The structural formation of civil-military supremacy in line with current realities in Nigeria


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Nigeria is faced by various devastating political and socio-economic conditions, with about 250 multicultural ethnic nationalities; Nigeria is plagued by religious, ethnic, communal and resource conflict. Large resources and benefits from oil wealth could not touch the lives of the people. Allegiances to ethnic groups come first before the Nigeria state. Resource control agitations in the Niger Delta and other regions have given birth to various militia groups. The rise of vigilante groups, separatist groups, and the Boko Haram (Western or non-Islamic education is a sin) threatens the hard earned democracy, growth and development and the coexistence of Nigeria as a nation. Unfortunately, democracy that seems to be a dream come true is fast turning a nightmare. Recently, the Nigerian Army has said that it was invited to enforce the curfew in Lagos by the state government. The army also said it did not shoot at protesters in Lekki, Lagos. The army stated this, on Tuesday, in a statement by its 81 Division in Lagos. The statement was signed by its spokesperson, Osoba Olaniyi. This term paper discusses the structural formation of civil-military supremacy in line with current realities in Nigeria.


The structural formation of civil-military supremacy in line with current realities in Nigeria



The military foundation of most societies would be difficult to dispute. History books are often filled with people illustration of invasions and conquest of weak communities by powerful forces. The military as an institution existed even in pre-colonial times especially in those ancient kingdom of all such as the Benin Empire, the Oyo Kingdom, Dahomey Kingdom, Borno Empire, etc. At this time, the military was primarily assigned the responsibility of defending the territorial integrity of these sates. Although, they were regularly consulted even on political matters, they had no direct control over the affairs of state. Essentially, they remained subordinated to the political authorities (Lai, 2004).

Even in ancient Rome, the military was not known to directly involved in governance until the point in time when the Roman Army “went beyond. Its brief to takeover power from the Roman senate and henceforth chose who the Emperor was going to be. This abbreviation became known as PRAETORIANISM i.e. the direct intervention of the military in politics. Consequently, the military that was initially regarded as the protector of the Emperor or the praetorian guards suddenly took over power. From this moment onward military praetorians became associated with the overthrow of legitimate ‘and elected government (Larry, 1997).

Although, the military institution is an important institution in the society that could assist in the maintenance of stability through protection of the territorial integrity of the state concerned. The unusual happens when this institution chooses to abandon its traditional responsibility and then decides to embrace the option of taking over the state power. The issue therefore, is how we keep the military permanently in the barracks in order for it to perform its traditional role as well as disengage them from politics.



The military: This is one of the institutions of the state assigned with the responsibility of defending the territorial integrity of the state to ward off aggression from other independent state

Civil-military supremacy: This notion connote the idea of engendering civilian control of the military as well as keeping the military in the barrack to perform their constitutional/ traditional role.

Democratization: if we take democracy as being on a continuum with low democracy, medium democracy and high democracy as the closet to the democratic dead and, then in reference to Nigeria we can only speak of democratization; which is a form of low democracy tending toward medium with democratic consolidation still for fetched.



If the merger of the northern and southern protectorates can be excused, it is imperative to examine how the military have usurped powers of the sub national units and ascribed such to the federal government. It is germane to have a look at how a military structure operates and see the ethnic pigments of the Nigerian military, especially during their reign. The Nigerian military is a tripartite force comprising of the Army, Navy and Air force. The military by its constitutional roles is to defend the country, promote territorial integrity and assist the police in cases of internal insurrection (FGN, 1999). These are the major functions of military worldwide of which Nigeria is not an exception.

The military operates on a command structure in which instructions are not disobeyed. Instructions given are to be obeyed to the letter by those concerned without an element of complain. However, the military in Africa, Asia and Latin America has stepped beyond its defense responsibility by venturing into politics and governance (McGowan, 2003: 341). Nigeria has equally had its share of military rule. The involvement of the military especially in federal states starves the autonomy expected of sub national units because of the top down way the military operates.

In Nigeria, the army has always spear headed military takeover of government, hence, the Head of State or Military President was always an Army General while the Chief of General Staff/Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters who acted as the Vice-president was always an Army/Naval general.

Arbitrarily, the military so much empowers the government at the centre because of its centralized operational procedure. A scrutiny of how decisions are made during military era will be crucial in explaining the fact that military government and federalism represent two parallel lines that cannot meet. The military incursion into politics in 1966 changed the democratic policy process in Nigeria. The military in its essentials adopts an authoritarian style (Oni, 2014a: 9).

The military command usurps the powers of both the legislature and the judiciary in addition to its executive powers. From 1966 to 1985, policy making, fiscal matters and executive authority were vested in the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Council of States which comprises of the Head of State, the state military administrators and some selected military officers (Koehn, 1990: 23). The SMC was composed of the Head of State and 24 top ranking military officers while the FEC consisted of the Head of State, some top military officers and federal ministers (Koehn, 1990: 23). The input of the bureaucracy in the policy process between 1967 and 1975 was significant but this drastically nosedived between 1975- 1979 and 1984 – 1985 military juntas (Otobo, 1999: 297).



Oct. 20, 2020, will forever be known as Black Tuesday in Nigeria. In a darkness broken only by the blue light of cellphone screens, the sound of gunshots rang out as the army and police fired into a crowd of young people who had gathered at Lagos’s Lekki toll gate to protest the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notoriously abusive arm of the police.

The massacre at Lekki punctuated more than two weeks of protest of police brutality in Nigeria. The hashtag #EndSARS began trending (again) on social media on Oct. 4. The immediate trigger was a video that showed a SARS officer shooting a young motorist in Ughelli, in Delta state, then pushing his body out of the car and driving off with the dead man’s Lexus SUV. Within days, crowds of young people gathered in Nigerian cities to demand the abolition of SARS.

This year’s protests follow on previous activism and government announcements that SARS would be demobilized in 2014, 2015 and 2017. And yet, SARS officers continued to act with impunity, committing armed robberies, rapes, other acts of torture and extrajudicial killings like the one in Delta State. On Oct. 11, leaders announced that SARS would be disbanded, but crowds of protesters grew bigger — even in the face of violence and intimidation. Since the protests began, estimates are that at least 100 individuals have lost their lives; 48 of whom were killed on Black Tuesday alone.

Black Tuesday is the latest in a long history of police and military campaigns in Nigeria against the civilian population. For half of the republic’s 60-year history and for the century of colonial rule before independence there have been quasi-military police forces and outright military police charged with repressing dissent from the civilian population. The history of Nigeria’s police abuses helps us see the continuities in the misuse of state power against citizens. But it also shows that through it all, Nigerians have resisted the negation of their basic humanity.

Modern policing in what would become Nigeria started in 1861 with the annexation of Lagos by British colonial forces. The colonial governor established an armed police force to “protect” te European-occupied parts of the city from recalcitrant local rulers. As a force composed of 25 newly freed Hausa men (from the northern part of the country), their salaries were low and undoubtedly inspired members of the force to supplement their earnings from the local population. Because they were Hausa men relocated to a largely non-Hausa Lagos (in southwestern Nigeria), their loyalty to the British as opposed to the local indigenous community was virtually guaranteed.

Beyond Lagos, the arrival of modern police forces accompanied the spread of British colonial power. Quasi-military police forces participated in the key punitive expeditions that brought defiant local communities under British control. In 1891, a British colonial official, Acting Consul George Annesley, assembled and armed a small group of men to subdue chiefs in the upper Cross River region, who were seen as obstacles to the expansion of British economic power. Annesley reportedly planned to pay his agents out of fines extracted from subdued native chiefs. Within a year, this force, which other colonial officials privately referred to as “Annesley Baba and his 40 thieves,” was disbanded following the revelation of atrocities against local people.

The pattern of assembling policing forces to protect government over the people, to prey on local communities and suppress dissent continued well into the 20th century. The Aba Women’s War of 1929, the General Strike of 1945 and the Enugu Colliery Strike of 1949 were instances where anti-colonial resistance was met with a quasi-military policing force deployed to subjugate citizens.

At Nigeria’s 1960 independence, the major political question regarding policing was whether the three regions that formed the country at the time should have their own police forces or if the federation should direct the police. Anxieties from this period motivated the current structure of the Nigerian Police Force, which is controlled by the federal government. The organization also stemmed from the widespread fear that regional leaders would deploy police forces against their political enemies. Such fears were not unfounded; politicians in the 1940s and even now have routinely employed and armed hooligans to intimidate political opponents and voters.

Today, the deployment of the army in the Lekki toll gate massacre has a particular symbolic meaning because Nigeria was under military rule for half of its existence as an independent nation. From 1966 to 1999, one coup leader took over from another in a seemingly endless stream of khaki-clad men. For decades, armed men from the military and police ruled the nation, governed the states and patrolled the streets, indiscriminately meting out unchecked violence upon ordinary people. The only check on their unpredictable violence became other armed uniformed men. All governments are susceptible to authoritarianism, but when the military and the executive become one and the same, the judiciary and the legislature tend to fall in line; this was military rule in Nigeria as in most of Africa, Asia and Latin America during the Cold War.

Despite a system that has been unresponsive to their needs, the youth of Nigeria have spoken up. There is a poetry to the fact that #EndSARs erupted in October 2020; Oct. 1, 1960 marked the official date of Nigeria’s independence from British rule. Sixty years later, young Nigerians are still demanding freedom from repression. The #EndSARS protests began with a focus on police brutality, but have extended to other dimensions of corruption, human rights violations and underdevelopment in Nigeria. Not necessarily seeking to topple Nigeria or even the Buhari regime, (there are other groups in the country much more focused on this) the #EndSARS protests sought to make Nigerian citizenship mean something tangible and worthwhile for young people.

Comparisons and connections can be drawn between the movement for Black lives in the United States and the #EndSars protests in Nigeria — both are triggered by the impunity of police violence upon marginalized communities; both movements featured dramatic outpourings of young people who had been written off by establishment politicians as disaffected or lazy; both movements made savvy use of social media.

But there are important contrasts as well. Police brutality in the United States upholds a White supremacist racial order. Police brutality in Nigeria upholds whoever is paying the policing forces — the regime in power. Just as the color line is still the fundamental dividing line of the societies of the Americas, religious divides, ethnic, caste and economic divides are fundamental to understanding social difference in other parts of the world. Police brutality is the common tool used to maintain a variety of systems of inequality and oppression in different societies. And it is a tool that gets turned systematically on the most vulnerable members of society. But the protests against police brutality that have crystallized in 2020 insist that new and just societies in which young people can imagine meaningful futures are still, for the moment, possible.



The Nigerian government, in response to the protests, has scrapped the notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The country’s police chief, Mohammed Adamu, has also warned the police against using force on peaceful protesters. Some cases of torture and extra-judicial killings by police officers have been exhumed and they appeared to be receiving attention. Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, has apologised for the government’s slow implementation of the protesters’ demands. Many believe the deployment of troops is not the best option for Mr Buhari’s administration. They argue that the government should rather cash in on the little benefits the protests have achieved so far, work out ways to build trust with the Nigerian people and introduce sweeping reforms within the police and in other areas.

In addition to banning Sars, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised an “extensive” reform of Nigeria’s police service. The authorities have also vowed to free all those protesters who have been detained. They say that all Sars officers will undergo a psychological and medical examination before further training and redeployment, and that Sars officers will not be redeployed to the unit set up to replace it, the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) team.

However, the protesters remain sceptical, pointing out that several previous pledges to abolish or reform Sars were not fulfilled.

Moreover, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had admitted that soldiers shot at the protesters. The governor also said he did not invite soldiers or ask them to shoot at the protesters. The governor also said the CCTV footage of the incident would be available to the state judicial panel probing brutality of security operatives. The Lekki shooting has been condemned by Nigerians and the international community who have called for investigation and demanded that culprits be punished.




Nationwide protests against police brutality began on Oct. 8, after a video emerged in early October showing police officers thought to be from the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or (SARS allegedly shooting and killing a young man in Nigeria’s southern Delta State. Although Nigerian authorities denied the reports, protests erupted across the country calling to disband the unit and #endSARS. Though they are leaderless, the demonstrations are mostly driven by young people who say they have been unfairly profiled by SARS.

The #endSARS hashtag dates back to at least 2017, when it was used to share experiences of assault and violence. SARS was formed in 1984 to combat an increase in armed robbery and crime but has been widely accused of unlawful arrests and other abuses. Amnesty International reported at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution between January 2017 and May 2020. Despite promises of reform, Amnesty says SARS officers still act with impunity.

However, on October 11, the government announced the disbanding of SARS. This is the fourth time there has been an announcement of either the disbanding or reform of the force, but activists say the move does not go far enough. Protesters have five core demands, including justice for the families of victims of police brutality, retraining of SARS officers before they are redeployed to other police units, and an independent body to oversee investigations into police brutality. Protesters have also expanded their aims beyond police brutality to harness frustration at years of corruption and bad governance.



While this term paper acknowledges the struggle for political power within the ruling class, the security systems are largely undermined. The security crisis today is damaging the country’s international image. Nigeria wants foreign investors but lacks strong and strategic security in place for human protection. Nigeria is currently degenerating into a state of terror and fear, where everyone is afraid of its own shadow, the lapses in security calls for concern.

The protests on October 20 at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos, a curfew was put in place. Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu issued a statement, calling on “peaceful protesters and residents” to obey the curfew and stay home. With the curfew in place, that essentially meant that everyone who was on the street, including protesters, was there illegally.

Security forces opened fire on the thousands of peaceful protesters at the toll plaza without warning, with rights groups and the United Nations saying that at least 12 people were killed and many injured. Sanwo-Olu said these were forces were beyond his control, pointing out that the military was deployed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

International and local media have been covering the developments since the start, but the dramatic turn at the Lekki toll plaza has put a renewed focus on the situation in Nigeria. The UN and European Union have called for an end to the police brutality, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging “security forces to act at all times with maximum restraint.” He also called on protesters “to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The Lagos state governor has promised an investigation “into the orders and the adopted rules of engagement employed by the officers and men of the Nigerian army that were deployed” at the Lekki toll plaza on Tuesday, he wrote on Twitter. By that, he made it clear that he was laying the blame on the army. However, the state is usually informed when the federal government deploys the army on its territory. Protesters have said the governor should have warned them, and offered protection.

It is disheartening and painful, if security of lives and properties cannot be guaranteed in a democratic state. Nigerians may not be safe. So far, the puzzles behind these murders are yet to be solved, whether they are politically motivated or otherwise are left to the state to answer, but it is certain that Nigeria like many other African states see political office as the biggest business; therefore violence becomes an ideological apparatus and struggle to achieve political power.

History they say repeats itself, resolving high profile assassinations by the Nigerian Police is quite unimpressive because the Police lacks the will and competence to investigate crime, apprehend culprits, and ensure justice which eventually erodes the public confidence for safety.



The response of the Nigerian government to growing levels of insecurity has increasingly been to use the military. Several peace and security conferences and commissions of inquiry have been instituted. But these yielded little or no result due to the lack of political will by the government to implement the recommendations.

The military has been deployed because of the weaknesses and inadequacies of the Nigerian police. Inadequate training, shortage of manpower as well as policing equipment, coupled with excesses have added to the erosion of public trust in the police and their legitimacy.

But the use of the military has introduced a host of new problems.

Some studies are set out to understand whether the Nigerian state is exercising adequate civil control of the military to ensure that it doesn’t become a threat to the citizenry and exacerbate insecurity. Some studies found that civilians see the military as exacerbating insecurity. For example, increased militarisation has led to people’s movements and activities being severely restricted. And several emergency rules have been declared. These have involved suspending civilian government and replacing it with military administrators.

Furthermore, the dereliction of duty is rife among soldiers, with some choosing which distress calls from citizens to respond to or not.  On top of this, there’s tension between military culture and civilian values. The military operates a culture which follows an authoritarian leadership style, and is combat-focused. For their part, civilians are more likely to seek resolution to issues and to use the criminal justice system to adjudicate problems. This has led to relations between civilians and the military becoming severely strained.



A bigger problem is the weak civil control over the Nigerian military. This has led to a lack of accountability and compliance with rules of engagement. Nigerian law subordinates the military to civil control and parliamentary oversight. Ideally, this should ensure that the military acts within its mission and mandate. But, the problem lies with implementation. The culture of civilian supremacy over the military is not as yet well institutionalised. The result is that citizens counteract abuse by the military in various ways. One way is to simply comply with the demands and orders of the soldiers, even when they are illegitimate.

Another entails non-violent resistance or non-compliance. For example, it’s common for civilians to refuse to cooperate and share information with the military. A third way is to collaborate with compromised soldiers. The fourth is to use various forms of violent resistance. This involves people either aligning with armed groups, or forming their own. This proliferation of armed groups worsens insecurity.

The structural formation of civil-military supremacy in line with current realities in Nigeria


Nigeria is currently faced with a series of internal security challenges that threaten the very existence of the country. In the areas where conflict has erupted, the military has been consistently accused of violating human rights during its operations. Here, the concept of democratization is the main thrust of the main. The concept makes it clear that democracy cannot be instituted by conducting an election to replace military dictators with civilians. Rather it has to be established and gradually institutionalized through the conscious efforts of the elites and political leaders over time.

Unrest across Nigeria continued through Wednesday and Thursday. Local media reported that two television stations in Lagos were burned and destroyed, video footage showed the remains of a raided a mall in Lekki, and the BBC reports that the high court in Lagos island was set ablaze.

The company that manages the Lekki toll gate, disputed Amnesty’s eyewitness accounts that cameras were removed from the area on Tuesday night before the shootings. Curfews were imposed in Lagos state and across other parts of the country, including Delta state where protests began in early October. Lagos governor Sanwo-Olu said Thursday that the Nigerian military has offered to deploy forces if needed to protect businesses and government sites amid the unrest. In a short televised address and Twitter thread Thursday evening, Buhari urged protesters to stop demonstrating and engage with the government in “finding solutions.”

Certainly, such a process will involve political institutionalization, behavioural and attitudinal changes that normalize politics and’ narrow uncertainty. The challenge of democratization is therefore to ensure that democracy ‘becomes the only game in town. It must involve a shift in political culture, a transition from instrumental to principled commitment to the democratic framework, a growth in trust and cooperation framework, a growth in trust and cooperation among then political competitors and a socialization of the general population. This can be achieved through both deliberative efforts and the practice of the democracy in politics and civil society.



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