Military Rule In Nigeria Politics (1966 – 1999)

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Military Rule In Nigeria Politics (1966 – 1975 – 1979 | 1983 – 1985 – 1993 | 1993 – 1999)

Military Rule In Nigeria Politics
Military Government In Nigeria

In the early hours of January 15, 1966, Nigeria witnessed the first military coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and other majors in the army. It was a bloody military intervention in the political history of Nigeria.

Some key political leaders e.g. the prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, S.L. Akintola, Premier of Western region, the minister of finance, Chief Okotie Eboh, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern region and many other top ranking officers in the armed forces were killed.

Later, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi, came into the scene to take the mantle of leadership of the country. His tenure was however, short lived.

A counter coup was staged on July 29, 1966 and Major General Aguiyi Ironsi was toppled and killed and Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon took over the political leadership of the country. General Yakubu Gowon spent nine years in office and was removed by Brigadier Murtala Mohammed in a bloodless coup dubbed as Palace coup.

Also, after spending 200 days in office, Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in an abortive coup led by Lt. Colonel Dimka on Febrary 13, 1976. General Olusegun Obasanjo, the next in command to Murtala Mohammed, became the new Head of State. It was at this time that the military kept to its promise of handing over power to a democratically elected civilian government (1979-83 Second Republic).

However, the civilian government was going for the second term in office (1979-83), when Major-General Mohammed Buhari through a military coup sacked the democratically elected government and declared himself as the new Head of State.

Major-General Ibrahim Babangida later removed Muhammadu Buhari on August 27, 1985, through what was described as ‘Palace Coup’ and subsequently made himself the president of Nigeria, abandoning the title of the Head of state.

Another Military coup attempt was staged against Babangida Ibrahim by Major Gideon Orkar led military coup on April 22, 1990. It’s unsuccessful, however.

There was also the Vasta coup attempt in December, 1985. Ibrahim Babangida, retired from the army after stepping aside in 1993. He had ealier set up an interim government with Chief Ernest Sonekan as the Head of state. In few months, Lt. General Sanni Abacha sacked the interim government and assumed the new military Head of state of Nigeria.

Sani Abacha died on the 8th of June, 1998 and was succeeded by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.


Features of Military Rule In Nigeria

The armed forces have characteristics which distinguish them from other groups in all political systems: These characteristics are:

  • Hierachical and centralised: The structure of the military is hierarchical and centralised.
  • Discipline and obedience to higher commands: These are considered of fundamental importance.
  • Dictatorship: Any form of government in a military set up is dictatorial.
  • Opposition: The military do not tolerate opposition.
  • Suspension of the constitution: They do not operate with a constitution. Whenever they are drawn into the realm of politics, they suspend the constitution.
  • Separation from civilian society: This is done through separate barracks, distinctive uniforms etc.
  • Values: Values held by members of the armed forces, especially, the officers, may distinguish them from the restof society, in a way that is not true of other comparable groups such as the police force.
  • Absence of the rule of law: The supremacy of law is out of place in a military rule. Suspension of the constitution supports the claim
  • Decrees: Laws are made through issuing of decrees.
  • Instruments of violence: The military anywhere in the world monopolises the chief instruments of violence in the political system.
  • Fusion of legislative and executive arms: The highest body in a military rule issues decrees as well as policy making.
  • Involvement of civilians: Civilians are always made use of in the administration.

Reasons for the Military Interventions In Nigeria First Republic

The constitutional role of the military in Nigeria is purely to defend the country against any external attack. However, since 1966, the military have added the administration of the country to its defensive role.

From 1966 to date, Nigeria had experienced about ten successful and unsuccessful coups, that usher in the era of the military in Nigeria politics. The following are some of the reasons for military intervention in Nigerian politics.

  • Tribal loyalty: This is a problem facing Nigeria as a nation. Tribal loyalty takes precedence over loyalty to the central government.
  • Regional differences: Differences among the regions were so acute as to precipitate crises leading to direct assumption of power.
  • Regional/state based political parties: Political parties of the First Republic were all regional political parties. In fact, no one of them commanded a nation-wide support. For example, NPC was for the North, NCNC was for the East and Action Group (AG) was for the West. This polarisation of political parties can cause friction among them and of course does not make for unity.
  • Politicization of the army: The army or military of the First Republic maintained her status quo and thereafter became politicised. Appointments and promotions were based on tribal and political sentiments, not on seniority or merits.
  • Dispute over the census result: Another reason for military involvement in politics in Nigeria was because of the 1962 and 1963 census results. The first in 1962 was rejected as many people claimed the result was falsified and that the figures were inflated. Also, the 1963 census result was also rejected on the same ground. The essence of population census cannot be ignored and this explains why most of the results were inflated. For example, it is needed for revenue allocation, constituency delimitation, boundary adjustments, allocation of seats in parliament etc.
  • General election crisis of 1964: The election was held in 1964 but the result was seriously disputed. The election witnessed party alliances, major and minor political parties merging to contest for seats in the House of Representatives. The A.G., NCNC, NEPU and UMBC joined to form the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) while the NPC, NNDP, the Midwest Democratic Front, Niger Delta Congress in Eastern Nigeria, the Dynamic Party formed the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA). So, the election was now between UPGA and NNA. There was alleged massive rigging in the election. Nigeria was on the verge of anarchy and reign of terror and so the army had to come into forestall such.
  • The Action Group Crisis of 1962: The crisis came as a result of serious conflict within the party and differences of opinion and personality clash between Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the party leader and his deputy Chief S.L. Akintola. Later, two factions developed, one led by Awolowo and the other, Akintola. At the Jos Congress, members of A.G. decided that, Akintola should be expelled from the party and also be removed as the premier. Alhaji D.S. Adegbenro was appointed in his place as Premier. The situation was so serious that, the federal government had to intervene by declaring a state of emergency in the region. Dr. Majekodunmi was appointed as the administrator while the emergency period lasted for six months.
  • Western Nigeria election crisis of 1965: This was another election crisis that drew the attention of the military into the political process. It was the election into the Western Nigeria House of Assembly where two party rivals were contesting – NNDP led by Chief S.L. Akintola and UPGA led by Chief Adegbenro. There was rigging in the elections. UPGA accused NNDP of open rigging. Both leaders decided to form government in the Western Region. When Adegbenro was arrested, his supporters reacted violently and there was looting, arson, burning of houses and property, murder etc. Many people, it was claimed, lost their lives. There was chaos and uncertainty, events remained at a standstill, the federal government was at the crossroad and could not restore sanity and so the army had to come in.
  • Allegation of corruption, nepotism, sectionalism etc: This led to the military intervention in Nigeria. Many were involved in spending the nation’s wealth with reckless abandon. Many politicians were so rich that, they were making a public display of their wealth. Nepotism and sectionalism played major roles in appointments, promotion etc, especially, in the civil and public services.
  • Low level of economic development: This was one of the reasons for military intervention in Nigeria. Some individuals were so rich and have succeeded in developing their towns and villages at the expense of the development of the country.
  • Absence of Honest and reliable leadership: This had eluded the country even since independence. Many of the rulers were dishonest and not reliable. They have actually refused to move the country forward
  • Mismanagement of public funds: The extent at which money meant for development is diverted into other projects and even into private accounts are enough reasons formilitaly intervention. Politicians of the First and second Republics and even some military leaders have displayed this arrogance in the highest proportion.
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Military Administrations In Nigeria

The factors described in the preceding section accounted for the military intervention in Nigerian politics on 15th January, 1966. The coup effectively put an end to the First Republic. Some of these factors could equally apply to the other military coups.

It is important to state, however, that the military coups which on sted the various governments were part of the struggle by the dominant faction of the Nigerian ruling elite to consolidate its political and military dominance over the rest of the society.

This article describes the various military regimes and the extent to which they were able to promote national integration and achieve the goals they set for themselves.

1. Aguiyi Ironsi Military Administrations In Nigeria (1966)

The deep division in the political class and the military institution itself, encouraged a few young army officers to overthrow the civilian government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa at the dawn of 15th January, 1966.

The five military officers who initially planned and executed the coup were Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (Chief Instructor, Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna), Major Wole Ademoyega, Major Christian Anuforo, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Major Donatus Okafor.

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While the coup initially enjoyed some measure of success in Northern Nigeria, it was badly executed in Southern Nigeria. This gave Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army, the opportunity to mobilize loyal troops to quell the coup by Major Nzeogwu and his collaborators.

After successfully quelling the uprising in the south, General Ironsi took over in Lagos and, soon after, what was left of the civilian government quickly transferred full responsibility for the government of Nigeria to Ironsi.

By 18th January, 1966Nzeogwu and the other coup plotters had been rounded up and detained in Lagos.

2. Yakubu Gowon Military Administrations In Nigeria (1966 – 1975)

Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon, the Chief of Army Staff under Ironsi, became the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces after the bloody coup d’etat of 29th July, 1966 which led to the assassination of General Aguiyi Ironsi and Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, the military governor of Western Nigeria and several military officers mainly of Igbo extraction. Ironsi was killed while on a state visit to the Western Region.

3. Murtala Muhammed / Obasanjo Military Regime In Nigeria

The third successful military coup in Nigeria was staged on 29th July, 1975 and Brigadier (later GeneralMurtala Muhammed emerged as the new Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

The new helmsman was one of the architects of the July 1966 military coup, and a key member of the Yakubu Gowon government which he served variously as General Officer Commanding (GOC)First Division of the Nigerian Army during the war and later as Minister of Communications.

It was not clear why and when things fell apart between Yakubu Gowon and Murtala Muhammed, but it would appear that the following factors contributed to the collapse of the Gowon regime.

4. Muhammadu Buhari Military Rule In Nigeria (1983 – 1985)

The military once again seized power from a civilian government on 31st December, 1983. In a dawn announcement by Brigadier Sani Abacha (as he then was), Major General Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the new Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

The coup effectively put an end to the tottering Second Republic. As a result of the coup, President Shehu Shagari, Dr. Alex Ekwueme (Vice President), Ministers, State Governors, State Commissioners, lawmakers and party leaders were immediately rounded up and clamped into detention.

Some of the principal political personalities of the Second Republic were later tried and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment by special military tribunals.

Thus, one of the immediate causes of the coup d’etat was the high level of corruption among public officers. The decision to try the corrupt politicians was quite popular. The resultant imprisonment of many politicians for corrupt practices was nevertheless condemned by some people, not because state officials did not steal, but probably because due process was not followed in dealing with the corrupt officials.

5. Ibrahim Babangida Military Administrations In Nigeria (1985 – 1993)

In a palace coup that took place on 27th August, 1985Major General Ibrahim Babangida, the Chief of Army Staff under the Muhammadu Buhari regime, emerged as the new Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation.

On assumption of office, General Ibrahim Babangida quickly styled himself as President, a title which was usually reserved for an elected civilian Head of State. His immediate subordinate was called Chief of General Staff instead of Chief of StaffSupreme Headquarters as was the case under the previous military regimes. He was re-designated Vice President just before the collapse of the regime in August 1993.

The holder of the office was usually a top military officer. Rear Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe was the first occupant of the office and was replaced in 1986 by Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, a more easy-going officer.

The government introduced some other changes. The name of the highest law-making body was for instance, changed from the Supreme Military Council (SMC) to Armed Forced Ruling Council (AFRC). But this appeared to be a mere change in nomenclature.

6. Sani Abacha Military Government In Nigeria (1993 – 1998)

The Interim National Government was sacked by General Sani Abacha on 17th November, 1993 and, as expected, General Abacha Sanni quickly installed himself as the new Head of State.

The structure of the Abacha government was similar to the Babangida’s in many respects. The Supreme Military Council was redesignated as the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), perhaps to give the impression of the transient nature of the government. The Head of State was the head of the PRC. The other two bodies were the National Executive Council and the National Council of States.

The Chief of General Staff remained the second-in-command in the government. Lt. General Oladipo Diya, a former military governor of Ogun State under the Muhammadu Buhari government emerged as the Chief of General Staff. He was later arrested along with some other Generals for plotting a coup against Abacha.

7. Abdulsalami Abubakar Military Administrations In Nigeria (1998 – 1999)

Following the sudden death of General Sani Abacha on 8th June, 1998, General Abdusalami Abubakar, the Chief of Defence Staff was appointed as the new Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The regime was therefore a child of circumstance.

The immediate challenge of the regime was how to douse the tension mated by the sudden death of Chief Abiola in prison one month after Abacha’s demise. It also had to organise a new transition programme and Hand-over power to civilians as quickly as possible, if only to save the military from itself.

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The Abdusalam government quickly moved to address some of the political problems it inherited from the Abacha military junta among which was the truncated transition-to-civil-rule programme.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was overhauled and a new chairman was appointed for the commission. Three new political parties were registered, namely, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD).


Achievements of Military Rule In Nigeria

  • Infrastructural development: Such like construction of roads, air-ports, bridges, establishment of higher institutions, etc.
  • Breaking into units: The military prevented the countty from breaking into units e.g. the Nigeria Civil War.
  • The military initiated various programmes: This was aimed at improving the economy of the country e.g. Iron and Steel industries and Operation Feed the Nation (OFN).
  • States creation: The military succeeded in the creation of states and local government councils. For example, twelve states were created out of the former four regions on May 27, 1967, seven more states were created on February 3, 1976 were created by Murtala Mohammed’s Administrations.
  • Encouragement of regional cooperation: General Yakubu Gowon for example, was one of the founding fathers of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
  • Nigerian foreign policy: The military brought about a positive change in the Nigerian foreign policy e.g. leading the struggle against apartheid and colonialism, thereby making Nigeria a frontline state.
  • Local Government reforms: This they did in 1976 and 1990, making it a one tier local govemment structure.
  • New constitution : This was promulgated based on a presidential system of government in 1979. It was the constitution that ushered in the Second Republic in Nigeria.
  • Promotion of national integration: The NYSC, federal government schools, quota system etc were established to promote national integration. The National Youth Service Corps is one programme established in 1973, mainly to bring about national integration. The Youths after their university education were moved to different parts of the country in other to promote a better understanding of one another culturally, socially, politically etc.
  • Mass-oriented programmes: The military initiated mass-oriented programmes like DEFRI, NDE, OFN.
  • New capital territory: The military administration of Murtala/Obasanjo created a new capital territory for the country. Abuja took over from Lagos as the new federal capital territory.
  • Change in the pattern of driving: In April 2, 1972, Nigeria changed from driving on the left hand side to the right hand side. This was one of the achievements of the military rule in Nigeria.
  • Education: Education took a giant stride during the military rule in Nigeria. Many federal and state universities, polytechnics etc were set up. The federal military government also took over the funding of primary education in the country. Currently, the number of pupils admitted to primary and secondary schools, have increased tremendously.

Weakness and Problems of Military Regime In Nigeria

Among the reasons for the failures, weakness and problems of the military regime in Nigeria are:

  • Incompetence and lnexperience: The military regime was constituted by military personnel who lacked both administrative and political experience to govern.
  • Non-tolerance to criticism: The military regime do not tolerate criticism and therefore hostile to criticisms and critical of public Opinion.
  • Dictatorship: All military administrations are dictatorship. They rule by decrees and edicts that may not be challenged in any court of law.
  • Independence of the Judiciary: The independence of the judiciary was sometimes not guaranteed and many of their decrees contain ouster clauses that render the judiciary powerless.
  • The Nigerian civil war: The military rule was responsible for the civil war that claimed millions of lives. The war was between 1967 and 1970.
  • Corruption: There was wide-spread corruption among those in the corridors of power. Many of these military men acquire their ill-gotten wealth with impunity.
  • Mismanagement and wastage of public funds: The militaly mismanaged and wasted the public funds, through massive importation of cement, fuel, rice etc.
  • Violation of the rights of man: Military rule is mostly noted for violating of the fundamental human rights. People are detained without trial. The death of Ken Sam Wiwa and the other eight Ogoni citizens is a case in point. After the death sentence was handed down, they were not given the opportunity to appeal. The outcome was the suspension from the commonwealth and imposition of sanctions from countries and international organisations on Nigeria.
  • Increase in crime rate in the country: Some have accused the military men of aiding and abetting crime in the country.
  • It is undemocratic: Military administration is undemocratic. Leaders are not chosen through the elections.
  • No respect for the rule of law: Since the military rule is conducted without a constitution respect for the rule of law may not be possible.
  • Decrees: Laws are made through issuing of decrees most of these decrees are made by a few and imposed on the majority of Nigerians. Nobody dare question the relevance of these decrees.
  • Failure to conduct reliable and acceptable census: This has been one of the failures of the military administratien in Nigeria. The failure to conduct reliable and acceptable census in the country, has brought doubts in the minds of most Nigerians about the sincerity of the military on issues of national question.

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  1. By Short let Nigeria February 4, 2021

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