Dr. Chidi Amuta is Executive Editor of USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com
By May 2023, Nigerian military officers during the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970) will have ruled Nigeria, in one form or the other, for a total of 45 years out of 62 years of Nigeria’s independence. Out of this period, 16 years will be accounted for by the two double term presidential tenures under Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, both of whom tossed their battle fatigues and returned as elected civilian presidents.
The total time spent under all forms of pure civilian democratic interventions will amount to 17 years over this period. For those hooked to the unhappy arithmetic of Nigerian power politics, it might be of interest to note that one southern military leader, Aguiyi Ironsi, ruled for only 6 months just as Murtala Mohammed, a northern military coup leader, also ruled for only 6 months, both cut down by our national penchant for regicide and ugly reprisals.
In this long pageant of martial hegemony and uniformed oligarchy, President Buhari brings up a significant rear with a heavy burden. By dint of biological subtraction, he is the last of the Civil War generals that will rule Nigeria ever again. By the logic of history, therefore, Mr. Buhari is the custodian of a dual mandate in Nigeria’s progression. First and most immediately, he has a mandate to account for his incumbent stewardship as an elected president on the ticket of the All Progressive Congress(APC). Secondly and historically more significant, he is bringing the rear in a long tradition of military and military inspired leadership of Nigeria. As it were, Buhari is now the one who has the unenviable task of writing the postscript of Nigeria’s age of military dominion. Somehow, both mandates are complementary.
It is therefore dishonest to limit Buhari’s ultimate responsibility and the legacy expectations from him to just his current two term presidency. The plain unvarnished truth is that Mr. Buhari is part of the mostly military establishment that has shaped the Nigerian reality. As an individual, he was military head of state for two years, petroleum minister for two years, military state governor for 12 months and will be an elected president for an 8 year tenure. There is a sense in which Buhari, next to Obasanjo, accounts for the longest stretch of dominance of power positions in Nigerian history to date. To that extent, his handlers must quickly readjust their rhetoric and spin in order to reasonably account for his personal responsibility for the bulk of Nigeria’s past and present problems.
From the end of the war in 1970, the collective leadership of the Nigerian military that concluded the civil war of 1967-70 became, perhaps unconsciously, the joint authors of a new national order. The new order replaced the pre- war order governed by the independence constitution of 1960. In place of a four region federal structure, a new 12 state unitary structure was inaugurated. The critical elements of the new order were the pursuit of national unity at all costs, the reduction of the power of ethnicity in preference for a nationalist ethos, the reorganization of the national security apparatus along a unified command structure to align with the imperatives of the new national order.
Other collateral aspects of nation building were predicated on these pillars. A national army that was organized away from the regional basis of the immediate pre-war arrangement. This was complemented by the creation of a unified national police command structure. Soldiers and policemen would henceforth be posted to serve anywhere in the federation irrespective of states or regions of origin. This security arrangement was accompanied by the creation of institutions of national social integration such as the NYSC, Unity schools and the Nigerian Law School etc.
To address issues of uneven development of the country in terms of education and manpower involvement in the agencies of national government, an affirmative action programme was decreed into place. The Federal Character principle was designed to address the unequal representation of citizens in federal establishments and opportunity centers.
The consolidation of the new national order also required the tailoring of infrastructure to promote the growth of a common market with railroads, highway network, power grids and energy distribution systems and the development of a stock exchange, banking and financial system. The latter were designed to encourage seamless mobility of capital, labour and other factors of economic production across all sections of the country.
The key political re-engineering tool in the hands of the military was the creation of states and local governments. Creation of states was initially a principle of geo political power decentralization to weaken ambitious regions, strengthen the centre and thus prevent another Biafra type secession and civil war. The use of balkanization as a check against powerful parts in favour of an all powerful centre was however driven to the limits by the subsequent indiscriminate creation of states.
Successive military dispensations simply bastardized the creation of states.
In the hands of successive military despots, the creation of new states became an instrument of power legitimization and tenure elongation. Of course, the pretense to attention to the wishes and aspirations of the people was always a handy tool of public manipulation. Little or no attention was paid to the economic viability of the new states nor the real political cost of sustaining them. Successive constitutions were tailored to make the states look alike and function alike. The replication of institutions of governance in all states as centres of governance and political authority meant that we were mistaking institution building ,which is literally furniture placement, for nation building. The cost of governance escalated while standards of performance and service delivery went critically south.
The subordination of myriad weak states to an almighty federal behemoth inherently defied the basic law of true federalism. True federal states come into being at the prompting of federating units, not on the fiat of an all powerful imperial power. In a true federalism, components in need of unity, collective security and economic integration come together to define the rules of unification while delineating the powers of the national government. The United States is a classic example. The states of the union created and appropriately empowered the federal government. The reverse is the case in the Nigerian instance where an all mighty federal government created the states by fiat and continues to spoon feed them while limiting their powers substantially. In a true federation, the federating units however retain their authenticity, identity and diminished sovereignty while ceding to the national government taxes, residual powers and functions, some merely emblematic, to make them part of a nation in the international system.
While the military dominion over Nigeria lasted, the new national order remained a political and security order. It was not a constitutional order since the military administrations could only survive and thrive by keeping constitutional rule and rule of law in perpetual abeyance. Only on the eve of transitions to civil rule in 1979 and 1999 did the military move to institute constitutional arrangements to guide their successor administrations. And in each case, the military engineered those constitutions to reflect their interests, predilections and wishes.
The most essential ingredient of the new national order was of course its dependence on the coercive pre-eminence of the federal authority. This was the only tool with which the federal authority could act as the ultimate guarantor of the new order. The superiority of arms and might that ensured the reunification of the country after the war was retained as a basis for national unity and order. No one asked the components of the new unity their true self -determination aspirations or indeed the extent of their tolerance of the new federal might. There was a minefield that only needed time to go live.
The reliance on federal force of arms as the ultimate guarantee of the survival of the new order required a coherent national defense force held together by a uniform ideal of the nation, its founding principles and desired goals, direction and strategic positioning in the emergent international system. Regrettably, these serious considerations and elements were conspicuously missing among the leading officer corps of the Nigerian military. As it turned out, each general interpreted the challenge of nation building in their own image. Personal ambition and a desire to occupy a place of prominence in national history quickly overran whatever collective sense of mission that may have driven the post war push for a new order.
In a slew of frequent coups and counter coups, the military presented itself as inherently undisciplined, disorganized and therefore ill equipped to carry out a programme of serious nation building. Above all, the military force that won the civil war was not necessarily the requisite force to guarantee a pax Nigeriana. The new national order needed a defense and security arrangement that was strategically elastic to deal with unsettled internal security issues of incipient nationalism while acting as a force of stability in West Africa. That force needed to be tailored to the changing nature of national security and the shifting profiles and temperaments of the nationalities that make up the federation.
Order and peace could therefore only be maintained for as long as the guaranteeing federal authority had a military might that could effortlessly overwhelm the forces of future non- state actors determined to challenge the pre eminence of the federal authority. In a changed international order, the self determination of nationalities, the recognition of the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples and their entitlements to the resources on their lands spelt danger for an over centralized federal state with diminishing resources, weakening institutions and increasing inequality.
Incidentally, the current international order is heavily weighted in favour of self determination and human rights over and above the dominance of overbearing nation states. Where the authority of nation states has threatened the survival and rights of individuals and minorities, the international system has weighed in, even militarily, on the side of victimized groups. Libya and Syria are nearby recent examples. Challenges like the Niger Delta militancy, IPOB separatists, Boko Haram, viral banditry and the numerous flashpoints of ethnic and identity restlessness have more or less caught the Nigerian federal power unawares and unprepared at a bad time in world history.
The survival of huge multi national federations beset by challenges of diversity and internal security management challenges can only be guaranteed by adherence to rigorous democracy and the rule of law. As matters stand in Nigeria, multi party democracy may be complicating the task of national security and stability. Politicians are feasting on the divisions, insecurity and diversity of the nation to advance their political interests. Mr. Buhari now has to prevail in so many fronts. He has to succeed as a manager of violence for which he is trained as a soldier. He has to overwhelm his political adversaries according to the laws of political competition while respecting the rights of all citizens including villains. He has to meet the myriad expectations of a populace that is producing desperately poor people at an unprecedented rate. Above all, the security challenges of the time demand that he manages to be simultaneously a war president (Boko Haram, Bandits, separatists!) and a peace time democrat.
Therefore, the key problems that currently beset President Buhari’s administration have to do with his location within the matrix of the critical elements that defined the national order instituted by he and his fellow war generals. National unity, national security, and integration are the key elements of that order. Incidentally, he came to power as a civilian president at a time when that national order was expiring and unraveling. Let us be reminded that it usually takes an average of 45-50 years for most national and international systems of order to unravel. Check: the system of global order after the 1945 end of World War II began cracking by 1990. Germany’s division after 1945 was reversed by the 1990s. Japan after 1945 found new international roles and rules of engagement after 1990.
In Nigeria, nearly every aspect of the 1970 national order has been in tatters for close to a decade. National security guaranteed by federal might is in ruins. All manner of non state armed actors and gangs, militias, vigilantes, cultists, bush hunters etc. are daily challenging and overstretching the federal might. National unity is shredded as divisive politics has become the fashion at the apex of power. The nation that reunited and remained at peace and in unity for over 40 years is now shredded by ethnic, regional, religious and socio economic schisms. The Federal character principle is largely abandoned as regional hegemony has ascended to centre stage and usurped the deep state. Even the Federal Character Commission established to administer the post war affirmative action cannot be fully constituted by the federal government.
The solution of state creation and balkanization as a magic bullet for political stability has come full cycle. Nearly all our states are bankrupt, unviable and disastrously governed. The semi autonomy of states is being replaced by a loud clamour for restructuring of the federation in response to a new wave of divisive politics headquartered in Aso Rock Villa presided over by a cult of sectional power hegemony experts.
The network of national infrastructure that was designed to create a common market and unite our peoples has mostly fallen into miserable disrepair. From this avalanche of end time complications, Nigerians expect Mr. Buhari to rediscover the mission of 1970 and navigate the nation back to the stability of the 1970s-1980s. Incidentally, the path for Buhari to salvage and justify his current incumbency is also the road to rediscover the 1970 collective mission of the war generals and go beyond it. In addition, as an elected incumbent, he still has his own current mandate and that of his party to justify and deliver on.
Without compulsion, out of his own free political volition and with no coercion from external influences, Mr. Buhari in his current iteration publicly undertook to fix national security, pervasive corruption, the bad economy and a bit of hunger through agriculture. He has been struggling with all these challenges with mixed outcomes in the midst of odds. But he now has the next 24 months to deliver on all these areas. But by far the greatest overriding concern of most Nigerians is the credible fear that the nation that was saved from tragic disintegration in 1970 does not totally unravel under Buhari’s current watch. This is about the only remaining assurance that Nigerians expect from this president when he hands over power to whoever succeeds him come 12 noon on May 29th, 2023.