AS DARK CLOUDS HOVER ATOP THE WEST COAST
By Tunde Olusunle
Worrying sociopolitical developments in the West coast of Africa have very understandably elicited subregional, continental and global concerns. Within the twinkle of an eye the gradual absorption of democratic governance consistent with contemporaneous global trends by countries in the subcontinent, has gone on the reverse gear. A week ago Nigeria’s Northern neighbours, the Republic of Niger, became the latest of nearly half a dozen countries in West Africa where substantive democratically elected governments has been displaced by military voyeurs. Assimi Goita a 42 year old Colonel in the Malian army most probably flagged off this disturbing routine when he sacked President Malick Diaw from office May 28, 2021. It was his second venture into coup plotting having earlier been appointed Vice President after participating in an earlier subversive endeavour on September 21, 2020.
Goita reportedly received military training in the United States, France and Germany. Goite and Guinea’s Mamady Doumbouya a 43 year-old army Colonel reportedly met during a training programme organised by the US army for West Africa’s “special forces commanders.” As though preplanned, Doumbouya like Goita led a *coup d’etat* on September 5, 2021 to unseat Alpha Conde as President of Guinea. Doumbouya is said to have cited former President of Ghana, John Jerry Rawlings in defending his action. Rawlings was first a coupist in his country before his transmutation into a democrat. He was reported to have once said: “If the people are crushed by the elite, it is up to the army to give the people their freedom.” While Alpha Conde remains incarcerated, Doumbouya has consolidated himself as “interim president” with a pledge to conduct elections in 2025. He is said to have committed not to participate in the 2025 elections by leaving the space for politicians.
Burkina Faso joined the league of West African countries sidestepping democracy when on January 24, 2022, the second term of former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted. Forty-two year old Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba who overthrew Kabore was himself taken out on September 30, 2022 by a younger army officer, 35 year old Ibrahim Traore, a Captain. He has promised to hold democratic elections in July 2024. As though in martial choreography military officers in Niger Republic led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, commander of the presidential guard on July 28, 2023, deposed President Mohammed Bazoum. The coupists cited escalating insecurity and economic stagnation as reasons for the takeover.
A common thread running through the lifeblood of all four countries presently in the grips of militarism in West Africa is that they are all former French colonies. In each instance they have very loudly denounced France which has been unanimously accused of the continuing underdevelopment of its former vassals. ECOWAS and the continental umbrella body of African nations, the African Union, (AU), has condemned the development unequivocally. ECOWAS under the leadership of Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu rose from a meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja last weekend admonishing the coup plotters to reinstate the country’s constitution and Bazoum or face dire consequences which may include military intervention.
Nigeria which has always been a benefactor of many West African and African countries has disconnected electricity supply to Niger as part of punitive actions intended to inconvenience the putschists in Niamey. Instructively, Mali and Burkina Faso have already expressed willingness to take sides with Niger if ECOWAS practically rolls out the troops and tanks against their ally. Nigeria’s North Eastern neighbour Chad Republic in Central Africa remains under military governance. Mahatma Deby son of former President Idris Deby Itno succeeded his father following his death on the frontlines in April 2021. A coup plot has just been foiled in recent days in Sierra Leone. Senior military officers suspected of complicity in the attempted coup were arrested by the police. Such is the cobweb of military rulership steadily emasculating democracy in West Africa and the proximate Central Africa. Such is the dilemma of African leaders.
It remains nauseous that the gains of hard-fought democracy in many West African countries is suddenly being threatened by a new generation of putschists. It is upsetting too the manner the trend is gaining traction and spreading like wild fire. While it remains necessary to talk tough and contemplate sanctions, outright military intervention in Niger or any country for that matter is ill-advised at a time like this. Any plausible military intervention by ECOWAS will predictably be led by Nigeria. The country will contribute the bulk of the fighting forces, the arms, armaments and resources to fund the operation. Indeed Nigeria continues to bear the burden of funding ECOWAS and ensuring the functioning of the body.
Truth must be told, Nigeria’s circumstances today are different from what they were in 1990 when it pioneered the ECOMOG initiative. The country has been fighting insurgency, banditry and sundry bloodletting in various parts of its landmass in the last decade. This has stretched the capacities of the military, bred the killings of our fighting forces and impacted Nigeria’s fiscal capabilities. The immediate past administration in particular pathetically mismanaged the country’s sociocultural sensitivities such that the Nigeria of 1990 is light years away from what we have today. Our compatriots in the past reasoned first and foremost as Nigerians before remembering their ethnic origins. Whether they were Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Nupe, Gwari, Bini, Tiv and so on, was secondary.
Under the recently recessed administration of Muhammadu Buhari, however, the Nigerian psyche was viciously re-calibrated to think and act along basal ethnic and religious lines. Nigeria’s military today unfortunately is bereft of the quality of officers and soldiers with half the commitment and fervour of the generation which enforced peace and enthroned democracy across West Africa in the 1990s. Memories of that era of the Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaros, Rufus Modupe Kupolatis, John Shagayas, Ishaya Bakuts, Adetunji Olurins, John Mark Iniengers, Samuel Victor Leonard Malus, Timothy Shelpidis, cascade down the mind at a time like this. The needed undiluted professionalism, unwavering patriotism, intra-service cohesion and inter-service collaboration for international engagement are equally absent. One hopes to yet write specifically about Malu who was my favourite of the lot.
Nigeria’s military as it stands today requires holistic, sustained and conscientious rebuild. The funding of military intervention by Nigeria anywhere outside our borders now must be thoroughly thought through. Nigeria’s debt burden is ever on the rise and said to be in the region of N80 Trillion. The country continues to service hanging debts and to borrow from multilateral institutions ostensibly to reflate and steady the economy. This is just as inflation, hunger and poverty pervades the land. To be sure these preceding months of the incumbent regime have been hard and dreary for Nigerians. Not too many of our compatriots will endorse the wholesale wastage of our resources in the name of playing “Big Brother” somewhere simply for the bragging rights. This is the time to think creatively about how to rescue Nigeria from the brinks.
In recent days, Tinubu who is both Nigeria’s President and Chairman of ECOWAS has been tinkering with options for the resolution of the Nigerien impasse. He has constituted two delegations to engage with the coup leaders and their allies respectively. Nigeria’s last military Head of State before the dawn of the Fourth Republic in 1999, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and the Sultan of Sokoto Sa’ad Abubakar III, also an army General before his installation to the position, have commenced talks in Niamey with the dissidents. Renowned diplomat Baba Gana Kingibe is leading a second team to Libya and Algeria both neighbours to Niger to seek their cooperation in the resolution of the impasse. Nipping the festering coup bug in the bud is crucial to political stability of the West Coast.
The sociopolitical stasis in Niger Republic constitutes a primary litmus test of Tinubu’s leadership strengths and foreign relations capabilities. Policy somersaults have characterised his early pronouncements which betray lack of preparedness for the position he presently occupies. This could be antithetical to decision making in the very dynamic world we live in. Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Niamey bearing placards with a collage of Tinubu’s images,
denouncing him and labelling him an “illegitimate President.” On Thursday August 3, 2023, there was a new twist to the simmering cauldron in Niger Republic, irrespective of the visit of the high-powered delegation from the Nigerian government to that country. Its junta announced the immediate severance of diplomatic ties with four countries namely Nigeria, Togo, France and the United States of America. Amadou Abdramane spokesperson for the dissidents announced this in a national broadcast and was quoted by *Radio France International.* This is the newest distension to the Nigerien crisis which will task Nigeria, ECOWAS and the world at large, anew.
▪︎ Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)