AUTHORITARIANISM AND DEMOCRATIC ABUSES UNDER OBASANJO’S LEADERSHIP:
WHAT LESSONS FOR PRESIDENT JONATHAN
At independence in 1960, Nigeria emerged as a democratic nation under a Parliamentary arrangement headed by Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa of the NPC. The turbulence of the first Republic (1960-1966) led to a coup d’etat followed by 13 years of Military rule.
In 1979, Nigeria once again ushered in the democratic system, this time opting for the American type Presidential model. This new experiment lasted for four years and was followed by another long era of military dictatorship.
No doubt Nigeria’s socio-economic and political growth was grievously retarded by these long years of Military usurpation, thereby leading to a genuine struggle by the Nigerian people for a new basis of political engagement whose foundation would be laid on the democratic ideals of liberalization, openness and the rule of law.
After serious attempts by the military to perpetuate itself, and a protracted battle with democratic elements, Nigeria finally witnessed a new dawn with the swearing in of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP as Nigeria’s second Executive President on May 29th, 1999.
For the Nigerian people, there was hope and great expectations. There was relief that the era of impunity, arbitrariness and abuse are over. It was expected that henceforth, issues would be approached on the basis of mutuality, accommodation and interest aggregation within the context of the social contract.
However, Nigerians quickly woke up to the realization that President Obasanjo had very different ideas. His understanding and perception of leadership was based on the imperial notion of “divine rights” where the leader “knows it all” and “could do no wrong”.
Under Obasanjo’s leadership, the major components and institutions established by law to facilitate the democratic process and the ideals of pluralism were undermined and deliberately reshaped to suit the whims and preferences of Mr. President.
Six years after Obasanjo left office, the legacy of abuse which he left behind have continued to flourish while the principles of the rule of law and good governance continued to deteriorate under President Jonathan whose competence and ability carries a huge question mark. The aim of this paper is to look at the issue of presidential dictatorship under Obasanjo and whether this legacy has lingered under President Jonathan.
2. A Theoretical Overview
To further strengthen a general understanding of the subject matter, it is important to provide an analytical basis of explanation through which the issue of authoritarian leadership under Obasanjo’s administration and its effects on Nigeria’s democracy would be better understood.
The power theory, which best serves our purpose here, could be traced to the classical works of thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, Niccollo Machiavelli, George Catlin and more modern works of Hans Morgathan, Bethrand Russel, Harold Lasswell, etc. These renowned thinkers see the use of power as the most fundamental ingredient that determines relationships “in the shaping, distribution and exercise of power”, within the political system. For Machiavelli, an arch traditionalist, power is seen as an end in itself which, when wielded to its maximum, facilitates the realization of the various state objectives such as justice, peace, security, property, aggrandizement, prestige, etc. (Adebayo, 1986).
For Lieber, (1972) power covers all social relationships that establish the control of one man over another, ranging from outright violence and coercion to other forms of manipulations and psychological control. Statesmen and politicians are often obsessed with the possession of power and political influence which, in countries with low political culture, become essential tools in political contests. These again, may take the form of violence, deprivation, persuasion and other more subtle and less visible means.
To Varina, (1979), Lasswell, (1962) and Caplan (1969), power is an instrument of coercion and has a physical effect on both sides. They maintain that the concept of power is the most fundamental in the whole political science since the political process has much to do with the shaping distribution and exercise of power.
For Thomas Hobbes, (Appadorai,1974) power is the production of intended effects or that which an actor possesses in so far as he is able to move or alter the will of others so as to produce results in conformity with his own.
In this context, we may look at power as the capacity of an individual to modify the conduct of others in the manner he desires. Generally speaking, power is the capacity to control the will and actions of others even against their own wish or desires. Here, power is seen as a zero-sum article. It connotes a system of relationship where a finite quantity of power on the part of x must, by definition, accompany a diminishing of power at the disposal of units y and z (Deutch, 1970).
There are different forms of power which a leader can exercise. These include coercive power, economic power, personal power, normative power and of course political power (Ake, 1996)
In the eight years of Obasanjo’s leadership, Nigeria was suffused with a peculiar leadership style which we have described as “divine right” Presidency. Obasanjo sees himself as the only person who has the capacity to provide answers to these problems. In this respect, he pursued policies and leadership style that dominated other individuals and institutions of government, even in a federal system. He enthroned a system of subordination of other organs of government in a way that makes them amenable to his supreme will.
As such President Obasanjo exhibited a well-cultivated disregard for public opinion and the rule of law. He wanted to create a new Nigeria fashioned in his own image. (Uzoatu, 2003). This unilateralistic approach is best shown in his several acts of disregard of court rulings and other unorthodox measures taken to frustrate the National Assembly. When one took a look at the eight years of Obasanjo’s Presidency, it becomes pertinent to submit that his authoritarian attitude in matters of state made it outrightly impossible to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy.
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3. Understanding the Real Concept of Democracy
Democracy as a concept or system has been, at various levels, conceptualized within normative and empirical perspectives. Scholars have criss-crossed between participatory democracy and representative democracy in the effort to determine what actually constitutes democratic precepts. In the process, representation rather than participatory democracy have been identified as not only the most universal but also the most practical form.
In a very simple language, Akindele (1994) described it as a system that makes possible the choice of a few to do for the majority what they could not do together.
After a comparative study of the views of Jean Jack Rousseau, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Abraham Lincoln and Stuart Mills on the theory and practice of democracy, Seril Bayles (2004) concludes that democracy is simply the equality of obligations to take decisions and to participate in carrying them out once they are made until they are realized. The view expressed here is that in a democratic setting, the various stake-holders have vital functions to perform and these must be done in harmony in order to achieve the ultimate goal, which is, good governance.
Writing on the same theme, Schumpter (1962) and Appadorai (1974) described the substance of democracy as a system of government that guarantees people the freedom and right to exercise their governing power either directly or though their representatives, periodically elected by themselves. They identified three major characteristics which must exist if democracy must retain its form. These are:
(a) Political participation
(b) Political equality
(c) Alternative choice
Caplan (1971) argues that democracy cannot survive unless certain measures are taken to create conditions that facilitate its growth. He identified such conditions as a wide-spread habit of tolerance and accommodation, a sense of give and take and the need to relate with each participating member on the level of mutual respect and strict adherence to the rules of the game.
Mbachu (1995) saw democracy as not only a way of life that allows people the freedom to make choices through the exercise of their free will but as a system that provides for and allows conflicts in the society to be resolved by rational argument and reason rather than coercion or other manipulative or violent means.
4. Influences of Military Culture on Nigerian Democracy
As noted in the earlier part of this work, the Nigerian armed forces have played very major roles in shaping the political destiny of the Nigerian State. From the first Coup (1966) to the last disengagement (1999), the military have overwhelmingly charted the tempo and focus of Nigeria’s political life. Dudley (1982) and Ojo (1998) hold the view that democratic cultures in Nigeria have been dismantled by incessant military rule through the displacement and destruction of the democratic or governmental institutions which uphold these democratic values and principles. They identify low political culture as one of the effects of military involvement in the political life of any society. The military culture has the tendency to permeate all segments of the civil society and restructure the content and output of socio-political institutions within the state.
The Nigerian military have become less of a professional organization and more of a political one as their presence and participation in the political process became more and more entrenched. As a result of coups and counter coups, the Nigerian military become more of a political group meant to fill a certain quota or political space either on geo-ethnic terms or on the basis of ideological content. The military’s professionalism and patriotic spirit largely became mere facades behind which they shield their social and political values. (Hoffman and Waldmier 1992), (Gboyega 1992).
Oyediran (1984) assessed the matter from the angle of vulnerability of the Nigerian state and the fragile nature of its institutions, particularly the political and legal ones. This vulnerability makes it possible for the military to intervene at its whim, and in the process create new socio-political instruments of society and recreate old ones to suit their image and sympathy.
Mehden (2001) contends that when the military takes political action, officers position themselves as “constitutional caretakers” determined to serve the interest of democracy and constitutionalism. The military use such opportunity to carry out political reform and establish conditions under which political power may eventually return to a civilian regime. Such civilian administrations, being the by-product of the military, lack the essential character and focus of genuine democratic government. It continues instead to imbibe the trappings of dictatorship and plain militarism.
Nnanna (1999) blames the incidence of military influences and culture on Nigerian democracy on the faulty transition to civil rule programmes which successive military regimes in Nigeria have created. He holds that military rulers sponsor transition programmes which, though sound on paper, often fail woefully in producing the desired results. These programmes fail because their conception, direction, implementation and successes suffer the delirious, influences emanating from purely authoritarian military culture. The militarization of Nigerian democracy is a further proof of the military contempt for the civilian way of governance, which to them is slow and unproductive. This attitude seems to have far-reaching consequences on the nation’s political make-up considering the fragile nature and newness of our democratic apparatuses.
In 1999, a good number of retired military officers entered the political area and were elected into various positions. Others were appointed into the executive council or assigned various important state functions. Inherently, such retired military officers, of whom Obasanjo was at the helm, continue to show greater effervescence to the military trappings of intolerance, impunity, arbitrariness and unilateral action.
5. Authoritarianism and the Negation of Democratic Ethics.
The concept of authoritarianism is the advocation, or demand of total and complete obedience and subjection to a leadership position, the occupant or occupants without regard or concern for other imputs. Authoritarianism demands absolute and total obedience to the hierarchy such that the views and ideas emanating from that source can neither be questioned nor subjected to amendments.
Biakolo (1997) holds the view that military rulers, particularly those who had attained the rank of generals can no longer operate successfully as civilian leaders. The thrust of his argument is that such men are so used to the command and obedience structure of the army that they can no longer be amenable to the restraints and encumbrances that exert themselves on executive authority under a democratic arrangement.
As was typified in the case of Olusegun Obasanjo, Oyewumi (2006) expressed the view that civilianized soldiers remain at heart military men. He said that no matter what opposition or the constitution says, the men in power will always use extraordinary means to get their way. Gidoen (2002) also identified the danger of treating the opposition and other forms of dissent as enemies. He regrets that those whose views run contrary to that expressed by the rulers are treated as dissidents that ought to be emasculated and subdued with all available means and resources.
Throughout his eight years as President, Obasanjo’s relationship with the National Assembly was characterized with intrigues, maneuverings and tension. For a man used to unquestionable obedience from his citizens and colleagues, he could never feel comfortable in a situation that requires him to submit his decisions and actions to the scrutiny of parliament or any other constitutional opposition. This was the root of the frosty relationship between President Obasanjo and the National Assembly.
Eguavon (2006) observed that similarities abound between the leadership style of President Obasanjo (1999-2003) and the past military regime of General Obasanjo, (1976)-1979). Both regimes, he said were anti labour, anti people, and pro-imperialist in ideas, vis a vis the World Bank and IMF. Obasanjo once accused the NLC of running a parallel government and introduced a bill in the National Assembly aimed at decapitating the NLC.
It is apparent that Nigeria’s democracy was gravely endangered under the Obasanjo’s administration partly because of his domineering personality and his military background. This has made him traditionally unresponsive to some basic tenets of democracy – tolerance, accommodation, negotiation, reconciliation, compromise and the generous spirit of give and take.
For democracy to be successful and firmly rooted in any society, participants in the political process must adhere strictly and legitimately to the basic factors that differentiate democracy from other forms of political interaction. There includes the supremacy of the law and constitution, strict adherence to due process, equal opportunity, the right of the people to choose between two or more alternatives, the right to choose who should lead them and to change the leadership when it becomes necessary to do so.
6. What Lessons for Mr. Jonathan
The death of President Yar’adua after a prolonged illness and scandalous attempts to obfuscate the state of things within the hierarchy led to the emergence of vice president, Goodluck Jonathan as the President and Commander in Chief. The election that brought Yar’adua and Jonathan to power in April 2007 had been recklessly manipulated by President Obasanjo to produce a premeditated outcome. While receiving the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban-ki Moon in June 2007, President Yar’adua openly admitted this anomaly when he stated that “The April elections had flaws and shortcomings”. He promised however to carry out fundamental reforms of the Nigerian electoral system, his death, there years into the presidency, left Mr. Jonathan in the saddle. In 2011, Jonathan sought and obtained a fresh mandate despite stringent opposition from the Northern political establishment which felt that power should return to the North (Abimbola, 2013).
The commonly held view in Nigeria today is that the presidency, bedeviled by a myriad of problems is desperately fighting for its political life, and by so doing, have resorted to illegitimate and authoritarian methods. The problems facing president Jonathan include the stiff opposition from the Northern bloc which insists that power should return to it, booming corruption at the highest levels of government, the G7 Governors and the combustible fracas in the ruling party, the PDP. Not to be taken lightly is the widely held view that president Jonathan is weak, incompetent and ineffectual. To fight back and to establish his authority, the president has resorted to methods increasingly perceived as undemocratic and authoritarian. Many have expressed the fear that fascism is gradually creeping in. Odusile, (2013) notes that governance is drifting and that,
…Nigeria is being turned into a police state where opponents of government are either haunted into submission or punished for cooked up offences using the apparatus and agents of state. This is the way of fascists…
It is a commonly held view in Nigeria that late President Yar’adua had greater respect for the rule of law and due process than his predecessor (Obasajo) and his successor (Jonathan). Under Yar’adua, the courts enjoyed greater robustness and independence in judicial output. This was evidenced in the reversal of several policies of Obasanjo, particularly the privatization of certain key public enterprises, believed not to have been done in a completely transparent manner. Several frandulent election results, announced by INEC were also overturned by the courts. Under Jonathan, the status quo have returned and impunity seem to have become a better yardstick for political competition as was hugely demonstrated in the Anambra election of November 16, 2013.
Like Obasanjo before him, President Jonathan appears to be averse to public opinion and criticism. This may not be the best way to nurture our democracy and ensure political growth. The democratic ethic demands that when issues are at stake, those involved are expected to engage each other in a healthy exchange of ideas in pursuant of positive results, and result here is whatever serves “the greatest interest of the greatest number” not the interest of a few oligarchs.
Nwankwo (2006) regrets that Obasanjo’s attitude of contempt for public opinion alienated many well intentioned contributions to the national question. A similar scenario is playing out under the Jonathan Presidency. What lesson then has he learnt?
In governing Nigeria; Obasanjo did not adhere to the rules of engagement as established in the laws of the land. He circumvented these laid down rules and at other times created his own personal rules in order to facilitate his motives. He saw himself as a leader of extraordinary capabilities and potentials who not only knew what was best for Nigeria but also as one who had all the answers at his fingertips. To follow due process would impede his progress and derail his results. For Obasanjo, the rules are nothing but unnecessary impediments designed to frustrate him and sabotage his efforts. The factors of Obasanjo’s failure and the sequences that brought him there are the lessons which Jonathan must learn if he desires to make a positive difference.
7. Conclusion and Recommendations
This study has examined the issue of authoritarianism under Obasanjo’s presidency and how the lessons from it would help in creating a better democratic culture for Nigeria. Our conclusions are that leaders who disregard public opinion, abuse the rule of law and tend to constrict the political space do not promote democracy and when democracy is restricted, the society loses.
Based on these findings and conclusions, the study is obliged to make some recommendations which are considered pertinent to the search for democracy and development in Nigeria.
1. Democracy has become the most acceptable form of government almost all over the world. This acceptance is based on the in-built mechanisms which facilitates the ideals of the social contract. The Nigerian leadership has a responsibility to ensure that the political system is open on the basis of pluralism and accommodation. This must be based on the clear understanding that without this openness, the goals of development, stability and growth cannot be achieved.
2. Nigeria’s democracy and leadership style has to move away from the confines of the praetorian syndrome. In developed countries, civilianized soldiers make positive contributions to the political system, having purged themselves of all trappings of militarism and despotism. If Nigeria must join the league of progressive nations, all participants irrespective of socio-economic status or professional background must be willing to play the game according to the rule.
3. There is need for a healthy perception of democracy dividends which go beyond the mundane attributes of governance. The notion of dividends of democracy is a behavioral phenomenon. It is not quantitative. The dividends of democracy have to do with character moulding, attitudinal differentiations, perfections and permutations in approach between individuals and groups in their relationship with one another. Democracy dividends has to do with imbibing the ethics of tolerance and accommodation in dealing with opponents no matter how high the stakes are. The spirit of give and take is what separates the modern human society form the Hobbesian state of nature where might is right.
4. Politicians should learn to respect the rule of the game. Election manipulations to achieve victory at all cost is a negation of our collective humanity. Since 2003, the ruling Party, the PDP, have been accused of playing underhand games in election matters. With the vast resources of the state at its disposal, it is tempting to fiddle with the process in order to have a premeditated outcome. This temptation, if not resisted with courage and firmness, could lead to disaster. A fraudulent mandate is an illegitimate one. The Anambra election fiasco should not be allowed to condition the road map of what 2015 would be. The onus lies on the Presidency and the PDP to prove that they are faithful partners in the Nigerian project.
5. President Jonathan must prove in deed and in truth that he has an agenda to transform Nigeria positively. He has to convince the world that he is not an appendage of the old order. He must strive to make a clean break from the impunity and arbitrariness of Obasanjo. In view of the myriad of accusations and challenges confronting him, he must wake up and show ability, decisiveness and leadership. He has to do this with tolerance and template. It is only when these are done that Nigerian democracy would begin to breathe the breath of life.
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AUTHORITARIANISM AND DEMOCRATIC ABUSES UNDER OBASANJO’S LEADERSHIP:
WHAT LESSONS FOR PRESIDENT JONATHAN
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DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE