The Guardian
Email YouTube Facebook Instagram Twitter WhatsApp

Gunboat democracy


PHOTO: Philip Ojisua

There is a sense in which some commentators are right when they argue that Nigeria is not a democracy. Their argument is based on the reality that the military has remained more than a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s political life. When the soldiers blew apart the pillars that held Nigeria’s democratic structure in January 1966, a pall fell on the nation and, the tragic detour which came with that experience is yet to yield the ideals of nationhood. Since then, with the exception of a few promising years, Nigeria has been ruled by hooded men who view statecraft as a cloak and dagger engagement.

The 1966 coup(s) birthed military rule for thirteen long years and when Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1979, the military adventurers didn’t give politics a wide berth. They hovered around and menaced the politicians. It was concluded then that Nigeria had two leading political parties; the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Nigerian Army (NA). And in just four years after 1979, the army serenaded Nigerians with an end of year’s gift of martial music on 31 December 1983. The soldiers were back in power. This time, they held sway for sixteen tortuous years. Buhari, Babangida, ‘Bacha, ‘Bdusalami, all took turns to bash Nigeria.

When eventually, the soldiers were compelled to return to the barracks in 1999, in part by the imperative of a changing world order occasioned by the dawn of a new millennium, and the insistence by Nigerians that the soldiers must vacate power in view of the latter’s error of judgment in the annulment of the 12 June 1993 presidential election, the army dubiously enthroned one of its shoguns as civilian president! Thus, when retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military head of state took the oath of office as Nigeria’s president on 29th May 1999, some saw that act in its symbolic essence as the continuation of military rule by some other means.


The circumstances that engendered Obasanjo’s emergence in 1999 were militarily arranged. The dramatis personae who smuggled him into Aso Rock; T. Y. Danjuma, Ibrahim Babangida and Abubakar Abdulsalami, were his comrades-in-arms. Obasanjo didn’t disappoint them as he instituted and effectively ran a gunboat democracy for eight years. He once directed a state governor to report to his “garrison commander” an old lumpenproletariat who held his state by the jugular. Obasanjo staged coups against his own party chairmen and the leadership of the National Assembly. He climaxed the militarization process by making an ol’ soldier, Colonel Ahmadu Ali, the chairman of the party.

When Obasanjo’s quest for third term failed, he worked for the ascension of the younger brother of his military deputy when he was head of state. Thus, one can still draw a military nexus in the circumstances that led to the emergence of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua as president. Obasanjo went on to also make Yar’ Adua’s successor in the person of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. We must concede that Yar Adua and Jonathan were civil. They were doves who remediated the nerves frazzled by military blitzkrieg. For a time, gunboat democracy took leave of Nigeria. Nigerians would have witnessed the demilitarization of the polity under both men, but for the Niger Delta crisis and the insurgency in the North East.

When General Muhammadu Buhari, another former military head of state, took over the reins of power on 29 May 2015, his emergence bore the imprimatur of military recrudescence in Nigerian politics as Obasanjo once again showed his hands. Buhari and his handlers have left no one in doubt regarding their entrenchment of gunboat democracy. The very recent police siege on the residences of the nation’s senate president, Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, is one instance of gunboat democracy taken too far. Nigeria has become a police state.

Buhari has carried on like a caliph in the face of intolerable misrule and the multiplicity of socio-economic ills, which have become the accoutrements of his government. The highhandedness of the present administration has also become its Achilles’ heel as it was in Buhari’s first coming as head of state between 1984 and 1985. In his first outing as a draconian dictator, Buhari ran a Gestapo government and lacerated the citizens’ psyche with the obnoxious Decree No. 4.

In the present dispensation, the many instances of human rights violations including the raiding of judges’ homes at midnight, forced trials of political opponents, disregard for the rule of law, intolerance of divergent views, the framing of what constitutes hate speech, the executive order, arrest and detention, wide spread insecurity, among other acts inimical to democratic experience have become the stuff gunboat democracy is made of.

Buhari’s sidekicks are digging in not out of altruism, but the vain wish that associating with him will earn them electoral victory especially for the senators and governors who now see him as the source of their political relevance. The treatment given to Saraki has not only valorized him, but it has recreated him as the real don of Nigerian politics at whose feet Buhari’s handlers should sit and take lessons in political skullduggery and survival.

Buhari’s party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), is falling apart. The lesson here is that gunboat democracy has run its course and brain is trouncing brawn. The APC is now an osuke, a hunchback, which its garrulous chairman, Adams Oshiomhole must carry. I doubt if Oshiomhole can still remember his bet on Delta State and I am sure that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa must be having a good laugh at his expense in the face of the recent mass defection in the National Assembly. Oshiomhole can still save his face and I advise him to hand the APC over to Reverend Chris Okotie and let tarradiddle supplant gunboat democracy at least for a while! Where is Jagaban and when will Dino dance shaku-shaku?

Receive News Alerts on Whatsapp: +2348136370421

No comments yet