“Nigerian democratic experiment is on a learning curve. Democratic principles cannot be practiced continuously for a long time without having some form or system of checks and balances evolving”Finally it appears that the political leaders have absorbed one vital lesson. They have learnt to manage the military class or otherwise the military class have learnt to be more professional and to operate within a more constitutional role as it was intended to be from the beginning. Nigerian democratic experiment is on a learning curve. Democratic principles cannot be practiced continuously for a long time without having some form or system of checks and balances evolving. This seems to be the case once more. And this further gives credence to individual enterprise, free and lawful exercise of public trust. Which is the fundamental principle on which plural democracy is based on as opposed to other more restrictive forms of government. The recent reshuffle of top military brass gives credence to the fact that an enduring democracy with a subservient and professional military is beginning to emerge. It gives credence to the fact that the political leaders have learnt one vital lesson in what it means to being Commander-in-chief and in sustaining elected authority over the military autocratic establishment. And this is an absolute good thing to happen in the country.
The appointment of new service chiefs makes sound sense. The four service chiefs that were relieved by the presidency (subject to approval by the National Assembly) were appointed by ex-President Yar’adua. They were privy to the conflict during and after the hospitalization, sickness and eventual death of the former president. They would have amassed some level of authority and influence that may give them some sense of being above the Commander-in-Chief and which would threaten the country’s democratic institutions should there be a slight constitutional or election “crisis” as a result of the 2011 elections, before or after. This temptation would be more lacking in new service chiefs. Some have insinuated that the appointments serves to cement the Presidents power ahead of the elections. But you have to remember that the President remains the chief security officer even until he hands over or what may be. This is a role he cannot treat lightly.
Now lets look at some facts. Between 1960 – 1985 the Chiefs of Army Staff held the position for an average of one year. By 1985 Sani Abacha was appointed COAS and he became the longest serving army chief in Nigeria history, he stayed put for 5years, until 1990. Did he became more powerful than the C-in-C? Good question. But consider the scenario. In August 1990 he “voluntarily” left the position of COAS to become Minister of Defence and Chairman Joint Chief of Staff, he also failed to vacate the traditional residence of the COAS, the flagstaff house and Salihu Ibrahim became the COAS. Did failure of the C-in-C to relief Sani Abacha after the expiration of his term in August 1991 have led to the development of a powerful base for Sani Abacha? Another good question. When Salihu was eventually replaced by Aliyu Mohammed in 1993, Sani Abacha delayed the appointment until Salihu retired. At this time effectively Sani Abacha was ruling the country inspite of IBB being the C-in-C. IBB would not admit it, but Abacha was Frankenstein. In the light of these it cannot be ignored that President Goodluck Jonathan did the absolute necessity by appointing new service chiefs especially before the elections. By September next year we would expect new service chiefs once more. that is the way it should be to preserve the institutions from self destruct.
The occasional refreshing of the military is a good practice to make sure that the leaders do not get entrenched, partisan and thus become too powerful that they can easily over rule or overthrow civil and constitutional authority. President Jonathan has shown sensitivity and understanding in his timing of the reshuffles and appointments. If these appointments are done in the right spirit, which I see it is, namely of appointing service chiefs and GOCs that are professionals and that understand who appointed them, i.e., the C-in-C, that the C-in-C can be anyone or can change, that their duty is to preserve the integrity, sovereignty, and safety of the democratic processes without directly intervening (except when and in which manner as required by the proper constituted process) then we can be sure that Nigeria has learnt one vital lesson in democratic practice. It is my opinion that to sustain the democratic principles a more thorough reorganization of the military is needed. The Service Chiefs still weld a lot of influence that is unchecked. Perhaps certain elected officials should take some courses at the NDA as part of a handover process.
My only grouse is with the manner in which the President has executed these appointments. We do not want to be ruled by surrogates (otherwise called Press Secretaries, etc). The president should not be reshuffling the nations most volatile and powerful institutions by proxy. The service chiefs should not be made to take orders from the press secretaries. Some things should be announced by the President, his Vice, or a ranking member of National Assembly. Some of these actions of government, including the appointment or re-deployment some ranking people in government including the service chiefs merits a personal announcement by the President himself. At times like this is when he should stand up and inspire confidence and give direction to the public. Except he is not confident of what he is doing in the first place. Public relations dictates that you connect with the people you preside over in a vital and real way. Giving broadcasts and speaking directly to the public, not through social networks is a vital way to maintain that connection. There is something else we hear, or listen for when we see a leader speak. That would not get through in prepared and delivered press statements however well done or well intended. Let President Jonathan take questions from the press in a live session, or grant interviews. Let the public look at him and feel his understanding and grasp of the issues that concern the public.
In any case the country is on the up notwithstanding the economic gloom that seems to go around. Something good is coming to Nigeria as the military takes their place and the hegemonies are broken.