A dividend is a reward for investment. It is the sum of money that a corporation pays its shareholders out of its earnings. Democracy is the people’s government. Democracy dividends are the rewards the people get from their government as a result of their investment in that government. Whereas everybody cannot be in power at the same time, it is expected that in a democracy, everybody should be in politics. If you are not running for office, you should be able to help determine who runs for office through your vote and your voice. Any person who refuses to participate in a democracy has no right to its dividends. Eternal vigilance is the price to pay for liberty.
There is no doubt that certain happenings around the world and in particular our country can begin to raise doubts in the minds of younger ones and youths, who did not witness the era of dictatorship, about the suitability of democracy as the most preferred system of government. Let us be clear, democracy is not perfect, it is as good as the people that practise it, but arguably, it has proved better than others. Chief Obafemi Awolowo said, “the worst civilian government is better than the best military government”. Nigeria has experimented with three systems of government since independence. The parliamentary, military and the presidential systems of government. Both parliamentary and presidential came by the will of the people through democracy, while the military came by the will of force.
The democratically elected governments govern by the Constitution and Acts of the parliament, while military regimes govern by decrees, which are the orders of the head of state, reduced to writing. In a democracy, the Constitution is supreme, in the military regime, the decree, which is the opinion of one man, is superior to the constitution. In democracy, the judiciary is independent and every dispute is settled by the courts. In military regimes, the military dictator outs the jurisdiction of courts and creates his own courts, which he calls tribunals, with which he tries anybody he doesn’t like and sentences him to any length of time in jail or even judicially kill the person through firing squad. In a democracy, there is an independent Legislature which makes the law, represents the people, subjects the executive to account, checks the excesses of the executive and can even remove a President who breaks the law. In a military regime, there is no legislature at all. The head of state does as he likes and is answerable to no one. He plays God and has the power of life and death. In a democracy, every position has term limits and no leader is allowed more than two terms, in a military regime, there is no term limit, the head of state can rule for ever if he so wishes. You can only remove him by force or kill him. In a democracy, problems are resolved through dialogue and mediation by statesmen who write justice on black and white, in a military regime, problems are resolved by ignorant men who write injustice on ground with bullets and blood. Democracy, therefore, is the only system of governance that guarantees the orderly and peaceful transition of power from one person to the other.
In a military regime, nobody is spared from the ruthlessness of the head of state. He is the state and the state is him. He came by force and he knows he must sustain his office by force or be killed. President Ibrahim Babangida made it clear that as a military officer, he was trained to dominate his environment with the power of firearms. When you hear military regime, don’t be deceived by the term military, it is the government of one man. Indeed, the military is often the worst hit in a military regime. The head of state knows that it is only the military that can overthrow him by force, so immediately he takes over power by force, he finds a way to eliminate all the likely intelligent and brave officers who may outs him from power. The first military coup that ushered military government in Nigeria was carried out because of the violence in the South West Region of Nigeria and the suspicion that the first republic politicians were corrupt. The coup was bloody and killed some politicians with a few military officers. However, just after 6 months, another revenge coup was unleashed, during the military regime and led to the wiping out of a generation of military officers from a certain part of the country. As if that was not bad enough, the poor handling of the fallout of the counter coup led to a civil war that killed more than one million people and destroyed the best of the military officers of their time. In comparison, during democracy, there were demonstrations and political upheavals from a section of the country largely by the same ethnic group jostling for power among themselves. The military forcefully took over power on these reasons but in a short while, the political crises exacerbated and engulfed the whole country and nearly destroyed Nigeria. We have never recovered from the impact of the initial military incursion into politics. That is the irony of military regime, they come in with the pretext that they will find solutions to the nation’s problems but end up making them worse.
The counter coup of 1966 effectively enthroned northern military regime in place, headed by Gen Yakubu Gowon. Five years after the war, northern military officers conspired within themselves and removed Gen Gowon from power. They enthroned Gen Muritala Mohammed to power. In just 6 months, northern military officers killed Muritala Mohammed, in what may be termed a revenge coup for removing Gen Yakubu Gowon. A lot of young officers, including the Minister of Defence, Major Gen Iliya Bisalla and Col Bukar Suka Dimka were executed. This distrust among the military officers from the north trumped up Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner to power. Recall that the counter coup of 1966 was carried out by the northern officers to end what they termed southern domination, especially by the Igbos. In 1976, the northern officers had so much killed each other because of struggle for power among themselves that they voluntarily gave back power to a southern military officer. Military regime has nothing to offer except death and confusion. The southern military officer voluntarily handed over power to a democratically elected northern civilian, Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Four years after this, the military regime came back to power on the allegation of corruption and indiscipline against the democratically elected government led by Gen Buhari. He fought corruption and indiscipline so fiercely that the same military conspired against him and removed him from office on the allegation of gross abuse of human rights. The military, after Buhari, ran the most corrupt regimes in our country that made the transparency international rank Nigeria one of the most corrupt nations on earth. Abacha’s loot is still being recovered today. The reason for this was that Abacha died suddenly and did not have the time to cover his tracks. It is possible that other dictators may have looted more than Abacha, but because they left office peacefully, they had the opportunity to cover their tracks and made it difficult for Nigeria to recover their loots.
One unnerving issue about military dictatorship is that the people of the head of state suffer most from his regime than others. When an Igboman became head of state, all Igbos attracted the hatred of other tribes in Nigeria, who saw the move as a strategy to enthrone Igbo domination. By the time the head of state was killed, the whole Igbos were nearly eliminated to ensure none of them will be powerful enough to reclaim the position. When Gowon was overthrown and Dimka attempted to revenge his overthrow and failed, this led to the execution of a lot of officers from Plateau State. Babangida is from Niger State, North Central. The failed “Vatsa” and Orka’s coup nearly led to the wiping out of military officers from Niger State and other North Central States. Vatsa was from Niger, while Gideon Orka was from Benue.
By the time of Abacha’s regime, Nigeria was tired of the military and the military was tired of itself. Abacha did not trust anybody around him because of the circumstances which brought him to power which was the cancellation of June 12th. He retired all IBB boys in the army to avoid the possibility of them overthrowing him. Some of them, like David Mark, ran away on self exile. He used some of his loyal officers to rope some powerful Nigerians and military officers into phantom coups. Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua died in his jail, while Obasanjo was sent to jail. Abacha’s deputy, Gen Diya and other military officers, implicated in Abacha’s coup set up, were condemned to death and were awaiting execution before God rescued them by the sudden death of Abacha. Officers started hanging out in officers mess with fellow officers for fear of being roped in. Esprit de corps and professionalism were destroyed in the army. Indiscipline was so much that Generals knelt before Majors to ask for favours and we are suffering the consequences till date.
There is no basis for comparison between democracy and military regime. Despite all its flaws, no Nigerian or military officer has been judicially murdered by the successive democratic governments. Democratic governments respect the fundamental human rights of Nigerians. Whether it is on the issue of corruption or indiscipline or abuses of human rights, military regimes performed worse than democratic regimes even when the former came to power on the pretext to correct those vices. I am not sure, Nigeria can survive another military rule. We must either live peacefully together as brothers under a democratically elected government that is built on justice and equity or perish together as fools under any other contrived military regime. Little wonder why even Presidents Obasanjo, Buhari and Babangida became born again democrats
Global square is one year. We thank God for His grace, inspiration and sustenance. We thank our numerous admirers and critics for their observations, corrections, and encouragements. We thank the management of Sun Newspaper for reposing confidence in us by this column. I was elated when the MD of Sun Newspaper, Onuoha Ukeh, quipped, “thanks for your consistency and all you do. Remain blessed”. I extend same message to all my readers.