For the first time after the successful overthrow of then Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balwa, the Nigerian Military ventured into politics – a field entirely different from its core duty of protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State from external aggression.
Between 1966 and 1973, the country witnessed several coups and the assassination of perceived enemies across the country.
Then military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, handed over power to Shehu Shagari in 1973. This marked the end of the country’s first military regime and the beginning of the Second Republic.
The second military junta in Nigeria saw the takeover of government from Shagari by then General Muhammadu Buhari in 1983. The coups and counter-coups lasted till 1999 when Genaral Abdusamlai Abubakar handed over power to Obasanjo who became Nigeria’s Head of State after a presidential election. This ushered Nigeria into the democratic rule it currently enjoys.
Nineteen years down the line, takes a look at events and issues Nigerians would have encountered if the military never handed over power to a democratically elected government in 1999.
1. Human rights violations
Remember your fundamental human rights like right to live, free speech and so on? Forget that if we were under military rule.
But for democracy, Many Nigerians would have been jailed and thrown into prison for speaking against the government. Music legend, Fela Kuti; Activist Ken Saro Wiwa, and Shehu Sani are classic examples individuals who had their rights violated for speaking truth to power during Nigeria’s days of military rule.
In this age of social media where all you need to oppose the government is a multimedia-enabled phone and internet, I bet you, there would have been more prisons than schools and hospitals if Nigeria was under the dictates of the military.
2. No National Assembly
If the military had not handed over power to a civil government in 1999, Nigeria would not have the National Assembly – the law making arm of government. This arm also exists to check the excesses of both the executive and the judiciary.
Under the military, the Supreme Military Council reserved the both the executive and legislative duties. The Chairman of the Council was the head of the military government.
But for democracy, Nigerians would not have been entertained by the melodious tunes of Senator Dino Melaye, the dance skills of Senator Ademola Adeleke, there would be no need for the IGP, Ibrahim Idris to shun Senate’s invitation three times in a row and the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali, would not have appeared at the Senate in a white kaftan instead of his uniform.
We would not have heard about ‘budget padding’, Senate’s mace would not have been stolenamidst high security presence, Nigeria would have saved billions of Naira collected by lawmakers for doing “very little” job.
3. Suspension of the Constitution
Under the military, the Constitution of the Country was suspended to give room for Decrees. These Decrees are more like the Biblical ten commandments which if broken, exposes one to extreme punishment or death.
4. Unstable government
Imagine waking up to hear that a coup had taken place and a new government had taken over power with the plans of his predecessor trashed. This would have been a norm in the country.
If Nigeria was being ruled by the military, President Buhari would not have travelled on Medical vacation to London and still returned as the country’s leader after over three months away.
You know the rest.
Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua would have suffered the same fate while Goodluck Jonathan would have been overthrown due to alleged corruption under his government at the time.
The reason for most of the coups in the past was corruption. It is also interesting to note that the military has not been absorbed of these allegations even till date. The reason then was due to the lack of accountability.
Till date, the Swiss Government is still returning the Abacha loot. These were monies stolen by Late Head of State, General Sani Abacha and stashed in Swiss bank accounts.
You think the war against corruption would have been better fought under the military?
6. Freedom of Association for what?
Under the military, Nigerians were not allowed to associate freely, form groups and associations. There were no needs for political parties as elections were nonexistent. Anyone alleged to have formed political parties were charged with treason and either imprisoned or killed.
The All Progressives Congress, Peoples Democratic Party, KOWA party and others would have not existed.
7. Clampdown on the media
Media houses which publish or broadcast anti-government news and opinions would have been shut down, licenses withdrawn and newsprints seized if the military was in power. Editors and reporters would have been thrown in jail for doing their jobs.
Despite the democratic rule, PremiumTimes publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi and its judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu were arrested for publishing a report against the military and refusing to take down same from the news website.
‘Fisayo Soyombo, then editor of TheCable would have faced treasonable charges for his award-wining report entitled "Nigeria’s forgotten soldiers: Tales of a wounded fighter" which focused on military men fighting Boko Haram who had suffered life-threatening injuries but were abandoned by authorities afterward.
A blogger, Daniel Elomba, was also arrested for publishing a story against the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.
If the military was still in power, my editor, Jude Egbas and colleague, Samson Toromade, would have been arrested for writing some of the most damning -- yet factual -- editorials against the Buhari-led government.
Truth is, intimidation and arrests of journalists would have worse if we were under military rule.
8. Alienation from international organisations
Nigeria would not have been members of international organisations like the United Nations if the State was under military dictates.
What this means is that the recognition, aides and assistance the country currently received would have stripped off. This is because some of the cases of human right violations, disregard for the Rule of Law and international conventions binding on member countries.
9. Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandit attacks? Maybe not
Some experts have argued that the Boko Haram insurgency which the country currently grapples with would never have existed if Nigeria was under military control.
The insurgents, they believe, would have been arrested and killed at the formative stage of the group while individuals allegedly funding the terrorist organization would have been dealt with.
Many have also blamed the prolong crisis on the lack of political will of the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, to fight the terrorists. Jonathan was the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces at the time Nigeria witnessed some of its first terrorist attacks which resulted in the death of many Nigerians.
In a democracy, the President must approve of major operations. These and other factors have also been blamed for the terrorism crisis in the country.
If Boko Haram had not existed, Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls would not have been kidnapped, the northeast would have been peaceful as ever, billions of dollars would have been saved and there would have been no need for camps to shelter displaced persons.
Killings by suspected herdsmen and bandits would have been equally curtailed.
10. We would not have known Nnamdi Kanu
The Nigeria civil warwhich took place between July 1967 and 1970 arose as a result of the demand for the breakup of Nigeria to provide for the Sovereign State of Biafra. The Igbos at the time accused the government of marginalization. The result was nearly three years of war, killings and hunger especially down country.
Nnamdi Kanu, self-acclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), began the same agitation a few years ago.
Protests, threats and disruption of economic activities in the Eastern part of the country culminated during his stay in jail after his arrest in Lagos by the Department of State Services (DSS).
When released, Kanu flouted all his bail conditions, began instigating citizens against federal government. He soon became a “hero” and was worshipped with many calling him “Supreme master and leader”.
If the military was in power, Kanu would never have attained the “god” status as he would have had his excesses curtailed long before his final disappearance after an alleged attack on his father’s house by the Army.
Many have also argued about a possible breakout of war within the country if the military was in power while those accused of corruption would have been “guilty until proven innocent”.
Safe to say, at this point, that if the military had not handed over power to a democratically elected government, I would not have written this piece.
: This article is not to encourage the return of military rule in Nigeria.
Happy Democracy Day, Nigeria!