The Role Of Military In Nigerian And Brazilian Politics
Any country or person is a product of their history. The political systems of governance have been in a state of evolution since humans stopped being hunters and gatherers. The countries and regions of the world have explored and tried out various systems of governance. There have been various systems ranging from the ancient systems of feudalism and monarchy to the more modern fascism, socialism and communism; in fact, all of them have been at the peak at various points in history. Studies that have been carried out on post authoritarian regimes have largely focused on the sustainability of the democratic systems that have emerged there, from, basically, the democratic qualities of their democratic processes and their various outcomes. Studies carried out on such countries, especially in South America, revealed that effective democratic process in those countries is fragile and incomplete (Agu?ero, 1998)
Current paper reflects on the journey embarked upon two countries in differing geographical zones from independence and military dictatorship to the democratic systems that they are currently practicing. It focuses, particularly, on the military regimes that have ruled these countries. The paper also emphasizes the positive and negative contributions that they have made in the journey to sustainable democracy as well as their current roles.
Brief History of Brazil and Nigeria
Brazil is a country on the South American continent, which received their independence from the United Kingdom of Portugal on the 7th of September 1822, following three centuries of colonization. Following independence, it maintained a system of monarchy, which was done away with after it was declared a republic by the military in 1889. It was dominated politically by coffee exporters in that time until Getulio Vargas came to power in 1930. It operates a federal system of government, and the current president is Dilma Rousseff.
It was and still is South America’s largest and most populous country. It underwent, more than 50 years of populist and military government until 1985 when there was a peaceful transition to civilian rule. Currently, Brazil is South America’s leading economic power. It possesses a large and well developed mining, manufacturing and agricultural sector that far outstrips any other South American continent and it extends its influence in other parts of the world. Currently, the country is reaping the benefits of economic stability as it is building up foreign reserves and reducing its debt profile. It has reacted well to the global economic crises even though its economy suffered a slowdown within that period (National Foreign Assessment Center (U.S.), & United States. Central Intelligence Agency, 1981).
Nigeria is a country located on the western part of the African continent, and it is the most populous country on the continent. It underwent more than four decades of colonization by the British. The country had a number of constitutions, which granted greater and greater autonomy from the British until it became fully independent from British colonialism. The country has a tropical climate, and is divided into six geographical regions. It operates a federal system of government, which is currently democratic. The three tiers of government are the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Its current president is Goodluck Jonathan.
The economy was largely agriculture based prior to independence with cocoa, groundnuts, cotton and palm produce being the major sources of revenue. However, all has changed since oil was discovered in commercial quantities in 1957. Today, Nigeria is the seventh largest oil producer in the world, and the economy is petroleum based. Nigeria’s ascent to democratic governance has been fitful at best; its history has seen democracies interrupted severally by military dictatorships that have come to power through coups both peaceful and violent. Today, however, the nation is enjoying the longest period of democratically elected government with the nation enjoying the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in 2007.
The Nigerian state was born on October 1, 1960, after it became independent from the British colonialists. Within three years, it attained the status of a republic and entered into a period of massive prosperity. However, six years following independence, the civilian government ruled by Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was overthrown in a bloody coup led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu. The coup was largely popular among Nigerians, but the popularity waned when the details emerged that the main heads that rolled in the transition were almost exclusively from two of the three main ethnic groups, and has led to divisions, which exist to this day. Successive coups, interrupted democracies by coups and a civil war later let the country to a stable democratic system (National Foreign Assessment Center (U.S.), & United States. Central Intelligence Agency, 1981).
Political History: Transition from Military Dictatorship to Democratic Rule
Brazil lived under a military dictatorship, which lasted 25 years from 1964 to 1989. This period included six different presidential administrations. It can be broadly divided into five major areas. The first stage characterized by the constitution of the military dictatorship as a political regime, corresponds roughly to the Castello Branco and Costa E Silva governments. The Medici administration and its regime consolidating legislation mark the second stage. The Geisel administration witnessed a regime transformation, which was swiftly followed by a dissolution by the Figueredo administration. The last of the military regimes witnessed the peaceful transition to a democratically elected government in the Sarney administration. In the history of Brazil as a state, the military played a significant role in the country’s political heritage.
Following the overthrow of the legally elected government of Joao Goulart in 1964, a military regime was established in Brazil as an institution, which held power for 21 years, aided and supported by some powerful civilian groups, the military personnel were at the higher echelons of power and effectively kept political activity under strict control. When there were real or imagined threats to their control, or they were unsatisfied with the limited political interplay, which they sporadically allowed, they reacted in the very authoritative manners. They employed their famous institutional acts to shut down congress, amended the constitution depose congressmen mayors and other public office holders, showed absolute disrespect for the judicial system, revoked rights and applied censorship. These were a few of the ways in which successive military regimes handled the political process. For their real or perceived political enemies, they resorted to exiling, torture, imprisonment and outright assassination when it suited their ends.
Although collectively the military regimes were united in their opposition to civilians with regards to their role in the coup of 1964, they were in no way homogenous in their outlook, composition or ideology with regards to the intensiveness of neither their repressive tactics nor their orientation to their use of military power while in office. The best way of creating a system to appreciate their differences will be to divide them into groups or phases. The first phase follows the 1964 coup and the term of Castelo Branco and the early part of General Silva. It marked a period when hardliners gained access to power and pushed for a prolongation of the military regime and the adoption of a more repressive stance and measures; however, even among them existed some who were of a softer stance and were opposed to such draconian measures. Nonetheless, this, at the same time, did not mean they were welcoming to the idea of relinquishing power overnight. They justified their ascent to power by stating their objectives, which were to restore discipline in the armed forces and nullify the threat of communism from the country. They unified the nation by pointing out that the threat of communism from within its borders was imminent. They cited the various revolution that were occurring around the world at the time making use to bring the Cuban revolution led by Castro to the fore as an example of the kind of cancer they as military personnel were well equipped to take care of. At the initial stages, Castelo Branco indicated a willingness on his part to restore the country to civilian rule indicating that the powers that he granted himself in the institutional acts were only temporary. This period and the reaction to the 1965 elections saw them enact the second institutional act that enabled the nullification of the terms of lawmakers and elected officials. In addition, they nullified the multiparty system that existed before and instated a two party system.
The second phase lasted from 1968 to 1974, and marked a period referred to by historians as the heavy years. This period as the name implies refers to a period in Brazilian history towards the end of General Silva’s regime, and the military junta that came to power following his impeachment for health reasons and the whole of Gen Medici’s regime. This period was marked by very intense and severe repression of the populaces, especially those that were perceived to be enemies of the state. It saw the enactment of the now infamous Institutional Act Number Five that marked the increasing authoritarian nature of the military junta. This move further radicalized the opposition and in effect polarized the country. The leftist groups following the enactment of this rule took up arms against the dictatorship. This period lasted for about two years and the retribution from the military was swift as it was draconian. Urban groups of leftists were destroyed or disbanded. The harshest of these periods was under the regime of General Medici. Although this period saw the most repression, it also witnessed a period of prosperity and growing influence on the Brazilian state, marked by it close ties with the Nixon administration.
The last phase was marked by the inauguration of Genenal Geisel who came to power, promising that he would oversee a period of slow, gradual and safe transition to civilian rule. It marked the beginning of the end of the repressive military rule. Geisel began his time in office by reinstating many of the officers that can put to pasture following the exit of Castelo Branco from power. Geisel began his tenure with a clear plan for transition; however, most of the authoritarian legacies left to him like the powers that the various institutional acts accorded him were left in place, but a period of political liberalization was in progress once more. He, however, was averse to the repressive measures and the heavy-handedness of the military. This was typified by his retiring of General Ednardo, following the torture and death of a civilian worker in 1976. This singular act represented a paradigm shift in the use and abuse of power by the military in Brazil. Before he left office, Ednardo revoked the Institutional Act Number Five and selected his successor General Figuerido who eventually held democratic elections in 1985 (Castro, 2000).
In Nigeria, the military ascent to power came under no such ideological pretexts like communism as was the case in Brazil, but in almost every case that they took power, they came as they claimed to rid the country of social vices and provide stability, especially when they deemed the executive in civilian regimes to be weak and ineffective. This has been a recurring factor with successive military regimes with a number of exceptions. The ideological rationale for the first coup led by Major Nzeogwu is not clear, but the fallout from it has since colored it along tribal lines.
The first of the regimes that came to power with pretext of ensuring stability in the country was that of General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. His tenure witnessed serious political instability that spread even to the military ranks. This mostly stemmed from the fact that his tenure was brought about by the instability following Major Nzeogwu’s coup. After suppressing the Nzeogwu coup, Aguiyi-Ironsi’s ethic group largely spared from the purge. The fallout and ethnic tensions that followed was the reason for the instability given that he was from the same ethnic group as the main actor in the coup-Major Nzeogwu. In 1966, a counter coup was carried out in which he was assassinated and subsequently, brought Gen Yakubu Gowon to power who promised a swiftly transition to civilian rule as soon as it could be arranged. He was overthrown nine years later following his failure to transit from military to civilian rule in a coup staged ironically by the same soldiers who brought him to power (Dudley, 1973).
Brigadier Murtala Mohamed who led the 1966 coup was assassinated in abortive coup and his deputy Lt-Gen Obasanjo replaced him. Obasanjo ruled for four years, and he successfully led the nation to a democratic rule in 1979. He was able to hold multiparty democratic elections in the country and stepped down from power. This achievement was one of great pride to the military, but it soon morphed into a complex in which the military assumed the role of the moral conscience and political custodian of the country. The same group of young NCO’s from the 1966 coup was to figure significantly in all the military coups that followed thereafter.
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The military in Nigeria generally ruled with a deft touch and seldom resorted to heavy handedness besides one or two exceptions. As a result of this, they were largely popular with Nigerians, because of the perception that the military were more organized and disciplined. They rode this wave of public optimism promising to bring all of the anticipated change to pass till they fell to the same ills of their predecessors (Peters, 1997).
The watershed moment with regards to the influence of the military intervention in Nigerian politics was the 1993 elections under the leadership of Gen Babangida. He drew up an electoral plan and carried it out using a two party process. The elections held then were hailed by Nigerians and international observers as the freest and fairest election held till date. One of the candidates, Chief Moshood Abiola, who contested under the social democratic party, was declared winner, but the military government led by Gen Babangida annulled the elections; it baffles observers till today. However, he handed over to an interim national government led by Chief Ernest Shonekan that was tasked with conducting fresh elections. After all, he was deemed weak and was peacefully overthrown by Gen Sani Abacha, who was one of the most brutal leaders the nation ever had. His death led to another military administration that promptly held elections and returned Gen Obasanjo to power as a civilian head of state
A Comparison of the Roles of the Military in both Countries
From the above history, both countries have had their political processes and history largely influenced by successive military regimes. That is one similarity between the two nations. These military rulers, in both cases, used ideological pretexts to get into power. The Brazilians used the real threat of communism to get into power, playing on the generalized aversion of the population to the communist system, and establish their hegemony of power rapidly.
The military intervention by the military in both countries share the similarity that both of them came into power portraying themselves as temporary custodians of power whose only purpose was to guide the nation back to civilian rule, which ironically they displaced themselves. They both stated clearly in both cases that they had no designs on power and that as soon as they concluded their projects as the facilitators of the democratic process they would vacate power.
The military regimes in both cases were largely initiated and concluded by officers of one generation. Gen Branco’s aide-de camp was eventually to usher in a democratically elected government. Therefore, the group of young officers initially led by Murtala Mohamed eventually handed power to a civilian government nearly four decades later.
The military intervention in Brazil was characterized by sustained periods of repression of dissidents and opposition groups using very brutal means. This was enhanced by the series of institutional acts, which successive governments enacted that accorded them increasingly sweeping powers in an institutionalized era of brutal repression. In the Nigerian case, the military rulers were largely popular and with the exception of Gen Abacha very rarely resorted to any brutal form of repression.
Today, the governments of both countries have taken significant steps to ensure that the chance for military intervention is significantly diminished. In both countries, the militaries have been restricted by retirements and reassignments to at best peripheral roles as their democracies develop. Elections that have held following these military regimes have reflected this peripheral roles played by the military in both of these nations.
The two countries described have been largely influenced by the actions and interventions of the military. Some of the prejudices regarding the military still exist today, especially as concerns Brazil. However, both countries are gradually coming out from the shadow of the military past (especially Nigeria) and the hope is that, with the important roles played by both of them both regionally and internationally, their democracies will grow and stabilize.