Coup talk and echoes of a Banana Republic

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Coup talk and echoes of a Banana Republic, by Azu Ishiekwene

These days, it seems all right to play with fire. The blaze started like a solitary spark in Mali in August when the streets, the elite and jihadists banded to remove President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

The former president had discarded election results and written a version that tightened his grip on power. How he thought he could reinvent the Mansa Musa legend in a country riven by violence and poverty only he can tell.

Outside the capital, Bamako, however, it was clear that Keita’s ambition was dead on arrival, awaiting funeral. And, of course, he didn’t last to tell the story.

To this day, efforts by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States to remove the military regime that sacked Keita, or even get a firm handover date commitment, have failed. You can choose when to have a military government, but often, you can’t decide when, or even if, they would leave.

Before the coup in Mali, West Africa had been coup-free for nearly a decade, with the exception of Guinea Bissau.

Apparently, soldiers in Niger, Mali’s eastern neighbour, had their own plans as well. On the eve of the swearing-in of President-elect Mohamed Bazoum, they struck, but failed. A government spokesperson described the attempt as a “cowardly and retrograde” act, but the same ECOWAS which rallied to chase away The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh four years ago when he wanted to steal an election, barely said a word.

To compound the region’s misery, Chad happened. The military coup was partly as a result of President Idriss Deby’s misrule and mainly as a result of the destablisation of the Sahel and the Chad Basin by ISWAP elements from Libya.

Like ECOWAS, the African Union has also been silent. France, weeping more than the bereaved, didn’t mind the hypocrisy of defending Deby’s repressive record and his son’s illegitimate takeover, because clearly, French financial and strategic interests were worth the crocodile tears. Within nine months a region that had witnessed relative political stability recorded three military coups, two of them successful.

What started as a spark in Mali is slowly growing into a wildfire. And now, a section of public opinion in Nigeria, a regional powerhouse, is that it might not be a bad idea to light a fire from the neighbourhood to quench the current blaze of domestic problems.

Why is Nigeria playing with fire? How did we become so desperate and so overwhelmed by the bad examples from our neighbours that copying them now appears to be only where salvation lies?

Robert Clarke, a senior advocate of Nigeria, swore by his father’s grave last week, that if things continued the way they were, he could not guarantee that Nigeria would survive another six months. His apocalyptic view may have been exaggerated, but his concern is not.

Kidnapping for ransom has become a deadly game with dozens of school children in and out of dormitories as targets. A foreign newspaper recently described Nigeria as a bandit country, with little distinction between bandits and negotiators.

Since January, dozens of security men have been killed in violent attacks, while police stations and correctional centres have been set on fire and destroyed with hardly a record of anyone held to account.

On top of this, Boko Haram has planted flags in communities less than two hours’ drive from Abuja, the federal capital, and is reported to be collecting taxes and even distributing “relief materials” in some communities. Where Boko Haram is not running amok, ethnic militias have seized the space, issuing ultimatums, imposing curfews and generally behaving like an alternative government.

Kaduna State in the North west, which has the highest concentration of elite military institutions in the country, has been so badly devastated by the spate of deadly clashes, kidnappings and banditry, that Governor Nasir El-Rufai suggested that schools should relocate close to military bases. But anyone who has seen the fortification around these bases will know that even the bases are struggling to save themselves.

In the midst of this, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government appears bereft, divided against itself, weary of issuing condolences, but not ashamed of being condoled with. The government is lost between hijackers and incompetents. Not a good place to be.

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