Coups: Of political quagmire and diarchy,  By Zainab Suleiman Okino

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Zainab Suleiman Okino


The most experimental leader in Africa in contemporary time is former Nigerian military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida. He ruled between 1985 and 1993. But while he was in charge, he toyed with many innovative ideas on leadership recruitment —from the political bureau, new breed-grassroots politics, option A-4 to a form of diarchy, where political power is shared between civilians and the military. Love or hate him, the General’scontribution to the political development of the country, even if ignored, has remained a reference point especially in the light of recent happenings around us in Africa. Although, it is safe to assert that despite his best efforts and only stepping aside, his later effort at political engineering was unable to bring him back to power.

Some 15 to 10 years ago, it was an aberration to talk about democratic parts of Africa returning to military rule. Going further down memory lane, the experience of Nigeria in the 1966 coup and counter coups made it (coup) too bitter a pill to swallow. The first coup led to the brazen murder of Nigeria’s finest leaders including the Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premiers of Northern and Western Nigeria and a host of senior military officers from the North. The second coup led to the civil war that claimed the lives of almost three million people, including children. While Buhari’s coup of 1983 and Babangida’s of 1985 were somehow welcomed, justified and “legitimised’, IBB’s inability to hand over to Moshood Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election and Sani Abacha’s iron-fist rule of the late 1990s, completely made a mess of military rule in Nigeria, such that the country began to advocate for the end of military rule in Africa.

During ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight-year rule as president between 1999 to 2007, military rule in Africa had become an anathema. So condemnable and disdained were coups that Obasanjo could easily restore a civilian president back to his office in Sao Tome and Principe, even as Arab Spring unfolded in Arab-Africa and parts of the Middle east against sit-tight leadership.

Sadly, the civilian democratic governments and the people’s power we so craved for all seem to be melting away before our eyes. Over the years, the West led by America tried to preach, deepen, entrench and even fund democratic ideals through grants and incentives here and there. The system works for them, and they probably thought it could work for us. They say democracy is the best form of government because it allows the people to make their choices; validate those in office or vote out non-performing ones. But democracy has become a ruse in some parts of Africa. The people no longer have a say in who becomes what. Those with political clout either choose themselves through rigging, perpetuate themselves through constitutional amendments or force themselves on the people with the active collaboration of some foreign powers in the case of Francophone Africa.

National growth LS

Consequently, while their pay masters’ economies boom and a chosen few wield power and money as a result of having access to power on the continent, the citizens’ purchasing power dwindled and their countries sink deeper into the abyss. These scenarios are not just eliciting coups, people jubilate and pour into the streets wherever it happens. This is my assessment of the fact and situation as it is today, and it is not intended to romanticize coups in any part of Africa. But we should ask ourselves the obvious question, why are the men in khaki so derided a few decades ago now being received with open arms?  What has changed? The answer is in the pauperization of most countries on the African continent.

It is a no brainer that when your neighbour’s house is on fire, you must run for cover. Therefore, the knee-jerk reactions from Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame are signals of the unsettling situation of things in Africa today. In the aftermath of recent coups in Niger Republic and lately Gabon, Paul Biya of Cameroon had to make changes in his cabinet. He reshuffled and reassigned the military and gave them new positions. He has been in office since 1982. On his part, Paul Kagame retired about 80 military officers, generals and presidential advisers on security matters to stave off dissenting voices. This can at best breed absolute power.These are no permanent solutions, after all the new strong man in Gabon is said to be a blood relation of President Ali Bongo yet was ousted by the newly sworn-in General Brice Clottair Oligui Nguema. 

If we must practice democracy as a system of government, it must come with its ingredients in form of good governance that can lift the people out of poverty, thriving economic growth for all and not a few; and an environment enabled for free and fair elections and smooth transitions of power. 

Alternatively, we can keep the prying eyes of would-be coupists off coups and at arm’s length through inclusion and shared power arrangement between the military and civilian populace. Simply called diarchy, it refers to “a type of government where there are two governing authorities”. The UK practices constitutional monarchy, even though the head of state is ceremonial. If monarchy and constitutional democracy can coexist, military and civil authorities should be able to work together, not in form of “the big brother” wielding the big stick over the other, but the two jointly existing for the good of the people and country concerned. Although Myanmar is a bad example of such an arrangement where the military eventually toppled the civilians in their midst, IBB was perhaps visionary and ahead of his time, when he introduced such an arrangement in 1993, with the lawmakers functioning along the military. 

Obaseki bares his fangs.

I don’t know why Nigerian governors are full of malice towards their deputies especially those that have the ambition to take over from them, even as they campaigned and won election together. First, governors spend four to eight years undermining, disrespecting and embarrassing their deputies. Once a deputy expresses his ambition to vie for office, all hell is let loose. The governor will literally take the battle to the doorstep of his deputy.

 The case of the ongoing rivalry between Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and his deputy, Philip Shaibu is a good example. The governor has withdrawn his deputy’s media personnel, while the man in the eye of the storm, has also changed office. Sometimes, Deputy Shaibu is denied access to his boss. I don’t care what Shaibu’s offence is or what the governor’s grouse is. All I know is that one should not infringe on the rights of the other in a constitutionally approved joint ticket. Besides, Nigerians are tired of Edo’s toxic politics on display every four years when election is in view. 

Four years ago, both were up in arms against their former benefactor, Adams Oshiomhole, whom they almost sent to political Siberia after Oshiomhole’s attempt to replace them as candidates of the APC. The duo jumped ship, contested and won their joint ticket under the PDP to return to power. Like the royal rumble, once the enemy is out of the way, the antagonism becomes mutual. That seems to be the drama playing out in Edo state right now. I wish them well.

Zainab Suleiman Okino chairs the Blueprint Editorial Board. She is a syndicated columnist. She can be reached via: [email protected]

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