Thursday, 7th December 2023

Adekanye and the scholarship on civil-military relations in Nigeria

By Tunji Olaopa
27 July 2023   |   3:40 am
Woodrow Wilson, that eminent political scientist, and preeminent former president of the United States, once noted fundamentally that “the method of political science is the interpretation of life; its instrument is insight, a nice understanding of subtle, unformulated conditions.”


Woodrow Wilson, that eminent political scientist, and preeminent former president of the United States, once noted fundamentally that “the method of political science is the interpretation of life; its instrument is insight, a nice understanding of subtle, unformulated conditions.”

With this statement, Wilson stands in the same line as the one of the leading theorists of political science, Niccolò Machiavelli. For both of them, political science is the study of actualities and realities of the political state of the human world—the interpretation of life and its unformulated and subtle conditions by which humans live their lives.

Politics for Machiavelli relates to the brute necessity of power, and how that plays a role in the organisation of human lives and how the society can be made more progressive and flourishing. This is one of the most enduring significances of studying Machiavelli. However, it is one thing to understand Machiavelli and the context of the politics of sixteen century Florence in Italy.

It is another thing entirely to attempt deploying that fundamental insights about politics and power to the context of post-independence Nigeria and all her postcolonial political anomalies. This is where political science becomes the instrument for an insightful interpretation of life. This is where, I believe, the political science department at the University of Ibadan, gave me a deep understanding of both the substance, methods and methodologies of political issues and discourses.

Prof. Joel ‘Bayo Adekanye remains one of the enduring pillars of my political science education. And one of the major points of fascination for me is the deep immersion I had in his classes as it touched on the critical discursive relationship between power, governance, security and the military in Nigeria. This is the very crux of Adekanye’s civil-military research in postcolonial Nigeria. And the classes were lively and engaging because we were then living the military intervention in Nigerian politics in real time.

In 1983, the then General Muhammadu Buhari overthrew Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s civilian interregnum while in 1985, General Badamosi Babangida had overthrown General Buhari. And in Adekanye’s classes, we had the trajectory of the other military interventions as the data for our rigorous discourse and analysis, under the sound erudition of someone who had dedicated his entire scholarship to understanding how civil-military relationship could be understood as part of the Nigerian postcolonial predicament.

And once we realised that Nigeria’s long years of military authoritarianism had taken a transformative toll on the Nigerian state-society interface, then we automatically see why Prof. Adekanye becomes one of those scholars whose scholarship remains prescient. This is the context of the focus on the collections of his early essays on civil-military relations in comparative and methodological frameworks.

The Comparative Method and Civil-Military Relations, published in 2022 by the Ibadan University Press, is a significant publication. I will outline two reasons for this submission, pedagogical and substantive. In pedagogical terms, this volume brings together Adekanye’s major essays on the historical, theoretical, comparative and methodological dynamics of civil-military relations in Nigeria and beyond. As one of the founding scholars of this aspect of political science theorising in Nigeria, political science scholarship itself, and the students have a lot to gain as they peruse his original arguments on an issue that is foundational to the founding of modern Nigeria.

Most of these essays were published in the 1980s when Adekanye was still in the prime of his keen scholarship. The benefit we had, as his students, was to be engaged with these ideas and arguments right from the horse’s mouth. The advantage for contemporary students is to have these essays as the foundational reading for understanding civil-military relations in Nigeria.

The second reason for the significance of The Comparative Method and Civil-Military Relations is even more substantive. It speaks to the enduring ubiquity of what we can call “the military presence” in Nigeria’s life. I am talking about how the long presence of military authoritarianism in Nigerian politics eventually encroached into and defined the present debilitation of the Nigerian state. And the first and one of the most serious structural loci of that encroachment is the Nigerian constitution. When Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi passed the Unification Decree No. 34 that transformed the federal constitution into a unitary one, he had no idea how that singular policy decision would reverberate across Nigeria’s capacity to facilitate national integration.

And thus, within Nigeria’s democratic dispensation, the unitary constitution is constraining all federal aspirations that could launch Nigeria on the paths of greatness. Indeed, authoritarian military dynamics were the issues that impacted the emergence of the democratic governance in 1999. Prof. Adekanye analysed this in chapter three. Unfortunately, as chapter 5 indicates, the military in Nigeria, despite its usual rhetoric against corruption and primitive denigration of the civil order, lacks a full sense of the revolution that it could have facilitated even within orthodox radical tradition as Marxism.

In the same chapter three, he gave attention to salient issues in reforming civil-military relations that could properly instigate the developmental agenda in Nigeria’s democratic governance. Such recommendations include re-professionalisation of the military, the subordination of the military to civil authority, legislative oversight functions in defense and security matters, re-education of military officers for democratic dispensation, the empowerment of civil society and the de-militarisation of society, and so on. These are excellent suggestions that could go a long way in moderating the bellicosity of the military. Yet, context matters in any reform of the civil-military relations. However, we can ask how effective these reform recommendations would be given that the democratic dispensation is still operating within the anomalous constitutional order founded by the lopsided civil-military relations of the pre- democracy period.

The part three of The Comparative Method and Civil-Military Relations provides us with crucial methodological insights that any student of political science and comparative political analysis cannot afford to neglect, especially with regard to civil-military relations. I am particularly intrigued by Prof. Adekanye’s argument, in chapter ten, that the elements of comparison that are used in delineating the supposed “non-western” political processes—including those involving civil-military analysis—are not comparative enough. In one sense, he takes exception to the idea of “non-western societies” and its ideological connotations as found in theories of modernisation that split societies into the “traditional” and the “modern.”

And yet, does the rejection of the ethnocentric intent underlying the economic, political, cultural and even racial criteria for denoting “non-western” preclude the possibility of differentiating Nigeria from, say, the United States in terms of civil-military relations and analysis? I mean to say, is the idea of a “non-western” civil- military political dynamics wrong by that very term? Is it sufficient to dismiss the idea simply because the comparative elements are not uniquely non-western? For instance, does the fact of colonialism and the postcolonial play any role in differentiating the civil-military process in Nigeria? These obviously are questions that new generations of political science scholars might wish to take on.

Here, it bears reiterating that The Comparative Method and Civil-Military Relations serves a foundational purpose since it is a volume made up of essays mostly written in the 1980s. The
implication of this is that the brilliant arguments therein have to be brought up to speed (by a new corps of political scientists) with the current and contemporary state of the discourse on civil- military relations in Africa, and specifically in Nigeria. For instance, we need a new lens for understanding how critical the discourse is to the understanding of Nigeria’s democratic governance and federalism framework. How, for example, does a lopsided federal constitution enable the understanding of the role of the military in civil affairs? And how can such a postcolonial constitutional order effectively checkmate a military that has tasted power once, and itself constitute a power bloc in Nigeria’s development effort?

The Comparative Method and Civil-Military Relations also becomes genuinely significant for me at another level. I see this intellectual offering as Prof. Adekanye distilling the mentoring significance of his status as an emeritus professor of political science. Being a professor comes with a huge intellectual capital that is not measured in publications and status symbol alone. It signifies the willingness to stretch the intellectual capacities of those coming behind. Even more, it is a desire to see your ideas and intellectual contributions as the launchpad for bringing others up in the world of scholarship. That is my idea of who an emeritus professor is, and that is the standard that Professor Bayo Adekanye is living up to. I know this because I once was at the receiving end of his candid and humane counsel when he supervised my B.Sc. long essay. He advised that I need to have a sense of my own worth and then to seek to transcend it. This is part of the memorialisation I penned some years ago. It is still relevant:

Prof. Joel Bayo Adekanye, for me, constitutes a colossal part of the golden age of intellectual maturation of the political science department not only at the University of Ibadan, and of the discipline in Africa. That was the time when teaching had a humane and spirited component that takes it as a vocation in the order of priesthood: imparting knowledge that purifies the soul of the receiver. He typifies the best in that priesthood; a man committed to the discipline, committed to the state which the discipline attempts to make sense of, and committed to those who are trained to carry the baton of critical-empirical methodology which defines political science as a disciplinary enterprise suited to the task of interrogating the national dynamics of a nation in the throes of nation- building.

Olaopa is retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Professor of Public Administration.