the civilian. And during the usurpation of civilian rule, the military ignored the democratic institution and lay claim to pseudo democratization. This has contributed largely in weakening state democratic institution.

From 1966 to 1995, Nigeria witnessed six coup, the first in January 15, 1966, it was followed by a counter coup in July 28, 1966, other years were 1975-Murtalla Muhammad, 1983-Muhammadu Buhari, 1985-Ibrahim Babangida and 1995-Sani Abacha.

As a result of long military rule in Nigeria, the military elite and bureaucracy have dominated the country political atmosphere for a long period, giving room for the state not being able to build a strong political institution. And their continuous assumption that they are force in determining the country governance elite, continues to force them meddle into state politics and governance.

Lest we forget, the military as an institution has the primary responsibility to defend the Nigerian state from internal and external threats. The Nigerian constitution in a very palpable manner demystified the role of the military and pointed out their basic functions.  The constitution did not in any way make provision for the country military to take active part in politics. Unfortunately, the military appear to have played an active role in the just concluded Rivers state governorship and presidential elections.

Since independence, Nigerian state is yet to answer her governance questions, and has continued to move in the murky aqua of political cul-de-sac. The poor governance over the years gave rise to weak political system that breeds a fertile environment for military involvement in politics. Often, the political class work with the military top hierarchy as an instrument of coercion to hold on to power, and this has over time, affected the professionalism in the military operations.

In 1999, Nigerian former head of state Abdulsalam Abubakar, handed over power to Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, a General in the Nigerian army. And, since then, the retired Nigerian Army  Generals have continued to assume the role of a clique that feel they have the power to determine who becomes the Nigerian president.

Therefore, military involvement in politics cannot be discussed in isolation without Nigerian traditional democratic process, which is dominant among other Africa states. And, in this kind of traditional democracy, politics is confrontational, with political parties and politicians having the character of harassing, intimidating, and in some cases killing perceived political opponent. In some instances, they commit arson. For instance, in the just concluded 2019 General Election, over 25 deaths were recorded, INEC offices burnt in some states like Plateau and Imo.

Entrenched elite interest, low political culture, weak political institutions, corruption, poverty, colonial legacy, legitimacy crisis etc are some the context one would have to situate the debate about military involvement in Nigerian politics. Although, this is not a new phenomenon, but, it is something that is not likely to disappear from the country democracy soon, and this is mainly because, the civilian who are supposed to manage state resources and put the country in the path of development had failed the people. The few that have opportunity to lead, see politics and governance as a means of primitive capitalist accumulation, they turn politics as a venture and the only means of production.

The political parties are not engaging the population; they are essentially periodic vote gathering organizations, they do not have any democratic structures within which the citizens will have debates on the problems facing them and about the choices that needed to be made. They are not people driven; their ability to understand what is happening in the society is weak. Factions about the political parties are about patronage – not about the needs of the people. And this has continued to be a dominant feature of Nigeria politics.

Democracy is the only platform Nigerians need and must negotiate her development, the current trend; military is seen taking active role in politics is not going to allow for a democratic consolidation that will lay foundation for democratization of the Nigeria democratic process.

And the implication is, unless we have a democracy that is purely a civil affair, and citizens elect their leaders on the basis of performance and politicians understand the citizens have the power of ballot; we are not going to build a society that will give room to developmental consensus. And, this is the only way to take military completely out of Nigerian politics.

However, for us to address the dismal in military involvement in politics, the Nigerian state must have a consensus to discard dialectical materialism politics and have democracy and democratization at the centre of her democratic process.

Audu Liberty Oseni

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