Are there Nigerian observers who hold the opinion that military dictatorship had served Nigeria well? Is there an objective basis to hold the belief that the net effect of military rule on Nigeria is positive and beneficial? Is there any legacy of military rule that holds the potential to serve Nigeria well? If the answer is generally no then why do we insist on holding to its most debilitating baggage?- the restructuring of Nigeria from four well-appointed regions into the liability of a politically and economically bankrupt thirty six states.
Nonetheless, beyond the impulse to criminalise the totality of the legacy of military dictatorship I am quite open to suggestions that run contrary to the prevalent negative perception of military rule in Nigeria. And I will lead the way in drawing attention to one such suggestion. Up till the mid-70s, there was a political school of thought, which postulated a potential utility of benevolent dictatorship to foster political stability and development in Africa and the third world.
The Africa-wide experience and sequence of the’ revolution of rising frustration’ following the ‘revolution of rising expectations’ quickly eroded the legitimacy of post-independence (civilian class) nationalist governments that inherited the mantle of political leadership from the colonial masters. This disenchantment and loss of public confidence typically rendered African societies prone to seeking recourse and salvation in military rule intervention. It was within this framework of military Messianism that the January 15th 1966 coup was initially situated before the intervention spun out of control and acquired a catastrophic momentum.
The execution of the coup suffered the fatal flaw of ethno regional lop-sidedness and thereby lent itself to the interpretation of a realpolitik ulterior motive; of inter-ethnic power struggle rather than the advertised motive of nationalist idealism. Thus the original posturing of Nigerian nationalism of the first coup transmogrified into a balance of terror contestation for political ascendancy. There is, albeit, a crucial distinction between the January 1966 coup and the counter coup that followed seven months later-the former intended itself as the harbinger of reformist nationalist government; whilst the latter reacted to stake a claim to political control and hegemony over Nigeria-beyond which it was not clear on the next step to take.
The subsequent escalation of this agenda to incorporate the governance of Nigeria was an afterthought-that was allegedly prompted by the counsel and guidance of the British government. The important clarification here is that following the tradition established by the counter coup of 1966, military governance of Nigeria became one in which aspiration for good and effective governance was ultimately secondary and subordinated to the overriding primary motive of the retention of political power and control.
In varying degrees, this is the syndrome that has come to define Nigerian governance since 1966. In the workings of the post-civil war ideology of the unity and stability of Nigeria (as an end unto itself), political hegemony and control is promoted and prioritised over the effective and good governance of Nigeria. For instance, the below par governance performance of the incumbent presidency of Mohammadu Buhari will find considerable explanation within this matrix. A uniquely deleterious manifestation of this syndrome is the elastic apathetic tolerance of the Nigerian public to poor governance.
It is within the purview of this tradition that explanations will be found for the poverty of Nigerian governance especially under military rule. It explains the perfunctory attitude and sometimes outright indisposition of Nigerian government towards good governance. Perhaps the most consequential legacy of this poverty was the exponential restructuring of Nigeria from the well-appointed four regions of the first republic to the subsisting thirty six states-that have morphed into agents of Nigeria’s underdevelopment.
At the level of theory, it is plausible to argue that the reduction and multiplication of Nigerian states into any number of units portend no negative consequences for development under military dictatorship as it does for federalism and constitutional democracy. And the formulation of Nigeria’s governance problem as reducible to leadership quality rather than structural dysfunction makes sense, only if Nigeria were to remain under the dispensation of military rule. Within the context of the unified top-down command culture of the military, good or bad governance will likely take a cue from the good or bad leadership quality at the top of the military hierarchy. A committed and visionary military dictator has the potential to reproduce himself in the quality of his appointees (as military governors) who are absolutely answerable to his direction and supervision. The powers exercised by such governors are a delegated authority of the military leader. Not so for constitutional democracy.
To illustrate, let us employ President Mohammadu Buhari and the present constitutional dispensation. First in contrast to what obtains under military dictatorship, all the thirty six state governors are not his employees and appointees and are to a considerable extent autonomous of him in the exercise of their constitutionally derived powers. So right from the onset he is in no position to determine the quality of those who would emerge as governors (assuming he is a good role model). Secondly, in the good conduct or misconduct of their political office they are not answerable to him. Third there is the recurrent expenditure cost implication of the legislative arm of government- that is absent under a military rule.
At the moment, only a putative restructuring of Nigeria into bigger political units (like the present six zone nomenclature) portends similar salutary effects. The resultant considerably larger political unit is bound to generate a stiffer and keener competition for political leadership culminating in a superior quality of state actors. By dint of the same logic, the political leaders are going to be subjected to a commensurately extensive public scrutiny and accountability. The thesis of the ‘economies of scale’ postulates that the larger the scope of production, the lower the unit cost of production. In the political arena this translates into cheaper governance cost resulting from the consolidation of the hitherto replicative cost of governance infrastructure and recurrent expenditure into just one unit. Taken together these allied emanations will inevitably work together to produce more efficient utilisation of resources, less corruption and greater governance accountability. Contrariwise, spread over thirty six states, the resources available are overstretched and the little that is available per state is gobbled up in a culture of crippling graft and corruption; recurrent expenditure of running a replicative paraphernalia of government; and outright waste.
Amongst others, Buhari was elected under the banner of anti-corruption crusader and the maturing lesson Nigeria has come to learn is that even if he were so disposed, his capacity to deliver on this score is to a large extent circumscribed by the dysfunctional abuse of the rule of law. In a manner of speaking and without extenuating the embarrassing incompetence of his present incumbency, this is the consequential difference between the quality of his first and second coming. Under military rule, appointed public officials including military governors are only corrupt to the extent to which corruption is tolerated by the leader of the military government. No such potential mitigation exists within civilian rule dispensation. The corollary here is the near impossibility of attaining sustained socio political development (with the present thirty six states structure) in any other political milieu than a dictatorship.
Short of accommodating ourselves to an untenable dictatorship regime, the beckoning golden recourse is the adoption of the logic behind the enactment of Nigeria’s independence constitution. The 1960 constitution remains, over and above other subsequent poor imitations and subversions, a valid claimant to the pronouncement of the preamble ‘we the people of Nigeria’. Since 1966 we have not had a combination of political leaders who embodied the will and aspiration of Nigerian peoples in the manner that the trio of Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Nnamidi Azikiwe does-all of who subscribed to the 1960 constitution. And in terms of the maximisation and optimisation of national resources, it is not in contention that any phase of Nigeria’s history rivals the 1960-66 era.
I have yet to come across any informed Nigerian observer who believes that the big size of Nigeria is a liability and not an asset. Why then do we not apply the same logic internally and consolidate the states into bigger more viable units? Now, regardless of the enduring utility of restructuring for all Nigerians, the truth is that it carries unpalatable short term implications for some of us. Cognisant of this, the realistic way to proceed is to clarify such implications and address them in a give and take manner that mitigates the envisioned adversity. For instance, rather than push for the immediate application of fiscal federalism, we can freeze the extant revenue allocation formula for the next ten years-time enough for each unit to find its feet. Restructuring must not be amenable to the interpretation of a loss for some and win for others. It has to be and must be seen to be a win-win situation for us all.
FROM THE ARCHIVES-SECRET 1958 MEMO OF ALLAN LENNOX BOYD
‘Tafawa Balewa is openly anti-Communist, he is under no illusions about the difficulties of the task facing both himself and the country, and his policy is likely to be as pro-Western as the narrow Muslim outlook of his principal Northern supporters will allow. In his Party hierarchy he is only deputy to the leader, the vain and pompous Sardauna of Sokoto, Premier of the Northern Region’.
‘In the West the grant of Regional self-government has on balance been justified. The Action Group Government, led by the Premier, Chief Awolowo, have proved reasonable and competent administrators and, although with the steady run-down of the cadre of overseas officers there is bound to be some decline in standards of administration, the advanced educational programme of the Region should in time provide sufficient replacement’.
‘I understand that at the Federal elections late next year the Northern People’s Congress and the N.C.N.C. (who are normally kept apart by mutual suspicion and by Northern dislike of Dr. Azikiwe), alarmed by the determination and organising ability of the Action Group, are likely to combine to keep the Action Group out of power. Such a combination would offer no great reassurance for competent or courageous Federal Government’.