By Dr. Nowa Omoigui




Introduction and Definition

According to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the phrase "Civil-Military relations" encompasses all "activities undertaken by NATO commanders in war directly concerned with the relationship between allied armed forces and the government, civil population, or agencies of non-NATO countries where such armed forces are stationed, supported or employed".

In peacetime, however, a more functional definition is that suggested by Carolina Hernandez of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies in the Philippines.  She describes it, quite simply, as "the balance of power between military and civilian branches of government". I dare say, however, that the interplay of civil and military components of society extends beyond the bounds of the government.

Traditional civil-military relations presume civil supremacy and guidance, in other words, full democratic control of the military in its role and responsibility to society as the ultimate guarantor of national security.

This implies the military is a servant of society which exercises its monopoly over the most violent means of violence in the interest of its citizens in response to popular will and consent. To exercise this role, however, the military must have unique expertise within a corporate structure guided by a strong sense of ethical and moral responsibility.

Civil society on the other hand must have strong institutions through which the will and consent of the citizenry are projected.

On the other end of the spectrum is the situation in which a Military regime subordinates civil society and civilian branches of government. In between both extremes, the military may act behind the scenes as the sponsor, guide, protector and supporter of a civilian government, and thus retain the ability to influence it in many areas within and outside the defence and security spheres. In this situation the civilian government has no influence over military, defence and perhaps even foreign policy but maintains an appearance of control. Gradual subordination of the military involves a process of continuously chipping away at the military's exclusive control over these areas of state activity, first by removing its influence over policy matters outside defence and security, and then limiting its influence or policy control to defence per se. The final stage of subordination is said to have occurred when the civilian government has total control of all policy areas, including national defence. In this situation, however, the military still partakes in policy formulation and debate but ultimate decisions are made by the legitimate civilian government, presumably acting in trust as it exercises the will of larger society.

From the foregoing, it would seem that overt intervention in domestic politics by the conventional state organized and funded military is the worst kind of civil-military relationship. However, on the other end, defining the corporate role of the Armed Forces in formulating and implementing defence and foreign policy under supervision of constitutional authority, while simultaneously respecting the "space" of the military, remains a challenge to democratically elected governments. It should be recognized, though, that dysfunctional civil-military relations may be expressed in other ways, such as the misuse of the military for civilian directed repression and even genocide, emergence of child soldiers and ethnic militia warlords, illegal weapons proliferation, commercialization of security and other expressions of militarization.

In Nigeria, whether civil society is supreme and has the capacity, will, responsibility, authority and power to guide the military is open to debate.

The country's creation by British conquest, preceded as it was by the establishment of a brutal mercantile military machine, consolidated by a long line of colonial military figures has been followed by a post-independence record of repeated military interventions. These forays into politics have often been justified by dubious rationalizations of the military as the ultimate (and thus unaccountable) constitutional guarantor and protector of national sovereignty - against all perceived enemies, foreign and domestic. Along with many events that have legitimized violence as a tool for negotiation, it has helped impose a militaristic tradition in the country's political mindset. At a subconscious level, force and deception, rather than "rule of law" may have become quasi-respectable as ways of doing business. This life cycle has only been punctuated by brief civilian intermissions during which the military still maintained certain perks behind the scenes. Thus, given the national charter imposed by history and habit, one can be forgiven for sometimes wondering whether the question in modern Nigeria is military-civil rather than civil-military relations.


Following a naval bombardment on December 26 and 27, 1851, motivated by Britain's desire for a share of regional trade, Lagos was brought under British gunboat influence.

But it was not until 1861, following a gradual erosion of the powers of the Oba, that Lagos formally became a colony and was the first part of what later became "Nigeria" to be incorporated into the British Empire, courtesy of an agreement signed under duress by Oba Dosunmu, Akitoye's son.

A constabulary force was later formed in 1863 to police the colony, protect British traders, and handle some raids into the hinterland. It was also called "Glover's Hausas". This nickname originated from the fact that Lt. Glover of the Royal Navy whose exploration ship got wrecked near Jebba on the River Niger picked up a band of run away Hausa slaves and employed them as a security force as he made his way back to the coast over Yoruba land.

This unit was the ancestor of what later became the 4th Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Ibadan during the first republic. All through the various battles of British conquest, former slaves, exiled criminals, other disenfranchised individuals and mercenaries formed the bulk of fighting troops, albeit commanded by British officers.

A summary of these campaigns was previously published on gamji at http://www.gamji.com/nowa5.htm Just before amalgamation, the West African Frontier Force Camp was based in Jebba before being moved to Kaduna in 1912 to test the site of Lugard's proposed new capital, consistent with the decision to transfer the headquarters of then Northern Nigeria from Zungeru.


The reasons for the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria have been exhaustively analyzed elsewhere. Lord Harcourt, then Colonial Secretary said: "We have released Northern Nigeria from the leading strings of the Treasury. The promising and well conducted youth is now on an allowance on his own and is about to affect an alliance with a Southern lady of means. I have issued the special licence and Sir Frederick Lugard will perform the ceremony. May the union be fruitful and the couple constant" The Nigeria Regiment, West African Frontier Force, was thus formed by amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria Regiments on January 1st 1914.

The unit was reorganized under one Commandant. Two Infantry battalions were stationed in the North and a battery of Artillery in the South. The "Mounted Infantry" was based in the North. As of that time, the main entity in the South was called the "Southern Nigerian volunteers", which upon the outbreak of the First World War, was replaced by the largely European "Land and Marine Contingent" which later became the Artillery detachment. Lugard had been the Governor of Northern Nigeria before becoming the Governor-General of Amalgamated Nigeria after an interlude in Hong Kong. As governor-general he made strong efforts to move the central capital of the entire country from Lagos to Kaduna. Kaduna was popular with British colonial officers because of climate, lack of "congestion", ease of separating "natives" from "Europeans", good water supply, as well as the presence of the Railway Headquarters (at that time), along with the WAFF headquarters.

In August 1914, as the First World War gathered pace, an Egba revolt was militarily crushed by ten companies of troops from the newly created "Nigeria Regiment." During the First World War, support for the British was very strong among Emirs many of whom contributed money and helped to raise troops. Nine (9) battalions of the regiment fought and distinguished themselves at Douala, Garoua and Banyo in the Cameroons from 1914-16 and at Behobeho and Nyangao in Tanganyika against Von Lettow from 1916-18. Most recruits were deliberately culled from so called "martial" minority areas of northern Nigeria like the Dakokori of Niger, Tiv of Benue, Numan of Adamawa and Kanuri of Bornu provinces respectively. Others came from the Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers provinces of the south. This pattern of recruitment was to persist until WW2 when demands for skilled tradesmen and technicians opened up opportunities for more southerners.

By 1920 the regiment had been reduced to 4 battalions which were used thereafter for occasional internal tax expeditions. In 1928 it became the Nigeria Regiment, within the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAAF). In 1929-1930 the regiment was called upon for a major internal security operation against Igbo women, mainly at Aba.

The Nigeria regiment-RWAAF structure persisted until it was renamed the Queen's Own Nigeria Regiment (QONR), Royal West African Frontier Force in July 1956. Before 1939, the Major General in Lagos reported to the GOC-in-C in Accra who reported to the War Office in London.

As of 1939, the Nigeria regiment comprised the Regimental HQ, The Nigeria Regiment, Kaduna;1st Battalion, The Nigeria Regiment: Kaduna; 2nd Battalion, The Nigeria Regiment: Kano;3rd Battalion, The Nigeria Regiment (Less One Company): Enugu;4th Battalion, The Nigeria Regiment: Ibadan; One Company: Lagos;5th Battalion, The Nigeria Regiment: Zaria; Detachments: Maiduguri and Sokoto; 1st Nigeria Light Artillery Battery: Zaria; Signals Company: Zaria; The Lagos Defence Force (European Reserve Force): Lagos; The Engineer Cadre (European Reserve Force): Lagos.

When WW2 broke out, an Army Council was created in London which controlled West African units of the British Army through a Command Secretary. Defence spending was shared by local tax-payers in Nigeria as well as through allocations in the UK budget.

During the Second World War, using a competitive pay scale and opportunity for travel and trade training to attract volunteers, who were then supplemented by an unpopular conscription drive, the regiment was expanded to 28 battalions and support troops comprising 121, 652 servicemen, of whom 30,000 served abroad. The massive expansion of the Regiment led to the establishment of temporary camps all over Nigeria which created civil-military tensions with local civilians who often complained of atrocious and brutal conduct on the part of the recruits. This did not help the reputation of the military, particularly in southern Nigeria.

Units of the Nigeria regiment, however, went on to distinguish themselves at Juba, Goluin, Marda Pass, Babile Gap, Bisidimo, Colito, Omo, and Lechemti during the Abyssinian campaign in East Africa from 1940-41. In Burma, from 1943-45, as part of the 81st and 82nd West African Divisions, the regiment fought in North Arakan, Kaladan, Mayu Valley, Myohaung, Arakan Beaches, Kangaw, Dalet and Tamandu and was a component of Chindit operations in 1944.The high point of the Nigerian regiment in Burma was the fall of Myohaung on January 24-25, 1945.

Upon return to Nigeria from WW2, many soldiers were demobilized using various incentives including termination pay and job opportunities reserved in the public and private sectors. These men formed veterans associations some of which became adjuncts to political parties of that era - a unique civil-quasi-military relationship which was replicated in several West African countries and formed part of the peaceful independence movement. In 1948, however, active duty Nigerian troops were again power-projected abroad to Gold Coast for several months to help Britain crush riots there.

In that same year, under Sir John Mcpherson, the first moves toward Nigerianization began in the public service. Nnamdi Azikiwe (who later became President) and Muhammadu Ribadu (who later became Defence Minister) joined Hugh Foot, the Chief Secretary on the Foot Committee. But this did not include the military in its terms of reference.

In 1949, the GOC-in-Chief of the RWAAF, General Nicholson proposed establishing a West African Military Academy for West Africans, but increasingly confident Nigerian political leaders resisted it for fear that graduates of such an academy would not be viewed as having the same level of training as British officers trained in Britain. The preference was for officer training at Sandhurst, Mons or Eaton Hall Officer Cadet Schools.

Other than the previous use of Emirs and community leaders to assist in recruitment, this represents the first direct input of indigenous Nigerians into matters of higher defence policy. Interestingly, none of those involved had served in the colonial military.

Although some vague references exist to a few indigenous field commissions in the early years of British campaigns in Nigeria, the first ten commissioned officers were Bassey (1946), Ugboma(1948), Sey, Aguiyi-Ironsi and Ademulegun (1949), Shodeinde (1950) followed by Maimalari, Lawan, Ogundipe and Adebayo (1953). Maimalari and Lawan, both northerners from the North-East, were the first Sandhurst trained officers in Nigeria. The others listed rose from the ranks.

All of this was occurring against the backdrop of emerging North-South indigenous political tensions. In 1950, for example, during a heated debate at the Ibadan Constitutional Conference regarding the distribution of seats in the proposed central parliament under the Richard's Constitution, the Emirs of Katsina and Zaria threatened that they would "ask for separation from the rest of Nigeria on the arrangements existing before 1914".

At that time officer recruitment strategy was based on establishing close liaison between certain secondary schools like the Government (Barewa) College Zaria and nearby military institutions (like the Depot) supplemented by direct recruitment drives by community leaders against a background of cultural glorification and family traditions. The first 6 officers in the Army from northern Nigeria, for example, attended that college (Maimalari, Lawan, Kur Muhammed, Largema, Pam and Gowon). They shared the same alma mater with the political leaders of the Northern Peoples Congress like Ahmadu Bello, Balewa and most NPC Ministers of the first republic, illustrating an interesting model of informal civil-military linkages through a commonality of pre-military educational and regional ties.

Meanwhile, then Brigadier Browne commented that "Young people in Eastern and Western Nigeria with the required education do not appear to like the army as a career." Such cleavages were to take on immense importance in civil-military relations after Nigeria became independent.

Aside from pressure to Nigerianize which resulted in officer recruitment drives, the main issues in civil-military relations in that era as reflected in the Press and parliamentary debates include indigenous taxation for defence without local political control, pay, conditions of service and prestige. Army Barracks were worse than Police barracks and policemen were better paid. Soldiers were often derided in public, particularly in the Western region where they were even called epithets like "Afamaco" or "Abobaku" - a preview, one might add, to the epithet "zombie", which was popularized by Fela Anikulapo Kuti in the late seventies.

In 1952, the national census was again conducted and was not free of the usual controversy over relative numbers in competing regions. Expatriates were suspected of tampering with the figures. In May 1952 there was a serious mutiny by clerks of southern Nigerian origin at the Command Ordnance Depot, Yaba over "living conditions". Two European officers were wounded and the mutiny was only crushed when "northern riflemen" from the infantry were brought in to support Military Police. Such tensions between  "southern" soldiers in the colonial army and European officers reflected tensions between southern civilian nationalists and British colonial administration. The resolution of this mutiny by the British High Command exploited a deliberate cleavage in the regional origins of men in the rank and file (who were typically northern) versus those in the trades (who were typically southern). Other mechanisms of "colonial civil control" at that time include the predominance of British citizens in the officer corps in general, anglification of the artillery unit, manipulation of pay scales for the rank and file, and frequent rotation of military units to prevent undue fraternization with locals. However, as previously noted, such inbuilt organizational tensions bequeathed by British recruitment policies which served them well, later complicated civil-military and civil-security relations in post-independence Nigeria. One ominous comment along these lines was made during the 1953 Budget Session of the House of Representative in Lagos. Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto said: "The mistake of 1914 has come to light".

That same year, however, two Nigerians, Tafawa Balewa and Eni Njoku were allowed for the first time to attend the West African Forces Conference.

Balewa also took part in subsequent meetings of the West African Military Council and also had the privilege of being briefed by the Governor General from time to time about regional security matters of interest to Britain. The following year, in 1954, the Nigerian Military School, Zaria was inaugurated.

After the Gold Coast intervention of 1948, the main role of the Nigeria Regiment until 1958 was to stand-by to back up the Police during the Kano riots of 1953, Eastern Nigeria Tax riots of February 1958 and the riots at Ibadan in March 1958 following the death of Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu. The regiment also helped to get rid of marauding Lions, Elephants and Quetta birds in different parts of the country and constructed Bailey bridges in rural areas. In addition to the increase in military pay and gradual transfer of political control from London to Lagos, such civic roles helped in restoring the image of the military among civilians. However, some key political leaders like Sir Ahmadu Bello never quite forgot the colonial heritage of the Nigerian military as the willing tool used by the British to "conquer" his ancestors. He never fully trusted the institution until his death in 1966.



* This is an excerpt of a much larger publication by the author