Return of the bad boys
DURING his recent outing at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria met with several old timers of the ultimate Boys Club. One of those members of the club who welcomed our President was Robert Mugabe, the veteran guerilla fighter and intellectual who has been president of Zimbabwe since 1987.
He is the only ruler most Zimbabweans have ever known. He is determined to keep it that way in the nearest future. When an impertinent journalist asked Mr. Mugabe, “When are you going to say goodbye to the people of Zimbabwe?” He gave the apt retort: “Where are they going?”
When Buhari was Minister of Petroleum in 1976, Mugabe had acquired international fame as a fearless nationalist and dogged fighter for his people. But he was in fierce struggle with the elderly Joshua Nkomo who believed by antecedent and contribution to the struggle, he should be allowed to lead the movement. When they brought their quarrel to General Olusegun Obasanjo, then the Nigerian military ruler, Obasanjo locked the duo in a room in Dodan Barracks, placing a pistol on the table before them. “When I return, I want you to have solved the problem of Zimbabwe,” he told them. “One of you should be dead; the survivor would go and be the ruler of Zimbabwe!” When Obasanjo returned 15 minutes later, the two of them were still alive.
We have seen in the past how tenacity of office has cost Nigeria dearly in the West African sub-region. After Samuel Kayon Doe messed up Liberia, it took Nigeria a lot of resources in lives and money to bring back normalcy. From the time Doe was killed in 1990 until President Obasanjo, in his own unique way and with the help of the international community, persuaded President Charles Taylor to accept exile in Nigeria in 2003, Liberia did not know peace
Mugabe agreed to be Prime-Minister, while Nkomo was to be ceremonial President. That was how Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. The marriage of inconvenience lasted only a few years. Joshua Nkomo was hounded into exile, his home base of Matabeleland placed under virtual interdiction. The resulting pacification by Mugabe’s troops led to the death of about 20,000 people. Mugabe is still in power 36 years later. Since the first time Mugabe attended the Boys Club, Nigeria has gone through 10 rulers. We in Nigeria cannot understand the horror of a leader that is determined to go on and on. It is equal to President Shehu Shagari still being in power in this 2016.
It is true that things have changed from the heydays of the African dictators. We remember the evil triumvirate of Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, Field Marshall Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and Field Marshal Jean Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic. Bokassa, who seized power from President David Dacko in 1966, was the ultimate act of the dictator until Amin came along in 1971.
Bokassa made himself a General and Amin followed suit almost immediately. Then Bokassa made himself a field marshal and Amin did the same, with riot of medals on his chest to prove the point. Bokassa finally put Amin in his rightful place when he declared himself the Emperor of the Central African Empire in 1976. Amin could not follow suit. He was toppled in 1979.
African old time rulers of today are not as dramatic, but they are no less dangerous. Many African countries are following the example of Nigeria by inserting term limitations in their Constitutions. The presidential constitution that was introduced by the departing General Olusegun Obasanjo government in 1979 stipulated only a maximum of two terms for Nigerian elected President and governors. This has been adopted by many countries across the continent, but it is being resisted by the old timers.
One of the youngest entrants into the club is Yahya Jammeh, the ruler of The Gambia since 1994 when he seized power from President Dauda Jawara. Jammeh joined the President of Togo to resist pressure from the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to make term limitation applicable in every member-country. Togolese president, Faure Eyadema has been in power since 2005 when his father died on the job. His father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, seized power in a military coup in 1967 and was in power for 38 years. The son does not see any reason why he should not exceed the record of his father.
The trend is the same in each of these countries in which the leaders are unwilling to go. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has been in power since 1986. He is gearing up for another term. Recently some leaders of the opposition led a protest in Kampala against Museveni’s iron rule. Some of the women leaders were arrested, stripped stark naked, dumped into the police van.
The women leaders, some of whom were former ministers, were then paraded naked at the police headquarters before television camera. Where else in the world could this have happened except Uganda, the benighted land of Idi Amin? Museveni has spent 30 years in power and has no plan for retirement.
These rulers constitute serious problem for Black Africa. Some of them equate the destiny of their countries to their own. Denis Sassou Nguesso was Congolese ruler from 1979 to 1992 and at great cost, he was persuaded to leave. He instituted a civil war and returned to power in 2002. He is still there. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza has been in power since 2005.
In 2015, he “won” a third term. His country has been in crisis since then. In Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Nguema Mbasogo has been in power since 1979 when he toppled his uncle, the country’s first president, the murderous Francisco Macias Nguema. Thirty-seven years on, Mbasogo has no plan to retire. Paul Kegame of Rwanda has been in power since 2000 and there is no end in sight to his reign.
Nigeria needs to be interested in curing Africa of this virus that is creeping into our body politics. We have seen in the past how tenacity of office has cost Nigeria dearly in the West African sub-region. After Samuel Kayon Doe messed up Liberia, it took Nigeria a lot of resources in lives and money to bring back normalcy. From the time Doe was killed in 1990 until President Obasanjo, in his own unique way and with the help of the international community, persuaded President Charles Taylor to accept exile in Nigeria in 2003, Liberia did not know peace. Many of our soldiers have their graves in Liberia and Sierra Leone, a direct result of Doe’s misadventure.
After the fight for independence and the struggle to end minority rule in Southern Africa, this is Africa’s next struggle and Nigeria should take the lead in our own interest. We have already seen the result of the implosion in Mammar Ghadafi’s Libya which may have had a linear relationship with the Boko Haram insurgency. The Libyan crisis may also have direct impact on other West African countries especially Mali and the Lake Chad basin. Ghadafi ruled for 40 years.
President Buhari should persuade these veteran leaders to show interest in term limitation. This assignment would not be easy, but it is in Nigeria’s interest. Imagine if Jerry Rawlings is still in power in Ghana, how can he be defeated at the polls with all he resources of the state at his disposal? It was the insistence of Ghanaians to have term limitation inserted in their constitution that helped Ghanaians to solve the Rawlings debacle. Rawlings ruled Ghana for a total of 20 years. That was the ambition of General Sani Abacha of Nigeria who looked up to Rawlings as a role model.
Tackling this menace would not be easy since the big man is always going the extra mile to prove that his people want him. The Gambian ruler Jameh has not allowed free democracy in his country despite all entreaties from the international community. “I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will if Allah says so.” He would not leave this to Allah alone or the Gambian people. He has the army, the police, the secret service and the national treasury to help him. In December last year, one of Jammeh’s known critics, Deyda Hydana, the publisher of The Point was assassinated.
Nigeria led the struggle against apartheid and minority rule in Southern Africa, and we should lead this struggle, too. We cannot afford to continue to tolerate this state of affairs in our backyard. We need to invest our resources and international prestige to dissolve the club of the bad boys and persuade these veteran leaders to accept the principle of term limitation. It is when this is done that Africa will be truly free.