Many things can be learnt from the processes of return to civil rule in Africa and especially in Nigeria. But the most important lesson is that it is extremely difficult for the military to withdraw from politics once they are in it.
The experience of several African countries including Nigeria bears testimony to this. It is, however, clear from the literature that there is no clearly defined process through which the military can hand over power even if it wants to do so.
The military usually encounters a number of problems in its attempts to hand over power to civilians. One of the most significant problems is the desire of the military not to entrust power of the group from whom they had seized power.
In Liberia, Master Sergeant Doe, the military ruler of the 1980s did not hesitate to ban the former Party, the True Whiq Party from contesting the 1986 elections. In Ghana. the government of GeneralKutu Acheampong which came to power In 1971 quickly prohibited the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) which it came to replace.
In Nigeria, PresidentIbrahim Babangida made it known to that his government knew those who would not succeed it but did not know those who would succeed it. He did not waste time in banning the people his government called “old politicians”, a euphemism for those tested and experienced politicians of the First and Second Republics who could give the government a tough time.
The Sani Abacha Administration did not even bother to register any party, which was not acceptable to it. In actual fact, all those who belonged to the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and were sympathetic to the cause of Chief Abiola were branded enemies of the government.
There are several reasons why a military government may not want to hand over power to its political opponents. First, there is the fear of the unknown. Those who were once displaced from power might seek revenge if they were returned to power.
For example, Lt.General AA. Afrifa, one of the architects of the 1966 coup that overthrew Dr.Kwame Nkrumah warned the Head of State, General Acheampong in his letter of November 1977 not to hand over power to Nkrumah’s CPP as the party intended “to line up all coup makers and shoot them one by one“. But this precisely what Rawlings did in 1981.
Another reason is that the new government may reverse some of the policies of the outgoing military government. Unfortunately, the military has not always achieved these objectives. For example, the military in Argentina tried for 18 years to prevent the revival of Peronism but failed when in 1973, the Peronists retumed to power amidst popular applause and support.
In order to overcome these problems, the military has always adopted one of two approaches in its transition to civil rule programme. In the first approach, the military attempts to control its successor regime behind the scene with powers of veto to safeguard themselves and their prindpele.
That is, it may simply manipulate the transition process Including the elections to suit a particular candidate. For example, Dr.Ken Busia became the Prime Minister of Ghana in 1969 largely because of the active support his party received from the outgoing military government of General Joseph Ankrah. The military government even set up Presidential Commission to oversee the work of the new civilian government.
In Nigeria, the Ibrahim Babangida administration included “Transitional Provisions and Savings” in the 1989Constitution. These are provisions of the constitution that could not be changed by the new government.
It was also claimed that the Olusegun Obasanjo Military Government was more favourably disposed to AlhajiShehu Shagari of the NPN as president than any other candidate. Indeed, the Head of State himself stated a few days before the 1979 presidential election that the best candidate might not necessarily win the election.
This was interpreted to mean that the government would not support ChiefObafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria who was arguably the best candidate in terms of political experience management and political skills, achievement in office and commitment to the realisation of set goals.
The other method is more direct. The military can continue direct rule by trying to legitimize their government through a referendum as General Acheampong of Ghana tried to do with his Union Government idea.
In Egypt, GeneralAbdel Nasserwho was the president of the country simply formed his own party and contested the elections which he expectedly won. His successors Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak continued the practice. They were all former army Generals.