Mali Coup: A reminder of Nigeria’s sordid past

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President Ibrahim Keita resigned following a military coup in Mali
President Ibrahim Keita resigned following a military coup in Mali
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The Insight by Lateef Adewole

“The worst civilian rule is better than the best military dictatorship.” – Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1983)

The above quote from the late sage generates controversies sometimes. Sincerely, I believe in this principle hook, line and sinker for years. However, what our politicians have turned our hard-earned democracy to have prompted many to begin to ask questions if this assertion is actually true. When the “squander-mania”, prodigal behaviours are considered, one may begin to doubt.

How can anyone sensibly justify the wastages that go into running the kind of civilian governments we operate? An outrageously bogus executive arm at federal, state and local government levels, with retinue of aides, PAs, SAs, SSAs, and so on. Ministers and Commissioners with their own aides as well. The 469 members of two chambers of national assembly, and about 1000 state lawmakers. Each with aides and personal staff.

Deal of the day

Before you say jack, the whole public funds have been spent to provide for the remunerations of public office holders. They drive in convoy of cars, bought, fuelled and maintained from public purse. Their accommodations are either provided by the government or monetised. All these are “legally” approved packages, though “criminally” inserted into government expenditures over the years. These are exclusive of those stolen from government coffers, directly or indirectly.

And at the end, there will be little or no money left to provide basic needs for the ordinary citizens. Worse still, a large chunk of these funds were borrowed, which continuously enslaves Nigeria to other countries and multilateral organisations through debts. Our democracy has been that of wastage due to indiscipline, corrupt and greedy leaders different from what Chief Awolowo must have envisaged. Baba will be turning in his grave whenever he looks back at what the Nigeria he left behind has become!

However, when the history of this country is being written, the blames for almost everything that is wrong with it must be heaped on the military regimes of the past. Whatever calamity might have befallen this country, they were either initiated, escalated or enabled by various military regimes which forcefully usurped the governance of Nigeria for all sorts of flimsy excuses, only to leave it worse than they met it.

The leaders of a military coup in Mali says they will set up a transitional government ahead of new elections
The leaders of a military coup in Mali says they will set up a transitional government ahead of new elections

The unfortunate incident of a coup d’état that happened in the West African country, Mali, on Tuesday, reminds someone of the dark years of military coups and rules in Nigeria. The mutinous military boys started to occupy the city from their military base in Kati, a 15 km distance from the capital Bamako. They moved and seize the government of the day.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse were arrested and detained, along with some other officials of the government. African countries have risen to condemn the coup. Many countries around the world, as well as various regional bodies like AU, ECOWAS, UN and the rest, have condemned that action and demanded immediate restoration of the democratically elected government in Mali. The ousted President Keita resigned on Tuesday evening, a decision he said he took to avoid bloodshed. He said that he does not want to hold on to power at the expense of human lives, a position that echoes our own former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Coincidentally, the same Jonathan was appointed by the ECOWAS to lead the Special Envoy which has been mediating in the Mali crisis in the past few months. One Col. Assimi Goita has declared himself as the leader of the “National Committee for Salvation of the People (CSNP)”, the nomenclature they gave to their mutinous government. Other members include Col. Malik Diaw (Vice President) and Col. Ismael Wagué (Airforce Deputy Chief of Staff), among many others.

While addressing news men after the coup, Col. Wagué said they acted in response to the yearnings of the people to bring sanity to the country. And that they plan to restore a civilian administration within a “reasonable” time. Their purported “acceptability” by the people was seen in the celebratory mood the citizens were thrown into, singing, drumming and dancing along with the military boys as they paraded the city.

Ironically and unfortunately too, the opposition welcomed the development. Something Yorubas will call: “kaka k’eku ma je sese, a fi s’awadanu” (it is either my way or no way).

Colonel Assimi Goita has declared himself leader of Mali
Colonel Assimi Goita has declared himself leader of Mali

The crisis in Mali has been on for some time now. There have been unrests and protests against the government headed by President Keita. He was held responsible for all the challenges facing the people, among which were; failure of leadership which has led to economic woes for the people. Life has been miserable for many Malians. The country remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

The rising insurgency is another. For years, Mali has had to battle with terrorism perpetrated by militants in the Northern Mali. This is historical, caused by the feelings of political and economic alienation of the people in that region since their independence from France in 1960. The southern elites were accused of holding power to the dissatisfaction of the other region.

The mismanagement of identity politics did not help matters. The endemic corruption and the government’s inability to tackle it headlong and the challenges of nation building, form part of many grievances of the people.

So, the matter reached a peak early this year after the run-off parliamentary elections. Some parliamentary positions were said to have been declared won through the influence of President Keita. This led to the protests that have rocked the country since then, fuelled by the opposition. Keita himself was reelected in 2018 for a second term in office. His first term election was in 2013, a transition to civilian rule from a previous military regime which came into being in a similar mutiny from the same Military Base in Kati in 2012. Former President Amadou Toumani Traore was ousted in the process. Something like history repeating itself.

President Muhammadu Buhari received briefing from ECOWAS Special Envoy and former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan
President Muhammadu Buhari received briefing from ECOWAS Special Envoy and former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan

While this coup is condemned in his entirety, it should serve as lessons to many other African countries and their leaders who seem disconnect from their people and act recklessly. The unpalatable stories oozing from Mali for some years now can be related to, by many citizens in some other countries in Africa. The similarity with Nigeria is like Siamese twins, apart from the fact that, it is the north that is considered to be holding the lever of power in Nigeria, though, still at economic disadvantage. The political power has actually not helped the ordinary northerners. It is just for the benefits of the elites.

Similar excuses have always been given for any coup d’état anywhere in Africa, particularly in Nigeria. In 1966, that was exactly what the young officers who overthrew the first democratic government in Nigeria said, though unsuccessful. Another section of military took over, which lasted only six months before a counter-coup in July of the same year.

Ever since then, it was one coup after another. Same reason was given in 1983 when the second republic was also terminated after just four and half years. The Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan could hardly be called a “civilian government”. It was a mere contraption put in place as a face-saving exit strategy by the self-styled Maradona, “the evil genius”, General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd.), after he annulled the freest and fairest presidential election of June 12, 1993.

It took just three months before the late General Sani Abacha threw the government away and we were back to ground zero. Only General Abdulsalam Abubakar acted “strangely” by voluntarily handing over to a civilian administration in 1999, just eleven months after he took over, following the death of Abacha in previous year, followed by the mysterious death of the owner of the June 12 mandate, Chief MKO Abiola, a month after.

It is the same civilian administration we have been on since twenty one years. Thirteen out of which were occupied by former military generals and heads of state, who often forgot they were not in the military regimes. There were nine military regimes for 29 years and eight civilian governments for 31 years. Leaders without military background were only five and spent only 18 years from about 60 years of our independence. Eight others were military officers, serving or retired, who spent 42 years ruling us. How then can military be excused from the destruction of the country?

Despite some lofty achievements that some military regimes might have made possible in those years, the atrocities, damages and retrogression they caused Nigeria outweighed that. All the criminalities perpetrated by civilian administrations after each military regime handed over were spilled overs from the years of military rules. The best government Nigeria has had was up to 1966. It was not that the leaders then were saints but they were not “beastly”, ready to devour the country anyhow without mercy, as we have now.

Another great disservice to the Nigerian state and citizens was the more or less unitary constitution masquerading as a federal constitution of 1999 bequeathed to the country by the military. It lied against itself when it started by saying; “we, the people…” Who are the “we”? Were they the handful of military friends and associates who sat down somewhere and put together some documents that pleased the military? That’s preposterous. Nigerian people did not sit, agree and write any constitution. That was a military constitution. It is dysfunctional.

And since then, no administration has been able to overhaul it or had the courage to demand for a fresh one by the people, either because it suits them, particularly any president in power since it gives that person enormous powers akin to a “military head of state” or out of cowardice not to offend “the establishment”.

Unfortunately, the citizens are even confused. How can a people being pillaged, massacred, impoverished and subjugated by their own elected leaders, remained quiet for this long? People hardly demand for accountability from their governments at all levels. A modicum of such is seen towards the federal government, which is often driven by some sentiments, mainly tribal and religious. It is a shame. Only religious issues bring out the “monster” in many citizens. They can fight, kill or die in the name of defending their faiths but not in demanding for their rights as citizens from their leaders.

In all, military coup is no longer fashionable or acceptable as a path to political leadership in this 21st century. The current crops of military officers could be worse and more corrupt than their civilian counterparts, given their romance together over the years. “Aguntan t’oba b’aja rin, a j’egbe (bad company corrupts good manners). The discipline that the military was known and respected for seems to have eroded. The stories of corruption in the fight against insurgency in Nigeria have not helped matters.

Therefore, the African Union and ECOWAS need to rise to the occasion, deploy their military strength to flush out the impostors in Mali now. Immediate restoration of civil rule in that country should be non-negotiable. That is the only way to send strong warning signals to other would-be coup plotters who might be nursing similar ambitions anywhere across Africa. It will serve as deterrent.

But are these regional bodies ready and up to the task? Time will tell.

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter