Living Under Military Democracy

In behaviour, policy, things said or unsaid and body language, the President has been shallow in his demonstration of democratic values.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

As outcomes are never good under an adulterated condition, so is life excruciatingly painful in the diluted form of democracy that Nigeria practices.

Food is scarce, jobs are hard to come by, the electoral system is managed by the courts and there is fear the worst is yet to come.

The root cause is that Nigerians have accepted a blend of military autocracy and democratic governance that delivers freedom with shackles, joy and pain.

The cliché on the university campus in the 1980s was that you could pass through the institution without it passing through you.

The meaning was that except you imbibed wide-ranging ideas and displayed certain attributes as you passed through the university system, you may graduate without exhibiting the characters expected, lacking the qualities that make the degree earned meaningful.

The acculturation of a student was so central to the academic system that how you think is as important as the academic degree in your hand.

Students were expected to be molded in a particular way through the system.

The same expectation applies to democracy.

The establishment of a strong democratic culture – expressed as the respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press, protection of human rights and respect for citizen choice – is often a determinant of progress, prosperity and civilisation

It is both a system of government as well as a set of ideas that produce a certain behaviour.

That a country has the physical semblance of democracy does not mean it is truly a democratic society.

The behaviour of a government and its people are a strong indicator of whether it practices true democracy or not.

Furthermore, the establishment of a strong democratic culture – expressed as the respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press, protection of human rights and respect for citizen choice – is often a determinant of progress, prosperity and civilisation.

You may argue otherwise, but Nigeria has been practicing a warped form of democracy since 1999.

I call it military democracy.

The unending ruptures and malfunctions of the polity are symptomatic of a system devoid of pillars and anchors necessary for social and political transformation.

Nigeria is a nation whose development has been repeatedly arrested by military rule. Until 1999, many Nigerians had not fully experienced anything but military dictatorship.

From 1966 to 1999, the military ran the country like an animal farm.

By the time the powerful generals were forced out after a run of missteps, Nigeria could only transition into an adulterated form of self-governance.

The constitution that was bequeathed by General Abdusalam Abubakar was designed by soldiers to ensure their continued relevance.

That document is now a subject of derision and contention.

Even if acceptable, many are concluding it is too flawed to work.

Nigerians have been too naïve.

It should not be a surprise that a constitution packaged by military leaders will not fit.

An apple tree will not give birth to oranges and a pig will not produce chickens.

The first product from the military’s constitution for Nigeria is a president who was a general and a former head of state, a military democrat, General Olusegun Obasanjo.

Obasanjo exhibited all the characters of a soldier as a civilian president.

He harassed legislators and state governors who dared disagree with him.

He sent soldiers to raid a Niger Delta community within months of his swearing in, in what is now documented as the Odi massacre.

Obasanjo even tried to override the defective constitution to enjoy a third term.

The civilians who succeeded Obasanjo, though not that bad as human beings, were just misguided weaklings who could not look their military masters in the face.

Umaru Yar’Adua was too indisposed and frail to even govern properly, but that’s who Obasanjo chose as his successor as if it was a constitutional monarchy.

The government is so skillful at chasing citizens who disagree while it remains incompetent at handling terrorists, bandits and kidnappers who have converted much of the northern states into ungoverned spaces

When Yar’Adua died in power instead of taking care of his health, the extremely lucky guy, Goodluck Jonathan, was too awestruck by his good fortune to know what to do to develop Nigeria.

He supervised a government by theft.

By 2015, it was time for another general to rule.

The perennial presidential candidate, who was already a formal head of state like Obasanjo, General Muhammadu Buhari, got a chance to be recycled as a civilian president.

In his first term as a leader, Buhari amply qualified to be described a dictator.

He jailed journalists and politicians at will and rolled out laws retrospectively to assail freedom.

But since he told Nigerians he was a changed man, a reformed soldier and a new democrat, the people believed.

He promised to deepen the democratic culture and show a new heart.

Surrounded by known politicians, who got him to wear suit and tie, his democratic camouflaging was complete and he won.

After six years in power, there can no longer be doubts that President Buhari was not fully converted.

If at all, he just became a military democrat.

His military mind continues to push against his democratic vows.

In behaviour, policy, things said or unsaid and body language, the President has been shallow in his demonstration of democratic values.

Under him, newspapers have been raided, journalists have been harassed, protesting civilians have been gunned down and freedom of speech has been muzzled.

I will cite just a few instances of a pattern of actions that show that Nigeria is anything but a democracy under this administration.

Nigeria has today become a gangster nation that rounds up its citizens abroad in order to try them at home in a clandestine manner.

While bringing the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, to justice may be a good thing for peace, shipping him to Nigeria in the dark is neither civil nor democratic.

Britain has asked Nigeria to explain how Kanu was arrested and delivered. It may have been okay to do dark things under military rule, but Nigeria cannot follow the same path under a democratic leader.

As I write, speculations are that the Yoruba nation advocate, Sunday “Igboho” Adeyemo, had been rounded up in the same manner in the neighbouring Republic of Benin, after his home was raided and associates killed without the issuance of an arrest warrant.

The government is so skillful at chasing citizens who disagree while it remains incompetent at handling terrorists, bandits and kidnappers who have converted much of the northern states into ungoverned spaces.

In both cases of Kanu and Igboho, this administration did not consider it necessary to hold a press conference where journalists can openly ask questions.

In a democracy, delivering information to the public as and when needed is a hallmark; under Nigeria’s democracy we continue to have leaders who do just anything they want in complete disregard for the will of the people.

In the face of deteriorating standard of living, insecurity of life and political instability, we must know that freedom and prosperity are always inseparable

We can also point to the shoot-at-sight order of President Buhari, at anyone carrying a rifle, as a way to curb growing insecurity.

Such a law of the jungle is an anomaly in a democratic setting. It is more disgusting to observe that, in flagrant disregard of the order, popular northern cleric, Ahmad Gumi, sat with criminals holding guns, negotiating in the presence of security agents.

When the President shut down the use of Twitter in the country, he did not do so through the means of the law, leading some state governors to simply ignore his order.

Since then, we have seen Canada and the United Kingdom demonstrate how democracy works when their leaders asked the legislature to address concerns about the use of the social media.

In all of his rascality, not even the former US President Donald Trump was crazy enough to block his citizens from using Twitter when the social medium banned him for flouting its rules.

The Nigerian press is currently up in arms with the Buhari administration in what it sees as an attempt to roll back press freedom through directives and orders that limit their ability to operate.

Among other media organizations, the Newspapers Proprietors Association described bills sponsored by the administration as “sinister, draconian and a poor mix or resurrection of the obnoxious Public Officers Protection Against False accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 and the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, both vestiges of the dark days of military rule.”

The APC government has continued to toy with other ideas to limit the ability of Nigerians to use the social media and talk as free people, all in an attempt to curtail fundamental freedoms necessary for democracy to thrive.

I did support President Buhari in 2015, but I was no longer fooled by 2019.

With just two years left for him to complete his term, Nigeria must keep watch against subtle authoritarianism in the guise of a democracy.

In the face of deteriorating standard of living, insecurity of life and political instability, we must know that freedom and prosperity are always inseparable.

A lot of repairs need to be done to establish the true democracy we crave – one that is of the people, by the people and for the people.

It will start with a dialogue, a new constitution and a political structure that is fair and balanced.

Written by Tunde Chris Odediran

Tunde Chris Odediran studied and practiced journalism in Nigeria. He is now a Technical Communications and Information Technology professional in the United States.