The Third Republic

The Third Republic

The transition program of the military rulers toward the establishment of civilian rule as the Third Republic was more elaborate and deliberate than was that toward the Second Republic. The goal was to prevent a recurrence of past mistakes. It was recognized that far-reaching changes involving more than the constitution and political institutions must be introduced. Consequently, as much attention was paid to restructuring the economy through the SAP as to fostering a new social order and a political culture through a program of social mobilization. In 1990 the transition program was tightly controlled, based on the assumption that desirable changes must occur through government intervention. It was also the most extended transition thus far, and this protracted schedule contributed to frequent changes in the agenda. The date of the final handing over of power was shifted from 1990 to 1992, state gubernatorial and assembly elections from 1990 to 1991, and the census from 1990 to 1991. Apart from these changes, major decisions frequently were reversed. Although President Babangida claimed that the transition was "sequential and methodical," it was actually responsive and ad hoc.

The transition to the Third Republic began with the setting up of a seventeen-member Political Bureau in 1986 to formulate a blueprint for the transition, based on ideas collated during a nationwide debate. In its report, the bureau recommended that a socialist ideology be introduced through a process of social mobilization, that local governments be strengthened as an effective third tier of government, and that a two-party system be created. The government accepted the recommendations except for the proposal advocating socialism. Most knowledgeable observers believed, however, that the Political Bureau was largely a facade created by the military, who had little intention of following the advice of the young intellectuals who composed the bureau.

Of all the recommendations, the two-party system was the most significant because it marked a departure from the multiparty system of the past. A majority in the bureau thought that a two-party system was the best way to ensure that the parties would be national and that they be financed largely by the state, as recommended. The bureau argued that in the First Republic and the Second Republic, the electoral alliances pointed to a two-party system. The north-versus-south character of these alliances led many to fear that a two-party system would function along similar lines, especially given the increasing sensitivity of the Muslim-Christian division. The government decreed the formation of two new parties in October 1989, requiring that the parties draw from a national, as opposed to a regional, constituency to prevent such a dichotomy.

Other aspects of the transition included a new Constitution Review Committee, a National Electoral Commission (NEC), strengthened local governments, the creation of local councils through nonpartisan elections, and the setting up of a Constituent Assembly (CA) to ratify the draft constitution, subject to final approval by the AFRC. The government, however, forbade the CA to deliberate on sensitive matters on which decisions had already been made or were to be made by the AFRC: the creation of more states and local government areas, the census, revenue allocation, the two-party system, and sharia (the latter, after the issue again threatened to tear the assembly apart, as it did in 1978).

In May 1989, after introducing eleven amendments, the AFRC promulgated the new constitution by Decree Number 12. The amendment covered the deletion of Section 15 of the new constitution that pronounced the country a welfare state and of Sections 42 and 43 that provided for free education to age eighteen and free medical care for persons up to age eighteen or older than sixty-five, the handicapped, and the disabled. The second amendment provided for streamlining the jurisdiction of sharia and customary courts of appeal to make them apply at the state level only to matters relating to the personal status of Muslims. Amendment three described civil service reforms. Amendment four reduced the minimum age requirements for federal and state elective offices from forty to thirty-five for the president, thirty-five to thirty for senators and governors, twenty-five for members of the House of Representatives, and twenty-one for members of state houses of assembly and local government councillors. The fifth amendment replaced the six-year, single-term tenure for the president and governors with a four-year, maximum two-term tenure. Amendment six removed from the National Assembly control over matters of national security because, in the view of the AFRC, it "exposes the chief executives and the nation to clear impotence in the face of threats to security". The seventh amendment made the federal Judicial Service Commission accountable in the hope that this would enhance the independence of the judiciary. Amendment eight eliminated provisions establishing an armed forces service commission to supervise compliance with provisions of the federal-character principle, i.e., that government-bodies such as the military, the civil service, and university faculties reflect the various elements of the population. Amendment nine covered the reduction of the number of special advisers to the president from seven to three and alteration of the provisions for gubernatorial advisers. Amendment ten eliminated Section 1 (4) of the draft constitution outlawing coups and making them a criminal offense. The eleventh amendment deleted the provisions forbidding the federal government to obtain external loans without the approval of the National Assembly.

These amendments ensured that some of the changes introduced by the Babangida government would remain binding after the government had handed over power. In spite of those amendments, the 1989 constitution is similar to that of 1979; the presidential system is retained with minor amendments, such as the reduction in the number of senators from each state from five to three. The major difference in the new political arrangement is the two-party system.

Two unique aspects of the transition program since 1989 require emphasis. One was the blanket ban placed on all former politicians and top political officeholders, especially those found guilty of abuse of office. In effect, the new political order was to be built around the "new breed" politicians, namely, those who supposedly had not been affected by corruption, ethnicity, religious fanaticism, and other vices that characterized the "old brigade." A corollary of this was the government's opposition to the participation of ideological and religious "radicals" and "extremists." To participate in the Third Republic, each prospective politician needed a clearance certificate from the Federal Electoral Commission.

The second important factor was the decision to create in October 1989 two parties wholly run and financed by the state. After the ban on political activities was lifted in May 1989, a number of political associations were formed, and thirteen applied for registration. The requirements for registration were very strict and almost impossible to fulfill in the time allotted: the submission of the names, addresses, and passport photographs of all members of the association in the federation was required to facilitate physical confirmation of the claims by the NEC. In its report to the AFRC, the NEC gave low scores to the associations, including the "big four" that were the strongest--the People's Solidarity Party, the Nigerian National Convention, the Patriotic Front of Nigeria, and the Liberal Convention. The report stated that most of the membership claims were found to be false, their manifestos and organization were very weak, and most of the associations were affiliated with banned politicians.

The AFRC's reaction to the report was unanticipated. It dissolved all the political associations and decreed two new parties--the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). It arranged for constitutions and manifestos of these two parties to be written by the NEC and by specially constituted panels based on a synthesis of those of the dissolved associations. The difference between the two parties was made a supposed ideological divide: "a little to the right" and "a little to the left." The finances of the parties, their secretariats in every local government area of the country, the appointment of their administrative secretaries, and their membership drives were now the responsibility of the federal government. The government described this new system as a "grass- roots democratic model" anchored in the rural and local groups rather than the "moneybags" and city elites that had allegedly hijacked the political process in the past.

A connection has also been made between these political changes and attempts to alter the economic and social realms. The economic transition centered on the SAP, while the social component included the process of social mobilization aimed at fostering a new social order and political culture. The general process was coordinated by the Directorate of Social Mobilization; the declared goals were social justice, economic recovery, mass mobilization, and political education under the acronym MAMSER (Mass Mobilization for Self-Reliance). MAMSER has been popularized, but time will be needed to gauge how far its goals have been realized. An emphasis has also been placed on rural development through strengthening of local governments, the Directorate of Rural Development, and improving facilities for the rural women's program.

The transition program toward the establishment of the Third Republic was the most ambitious undertaken in Nigeria. The success and stability of the republic, however, depended on the degree to which inherent structural problems could be overcome. Much depended on the orientations and on the actions of the politicians themselves, as well as on the dispositions of the military. Above all, its success depended on the accompanying economic and social transformations. The stability of the Third Republic, therefore, would rest not only on the operation of the new two-party system but also on the effectiveness of the SAP and MAMSER. The 1989 constitution provided for more than twenty ministers in the executive branch, in addition to various councils and commissions. The names and numbers of these ministries and commissions, which, geneally speaking, were responsible directly to the president, have changed occasionally since early 1990. Reportedly, Babangida was considering reducing the number of ministries to economize.

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