Club for restructured Nigeria welcomes Obasanjo: SNC before 2023 elections (2)

July 16, 2020

LAST week’s discussion centred on an examination of the need to revisit the institutional and socio-political structure of Nigeria and embrace a new structural reform which will decentralise power to the regional units. Equally, I considered the views of some Nigerians, including mine, expressed in times past, on the subject of restructuring and why the subject is now important in view of the coming general elections. Lastly, I considered how Nigeria operated a regional system of Government between 1960 and 1966 which culminated in the establishment of some landmark institutions we still have today. This week, however, I will dwell, among others, on how the military destroyed this working structure and established a new one to best suit their whims and caprices.

Military intervention and the end of regionalism

The emergence of the military in Nigeria’s political scene and their unceremonious regimes dealt a fatal blow to the existing federal structure in Nigeria. On 15th January 1966 when the army took over the government of Nigeria, they imposed a unitary system of government which laid a groundwork for the presidential system we operate today. In my lecture titled “Nigeria in Search of a Nation” which I referenced in last week’s edition, I succinctly captured the bane of military governance on the Nigerian political structure, at page 106, as follows:

‘None of the constitutions fashioned out by the military reflects the ideals which informed the making of the 1954, 1960 and 1963 constitutions. What the military did was to, by that Constitution, weaken the component states, destroy or impair their power to develop and sustain themselves. It is, therefore, correct to state that the military and their civilian apologists either by design or accident have planted in the constitution the seed of national disintegration and disharmony. The allegations of marginalisation and the clamour for confederation constitutes the inevitable harvest of the Constitution fashioned by the military’

The harsh reality is that changes in the Nigerian political scene came about far more frequently through commando-style military intervention than through open, competitive elections. Generally, military interventions are no more than an attempt by military officers to get involved in the existing political process to improve on what they perceive to be the problems associated with it. This, perhaps, explains why the major justification usually adduced by the military to legitimise their involvement every time they seize power is to highlight existing deficiencies such as political instability, official corruption, violent political crises, among others.

It has been noted that when the military took power, they became deeply involved in the political process which is incompatible with their professional training and orientation. They attempted, for example, to restructure the polity through series of policy statements backed by military decrees. It is in this context that they created states and local governments and introduced administrative reforms affecting the bureaucracy and the civil service in their attempt to restructure the civil service.

The politisation of the military is partly traceable to the introduction of quota system in recruitment and promotion. Many soldiers recruited through the new quota system began to believe that they owed an allegiance to their regions or the politicians in their regions who, perhaps, sponsored their recruitment or facilitated their promotions. Political scientists have noted that many of the soldiers became sympathetic to the views of their regional governments on matters such as federal elections and national census. The politicians welcomed the trend and made concerted effort to encourage people from their regions or ethnic groups to enlist massively into the army. Some tried to maintain links with those already in the army and even infiltrate the ranks of military personnel. Gradually, therefore, the mutual trust and esprit de corps which prevailed in the army were eroded. Unflinching loyalty to the Federal Government gave way to a situation in which each soldier owed loyalty primarily to this region or regional government.

The first military coup of January 15, 1966 saw the setting aside of the NPC-NNDP coalition government and the assassination of the Prime Minister and the premiers of the Northern and Western Regions. As reported in the Daily Telegraph of January 1966, the military accused the first republic civilian administration of corruption and maladministration. From that year, successive military regimes have given several reasons for intervening in Nigerian politics. Reasons such as the attempts to fight corruption, inefficiency, dishonesty, mismanagement of the economy, etc. have constantly been harped upon as justifications for ousting previous governments.

Succession into Democratic Governance

After about a 30-year uneventful period of military dominance, the military did not return the nation to the 1960 Constitution which better reflects the ideals of the Nigerian people. Rather, they imposed the 1999 Constitution which they described as a Federal Constitution but which, in reality, is a military constitution.

When General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over in June 8, 1998, he promised and fulfilled the transition from military to civilian rule after 11 months in office in May 29, 1999. The Abubakar regime also established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in August 1998 to conduct elections for the office of the President, State Governors, legislatures and local government council positions. Elections were successfully held by the INEC on December 5, 1998, January 9, 1999, February 20, and February 27, 1999 for political positions. Nine parties were allowed provisional registration to conduct elections with only three meeting the conditions to contest. These parties were the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the All People’s Party (APP), and the largely Yoruba Alliance for Democracy (AD).

In an election conducted by the INEC set up by the military, former military Head of State General Olusegun Obasanjo contested as a civilian candidate and won the presidential election. In addition, the Provisional Ruling Council under General Abubakar proclaimed a new Constitution – the 1999 Constitution – and by May 29, 1999, swore in a civilian President, thereby ushering in a democratic system of Government.

The 1999 Constitution itself creates a framework of a federal, representative and democratic republic which is headed by a President who is the head of state, the head of government, and the head of a multi-party system.

There is, therefore, no doubt that the 1999 Constitution is premised on a system of pseudo-totalitarianism which the advent of the military gave credence to. This constitution makes no provision for regionalism but obliterates the autonomy of the regional units and centralizes power in a central government. The Constitution ensures that the central government controls the revenues and nearly all of the country’s resources, especially oil and natural gas. Revenue accrues in the Federation Account, where it is allocated monthly to the states and the local government authorities by a federal executive body, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission.

In essence, the 1999 Constitution mirrors the military-envisioned total resource control and replicates it in a democratic setup. As I noted earlier, the present 1999 Constitution, being fashioned according to the system put in place by the military, weakened the component states and impaired their powers of self-sustenance – a far-cry from the indigenous socio-economic advancements witnessed by Nigerians under a regional system of government.

To be continued



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