Sunday, 10th December 2023

Coups: Why military incursion is not solution to leadership deficits

By Oludare Richards
21 September 2023   |   4:15 am
Following decades of poor governance, manifest corruption, sit-tight attitude and perceived allegiance to colonial powers by political leaders, many Africans, especially young adults became elated over the wave of military takeover of governments recently.

President Tinubu.Pix: Twitter

The flurry of coup d’états in Africa seem to enjoy the support of young people, who didn’t witness military rule and the elderly that justify the development on account of poor political leadership and misgovernance. But lost in the frenzy, is the reality of the tyrannical nature of military governments that confirm they can never be an alternative to democracy, OLUDARE RICHARDS reports.

Following decades of poor governance, manifest corruption, sit-tight attitude and perceived allegiance to colonial powers by political leaders, many Africans, especially young adults became elated over the wave of military takeover of governments recently.

But majority of those who witnessed military rule and the harm they unleash on citizens through draconian decrees and curtailing of civil liberties loathe the idea of allowing the men in Khaki to be at the helm of affairs of any country.

Since 2020, there have been six coups in Africa, one in East Africa, four in West Africa and one in Central Africa. These countries that have experienced coups are all vulnerable States with high degrees of poverty, leadership crisis and weak institutions.

On August 12, 2023, the Nigerian Military refuted calls for a coup in the country.

A statement by Nigerian Military spokesperson, Brigadier General Tukur Gusau, described reports on call for military intervention in the nation’s democracy as “highly unpatriotic, wicked, and an attempt to distract the Armed Forces of Nigeria from performing its constitutional responsibilities.”

The military, he said, is happy and better under democracy and would not get involved in any act to sabotage the hard-earned democracy in Nigeria.

In 2021, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, noted that “military coups are back,” adding that “geo-political divisions are undermining international co-operation, a sense of impunity is taking hold.”

The military was once perceived to be an agent of order and stability, in contrast to the systematic chaos partisan politics represents. Observers, however, recalled that most of the grandiose promises of overthrowing regimes in doing better than their predecessors, grossly fell short.

The recent developments have upset the regional economic body of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which despite sanctions on erring member states, failed to enforce its mandate of promoting economic integration in all fields of activity of the constituting member countries.

Article 45 of the ECOWAS Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peace-Keeping and Security (1999), provides that: “Where the authority of government is absent or has been seriously eroded, ECOWAS shall support processes towards the restoration of political authority. Such support may include the preparation, organisation, monitoring and management of the electoral process, with the co-operation of relevant regional and international organisations. The restoration of political authority shall be undertaken at the same time as the development of respect for human rights, enhancement of the rule of law and the judiciary.”

A coup d’etat is an illegal act in any nation globally, Nigeria inclusive. Section 1 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as altered) forbade any assumptions of government authority not in accordance with the constitution. It says: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.”

The African continent accounts for the highest figure of 106 out of at least 242 successful military coups that have occurred globally since 1950. Nigeria, itself, has had at least eight military coups between 1966 and 1993, after which the regime of the late General Sanni Abacha drew the curtain on the trend.

Observers have noted a growing perception that people appear to be getting more comfortable with the idea of military juntas than civilian leaders, after living through years of bad governance. However, the reality is that no military government can guarantee civil rights and liberties.

John Simon, a lawyer, is in this league. He believes that in the face of political impunity, indiscipline and corruption, something extraordinary should interrupt the trend of the democratic process.

“There is a clear gang-up against the masses of this country and there is no clear means of redemption in sight under this current dispensation. Therefore, only a return to the beginning is the answer since the voice of the people through the electoral process has failed, and the judiciary bought over and compromised,” he lamented.

Lt. General Lagbaja, COAS

Creative and Philosophical Imagery Artist, Dada King, said there was corruption in the system during the military in the 80’s but not as rampant as it is today.

“One thing I was so sure of at the time was the sanity in the entire country. These juntas are not just going for their governments but for those who have a strong hold over the government. Like the popular western proverbial saying ‘we are under the coconut tree yet couldn’t eat a piece of the coconut,” Dada said.

He continued: “To me, it’s not about the coup, the takeover or hand over, this is purely and clearly a colonial system cleansing, returning power to people ready enough to decide their own fate and cut themselves loose from the shackles of their imperial masters.”

On the other hand, the Executive Director, YouthHubAfrica, Rotimi Olawale thinks differently. In his view, no military coup should be celebrated. He noted that 99.9 per cent of the time, it doesn’t end well.

He said the military are not trained to govern, they’re trained to fight a war, and it’s a command and control structure which is why in most military ruled nations, there’s no freedom of speech or freedom to dissent.

“What we need is to raise the bar at the ECOWAS and at the African Union. It’s no longer enough to just condemn coups, we need the regional bodies to hold African nations to a higher democratic standards, the African peer review mechanism of the AU, perhaps is a starting point, but this should, instead of being a routine exercise, become a tool to put pressure on government to live to a better standard.

“Having said this, we need to ask ourselves, why are we seeing a resurgence of coups in west and central Africa? The answer is obvious, democracy has been hacked by the political class. If you just run elections every four or five years and ensure the results are in your favour, even if it is fraudulently, you’ll be accepted by the comity of nations, and you’ll rarely attract sanctions for violating human rights, for jailing opposition figures and for running the economy down with corrupt practices,” Olawale said.

He said Nigeria is unfortunately going through tough times. He expressed his support for the fuel subsidy removal but said he recognises how much it has added to the pains of the average Nigerian. “We need to see more urgency from the government in delivering the dividends of governance and democracy.

“I also hope that beyond our regular four year elections, we need to strengthen our institutions, the judiciary, the legislative arm, and other key institutions like the Central Bank and the Bureau of Statistics, as well as corruption fighting agencies like the ICPC and the EFCC.

“Until these institutions live up to their names and are independent of the political class, it will be difficult to run a sane nation. It’s not normal for the last two Central Bank Governors not to end their tenures. We need to do things differently.

Poet, Festival Administrator and Media Strategist, Samuel Osaze, believes that the spate of military coups across the West African sub-region calls for concern in Nigeria.

He stressed on the consequence of not paying enough attention to a military takeover in a neighbouring country, where such a thing could be an influencing occurrence in another facing similar challenges of leadership or bad governance. This, he said, is especially true for a country once infamous for coup d’etats such as Nigeria.

“The 2023 coup episode doesn’t portray anything new. Much of the masses are also in the mix in support of the new kids on the bloc and as usual, are enjoying the political rhetoric of the men in uniform who, as usual, have emerged as intervention agents to liberate the people; the common people. Only this time around, the enemy is France,” he said.

While he strongly agrees to a paradigm shift in the leadership of Nigeria, he stated that “the worst form of democracy is better than the best of military rule.”

“If the way things are going isn’t checkmated, I still would not subscribe to the return of the jackboot in Nigeria, knowing full well that such a step is a retrogressive path that would make Nigeria a pariah state as experienced before and it could spiral out of control. I foresee many protesters hitting the streets soon. But like the wise saying goes: prevention is better than cure.

“However, I’m one of those who question the suitability of western-styled democracy that we have adopted hook line and sinker. As a matter of fact, I do reckon that domesticated democracy which by my estimation means – tweaking its features in order to suit African socio-cultural peculiarities, should be the order of the day.”

According to Prof. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), in a paper titled: Echoes of Coups, Coups and More Coups: Which Country Is Next In Africa?” The by-product of these coups points directly to the failure of democracy. “Not all coups however occur due to failure of democracy. In fact, during the 1960s and 1970s, there were coup attempts every 55 days in over 90 per cent of African States,” he explained.

He stated that West Africa alone has the highest number of coups in the continent. “It accounts for 44.4 per cent of these coups, which have even spread across Central Africa. The more recent Gabon coup finally broke the camel’s back; and has revealed many anomalies in the African governance system.

“The decline in democracy shows that democracy was once alive, but now dying because of its bad practitioners. This must send strong signals to African leaders that it can no longer be business as usual,” the paper reads.