Association of 
Nigerian Scholars 
for Dialogue
                    Press Release: June 11, 1998   

Renewed Calls for Transition to Civil Rule and
Democratic Reforms in Post-Abacha Nigeria 

International Reactions to General Abacha's Death

While sympathizing with his personal relatives on the sudden death of Nigeria's Head of State, General Sani Abacha, significant members of the international community have expressed concerns about the country's political future. The lack of a clear line of succession to Nigeria's Presidency is part of the bitter legacy that military rule has bequeathed to the nation's public affairs. Although a new military ruler, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, has succeeded General Abacha without a bloodshed, the dangers to Nigeria's future are far from over. The key problems that confronted the country under Abacha remain unresolved.

 Understandably, leaders of foreign governments and of important international organizations, including the United Nations and the U. S. State Department, have urged the new military ruler to supervise a rapid transition to democratic rule. The Association of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue welcomes this renewed attention of the international community to Nigeria's problems and urges its involvement in efforts to resolve them in a manner that will ensure a democratic future for Nigeria. In this regard, we believe that it is counter-productive to demand that military rulers organize a democratic transition in Nigeria. Instead, we urge the international community to help Nigeria to organize a two-staged transition program that will involve (i) a transition from Military Rule to Provisional Civil Rule and (ii) a transition from Provisional Civil Rule to Constitutional Rule.

Consequences of Military Rule and the Threat to Democracy in Nigeria

We advise on this line of action for four reasons.  First, there is ample evidence in Nigerian history that the military establishments' efforts to engage in what they presumed to be democratic processes have resulted in creation of structures that have alienated Nigerians from their governments. The major crises of governance in Nigeria flow from over-centralization, with enormous powers vested with the central government while the constituent states of the Nigerian federation are bereft of any powers to shape and control their own local affairs. This is a legacy of military rule that continues to be central to the military's efforts to organize "transitions to democracy." The most egregious example of such over-centralization is the Nigeria Police Force. States and local governments are barred by constitutions imposed by the military from forming their own police establishments, even when the highly militarized Nigeria Police has become inefficient and distant from Nigerians. A regime of Provisional Civil Rule should help to design appropriate political institutions and structures for managing Nigeria's future public affairs.

 Second, in the hands of the military, Nigerian constitutional affairs are in utter chaos. Having set aside Nigeria's original constitution, military leaders have toyed with several versions of their own. Their central feature is again over-centralization. The original Nigerian constitution of 1960 and 1963 was composed of constitutional laws by regional constituent bodies and a federal constitutional law. Military constitutions are decrees that are approved by supreme military councils whose members are exempt from their provisions while in office. The elections that were scheduled for August 1998 were to be run outside any known constitutional framework. A regime of a well-constituted Provisional Civil Rule will most likely restore legitimacy to the political process.

 Third, Nigeria's destiny will remain murky if the role of the military in future Nigerian politics is undefined. Despite several attempts by civilians to offer a vision of the military's role in Nigeria's constitutional arrangements, the military leadership has forbidden any meaningful discussions of the all-important issue of military coups d'etat. There is urgent need for Nigerians to deliberate on the role of the military and  security forces in our future political arrangements, thus establishing the vital principle of civilian control of the military. This can only be achieved under a regime of Provisional Civil Rule, outside the intimidation of military decrees.

 Fourth, after three decades of military rule, Nigerians have to learn anew the art of compromise for which our civilian leaders were famous in the 1950s and 1960s. The class of politicians who are followers of military rulers has been bred on intolerance, lacking patience and accommodation in their dealings with their "subjects." Nigerians need a period of reorientation after military rule; otherwise, any raw transition from military rule will be marred by the same ill-manners in governance as bedeviled civil rule in 1979-83.

 These underlining problems cannot be resolved by the military. Any elections that are organized without addressing them will most likely result in another period of chaos. We are pleased to read from the international media that General Abdulsalam Abubakar is a "moderate." The international community should take advantage of  his virtuous disposition to urge him and other enlightened members of the Nigerian military to foreclose their tenure in the next few months and  hand over governance to a civilian body that will have the responsibility of reconstructing Nigerian public affairs in preparation for democratic rule and the twenty-first century.

What will be the Composition of a Provisional Civil Rule?
The  persuasion of Nigerian military rulers to hand over control to a civilian body may be feasible if it is not mired in the insistence that the jailed winner of the 1993 presidential elections head a provisional government. While a great injustice has been done to Mashood Abiola, the greater good of the nation will in all probability incline him and those acting on his behalf in the democratic movement to yield to an alternative arrangement if it appears credible and if it is backed by the international community.

 We recommend that a College of Governors, with membership consisting of  civilian governors (or those constitutionally in line to succeed them) who were sacked from office when General Abacha seized power in 1993, be set up. They were already functioning as governors. Some of them are currently in exile, while others were disgraced in other ways. A good number of them have been free. We further recommend that they elect from among their ranks three governors from the South and three from the North who will form a Joint Presidency for two years, rotating the chairmanship among themselves. Among other benefits, Nigerians will see leaders who have limited powers and who negotiate answers to problems rather than decree solutions with immediate effect.

 The primary responsibility of the Joint Presidency will be to conduct a vast national dialogue from which will result state constitutions and a national federal constitution. Thereafter,  proper local and national elections can be held, leading to full-fledged civil rule. Nigerians would regain their characteristic self-confidence and ask hard questions of their national institutions. For instance, why do we need a National Universities Commission that appears to function solely for the purpose of holding back the greater universities? Should the states not reclaim their universities that were taken over by the Federal Military Government in the late 1970s? Or, for another vexing question, why should governments fund annual religious pilgrimages? Should such questions not be left to states, as they were in the 1960s, before the military establishment nationalized them? Thus properly conducted, these dialogues will most probably help Nigerian federalism to regain its principles of the 1960s that have since been wrecked by military rule.
Democracy and Elections as Fetish

Democracy is without a doubt the triumphant ideology of the twentieth century. As democracy's main vehicle of expression, elections have become wildly appealing as a way of validating the tenure of political regimes whose legitimacy is in doubt. This appeal of democracy and elections has been abused by military regimes in Nigeria that have treated them as a fetish for gaining international respectability. We suggest to the international community that it does not help the cause of democracy to validate elections which are not founded on constitutions and proper institutions of civil society.

 A good example of the abuse of democracy and elections is the military ‘s formation of political parties. Nigeria's original political parties emerged from secure bases in civil society in the 1940s-50s. These were abolished by military rulers in 1966. In preparation for return to civil rule in the 1970s, the military licensed emerging political parties, limiting them to a maximum of five. These were again abolished by the military when it returned to power in 1983. Under the military rule of General Ibrahim Babagida, the Federal Military Government created two political parties – one for "conservatives" and one for "radicals." These were abolished by General Abacha who substituted them with five fresh political parties created by the government as its parastatals.

 We suggest that it is an abuse of democracy to conduct an election on the basis of political parties that are formed, owned, and operated by the state. And yet the Nigerian Military Government plans to call on President Carter and other powerful agencies of the international community to validate "elections" organized by these parties. Any political healing in Nigeria should include a period in which Nigerians are allowed to form their own political parties with firm roots in civil society and without dictation from military rulers. A regime of  Provisional Civil Rule will provide such an interval.

About the Association of
Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue

We reproduce a statement about the Association of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue, which is in the inside front cover of the Association's book, Wilberforce Conference on Nigerian Federalism. It is as follows:

"The Association of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue was founded by a group of expatriate Nigerian scholars based in North America for the primary purpose of initiating conversations on the critical issues of governance facing their homeland. Following the failures of programs of  so-called transition-to-democracy and the increasing stridency of military rule in Nigeria, an exodus of intellectuals from Nigerian universities began in the late 1980s. It has grown considerably as the universities face appalling standards due to neglect. Other groups of Nigerians, including politicians and journalists, have also fled the country. In addition to such flight of important professionals, political tensions have risen in many communities in Nigeria. In the face of all these elements of chaos, the Nigerian Military Government and its enemies have traded in accusations of blame in ways that do not permit compromises and negotiations. The Association of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue has been founded to bring about some dialogue and intellectual order to this distressing situation.

 "The Association of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue has as its central mission the promotion of dialogue among Nigerians as the preferred way of  finding solutions to national problems. It does so by designing a methodology of dialogues among contending ethnic and religious groups in which they are encouraged to discover and highlight their common grounds, rather than indulge in elaborating and exaggerating their differences. It also encourages dialogue between the military and the Nigerian people, seeking in the process to heal the gaping alienation between the military establishment and the civil population.  The Association notes the unfortunate fact that in Nigerian history, governments have fomented many communal crises in which ethnic and religious groups have been joined. It looks for ways of barring government functionaries from so doing in the future.

 "The Association's ultimate goal is to ensure that there will be a soft landing from military rule. Without a meaningful federal system and a proper constitutional foundation, transition to civil rule will be disingenuous and will inevitably induce another military putsch by some fragment of the armed forces waiting in the wings for mistakes by civilian governments. Nor should any programs of the so-called transition-to-democracy in Nigeria be judged solely on the basis of orchestrated elections which the international community is invited to validate. The Association of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue believes that preparation for any valid elections must begin with the construction of a cogent constitutional order."

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