• Saturday, December 09, 2023
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Coups in West Africa must stop

Military (mis)rule and socio-economic tragedy in Niger

Last month, when Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu assumed chairmanship of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), he had said coups will no longer be allowed in the West African region under his leadership as chairperson of the sub-regional bloc. Little did he know his words would be tested before the month ran out.

Between August 2020 and now, coups have occurred in four West African countries – Burkina Faso since January 2022, Guinea since September 2021, Mali since August 2020, and Niger since July 2023. Attempts in The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau were foiled. There have been other coups in Chad since April 2021 and Sudan since October 2021, countries close to Nigeria, including Chad which shares a border in the north.

ECOWAS, like the rest of the international community, had condemned these coups, with varying sanctions announced shortly after. But this has not dissuaded ambitious soldiers from continuing to try their luck.

In Niger, the most recent member of junta-led countries, the country is said to be rich in uranium, but wallowing in extreme poverty. It is also stifled by insecurity, much of which lies beyond its borders but threatens it. As BusinessDay recently reported, the United States has about 1,100 troops in Niger, including a drone base, helping the country’s military battle Islamist insurgents linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

The French military also has two permanent military bases in the Sahel region, one of which is in the capital of Niger, Niamey, which includes the main air base for the Barkhane Operation, equipped with 6 Reaper drones, 7 Mirage fighters, a combat unit that complements the French military unit at the base located near the area known as the “Three Borders” (Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger).

Nigerians should not lose their guard in case some ambitious military personnel want to push their luck too far in this country. Military regimes should be rejected in its entirety by all and sundry.

Like other countries where coups have been executed, corruption and inability to tame insecurity have been given as reasons for the forceful change in power. Not much is known to have changed till date in the earlier countries to have embraced military rule.

When Burkina Faso’s army ousted President Roch Kabore in January 2022, it blamed him for failing to contain violence by Islamist militants. Coup leader Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba pledged to restore security, but attacks worsened, eroding morale in the armed forces leading to a second coup eight months later when current junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traore, seized power in September following a mutiny.

In Mali, a group of colonels led by Assimi Goita ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020. The coup followed anti-government protests over deteriorating security, contested legislative elections and allegations of corruption.

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Under pressure from Mali’s West African neighbours, the junta agreed to cede power to a civilian-led interim government tasked with overseeing an 18-month transition to democratic elections in February 2022. But the coup leaders clashed with the interim president, retired colonel Bah Ndaw, and engineered a second coup in May 2021. Goita, who had served as interim vice president, was elevated to the presidency.

Nigeria’s neighbour to the North, Chad, had an unconstitutional change of government led by Lieutenant General Mahamat Idriss Déby after his father’s death in 2021. Under Chadian law, the speaker of parliament should have become president.

In Guinea, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya ousted President Alpha Conde in September 2021. A year earlier, Conde had changed the constitution to circumvent limits that would have prevented him from standing for a third term, triggering widespread rioting.

The coup plotters in Guinea were in fact, daring by opting for the execution of their sinister moves on the day it was done, without having regards for the presence of visitors especially foreign players, CAF and FIFA officials who were there for the 2022 World Cup qualifying match between that country and Morocco. In spite of the presence of personalities who could have landed them in trouble, the coup plotters went ahead to overthrow a duly elected president.

As we stated at the time, nothing could have given them the courage to do so other than their assessment of the likely backlash from ECOWAS member countries as well as the international community, who in their own assessment could have mounted mild resistance to change of guard in that country. Events unfolding after the coup have confirmed that the coup plotters gauged the regional and international reprimand accurately and are convinced they could weather the storm.

African countries, especially those in Sub Saharan Africa, are among the least developed in the world. When ranked in terms of GDP per capita, human development index, patents, innovation, manufactured exports, poverty and malnutrition, political stability, among others, the lower end of the scale is usually occupied by Sub Saharan African countries.

African countries have not fully recovered from the years of military misrule on the continent. Those were the years when Africans were oppressed by their own people; individuals disappeared without trace; mediocrity became the order of the day, while corrupt leaders who looted state resources that could have transformed strategic sectors which would benefit many generations to come were celebrated. Till today, Nigeria still receives in instalments, recovered loot from what the late General Sanni Abacha stole from Nigerian coffers.

Military regimes are usually characterised by lack of planning because they are spontaneously set up. It is a period no one could boast of what will happen tomorrow because an administrator today could be out of office the next day if there is a cabinet reshuffle. This is in contrast to a civilian administration that works with short, medium and long-term plans for the state. A project may be completed by another regime as long as it is in the state’s development plan.

At this juncture, it should be noted that the worst civilian administration is far better than the best military regime. In this regard, Nigerians should not lose their guard in case some ambitious military personnel want to push their luck too far in this country. Military regimes should be rejected in its entirety by all and sundry.