Nigeria became an independent nation on 1 October, 1960 and a republican country three years later and it was then we began having a Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces starting with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who was the ceremonial Head of State. It was only during the First Republic when the office was separated from that of the Prime Minister or the President. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was the only Head of the Government who was not the Commander-in-Chief because we were practising the Parliamentary System of Government imposed by the British government.
From 1960 to 1963 the head of state under the Nigeria Independence Act 1960 was the Monarch, who was also Monarch of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms. The monarch was represented in Nigeria by a Governor-General. Nigeria became a republic under the Constitution of 1963 and the monarch and Governor-General were replaced by a ceremonial President.
In 1979, under the 1979 Constitution, the President gained executive powers, becoming head of both state, government and the Commander-in-Chief. Nigeria had experienced some military incursion into the government and the head of the junta was called the Head of State and the Commander-in-Chief.
We had the Monarchy rule from 1960 to 1963; the First Republic ran from 1963-1966 when we had the first military interruption. The military rule was in place from 1966 to 1979 they came calling again on 30 December, 1983 and the military rule was in place from 1983 to 1993 this was followed by the Third Republic briefly in 1993 when we had the Interim National Government which was later sacked by the military the same year. This another military came into being from 1993 to 1999 when the soldiers finally returned to the barracks and we have been having a stable polity since.
Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first Commander-in-Chief came to the office on 16 November, 1963 and left on 15 January, 1966 when the military struck. Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi became the Head of State and the Commander-in-Chief on 16 January 1966 and was sacked on 12 July 1966. It became the turn of General Yakubu Gowon who was in the office from 1 August 1966 to 29 July 1975. General Murtala Mohammed succeeded Gowon after a successful coup of that terminated his government while he was away from Nigeria and Murtala too was in the office from 29 July 1975 to 13 February 1976 when he was killed in an abortive bloody coup on 13 February, 1976 while on his way to the mosque for Jumaat service. His deputy, General Olusegun Obasanjo stepped into the shoes and he was in the office from 16 February, 1976 to 1 October 1979 when he voluntarily handed over baton of leadership to the President-elect, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and democracy returned and the Second Republic began.
But the military came knocking again when his government was sacked for the alleged corrupt practices and the massive rigging that characterised the 1983 general election which gave ‘landslide’ victory to the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Alhaji Shagari was in the office between 1 October
Thus the next military rule was from 31 December 1983 and 26 August 1993. It began with General Muhammadu Buhari who was in the office from 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985 when he was deposed in a palace coup staged by his Chief of Army Staff, General Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida too was in the office from 27 August 1985 to 26 August 1993 when he was forced to step aside as a result of the post-annulment of the June 12 presidential poll won by the late business mongul, Bashorun Moshood Abiola.
The short-lived Third Republic was the planned republican government of Nigeria in 1993 which was to be governed by the Third Republican constitution. And Chief Ernest Shonekan was made the Head of the National Interim Government. He was in the office from 26 August 1993 and 17 November 1993 when the most senior military officer, General Sani Abacha forced him to resign and he took over. Welcome to another military regime.
General Abacha was in charge between 17 November 1993 and 8 June 1998 when he expired while in office. He was succeeded by the officer he had pencilled down his name for retirement, General Abdulsalami Abubakar who was in a hurry to go. He was the C-i-C from 8 June 1998 to 29 May 1999 and the Fourth Republic began.
The first man to kick off the Republic was the man who paved way for the Second Republic, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and he was in the office from 29 May 1999 and 29 May 2007. He handed over the baton of the C-i-C to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on 29 May, 2007 and he was in charge until death took him away on 5 May 2010. Then came President Goodluck Jonathan who was the Deputy to the late President. He was sworn into the office on 5 May 2010 and he has remained on the seat till date. He is seeking the second term mandate in the next year general election. If elected, he would be the longest serving Commander-in-Chief the country ever had. Obasanjo could only be if his era as Head of State is added to the eight years as elected President.
Not a few pundits give kudos to the military for resisting the temptation of interrupting the democratic rule in the country again. The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Sabundu Badeh has been consistently telling the military chiefs, officers and soldiers that the military has no business in politics but to protect the country.
As we celebrate 54 independent anniversary, Defence Focus pays tribute to the leadership of the military for its sense of patriotism and nationalism and wishing it an enduring victory over the Boko Haram terrorism.