Nigeria and its Fourth Republic: Failing to Learn or Learning to Fail? By Mathew Kukah

Bishop Matthew Kukah
Bishop Matthew Kukah

Perhaps, for the sake of argument, let us console ourselves by saying that we are in a republic or even a Democracy. However, we know that we definitely fall short of what is meant by a republic because my Apple Computer dictionary defines republic as; a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.

Looking back and given our current situation, we obviously will not qualify to be called a republic. Notwithstanding all this, I will concede that by whatever name and by whatever number, I am willing to agree that this is our fourth republic.

The first thing that shocks you is the contradiction both in perception and in reality in discussing where we are in this fourth republic. Evidence of our predicament can be seen in these anomalies. First, if this is the fourth republic, and if we were to follow logic and common sense, would we not assume that, with experiences of first, second and third republics, we should have gained a lot of experience and imbibed the principle and culture of a republic or a Democracy. Sadly, reality suggests otherwise.

Today, when we look back, it would seem that at the beginning, we did even better, showed greater discipline and understanding of the rules of the game, showed greater appreciation of the purpose of government and the objectives of a Democracy. So, what has happened to us?

Now, our people, for example, have become more cynical of the concept of Democracy, the system has become even more unruly, the actors seem so totally ill-prepared and the system has thrown up men and women with questionable moral character as we have seen from allegations of criminal records against members across the board. So, clearly, the question has to arise: Is it the fault of the student or the teacher? Is it the learning environment? What exactly is the issue? To answer these questions, it is necessary to ask even more questions and place the issues in the proper context so as to appreciate where we are in this so-called fourth republic.

I think the first thing to do is to return to the scene of the crime and do some mental crime scene investigations. We need to at least see if we can pick up some clues of what has gone wrong from the scene of the crimes against Democracy. In 1960 when we got independence which gave birth to the first republic, it was clear that the British simply decided that running an empire was too costly and that since they had already gotten what they wanted, it would be cheaper to create a semblance of freedom for the natives and set them on the path of self-government. Their multinational corporations continued what had been their real intentions in Africa, namely, the exploitation of the resources to the detriment of the local people. The first republic soon collapsed under the weight of military ambition and zealotry.

The second republic took off in 1979 but under an army arrangement that installed a President after the heart of the military. That too was soon pulled down by a set of puritanical military elite who believed they could clean up the mess in Nigeria and set the nation on a better path. The third republic in 1990 was at best a fraudulent attempt by the military to spruce up its image by changing its military uniform for a civilian garment.

A transition programme seemed planned to fail and the republic, an amalgam of sorts, lasted for less than three years. Then in 1999, we had the fourth republic which has lasted the longest and has given Nigerians enough courage to feel that they are in a Democracy. Like other republics before it, the fourth republic did not constitute a real transition as such. The process left us a retired military General, suggesting clearly that the military had not really planned to far from the political processes.

It can be argued that more than the colonialists, the military inflicted far more damage and destruction of the foundation of Democracy for a modern Nigeria. Indeed, beyond leading the nation to war, its continuous greedy hold on the country destroyed the foundations of freedom, law and due process. After the civil war, the military suspended a crop of brilliant and patriotic politicians and held on to power for so long that they became suspicious of Democracy and freedom. They had wrecked havoc on the Judiciary by embarking on what I have referred to elsewhere as the Tribunalisation of Justice (capricious securing justice by military tribunals!).

In his book, Vindication of a General, the former Chief of Army Staff, retired General Ishaya Bamaiyi made a startling admission when he said: The biggest casualties of the forays of the Nigerian military into the political arena are discipline, respect for seniority, hierarchy of command and loyalty from below. These are time honoured values that have sustained the military as an organisation and set it apart from the many other modern organisations….Once junior officers became beneficiaries of juicy political appointments and had access to untold wealth and influence in the ruling circles, insubordination of junior officers to senior officers became the norm rather than the exception…It got to a stage that senior officers who wanted to see the President had to go through them. This made some of these officers arrogant and sometimes rude, and they became uncontrollable.

The General went on to give examples of how Majors were sent to arrest Major General Buhari, a then Head of State and how these same Majors were later compensated with appointments as Governors, taking over from Major Generals and Brigadiers! As I noted in my book, Witness to Justice, Senior military officers on military duties found themselves having to look up to these upgraded and privileged Junior Officers for what in military circles was known as, welfare!

I have gone to this length so as to situate the 4th republic and argue that what we are witnessing today, the stumble and fumble, the foibles, the inefficiency in the system, the evidence of institutional decay, our inability to organise credible elections, the rise in the curve of violence, the declining belief and trust in the Democratic process, all of these are mere symptoms of a disease that can be traced to the fact that we have never really and truly had a debate, a discussion about the discipline of Democracy and constitutionalism. So, while we beat our chests over the fact that we are in the 4th republic, let us pause and address a few issues.

First, you asked me to write specifically on whether we are good or bad learners in Nigeria. The answer is that learning depends on both the quality of teachers, teaching materials, the learning environment and the reward system. We have drawn inspiration and lessons from two illegitimate institutions, namely, the colonial state and the military both of which gave and took Democracy on their own terms. Therefore, we cannot claim to have learnt from the best.

The coup culture in the military, the command structure, their sense of hierarchy, all have had impact on the deep corruption in our politics. The coup culture is binary in the sense that it sees only enemies and friends. This is why up till date, our system still sees the notion of Opposition in hostile terms (Remember, President Obasanjo said he did not think that 99 per cent loyalty was good enough!). We can argue therefore that our smash and grab, zero sum approach that focuses on state capture even in a Democracy arises from this legacy of the military. It privileges might over right and the end justifies the means.

Second, both the military and the colonial state did not trust every citizen with leadership. Similarly, we saw in the fourth republic evidence that the decision had already been taken that Obasanjo would be President. The Peoples Democratic Party was merely a Trojan horse to bring that about.

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We have similarly seen that Presidents and Governors are often unwilling to allow the will of the people to decide on their successors. This is why the culture of Godfatherism, the lack of internal party discipline and democracy have continued to undermine the processes.

Third is the high cost of getting into power which has become a major obstacle to Democracy. Sadly, the rich and powerful godfathers who have made their money from robbing the state have continued to recycle these resources into the system. The suspect, Mr Evans, alleged to have headed one of the most dreaded kidnapping rings in the country, said that he had taken to this evil as a way of making money so as to become the Governor of Anambra, his home state. Where and whom did he learn this from?

Finally, perhaps I have sounded too pessimistic. However, to be sure, we are still far away from the principles of republican Democracy. The smash and grab culture and the incorporation of the security apparatus of the process of elections suggests very clearly that we have not learnt much because the system itself is bereft of teachers who lack the ability to give what they themselves do not have. A real republic is still a dream deferred.

Mr Kukah is the current Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto. This piece was originally published in Premium Times special print publication to mark Nigeria’s 20 years of unbroken democracy.


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