The Current Transition


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Nowa Omoigui, MD

Before we begin to examine and track current transitional efforts, let us take stock once again of some conceptual issues.

Civil-military relations reflect larger society.  Therefore, merely asking 'civilians' to replace 'soldiers'  in high political positions, dissolving special military governing bodies and limiting political involvement of the military elite, without addressing deep underlying structural distortions will not necessarily lead to the consolidation of democracy.  The 'rubber meets the road' when norms are accepted, common objectives of the civilian and military elite are served, the negative professional experience of the military in power acts as a source of self restraint, and politicians come to understand the self defeating costs of inviting military intervention by acts of omission or commission.

Challenges include decreasing the risk of coups, reducing the residual influence of a strong military that has withdrawn from direct rule, redefining new roles and missions, while at the same reducing military isolation.  The importance of economic development as an enabling factor for successful democratization needs to be recognized.  But whether such democratization then leads to a decreased risk of coups or an increase in violence is a different matter, particularly when social forces long suppressed by a strong dictator like General Sani Abacha are unleashed in tandem with the professional degradation of the National Police.  The emergence of ethnic militia and apparent increased frequency of ethnic clashes in Nigeria come to mind.

The importance of economic development as a marker for many other indices in society cannot be under-emphasized.  There is impressive data to show that coup attempts have not occurred in countries with per capita GNP of more than $3000 while coups may have been attempted but have not succeeded in countries with per capita GNP of $1000 - $3000.  On the other hand countries with per capita GNP of less than $1000 often have successful coups.  Nigeria 's per capita GNP from 1996-98 was $240 - $300.  From 1999-2000 it increased from $310 to $319 reflecting increases in the price of oil.  In 2001, however, it dropped to $294.

Ideally, civil control should be evident in the military budgeting process. Personnel holding key positions at the Ministry of Defence and legislative oversight committees should be civilians.  Matters pertaining to force structure and military privileges as well as handling of past human rights abuses should be overseen by civilians. In addition to the fact that the C-in-C is an elected official, these factors help establish primacy of civilian authority over the formulation and implementation of defence policy.  The Executive arm (in our Presidential system) should primarily be responsible for preparing budgets, setting force levels, formulating defence strategies and priorities, acquiring weapons, and developing military curricula and doctrine.   However, the legislative arm SHOULD have the capacity, authority and power to monitor and review ALL aspects of defence policy, while the Judicial arm sets the larger framework within which military jurisprudence operates.  Integral to this process should be the basic maintenance of trust and respect for professional military autonomy while convincing the military that neither national security nor institutional prestige would be compromised. The status, honor and income stream of the military should be sacrosanct.  If politicians as a group can maintain their prestige, honor and stature while local, state and federal governments of the federation promote development in an atmosphere of law, order and justice, using legitimate public institutions, without misusing the military, they have little to fear.

The management of the transition, however, is crucial, not only in content but also time and timing.  Early in the life of the current civilian government, exploiting the "honeymoon" period of all new regimes, the purge of potentially disloyal officers, for example, was very popular although certain special interests still managed to read meanings into it and stultify a more complete divestment of politically tainted officers from the services.   The next stage was to remove military officers and troops from roles such as board memberships, surveillance, policing, mediation, crime prevention while limiting opportunities for the intimidation of domestic life.  This was not really successful because the upsurge in armed robbery, ethnic and religious clashes, resource control and environmental agitation over taxed the Police.  This means that parallel efforts to enhance the Police as a crime prevention and fighting organization have lagged behind dangerously, exposing the military to repeated (and occasionally highly controversial) interventions for internal security.    Very recently, the creation of an intermediate National Guard force for riot control, counter-terrorism, search and rescue has been mooted.  The idea is not entirely new and has been kicked around for years by different regimes for different agendas.  Its value will depend on the transparency with which it is pursued and the uses to which such a force will be put.   Lastly the possibility of involving the military in certain image enhancing "civic" activities in which they support but do not supplant civil organizations should be honestly negotiated.   Beyond traditional external defence and international peace-keeping, however, it must be noted that internal security, counter-terrorism, anti-narcotics operations, social welfare and nation-building activities in addition to humanitarian relief, while doable and acceptable on an ad-hoc basis can threaten the core capabilities of the military if mishandled.

A number of observations are in order at this point.  First there is tension in balancing an approach based on a historical examination of civil-military relations over time with that based on an assessment of theoretical and policy matters.  I have sought to strike a balance between both.  Secondly, one has avoided getting into the polemic of definitional debates regarding 'civil control', 'civilian control' and 'democratic control'.  My basic assumption here, without getting bogged down, is that democratic control and behavior is the ideal, no matter who gets into office democratically.

Practically speaking, most "civilian" leaders in the West African sub region, for example, are former soldiers - although this was not always the case historically.   But whether democratically elected government which then oversees the military is the only legitimate structure of "civil supremacy" is an entirely different matter which is beyond the scope of this paper.  In the final analysis, legitimacy of relationships between actors is a function of the history, culture and traditions of the environment under reference.  Thirdly, 'civil-military' relations are only a part of a larger 'civil-security sector' context.  While there is merit in evaluating the big picture, I have restricted myself to the civil-military component except where passing reference is important.   Fourthly, one cannot discuss a phenomenon such as "civil-military" relations without recognizing the fact that it is multi-dimensionally dynamic.  Civil society or government per se changes in quality, quantity over time, as does the military institution and the relationship between them.  Thus, transition is organic to the civil-military discourse, be it transition associated with decolonization (1949-66), war to peace (1970-74), military to civilian government (1976-79, 1984-99), or initiation to consolidation of civil rule (1999 - ?) and the cumulative effects of transitions over time.    Managing the transitional process bears all the hallmarks and tensions of managing any kind of major organizational change.  Inherent to this process is how to gain formal and informal consensus between stake-holders that leads to defence and security sector reform in the larger context of reconciling contradictions in State Structure and ethnic relations in a democratic system.  Concurrently, issues of constitutionalism, professionalization,  role and mission definition, legitimacy, civil-military institutional and "rule of law" arrangements, societal perceptions of one for the other, all set against the pressures of emerging security challenges in an era of globalization need to be factored in.


After sixteen years of often abusive military rule led by Generals Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, and Abubakar, Nigeria ushered in another experiment in civil rule in May 1999. During this period the military witnessed several coups and conspiracies and was involved in many violent internal security operations.  It also became embroiled in a protracted peace-enforcement conflict, first in Liberia and then Sierra Leone.  During the same period the Babangida regime organized a never ending 'military-civil' transition which culminated in an election in June 1993 which he then nullified to pre-empt the apparent victory of Chief MKO Abiola.  Subsequently, an interim government was appointed and then shoved aside - with the connivance of the political elite - by General Abacha in a complex game of pre-programmed musical chairs.

As has been noted by others, the deceit, bad faith and evil perpetrated during intervening years, completely destroyed the confidence of civil society in government as an institution and seriously undermined the self esteem of the average Nigerian. Corruption became officially legitimized as an instrument of State.  The officer corps evolved into a cesspool for kleptocracy.  Both the military and civil society took part in the carnival. Any pretence to the rule of law was abandoned.  Human values were nearly totally destroyed as the culture of violence became institutionalised.  The destruction of the civil service which began during the purges of the Murtala Mohammed era was completed.  Critical State institutions like the Central Bank became irrelevant.  The Ministry of Defence was burned and crucial records destroyed.  The Judiciary was compromised.  Military professional, organizational, technological and operational development, regimentation and esprit de corps were severely undermined and the Army, as described by former Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Saliu Ibrahim, became an institution where "anything goes".   Another former Army Chief, Major General MC Alli aptly pointed out that camaraderie was replaced with suspicion, fear, rivalry, intrigue and vampirism.

After 35 years of military rule, in which the character of coup regimes evolved from reactive and transient to deliberate and radical and then pervasive and outright political, there were more officers outside than inside the service, courtesy of various coups, the civil war, purges, military trials and executions.  The decline of state structures and institutions, like the police, the armed forces and the judiciary, combined with the "reduction of the civil population to a state of civic surrender" was to provide the backdrop to civil-military relations during the current transition.  President Obasanjo himself made a similar observation during a church sermon in Abeokuta back in June 1998.  But he did take the view then that there were  'still good apples within the military' which seems to be the basis of his preference for reformation, rather than total demobilization and depoliticization as occurred in Japan and Germany after World War 2.

Major General Mohammed Alli (rtd) went further to express strong opinions about certain characteristics of Nigeria's political and civil-military discourse:  According to the former Army Chief, "The Nigerian federal system is a colossal deception of the highest order, a colonial, political construction inherited by the elite in 1960 ..............The fears are deeper than political, Northern political leaders are wary of non Moslem leaders. Their clerics and political opinion leaders often voice this openly, with impunity. It is really nothing new. The North has ruled the nation for thirty-five years of its independence. Even non-northern leaders from the South and Middle Belt, have carried on with a decisively more northern mentality even core northerners can often not match. Northern hold on power had been predicated on four strategic leverages, namely: geography, the Ahmadu Bello s 'north for the north or northernization, language which eases intra-regional communication, religion which provides political connection and rally, and finally, the military as a fall-back position should these demographic advantages be neutralized. The latter explains the sophisticated design of a military high command that is exclusive and responsive to northern interests. The North's dilemma began with, and was crystallized by General Ibrahim Babangida s reign. His annulment of the June 12 election, his succour within the northern hierarchy, and his presumed involvement with the Islamization of Nigeria put paid to the confidence the North had garnered over the years, for itself in the control of power." 

Expressing a view remarkably similar to what was expressed at the Oputa panel by Brigadier Ibrahim Sabo, who, like Alli, was also a one time Director of Military Intelligence, the General further wrote:  "The struggle among the contending interests for the control of the central government is the major source and cause of Nigeria's cut-throat politics and recurring instability. There is also a very strong linkage between the military barracks, oil resources and coups d' etat as soldiers ravage the nation to assuage personal and group appetite for power and wealth".

Ibrahim Sabo was more blunt.  As This Day newspapers (July 20, 2001) put it, "former head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), Brigadier-General Ibrahim Sabo (rtd.) alleged that the primary aim of seizing power by military men was to steal money." 

Given this background to May 1999, provided by officers who were well placed within the system and have not been rebutted, one can venture an opinion that the main threats to development and consolidation of appropriate civil-military relations include the overwhelming role of government in social mobility and wealth creation, regional and ethnic tensions, economic instability, restiveness in the military and corruption. There is a school of thought (which includes scholars like Professor Omo Omoruyi) that holds that - given the scale of professional decay and ethnic distortion - a truly apolitical military (whatever that means) may not be a practical short term goal of reformation, short of disbandment.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) was promulgated as the framework for political activity during the current transition.  It states:

"1. -(1) This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

(2) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

(3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void."

Like the 1979 constitution, it also provides for the existence of the Armed Forces of the Federation, and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.  Roles and missions as currently defined include defence from external aggression; maintenance of territorial integrity and border security,  the suppression of insurrection,  actions in aid of civil authorities to restore order, and other functions that may be prescribed by the National Assembly.  As has been so from the earliest days of the Republic, the composition of the officer corps and other ranks is expected to reflect the federal character of Nigeria.  The President determines the operational use of the armed forces of the Federation subject to laws passed by the legislature. He appoints the Service Chiefs and may delegate his powers relating to the operational use of the Armed Forces of the Federation to any member of the Armed Forces. The Legislature also has the power to make laws governing appointments, promotions and disciplinary control of members of the Armed Forces, compulsory military training or military service for citizens and military training in educational institutions that desire it.

During the military interregnum, the original Royal Nigerian Army Act of 1960 was reviewed and amended, then promulgated as the Armed Forces Decree 105 of 1993.  One of many improvements over the old Act was a new provision under S. 152 (a) which  prevents a convening officer from acting both as the convening officer and confirming authority.  It has since been rechristened the Armed Forces Act.

When civilian rule was in sight, the U.S. lifted visa sanctions on October 26, 1998 and went on to provide electoral assistance for elections.  From October 1998 to September 1999 financial assistance for "democratic institution-building, health care and the strengthening of civil society" totaled $27.5 million.   The US also lifted restrictions on military sales and training and made efforts to help prevent ethnic conflict and promote conflict resolution.   The Office of Transition Initiatives launched a program in April 1999 to help civilians assert control over the military and train newly elected leaders in good governance.  It conducted training for all newly elected officials throughout Nigeria.  At his inauguration in May 1999, President Obasanjo, himself a retired General and former military rule, who survived the machinations of General Abacha, announced the appointment of new service chiefs and purged an initial set of 91 military officers who had held "political positions" at any time in the previous 15 years.   He appointed former Army Chief Lt. General TY Danjuma (rtd) as the Minister for Defence while the civilian daughter of the leader of a major opposition party was made his Minister of state.  Another former Army Chief, (and ex-Director of Military Intelligence)  Lt. Gen Aliyu Gusau became the National Security Adviser, while yet another former Director of Military Intelligence, Major General Abdulai Mohammed was appointed Chief of Staff at the Presidency.  Nigeria's involvement in Sierra Leone, a legacy of the military, was reviewed and a more multilateral approach negotiated with the UN, considerably relieving Nigeria of the huge costs of near unilateral intervention.  In addition to death and disability, the participation of Nigerian units in West African peace keeping operations contributed to a dramatic rise in HIV sero-positivity rates adversely reducing the operational effectiveness of fighting units and at the same posing long term dangers to social and economic stability and consolidation of civil-military relations.  In July an Interagency Assessment Team along with the Inter-agency Working Group on Nigeria, USAID and Department of Defense civil-military delegations were in Nigeria to discuss regional peacekeeping efforts and plans for right-sizing and re-professionalizing the military.

As part of the post-military rule democratization process, US military instructors were sent to Nigeria in 2000 to train battalions in three locations for peace-keeping in West Africa under an agreement between the State Department, the Pentagon, the Nigerian Government and Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI).   Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI) is a private organization of retired US military brass, which operates under contract with the State Department to assist in democracy building and military retraining efforts, skirting the bureaucratic hurdles of formal treaty making and potentially denying the US Congress and public its traditional ability to exercise oversight.   It has since conducted an audit, as well as phased management seminars and operational training programs for peacekeeping and peace enforcement called Operation Focus Relief (OFR).   After the first 18 months a review was conducted by the MOD.  In addition to the United States, the United Kingdom and Nigeria have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on military cooperation. It encompasses training and equipment.  British servicemen have been seconded to the MOD.    OTI on the other hand, continued to help build capacity among local civil groups working on issues of reform, including anticorruption and transparency in public contracting.  They helped draft a "Code of Ethics for Parliamentarians".  OTI finally completed its assignment in 2001 after assisting with a reform plan for the underpaid, ill-equipped and poorly trained Nigerian Police Force.

Officials of the Ministry of Defence were not involved in the initial negotiations between Nigeria and the U.S. for the "executive" military agreement and service chiefs reportedly had no input into the syllabus or doctrinal context of the otherwise well intentioned training program.

President Clinton's Millenium Action Plan seemed to have been concluded with the President alone.  Then Chief of Army Staff , Lt. Gen Samuel Victor Malu was reportedly upset by Army Base visits by 'Americans' without clearance from his office as well as alleged inquiries from American consultants about Nigeria's 'defence contingency plan'.   He went public, reminding the Press that a friend today could be an enemy tomorrow.  This highly unusual public outcry from the Army Chief unleashed a firestorm of angst against the program by commentators, some citing violation of sovereignty while others invoked ethnic power control conspiracy theories.  A few armchair strategists said that Nigeria had nothing to learn from the U.S. in the area of peace keeping, while the Chief of Defence Staff, Vice Admiral Ogohi, told a visiting delegation from the US Air War College that what Nigeria needed was logistic support, not training.   Alleged exchange of gunfire between a group of foreign instructors and the Nigerian Police during one unfortunate incident reportedly did not help matters.  A series of public explanations and clarifications from US Embassy and MPRI officials followed, but the Nigerian government itself said little, except stress that the cooperation between the Nigerian and American militaries was not a defence pact.  This did not, however, assuage critics.  Some people in Birnin-Kebbi, for example, took to the streets when American soldiers came to conduct training.   The tensions between the vocal Chief of Army Staff and the President on the one hand, and the Americans on the other, subsequently accelerated the wholesale replacement of Lt. Gen. Samuel Victor Leo Malu (Chief of Army Staff), Vice Admiral Victor Ombu (Chief of Naval Staff) and Air Marshal Isaac Alfa (Chief of the Air Staff) on April 24, 2001.  They were replaced by then Maj.-Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, Rear Admiral Samuel Afolayan, and Air Vice Marshal Jonah Wuyep, respectively who were then promoted six months later.

Before then, in a move reminiscent of the first republic MOD, the President had decided to appoint additional Ministers of State to provide oversight for the Army, Navy and Air Force respectively.  This new 4-minister configuration, recommended by the MPRI, replicates institutional arrangements in the United States where there are Secretaries over each service, in addition to the Defence Secretary.  However it came in handy as a mechanism for defusing certain ethnic complaints in the Press from spokespersons for Igbo and Hausa-Fulani interests, concerned that service chiefs were predominantly Christian ethnic minorities from the Middle Belt, just like the Defence Minister, and that they were "marginalized".  Thus the President allocated each of the junior ministerial positions to a Hausa, Mallam Lawal Batagarawa (Army); Igbo, Mr. Dan Chuke (Air Force) and Yoruba, Mrs Modupe Adelaja (Navy); civilians respectively.  Like shifting cultivation, however, following a brief lull, complaints have again surfaced in the Press about the ethnic and zonal distribution of Army GOCs, Naval Flag Officers Commanding, and Air Force Air Officers Commanding.

Concurrently, efforts to enhance civilian authority in the Ministry of Defence were beefed up.  But the new arrangements generated some civil-military tension as some senior commanders felt some of their financial freedoms and administrative prerogatives had shrunk.  For example, just recently, in the wake of finger pointing after the Ikeja Cantonment Ammo dump disaster, military officers claimed that the fact that civilians were occupying top positions at the MOD was the reason why monies allocated for maintenance work were not promptly released.   But the military has not historically been transparent in handling of funds, a situation that made a few individuals rich, and enabled the development of client networks and cliques.  However, although published statutory allocations to the defence sector do not make much sense to the public and have given the military a very wrong image, the reality on the ground for most servicemen is a horror story.    But given the history of neglect of military facilities in general, even under military rule, long before the new dispensation, it is not entirely clear whether the call to replace civilians is not just a cynical power play over the control and award of contracts.

There have been a number of other developments since the return of civil rule.  Defence diplomatic dialogue has been undertaken with a large number of countries, including South Africa, Iran, Australia, France and Germany among others.  A Defence agreement was initialed with South Africa, while it was announced that Nigerian soldiers were headed for Burundi for peace-keeping. Faced with serious public security problems, a national security retreat, first of its kind was held in Jos under the auspices of the National Security Adviser.  The Senate Committee for National Security and Intelligence has also organized a similar program.  Retreats have also been held for military officers all over the country, the stated purpose of which is to allow "reflection" on the past, the present and the future.

Intensive seminars have also been held on a variety of subjects including democracy support.  Civilians at the MOD have also held their own retreats.

A Conflict center was established in Abuja.  The Navy has been very active in anti-smuggling operations and has helped with security issues and rescue in the offshore area and creeks.  The Chief of Army Staff - who is himself from the "core Niger-Delta" - heads a commission which has been charged with holding dialogue with stake-holders in the Niger-Delta.

But there have been controversies about military retiree pension funds, as well as retirement rights and gratuities for former Biafran soldiers and policemen.  Some of these controversies spilled over onto the streets necessitating mobilization of the Police.  The Chief of Naval Staff was even locked out of the MOD on one occasion by angry pensioners.   An alleged contract for the upgrading and overhauling of 23 Nigerian Airforce MIG 21 fighter jets valued at $138,200,000, was reportedly the context of a nasty disagreement between the MOD and the Presidency on one hand, and the Air Force on the other.   Two retired Generals, Admiral Aikhomu and Lt. General Useni were prevented from leaving the country for "security reasons" by the State Security Service (SSS) prompting a firestorm of protests from the legislature, suspicious of political motives.  The SSS cited the constitution to justify its actions and challenged the men to go to court after the fact.  What it did not do, however, was obtain a court order before restricting the movements of the two gentlemen. The practice of getting an apriori court order from a senior Judge needs to be mandated by legislation as a safeguard against arbitrary actions by security outfits, no matter how well intentioned.  Last December a serious crisis developed when the executive was accused of fiddling with the proposed new electoral Bill, in order to foreclose viable opposition in the forthcoming elections.  No sooner had that been resolved when the Attorney General of the federation was assassinated, shot at blank range with a shot gun in his own bedroom.

The perpetrators still have not been brought to book.

Shortly thereafter, a transit ammunition dump at Ikeja Cantonment exploded, resulting in over 1000 casualties, mostly children.  The Vice President of the country was stoned by angry soldiers when he paid a visit to the base.

The President boxed himself into a corner when he was quoted as telling grieving women at the cantonment to "shut up" - a slip for which he later apologized, claiming he thought they were "area boys".  The problem of secondary detonations from unstable munitions was, however, said to be beyond the capabilities of the Nigerian military reflecting serious professional decay after all the years of military rule and institutional neglect.  Thus British and American ordnance experts were flown in to help.

This time there was no public outcry against "foreign troops".   The author has found it interesting to watch some of the expatriate ordnance experts thoroughly savor the spotlight, calling one "press conference" after another each time there is a controlled detonation, sort of like children being summoned to witness "Knock-out" at christmas.

Interestingly, however, pending a Board of Inquiry, the results of which the President promised to make public, a bitter blame game ensued between the National Assembly and the Executive over who was responsible for the disaster. Military sources claim that members of the National Assembly were fully briefed about the poor condition of the dump.  Legislators cited the alleged tendency of the Executive to ignore the House in budget decisions and implementation.  The Minister said he had given orders for money to be released by the MOD for the appropriate preventive steps.  Civil servants were in turn blamed by the military for not following through. Whether the blast was accidental or deliberate remains an open question.

The country had barely settled down from the Ammo disaster when another ethnic crisis erupted in Lagos, requiring intervention by what was already an army on the verge of mutiny, with troubling reports of other ranks lobbying that disaster relief funds should not be handled by their own officers.  As if this was not enough, it was followed by the nation's first National Police strike which, once again, necessitated the mobilization of the military to perform VIP protection and other Police duties.  The situation was very delicate but the strike was eventually called off after promises of welfare benefits to non-striking men and discipline for strikers.  However, a more serious strike involving both junior Policemen and soldiers was then threatened, which was even associated with anonymous letters being sent to foreign diplomatic missions asking them to leave the country.  (This was later shown to be a hoax)  Following an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees of the ruling party, the Inspector General and the topmost layer of the Police High Command was belatedly replaced.

Plans were also reported by newspapers for a "massive military shake up".

But as of the time of writing of this paper no such "massive military shake-up", the purposes of which are unstated, has occurred.





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