West Africa: Mali - How the Coup Was Predicted!

A mixed patrol of French and Malian forces in Ménaka Mali (file photo).
1 June 2021

Abeokuta — Soyombo Opeyemi writes that military officers seize power in order to enrich themselves

Below are excerpts from the article, "Nigeria and Mali at 60: Reflections on lust for power", published in the some national papers on October 31 2020.

"In virtually all the cases, whether in Nigeria or Mali, no military officers seize power on behalf of the people. The military usually cashes in on the frustration of the public to stage a coup in order to satisfy the lust of its officers for power. Hence one military coup usually leads to another."

The situation is the same in Mali. The rigging of parliamentary elections, using the electoral body and the judiciary, the abuse of power and misuse of security agents against the people (protesters) constituted the proverbial last straw that broke the camel's back.

But let no one be deceived. Military officers do not grab power on behalf of the masses. When Lt. Moussa Traore seized power by force of arms from the civilian President Modibo Keita in 1968, the Malian citizens welcomed the 'saviour' from the barracks! Traore had cashed in on the economic hardship of the masses. But what did the Malians get in return for their embrace of the unelected 'saviour'? Brutal dictatorship that lasted for 22 years until another military putsch swept Traore from power!

Consequently, my snorts of contempt could be heard on the streets of Bamako when on 18 August, 2020, news filtered to the world that many Malian civilians had welcomed the military putsch against the embattled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who had failed to succumb to the month-long massive street protests calling for his resignation. Coups after coups, the African populations have failed to learn from history!

"Well, the Army took over and they continued to blunder. They continued to do what they were trained to do: that is, to destroy: to kill; and to loot," submitted Chief Mbazulike Amechi, Minister of Aviation in the First Republic.

Have we not been here before? Have Malians not been there before? Nigerians, in their millions, from North to South, welcomed virtually all military coups. But what did we get at the end of each and every coup d'état?

A former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore, once lamented how military rule stifled Nigerian development. He recalled the many development agreements with the German government in critical sectors of the country's economy in the early 60s, which had to be abandoned because of army rule. The strong economic foundation laid by our founding founders began a gradual plunge from the period of military take-over in January 15, 1966, notwithstanding the oil money that came later, which was largely mismanaged. Martial rule signalled the premature death or decimation of hundreds of flourishing industries, many of them multi-nationals. Even those established during the heyday of the army rule did not survive the depredations of the subsequent military governments, as one coup succeeded another. The then flourishing private/ mission schools were taken over by force, progressively decayed and destroyed. Today, the carcasses of these schools are being returned to their original owners! The public corporations too collapsed under the mismanagement of military regimes - Nigerian Railway, Nigeria Airways, Nigerian National Shipping Line, etc. Indeed, things became so bad for the country that national aircraft and ships were seized in foreign countries on account of unpaid debts!

No government could match the military regimes in the art of corruption. Indeed, it can be argued that the civil governments accused of corruption by coup-makers could actually pass for saints. Indeed, the civilian public officers who currently indulge in corruption could be said to have learnt the art of brazen larceny from military regimes. General Abacha alone is credited to have looted about $5 billion.

When on the 13th day of September, the media was awash with the report that the alliance of opposition politicians and civil society groups (the M5-RFP) who had led the masses to stage enormous street demonstrations, had rejected a transition charter of the Colonel Assimi Goita-led National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), accusing the military junta/ coupists of an attempt to "grab and confiscate power", noting that the military document "did not reflect the views and decisions of the Malian people," I simply sniggered!

Even when you dine with the devil with a long spoon, the cutlery will still be grabbed from you and confiscated! Col. Goita! Officers of his ilk are merely band of opportunists, who love to fish in troubled waters in order to satisfy their lust for political power. But for the decision of ECOWAS to shutter its borders and demand a civilian transition leadership, Col. Assimi Goita planned to remain in power for three years, during which he most likely would have settled down to transmute from military to a civilian dictator!

ECOWAS and Malians should be vigilant. Goita may still overthrow the newly-inaugurated Transitional President, Bah Ndaw, in order to satisfy the coupists' lust for power. No military officers seize power on behalf of the masses!

In order to preserve constitutional rule in the region, ECOWAS leaders should have rejected any arrangement that would include the mutinous soldiers under the self-styled banner of National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). No military officers impound power in order to save or serve the masses. They do so to sit behind desks in Government Houses in order to enjoy the perks of political office.

Here in Nigeria, and during the coup years, we saw generals emerge not by fighting wars, not by any acts of derring-do in warfronts but by sitting behind desks in Government Houses! The civil populace bore the brunt. Many unarmed civilians were regularly mauled, tortured and imprisoned in a show of force by the desk generals. In one instance, Ola Rotimi, the renowned playwright and author of The Gods Are Not To Blame, was ordered to put his both hands on a car and horsewhipped like a schoolboy by one of the ubiquitous soldiers set to define their times!

Besides, no soldiers would risk committing treason and then hand over the 'fruits of their labour' to any other group! MKO Abiola waited in vain for the Abacha junta to fulfil its own part of the 'bargain' by handing over power to him! No military officers hijack power on behalf of the masses!"

Without further ado, President Buhari should press ECOWAS to force the Goita-led coupists out of power. Notwithstanding the double-dealing and duplicity of France in her former colonies, perhaps the Nigerian government should not have hosted the new military ruler of Chad. Beamed live to the world, it underscores the exaggeration of the role of the military in any political community.

We may wish to recall how a coup d'état in one country encouraged coups and instability in other West African countries in the 60s up to the 90s. We reject any recrudescence of military rule in West Africa.

Soyombo, author of Buhari v. Yar'Adua (2008), wrote from Abeokuta

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