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By Law Mefor

Notwithstanding the atrocities it has brought to the African nations where the military had ruled, there is still a tacit push in the West African sub-region for the return of military dictatorship. In the last couple of years, seven African countries have witnessed full military takeover, mostly in West Africa. A counter-coordinated movement is needed to upend those who are pushing for the return of military dictatorships to West Africa and to defend, uphold, and strengthen democracy in the sub-region.

The countries of West Africa cannot afford to go back to the abhorrent past that the various military regimes brought upon the sub-continent. English historian John Emerich Edward Dahlberg Acton noted that one essential aspect of human nature is that “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. No man is therefore good enough to be entrusted with the destiny of a nation and its citizens.

In West Africa, military control has had terrible and devastating effects. The military used propaganda and public sympathy to enslave the populace and jeopardise the potential for planned and equitable national development, causing the sub-region to deteriorate with stunted growth.

This pattern and the negative effects of military rule in West Africa were more clearly demonstrated by the example of Nigeria. If the Nigerian military had not interrupted democracy in 1966 and replaced it with its ways, one can only imagine where Nigeria would have ended up by the year 2000.

A look at the economy of the Eastern region will serve as an example. In 1964, Eastern Nigeria’s regional economy was recognised by the World Bank as the fastest-growing globally. Currently comprising the five states of the South East and four of the six states of the South-South, Eastern Nigeria was named according to this evaluation as growing at over 9% per annum. Based on the fact that Nigeria was the world’s leading producer and exporter of palm kernel and oil in 1964, when the assessment was conducted. Eastern Nigeria provided more than 90% of the palm kernel and oil produced in Nigeria. The largest cassava producer in the world was Nigeria. Nigeria’s Eastern region produced more than 60% of the country’s cassava then.

Eastern Nigerian garri, yam, and palm oil were being sold in South Africa, the United States, and Great Britain by 1964. After coal mining reached a commercial level of output, coal exports from Nigeria began to bring in money for Eastern Nigeria. The Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation (ENDC), which produced premium garri, rice, vegetable oil, fresh eggs, frozen fish, frozen chicken, frozen beef, frozen pork, and pork sausages for both domestic and export markets, was Eastern Nigeria’s second-largest employer of labour by 1964, behind the federal government.

Both the Northern and western regions grew exponentially also at the same time. Before certain European nations, the Western region established a television station under the clever and imaginative leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Under Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Northern region’s agricultural superiority was clear.

Democracy was curtailed by a careless military misadventure under the command of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Many African nations experienced military takeovers in the 1960s, including Nigeria, which saw two military coups in 1966 alone.

One reaction to the collapse of governmental stability and pervasive corruption was the military takeover. But when corruption in Nigeria is compared between military rule and democratic rule, it becomes clear that the military was the one that institutionalised corruption here. This is sufficiently demonstrated by the never-ending loot of Sani Abacha.

Corruption infiltrated most government institutions during the military period and remains pervasive throughout Nigeria because the military regime discarded due process and the rule of law. The military established a culture of impunity and large-scale theft of public funds, thus making entrenched corruption Nigeria’s greatest enemy.

Between 1966 and 1999, when Nigeria was ruled by the military, the nation’s economy was severely damaged and disrupted, and the best public service in Africa was completely decimated. The military revoked Nigeria’s federalism and implemented many unitary constitutions each time they reluctantly relinquished power. The States’ capacity to prosper economically was taken away by these unitary constitutions, unlike it was when there were regions in Nigeria during the First Republic.

Under military rule, Nigeria’s social and cultural life withered, and the country’s once-world-class educational system was devastated. After the military took over the country’s administration, corruption, theft, and injustice became widespread in Nigerian society.

Since human life is the most valuable resource in the world, any system that endangers or ignores it should be abolished since it is wrong and harmful. The advantages of democratic governance over military dictatorship are summed up in the fact that when the military takes over, civilians are dehumanised and depersonalised in the guise of maintaining law and order. Derogatorily calling citizens “Bloody civilians,” the military abhors civilian counterparts and will never treat them as equals. Why, therefore, do the same people who have been victims of military rule demand the return of such brutal military rulers who will never treat them like human beings? It is strange.

In actuality, the military poses as the country’s order keepers while purposefully violating fundamental liberties and rights. Armed military men mercilessly suppress and oppress civilians and deny them any freedom, including the right to live, and cause them to suffer immeasurably as a result.

All educated minds concur that military regimes are to blame for the disintegration and breakdown of public institutions such as educational systems, in addition to the institutionalisation of nepotism, impunity, corruption, and massive public money theft.

The consolidation of power in the hands of one individual has always been harmful throughout human history; the Nigerian example is scarcely exceptional in this regard. No human being is deserving of absolute power over a state, the rights of its citizens, or their lives.

The three branches of government in modern democracies are the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which is led by a separate individual or persons and functions as a check on the other. Without a doubt, the concentration of power under one military ruler has always resulted in horrific incidents, abuses of power beyond the letter of their laws, and violations of human rights through the use of force and state terror.

Although this is not true in practice, the military is perceived as a champion of unity. Military rulers have often made decisions that eroded the nation’s cohesion and unity, and many of these decisions have irreversible terrible consequences. The dominance of Nigeria by the North was an imposition of the various military regimes led by Northern military officers.

Contrary to the military government, democracy maintains that power belongs to the people, not to a single man or group. In a democracy, the people make constitutions, which lay the foundation for contemporary civilised coexistence and serve as the guiding principle for national life. Whereas the country is subject to the whims and avarice of a single man acting as God when a military dictator issues decrees that the entire nation and her population must abide by.

Again in contrast to democracy, which is based on separation of powers and the rule of law, military power is possessed by a single individual. Consequently, under military rule, national development is erratic and skewed towards the dictates of the military ruler. For instance, some of the States’ and Local Governments’ creations and choices of their capitals were predicated on the private demands of wives and friends, not on overriding national interest.

It is impossible to demand accountability in a military setting, unlike in a democracy. The military clique is unaccountable, and anyone who dares to question their behaviour often faces threats to life or exile.

The Nigerian constitution assigns the media the duty of holding the government accountable to the people. Press freedom, on the other hand, is viewed as dangerous when the military is in government, and every effort is made to stifle the media and constrict public space—often violently. Any real attempts by the media to point out the government’s inadequacies on significant subjects are suppressed. When a military dictatorship is in place, journalists who criticise it frequently risk physical violence, imprisonment, and kidnapping. A few even lost their lives and the survivors live in permanent fear and terror. Muhammadu Buhari’s draconian military rule jailed many journalists and promulgated decrees with retrogressive effect under which many were tried and executed for offenses they committed before such decrees were promulgated.

A country runs the risk of severing ties with several other countries and international institutions, such as the US, the UK, and the UN, if it decides to impose a military government. Many international donors who currently provide critical assistance to Nigeria and other West African nations may cease doing so. Under General Sani Abacha’s rule, Nigeria became a pariah state.

So, regardless of the rationale behind the military intervention, military rule is intrinsically bad since it establishes an oligarchic and prebendal dictatorship while subverting the nation’s constitution, people’s will, and fundamental human rights.

The military is inherently brutal, severe, capricious, and unaccountable. It’s outdated and interferes with the natural progression of things. It is therefore unthinkable to consider the atavistic return of military power to West Africa in this day and age. Regaining perspective should be encouraged for those who support the return of brutal military rulers and military dictatorships in West Africa.

Dr. Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

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