Friday, 8th December 2023

Nigerian journalists and the military coup in Niger

By Mustapha Isah
17 August 2023   |   3:00 am
Let me begin this piece by commending the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, for rightly describing military intervention in governance anywhere in the world as an aberration. It is an aberration because soldiers are trained in the act of war and not governance. They are charged with the responsibility of defending the territorial integrity of their nations. 

Nigerian Journalists.PIX: Dubawa

Let me begin this piece by commending the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, for rightly describing military intervention in governance anywhere in the world as an aberration. It is an aberration because soldiers are trained in the act of war and not governance. They are charged with the responsibility of defending the territorial integrity of their nations.

Rising from its Standing Committee meeting held in Lagos, the NGE in a communique” urged ECOWAS to employ strategic engagement and diplomacy in ensuring that democratic structures are restored in the country (Niger)”

In other words, the body of editors is clearly against the military coup in Niger but opposed to the use of force to restore the democratic structures in the country.

I also note that the Guild urged ECOWAS to use diplomacy. It didn’t say Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu shouldn’t use invade Niger, unlike the narrative being pushed erroneously by a section of the media. The decision to use force, if necessary to restore democracy in Niger was taken at a meeting of ECOWAS Heads of State and Governments in line with the sub-:regional protocol on unconstitutional change of government. It wasn’t a decision taken by Nigeria or President Tinubu, who is currently the chairman.

The opposition of the NGE military incursion in governance is clearly understood considering our nasty and unpleasant experiences with military interventions in Nigeria. That’s why I’m surprised that a few journalists in their comments attempted to justify the military coup in Niger.

Any journalist who joined the profession in Nigeria during the military regimes would not have any reason to justify military intervention anywhere in the world, except he has some personal scores to settle with the present occupants of power at different levels in Nigeria.

If I knew what I know now about the military intervention in the governance of a nation, I wouldn’t have erroneously jubilated over the coups of December 31, 1983 and the August 27, 1985.

I’m of the view that Nigeria’s democracy and development would have advanced more than what we have today if not for the military misadventure of January 15, 1967, when we experienced the first military coup.

The military junta led by General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi suspended Nigeria’s federal constitution and promulgated the unitary decree which we are still struggling to overturn till today. The federal constitution encouraged competition among the regions. This competition brought about development, and each region developed at its own pace. Nowadays, state governors spend more days in Abuja than their state capitals with the belief that closeness to the powers in Abuja would attract development to their states. Now, we clamour for state police in a country where we once had local government police. No thanks to the unitary decree. The military that accused politicians of taking 10% of contract sums ended up taking up 70% when they were now in charge. They became more corrupt that the politicians they chased out of power for alleged corruption. They nurtured and sustained corruption in different forms.

Journalists can write against military action in Niger without necessarily supporting the coup there. The junta in Niger should be told in clear terms that they had no right to use the guns given to them to defend the nation to shoot themselves to power.  If they felt strongly about the dominance of France in their nation, they should have dropped their uniforms, embrace politics, form a political party and use the anti- French narrative to canvass for votes in the next election.

In a bid to sustain themselves in power, they are moving towards Russia and the destructive Wagner Group led by the notorious Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Wagner people don’t fight for free. They are mercenaries (commercial fighters) loyal only to money. They don’t fight to win in order to sustain the contract.

What’s more, the Wagner group recently challenged President Vladimir Putin, the same man that trained and empowered them, by invading Russia. This led to their banishment to Belarus. Now, they want to keep them busy in Africa. How can any rational being tolerate the idea of having such a dangerous group like Wagner near the Nigerian borders?

My colleagues who are editors today must have been young reporters during the dark days of General Sani Abacha.

As a young journalist with the Tempo Magazine that was a thorn in the flesh of Abacha junta, I know what I experienced. We couldn’t even go to our office. We resorted to guerrilla journalism as our contribution to forcing the military to return to the barracks One of my colleagues in The News magazine, Bagauda Kaltho was killed in Kaduna by the Abacha killer squad. A renowned editor Dele Giwa was letter – bombed during the regime of General Ibrahim Babaginda. Many newspapers, including the Guardian, Punch, etc were shut by the military. Some editors, Kunle Ajibade and Niran Malaolu, were jailed for a ridiculous reason of participating in a phantom coup.

Some had to use the “NADECO ROUTE” to escape from Nigeria to begin a new life in exile.

In my newsroom in AIT, we had over seven security operatives masquerading as reporters to monitor some of us they referred to as NADECO journalists. These nasty experiences will never make me to support any military coup anywhere in the world. If the military governments weren’t good for us here in Nigeria, what makes you think they will perform magic in Niger?

Power should flow from the people, not from the barrel of the gun. Democracy is never a perfect system. It’s not a hundred meter dash.  Democracy once produced demagogues such as Adolf Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy who instigated the World War 11, that led to the deaths of millions of people. Yes, both men were elected by the people. They didn’t come to power through military coups. Should that make us to reject democracy? The answer is a resounding NO. Democracy requires patience. It has in- built mechanisms to correct its own mistakes.  The spate of impeachments of governors, Senate Presidents and Speakers of both National and State Assemblies had abated.

Let me empahsise that you can oppose the planned ECOWAS military intervention without necessarily supporting the coup or painting coupists as heroes. Doing so could send dangerous and unintended signals elsewhere.  I’m worried about the way some of our colleagues are writing in support of the coup. Whatever you write today is being read worldwide, including by those who hold the instruments of coercion to stage a coup.
We shouldn’t play into their hands. We should be extremely careful
Isah is Head of News, Silverbird’ s Rhythm FM and former President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.

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