At the dawn of Independence in 1960, the NPC-NCNC alliance formed the Federal Government while the AG became the Official Opposition. The NPC controlled the Northern Region. The NCNC formed the government of the Eastern Region while the Western Region was led by the AG.
Using the federal might, the NPC-NCNC coalition fuelled the crisis within the AG and ensured its split (into AG and NNDP). In May 1962, it imposed an emergency rule on the Western Region and ensured the faction it backed (the NNDP) emerged as the regional government at the end of the six-month state of siege. By November of the same year – before a sceptical nation – the federal Leader of Opposition and leader of the AG, with 30 others, was arrested by the Federal Government and charged on counts bordering on treason: they were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment in June 1963.
The woes of the AG are not ended. The NPC-NCNC alliance, backed by the NNDP, ensured a fourth region (Mid-West Region) was carved out from the Western Region in September 1963 while the boundaries of the Eastern and Northern Regions remained intact!
However, when the figures of the September 1963 population census were published in February 1964, the NCNC vehemently rejected them citing “inflation and gross irregularities and unauthorized acts”. The stresses and strains of the marriage between the NPC and NCNC had now attained a blowout. Federal elections were already in sight. The former immediately consummated another marriage with the bride-in-waiting, the NNDP and morphed to form NNA while the latter found another spouse in AG – the duo formed UPGA. Thus the stage was set for a titanic battle between formidable opponents.
The federal elections were scheduled for December 30, 1964. The electioneering was marred by repression. The NPC-controlled Federal Government deployed the machinery of force to its advantage. But all hopes were not lost provided the Federal Election Commission would be independent. Not in Africa! The electoral management body is usually an appendage of the government in power! By December 21, seventy-eight (78) candidates of the NNA had been returned unopposed! How was that possible? Some electoral officers hid themselves and could not be found at their desks to receive nomination papers from the UPGA candidates! Some opposition candidates were allegedly kidnapped, wrongly imprisoned and in a few instances killed. Consequently, the December 30 polls were completely boycotted in the East, Lagos and parts of the Mid-West. The President found himself in an awkward position to invite the NNA to form the government – he did eventually after three days of deadlock!
The NNA having had its way in the federal polls, the next crucial elections took place in the Western Region in October 1965. The federal might was deployed without scruples. Even where some UPGA candidates were able to file their nomination papers, the electoral officers still declared the NNA candidates unopposed. In a region where the NNA was grossly unpopular, the electoral body declared the party as having won 88 out of 98 seats! Violence was let loose- Operation weti e! About 1,000 deaths! 5,000 houses burnt! Even the NNA Premier of the Region went into hiding! The looting, murder and arson continued till the early hours of January 15, 1966 when some misguided officers from the barracks announced the end of civilian administration.
The political situation in Guinea as at September 4, 2021 was not as bad as in Nigeria as at January 14, 1966. The NNA-led Federal Government had deployed the army and police to quell the crisis and maintain law and order. What would have been the case if there had been no military coup d’etat in January 1966?
The security forces eventually would have restored law and order. A state of emergency might be declared in spite of the fact that the NNA candidate was the Premier of the Western Region. Another sympathizer of NNA might have been asked to rule over the region. Yes, the NNA might be seen to consolidate its injustice and abuse of power in the face of some resistance from opposition party, civil society groups and the press, among others. However, the verdict of history appears certain: a (future) political realignment that would alter the political calculus was hardly inevitable. At any rate, let’s check the balance sheet with regards to the cost of military rule on the polity.
If there had been no army takeover in January 1966, the bloodbath witnessed in the barracks across the country in the July 29, 1966 putsch, where over 200 officers were slaughtered, would have been avoided. The lives of an estimated 30,000 ordinary citizens, murdered on account of the first coup in January, would have been preserved. There would not have been the Civil War that claimed about three million lives!
One coup after the other, military rule destroyed the lives of many of its finest officers, shattered discipline, command structure and esprit de corps. Since a military government is patently illegal, it is always unstable, living in perpetual fear of coups from within its own ranks. But by far the greatest damage done to the Nigerian polity by the army rule is the destruction of its federalism. The cause of the present crises in Nigeria can still be located in the annihilation of its federal system on account of military intervention.
Yes, seemingly caught between a rock and a hard place, West-African citizens should not by default cast the military in the mould of de facto alternative government. There must be certainty in the affairs of every nation. If we want a political role for the military in our body politic, if some (erroneously) believe a military regime is the cure for bad democracy, then the constitution must make an express provision for it. The modern nation is not a jungle of beasts or the Hobbesian state of nature where might is right; where any megalomaniac, hot-headed and hair-brained officers can declare a martial rule and sit behind desks in government houses to take up the onerous task of governance by force of arms!
The corollary question: how should state and non state actors respond when the political class becomes completely irresponsible and pushes their country towards the precipice? The most dangerous causes of instability in Africa are the manipulation of the electoral body, misuse of the security agents, elements of the armed forces and the judiciary.
The head of government should be stripped of the power to appoint the chairman and members of the electoral management body and the head of the police. Such powers should reside in a democratic committee of the institution of the judiciary. But the head of state may remove such officers upon two-thirds votes of the legislature on the grounds of gross misconduct. It is the responsibility of the legislature to enact laws that make it an impeachable offence for any president to issue an unconstitutional order to the armed forces and a crime for the military high command to execute such an order.
Finally, I restate my call for President Buhari to order the Nigerian armed forces to arrest Mamady Doumbouya and produce him in Nigeria, dead or alive. He must not be allowed to form the so-called government. The coup cancer led to a cataclysmic war, destruction of federalism and economic ruin in Nigeria. A pre-emptive strike against recrudescence of such a cancer as a form of self-defence is justified in international law.
Opeyemi is a media practitioner and public affairs analyst