Military Rule: 8 Features & Characteristics of Military Rule

Characteristics of military rule: Military rule means the prevalence of martial law, arbitrary law or rule by might. It can also be defined as; rule by the armed forces, who do not come into power through election, but by force of arms.

Based on past experience, military government is actually the worst kind of government any country can every have. The reason is because, the military care more about their personal interests than that of the citizens of the country. Above all, there is usually nothing to limit the powers of the military whenever they are in power.

This usually lead to the breakdown of law and order in the country. In some cases, the fundamental human rights of citizens are breached with no law or authority to do justice.

In this short article, we will be looking at the major characteristics of military rule. This will help scholars all over the world in understanding the how military rule is different from Democratic rule.

Characteristics of military rule in Nigeria
Characteristics of military rule in Nigeria

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1. Imposition of military laws

One of the major characteristics of military rule is the imposition of military laws (Decrees and Edicts) on the country. This is usually so because the military controls every institution of the state when they are in power.

Most times, when the military takes over power, the Supreme law or constitution of the country will be suspended, then a new law will be introduced so that the military can smoothly control everything.

In doing this, the military does not seek the consent of any arm of the government. In fact, even the arms of the government will be silenced and pinned down to ensure the effectiveness of the new laws made by the military.

The Nigerian case of Lakanmi & Anor v A.G Western State is an illustration of where the military totally silenced all the arms of the government and took power in their hands.

2. Absence of democracy

In a military government, there is usually no democracy. This is because the basic features of democracy are not in line with dictatorship or imposition of laws, which is usually the case in a military government.

One of the essentials of democracy is the separation of powers between the pillars of democracy (I.e the executive, legislature and the judiciary). But this is not so during military rule.

In most cases, the military will combine the legislative and the executive arms of the government and perform the functions of the arms of government together.

This is why the military is able to make laws and execute the same law by themselves. In some special cases, they also perform judicial functions by making laws that declares a person to be guilty or not guilty of an offence.

More so, during military rule, the masses do no have a say on how the affairs of their country are handled by the government.

This is clearly not in line with democracy. According to Abraham Lincoln, “democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people”. In other words, the people are more important in a democratic country. Conversely, it is undemocratic for the military to make decisions concerning any matter that affects the citizens without seeking their consent.

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3. Absence of rule of law or rule of right

Since the military can suspend or modify all the laws of the country at any time and at its convenience, there is no rule of law. Rule of law according to A.V Diecy is the Supremacy of the Law and Authority of the state over everybody in a political system.

In other words, whenever there is the rule of law, the law must be Supreme. Accordingly, nobody or authority can alter the law at anytime without a unanimous agreement by everyone in the country.

Actually, this is not so in military rule because, the head of the military government have the power and capacity to make any law or amend any law at any time. Conversely, there is no rule of law in a military government.

In this case, the opinion of the masses are usually not soughted before laws are made for them. Sometimes, they do not even know about the law because the military do have the time to publish those laws.

4. Curtailment of fundamental human rights

The curtailment of fundamental human rights is another important characteristics of military rule. Fundamental human rights, as you already know, are those rights that are given to a person because he/she is a human being. They are immutable and inalienable natural rights that cannot be deprived from a person.

Nonetheless, during military rule, the fundamental human rights of citizens are usually limited to a very large extent. The freedom, liberty and constitutional rights of citizens are derived from them. By doing this, the military is trying to safeguard their interests and ensure a smooth running of their administration.

5. Rule by decrees and edicts

So far, i have explained that during military rule the original laws of the land are suspended or modified to ensure the smooth running of the government. Sometimes the military even make new laws. Those new laws made by the federal military government and state military government are called decrees and edicts respectively.

In the Nigerian case of Military Governor of Ondo State v Adewunmi, Karibi Whyte JSC stated that the hierarchy or superiority of legislative authority during military rule in Nigeria are as follows:

  • Decree of the federal military government;
  • Unsuspended provisions of the constitution;
  • Existing Laws of the National Assembly;
  • Edicts of the Military Government of the state, and
  • Existing Laws of the state.

Thus, any provisions of the law of a state or Edict of a Military Governor which is inconsistent with existing laws of the National Assembly or Unsuspended and Modified provisions of the constitution or the Decree of the Federal Military Government is void to the extent of its inconsistency.

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6. Absence of separation of powers

In my article on the meaning and importance of separation of powers, i noted that separation of powers, as explained by Baron de Montesquieu, is the division of governmental powers and functions into the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arm of the government, which is also a basic feature of democracy.

In military rule, there is always the absence of separation of powers because the military combines the powers of the Legislature and the Executive together.

Thus, they have the power to make laws and execute them at the same time. This can be done without any obstructions because even the judiciary can not review or check the activity of the military government.

In this situation, it is said that the military is supreme and above every law and authority in the country. This also leads to dictatorship because “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely“.

Professor Ben Nwabueze has also noted that the concentration of powers in the hands of one individual or person is the very definition of dictatorship, and absolute power is by its very nature arbitrary, capricious and despotic.

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7. Practices of a unitary system of government

In trying to lead the whole country from the center, the military usually adopt a system that is more unitary in nature. As you already know, unitary system of government is a form of government in which there is not power sharing between the central government and its component units.

Political analytics postulates that there is greater practice of a unitary system of government in the country during military rule, which is due to the military command structure. Another reason for this is because of the less observance of the doctrine of separation of powers, checks and balances, and local autonomy in the government of the country.

8. No periodic election

Lastly, during military rule, there is usually no periodic election in the country because even the law that provides for periodic elections is also suspended by the military.

In light of this, the head of any military government has the power to remain in his position as long as he wants. His decisions will be unquestionable and his office cannot be taken away from him except when there is another military body that comes and take over the power forcefully.

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Wrapping up

From the above, there is no doubt that military rule is not a good idea for any country. All of its characteristics are repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience, which should be the most important concerning of every government.

Based on the experience most countries of the world have had with military leaders, there is no reason why anyone should support military rule in a country except where it necessary to put an end to political instability, high level of corruption or crisis in the government.

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