Nigeria: Between Civilians And Militocrats


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Nigeria: Between Civilians and “Militocrats”




Ogbonna Callystus Chukwu



July 12, 2005


Lest one is misunderstood from the start, there is no suggestion whatsoever, that our retired Generals should be discriminated against or prevented full participation in our democratic process. As long as our retired Generals have no criminal records, they should enjoy the same rights accorded other citizens of Nigeria under our constitution. In fact, even in the United States, whose presidential system of government we partly copied, retired Generals are not discriminated against.


In Nigeria, however, the behaviour of our retired Generals is rather too crude to fit into genuine democratic culture. Although the retired Generals occupy a minority status in most registered political parties in Nigeria, in practice they exercise more dominant influence than their civilian counterparts. The cavalier and bumptious style of the Obasanjo presidency has heightened popular fear and suspicion about the awesome militarization of our democracy. Despite the fact that democracy encourages consensus, President Obasanjo is practically running the country on his impulses, repeatedly treating public opinion with brazen disdain.


True-blooded democrats don’t normally disdain public opinion or defy the majority position on issues. Merely discarding the military uniform and adopting a civil life does not automatically make a General a democrat. A retired General in civil garb, haunted by command mentality, can hardly be a genuine democrat, especially in the African society like ours where we are not emotionally attached to democratic culture. Indeed, a mere civilianization by retired Generals does not make them democratic in practice, if the actions of President Obasanjo in his dealings with fellow PDP party members and other fellow Nigerians is something to go by.


Certainly, the culture of seeking unfair advantages over others by threats and intimidation is inconsistent with the basic democratic culture. The occasional tempestuous relationship between President Obasanjo and the National Assembly is a further confirmation that discarding the military uniform in itself does not significantly transform a General into a democrat. A General who discarded his uniform but without transforming his mindset is like a bull in the china shop of democracy. The inevitable consequences of this is chaos.


The fear in 1999 that the seeming domination of the PDP by retired Generals might ultimately hurt our democracy is now becoming well founded after all. As it is, in the PDP today, the culture of love and consensus has been defeated by a new autocratic order in which the President imposes his men on others by appointments rather than election.


Disturbingly, the consequences of the new order in the PDP are the increasing evidence of disregard for court orders. When a court declared the expulsion of Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra state as illegal, the new PDP National Chairman, Colonel Ahmadu Ali (rtd), rejected the court order. Indeed, the rule of law is one of the key ingredients of democratic order, and the open contempt the Chairman and the President have shown towards the courts is a stark reminder of the danger of militarizing our democracy.


Even as the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of releasing over 20 billion naira belonging to the Lagos state local government councils for eight months, President Obasanjo has stuck to his guns, refusing to obey the order. And he his getting away with it!


In Akwa Ibom state, we have also seen the dangers of militarizing our democracy when the Col. Ahmadu- led PDP executive had forced the House of Assembly to reverse the impeachment of the Deputy Governor Mr. Chris Ekpenyong. A situation in which a House of Assembly was intimidated from exercising its constitutional functions by a PDP executive, which believes it is above the constitution of Nigeria, is not a laughing matter because it doesn’t augur well for the future of democracy.


Those who had expressed misgivings about the apparent dominant influence of retired Generals in the PDP are now being vindicated. And just recently, the National Vice-Chairman of the PDP, retired Commodore Bode George, told a startled nation that President Obasanjo will determine the next President in 2007 and by implication not party delegates duly elected by the people to express their wishes at the party’s November convention. In fact, this presumptuous declaration has confirmed that the sovereignty of the electorate no longer counts in the calculation of those who now maintain a deadly grip over the levers of power within the PDP political structure.


With the seeming routing of those canvassing for genuine democratic culture within the PDP, there is legitimate fear that the crude manner the Generals are bent on imposing their will on the wider membership of the party, against the spirit of consensus, may lead to bitter struggle between the civilian democrats and the retired Generals. Consequently, a virus of intolerance, bitterness, rancour and everlasting animosity among party members may unnecessarily infect our democracy.


Indeed, there are real dangers ahead for our democracy. A situation in which party members can no longer elect their own leaders, as elected positions were systematically filled in by the President’s handpicked surrogates may create rancour within the PDP family. In particular, any attempt to sustain these undemocratic practices at the party’s November 2005 national convention, may itself determine whether the PDP will remain the formidable force it boasts to be today.


Perhaps, little do the proponents of coercion realize that intimidation and suppression of the democratic wishes of party members can only achieve temporary results. How far can the Generals go, imposing their will and crushing genuine voices of democratic culture? The biggest tragedy is to mistake the silence of the cheated majority for either fear or weakness or even submission.


The idea of equal rights among all PDP members is being defeated by the current strategy of systematic suppression and imposition. The undeclared intention of the Generals in the party to marginalize fellow civilian members, despite their energetic contributions to the birth and growth of the PDP, is becoming like a maggot in our democracy. In 1999, the Generals imposed their choice on the nation, even as Dr. Alex Ekwueme presented sound credentials of democratic experience, maturity, temperament, sobriety, humility and level-headedness that leadership demands.


In fact, the emerging scenario may lead to a situation in which civilian members of the PDP would find themselves accepting the fate of mere chorus boys of the Generals rather aspiring for equal positions with the retired soldiers. Nobody is particularly against the retired Generals joining any party or being part of the democratic process. But their reluctance to embrace basic democratic culture can pose a threat to the growth of democracy itself.


If we insist on having our way by force, then we must forget the charade of practicing democracy. Despite his wide international interaction with democratic leaders, our President is yet to come to terms with the basic dictates of democracy. In democracy, you have to achieve what you want by persuasion and consensus, and not by diktat.


Harry Truman, one of the most respected American political leaders, had once emphasized that consensus works more effectively than command. “And if the man who is President doesn’t understand that, if he thinks he is too big to do the necessary persuading, then he is in for big trouble, and so is the country.”


However, rather than fellow such sensible course in democratic relationship, our President and his henchmen such as Col. Ahmadu Ali (rtd) and Bode George are every day issuing one threat after another to have their way, sometimes talking as if they are at war with fellow Nigerians. The outright sacking of the entire elected members of the former national working committee (NWC) of the PDP without a fair hearing for their alleged involvement in certain wrong doings poses a further threat to the growth of democratic culture.


Because of these developments in the PDP, many civilian members of the party are already traumatized by the prospect of facing a fait accompli in 2007.  The systematic pattern of attempting to render the civilian members of the party irrelevant will eventually appear like a declaration of war against the civilian society which has spent years watering the roots of democracy. If the current crude strategy of suppressing the freedom of choice goes unchallenged, the civilian democrats may be inevitably pitted against the Generals who may have no qualms robbing democracy of its basic essence: freedom of choice.


Imposition of leaders is alien to democratic culture because it suggests utter disdain for the sovereignty and genuine wishes of the people. And those who are haunted by command mentality and think their will is superior to the wishes of majority are the mortal threat to our nascent democracy. When this persists, the original celebration that greeted our return to “democracy” in 1999 may turn into      disappointment, despair or even anger.


As Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the radical human rights lawyer, has consistently lamented, what we in Nigeria today is civil rule and not democracy. And surely, the seeming regimentation of the PDP by people who have arrogant disregard for dissent, accommodation, persuasion and consensus, constitutes the biggest threat to our democracy in 2007. The warning by Chief Bode George that Nigerians will have no say on who becomes President Obasanjo successor in 2007 except to swallow any choice the incumbent deems necessary to replace him is a cause for anxiety.


With this bleak future for our democracy, Nigeria will inevitably descend into dictatorship under the dubious guise of democracy. And certainly, unless the civil society remains united, the civilians who constitute the majority in the country may wake up one day and find themselves rendered irrelevant by the conspiracy of the Generals to re-shape democracy in their personal image.


The current deliberate and crude attempt to thrust a rapier through the jugular vein of democracy, intended to kill the freedom of choice, will morally disqualify Nigeria to speak as a voice for democracy in Africa. You cannot take democracy to the abattoir, in order to impose your will on the majority, and still have the effrontery to lecture the rest of Africa about the so-called beauty of democracy.




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