Within weeks, two African leaders fell from power following people’s revolt and protests insisting armed forces of the two countries should depose the leaders. This development was significant for various reasons. Both events were the first ever in African when people’s revolt instigated the armed forces to complete the job they (the protesters) began months ago.
Second, whether in total defiance of the failed military (attempted) coup in Gabon, Central Africa last year or clever change in tactics in total determination to get rid of their leaders, the dismissal of the Algerian and Sudanese leaders came only months after Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari advised potential coup leaders on the continent to change their military uniforms for civilian dresses and contest elections.
Also, Buhari should have realised that African political leaders are too incorrigible to be pitied for their fate. Pushed to the wall and with risks to their lives by trigger happy armed soldiers of the state in both countries, the people had no choice than to confront leaders with identical hallmark – more that 20 years of personal rule of his country with intermittent sham elections to formalise outright dictatorship.
Buhari should be granted some understanding in his advice to soldiers on the continent. But that does not mean he is necessarily correct. It is also possible that uncomfortable situation in any African country can be exploited by any ambitious military officer for self-serving purposes. In that case, the onus is on the uncomfortable situation not to arise in the first place. What is more, the world, especially Nigeria, cannot blow hot and cold in matter of military incursion into politics and governance in Africa.
If the policy is total discountenance of military coups, in modern day Africa, why did the world embrace military coup in Zimbabwe two years ago when former President Robert Mugabe was sacked after almost 40 successive years in office? In effect, situations can arise to warrant military coup as not only inevitable but also as the only option. Why was no voice raised when General Abdul Fatah El-sisi of Egypt sacked the government in 2013? Muslim fundamentalists overwhelmed the government and threatened the peace in Middle-East. Again, a situation arose which compelled a military coup. So, there can be nothing sacrosanct against military coup especially in an environment of brutal repression of the citizenry.
Accordingly, Buhari might mean well in his advice to soldiers to embrace democracy. But he, Buhari would only hold that view, given the level of freedom in Nigeria. The question may arise as to what freedom? Only a glance at other African countries, East central and Southern Africa will convince. In all those countries, Buhari would never have been able to criticise the government let alone contest against an incumbent president. Is Buhari aware of the crimes against humanity going on in Togo. Where indigenes look up to Nigeria for some succour? I rebuked a Togolelse for their indolence in condoning a perpetual rule by one family since 1963.
Instead of being upset, the Togolese, in response was pitiable but enlightening on our freedom in Nigeria which we take for granted. According to him, “At least, you Nigerians are lucky. You enjoy the freedom to speak out.” The man was correct. That freedom in Nigeria must have influence Buhari to assume that Africans everywhere enjoy that freedom to easily choose their government including the right to criticise or campaign against a government in any east, central or southern African country. The truth Buhari must face is that Nigeria is not like most African countries.
In Nigeria, we criticise, challenge, slander, libel, embarrass, insult, ridicule, oppose, undermine and lately vote our leaders out of office. From independence in 1960 till today. On that score, Buhari is even more tolerant today than when he was a military ruler. To be fair, there is semblance of such tolerance and adherence to democracy among West African leaders; and when one of their, ex-president Jamne of the Gambia was about to fall out of line, the same Buhari, very early in office in 2015, personally went to the Gambia and checked him out. That was the role expected of Nigeria by other Africans.
For all our efforts to preserve democracy in Nigeria and other west African countries, we are no more than local champions. We must shed that image. Anti-corruption champion of Africa. Yes. But Africans are worse than slaves in their respective countries and look up to Nigeria to champion their cause to be rescued from ruthless murderers parading as leaders. Togo, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi. Less than two years after, Robert Mugabe was deposed, Zimbabweans are being made to regret repression by their new rulers who also shoot to kill. In Burundi, a ten-year old school girl who defaced the picture of President Pierre Nkurunziza, was held in prison for at least 10 days. Last time, in Nigeria, a man named his dog Buhari and when arrested, he was ordered to be released immediately. That would not happen in these African countries. The whole of Africa feigned ignorance of the child cruelty in Burundi.
Astonishingly, Nigeria was not exempt. No matter its democratic credential, a country, which looks the other way in the face of crimes against humanity ranks among the list of complicit nations. Nigeria must avoid that gang.
These African leaders have been in power for an average of not less than 20 years without any hope or chance of voting them out of power. Such would never happen in Nigeria or if any leader tried to perpetuate himself in office as in African countries, Buhari would lead the opposition.
On the other hand, if Buhari cannot assist fellow Africans in the quest for freedom from their blood thirsty rulers, victims of political repression on the continent should be left alone to apply any means possible, including military coup to liberate themselves. Today, in Africa, only a thin line separates a people’s urgent desire for liberation and the lust of soldiers for power. He who tastes repression feels it.
Yet, with or without Nigeria’s support, Africans under oppression in their respective country will eventually prevail. Indeed, lately, they have been insisting armed forces must remove such leaders. The first was in Algeria where protesters openly issued instructions to soldiers to remove former President Bouteflika from office, something unprecedented. That was after all direct protests against the Algerian leader’s continued stay in office yielded no results. Surrounding the army headquarters, protesting Algerians, for days eventually convinced the army to depose Bouteflika.
If that was an alternative to military coup, the innovation soon spread to Sudan, which for months had been boiling with protests against president Al-Bashir’s increase in food prices. For a long time, the Sudanese leader was clearly in the last days of his 30year. Not rule long ago, Al-Bashir was focused in this column as the vampire in Sudan, considering the fatal victims Sudanese soldiers were recording among the protesters demanding his resignation. Under the illusion of his iron power, some 50 protesters were shot dead on the orders of ex-president Al-Bashir in the past six weeks.
At that stage, protesters took the battle to army headquarters and refused to withdraw or be deceived into a palace coup until the army deposed the Sudanese leader. One of his deputies who initially took over power was instantly and had to step down after only one day. Without a single bullet, protesters removed a one-day military ruler from office in Sudan.
Wherever the authoritarian exists – Uganda, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi or Togo, – the people are coming.
May 29 or June 12?
It seems the exact date of swearing in re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors concerned is not yet clear. The usual claim since 1999 was May 29. But following demands by sympathisers of late Bashorun MKO Abiola, President Buhari not only conferred Nigeria’s higher honour GCFR on the deceased but also announced that henceforth, Democracy Day would be June 12, away from the erstwhile May 29. We are approaching the first June 12 since Buhari’s announcement.
So far, reports and commentaries continue to emphasise May 29 as handing over day. What really is the position? Surely, it is not possible to have public holidays on May 1, workers’ day, then May 29, handing over day and June 12, Democracy Day.
Which is handing over day? Aso Rock must speak, and early too.