Recognising that Nigeria is an empire is the key to understanding its power dynamics - note that describing an entity in such terms is no measure of its actual status on the global stage or, of its positive value to all who reside within its borders. The label "empire" simply describes the type of political set-up that exists when various nations (many of which have no common cultural denominators) are governed by one administrative apparatus.
Labels are used here to make the power dynamics clear: when I speak of kingdoms, empire and thrones, I refer to centres of power and the way power is used. Because when we have societies where power can be wielded with impunity, we do not have republics, a democracy, or any other sort of socio-political organisation where citizens have a voice in how they are governed. What we in fact have, though they may be described as "dictatorships", are actually kingdoms and empires that are modern-day clones of ancient monarchical despotisms.Since this method of governing is nothing new, when we obfuscate (as in Nigeria where we refer to an empire as a "Federal Republic"), we only decieve ourselves and retard the possibilty of engaging in the sorts of proper analyses that eventually lead to the devising of workable and lasting solutions.
Empires can be described as powerful vehicles - in which case imperial subjects would be the passengers (voluntary and involuntary) in the vehicle. In some cases, these vehicles are put on the road for a purpose. They deseminate a measure of civilization because in a sense, the journey from Point A to Point X that passengers are taken on during the lifetime of the empire will bring about progress of some sort to a majority of the passengers. But there is another type of empire. Also a vehicle and also packed full with passengers. However, those in charge of the vehicle have no destination in mind. So it remains parked in a locked garage with passengers compelled to remain in their places while the engines are running. And of course eventually, all perish from carbon monoxide poisoning...
Unfortunately for us all, this second type of empire is what we have in Nigeria.
After its British manufacturers left, the first indigenous Nigerian empire was headed by Aguiyi-Ironsi. He, it may be said, was an emperor whose power started diminishing from the moment of its first manifestation. This first Emperor was then succeeded by Gowon. Now, it should be understood that not all who have formerly sat at the top seat were Emperors. The ability to exercise power without any boundaries is the primary characteristic that identifies a Nigerian Emperor and Gowon, though able to exercise some power, was curtailed by advisors and fellow-military officers whose power were a near match to his. In fact, as it turned out, some were more powerful than he was.
The next Emperor - and, the one who was the first to properly exercise Imperial powers - was Murtala Mohammed. After him , we had Obasanjo 1. Obasanjo 1 was a more canny version of Gowon. An Emperor in name but with powers curtailed by equally powerful co-rulers whose authorities over their domains he took great care not to question. He handed over to Shagari - a man who was the first of the place holders to seat on the throne with no visible or subtle indications that he knew what to do with power.
He was eventually dismissed by the return of the Murtala coalition/dynasty that had ended the reign of the first Emperor Aguiyi-Ironsi.This dynasty was represented by the co-Emperors Buhari and Idiagbon. These were emperors in the mode of Murtala and like him, in their hurry to make a mark, they did not first ensure that their positions were secured against potential ursurpers before they started exercising full of Imperial powers. So, they lost the throne to a fellow-member of the dynasty, Ibrahim Babangida.
Babangida was the first to truly understand the way to wield imperial powers in Nigeria. While he dealt with a deadly decisiveness when confronted by those who sought to carve out unsanctified kingdoms within Nigeria, he was smart enough to allow kings who were already established in their domains (like the powerful Sani Abacha) to continue exercising authority in those domains without interference.
Eventually though, as had happened before in Nigeria, the undeclared and thus unacknowledged nature of the Empire led to confusion about how power should rest, where it should rest or, if it should be passed on and, where it should be passed on to.The crisis of June 12 was caused by misconceptions related to this matter. The scale of these approached the magnitude of similar misapprehensions that had confused some civilian and military political leaders during the early to mid 1960s and, led them into successive miscalculations that eventually resulted in great bloodshed.
To elaborate upon something stated above : the Nigeria Empire is undeclared and is thus unacknowledged by the public political processs.
This is its fatal flaw.
Moshood Abiola assumed that he would succeed the ruling emperor but, the empire, like all empires, is made up of several kingdoms. And, it has always been the rule that to become emperor, you must have command over the greatest purveyors of brute force within the geographical space. This after all was the quality British had and, this was what enabled them to manufacture the vassal-empire Nigeria.
And since they had left, nothing had changed : The imperial accessories of power that they had left behind, while having been modernised (up to a point) still basically operated in the same ways they had done since the manufacture of Nigeria.
Abiola did not understand this fundamental fact. He thought all he needed to do to take the throne in Nigeria was win a majority of votes from the properties of imperial Nigeria. And when he was thwarted, rather than recognise the nature of his rivals for power and, devise strategies to confront and perhaps overcome them, he carried on fighting with weapons recommended to him by his mis-reading of Nigeria's true nature.
And of course the man who comprehended that true nature prevailed. Sani Abacha was an emperor cut from the same clothe as the previous emperors Murtala, Buhari/Idiagbon and Babangida. He though exercised all the inherent powers of his office without any attempt to finesse matters like Babangida. Truth was, he was very honest in the sense that his actions (if not his explicit descriptions) told Nigerians what manner of a society they lived in.
With the death of Abacha, there was a brief interegnum that was then followed by the reign of Obasanjo 2. On this his second chance on the throne, Obasanjo acknowledged the nature of his office and gathered to himself, as soon as he could, the full reins of imperial powers.
However, his attempt to extend his reign (and perhaps set up a dynasty in the manner of Murtala Mohammad) was thwarted by a combination of rival kings and remnants of the still powerful Murtala dynasty) who, though successful in dislodging him, were not able to place a reliable member of their group on the imperial throne.
The withering away and eventual demise of the place-holder YarAdua has led us to where we are right now: with another place-holder Goodluck Jonathan sitting with one-quarter of his yansh on the imperial throne of Nigeria. We are once again at a dangerous cross-roads because like nature, the power-centre that is the imperial throne of Nigeria abhors a vacuum - and a one-quarter yansh tentatively placed upon it is the same as no yansh at all.
May the Almighty show us the right way through this coming darkness.