Anthony Okosun (TonyOsun@yahoo.co.uk) writes from the USA.
The news of a coup in Mali is currently all over the air waves. According to one account posted on the Nigerian village Square board "Soldiers stormed the presidential palace of one of the few established democracies in this corner of Africa and announced on Thursday that they had seized control of the country, ousting Mali's president just one month before he was due to step down at the end of his legal term.Gunfire could be heard ringing throughout the capital, and the mutinous soldiers imposed a nationwide curfew. A flight headed to the capital of Bamako was forced to make a U-turn in the air after the airport closed.The soldiers said they are overthrowing the government because of its mishandling of an ethnic Tuareg insurgency in the country's north that began in mid-January. The rebellion grew when fighters who had supported the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi returned home heavily armed. The unrest has forced tens of thousands to flee, and has prompted fierce criticism of Mali's government"
Nigeria cannot tolerate a coup in any neighboring country at this stage of our political development. Nigeria should be forceful, resolute and unequivocal in demanding a return to civilian rule in Mali. The occasion of the coup d'etat in neighboring Mali is an opportunity for Nigeria to demonstrate leadership in Africa. Military incursion into African politics and government and the forcible dismantling of the institutions of democracy anywhere in Africa must be resisted and crushed. Who else is better positioned to captain the democracy flagship in Africa if not the giant of Africa. Nigeria must realize that the coup in Mali is a direct threat to democracy in Nigeria. The adventure in Mali is like fire in a neighbor's house that Nigeria cannot afford to ignore. Goodluck Jonathan must not be caught napping. The coupists have murdered sleep and they must sleep no more. For once, Goodluck Jonathan should exercise his powers as the Commander in Chief of the Nigerian armed forces. Kick out the coupists in Mali, Mr. President.
Nigeria should send a very high level civilian delegation with extensive military background to go warn the reckless loafers in Timbuktu or somewhere close to return to the barracks within a month. Nigeria must make it clear, that indifference, an extended unwelcome stay or soft landing under any guise is not an option. The policy this time around must be ZERO TOLERANCE FOR COUPS IN AFRICA. Nigeria should lead the rest of Africa, especially West Africa to seek and obtain the co-operation of the international community, especially France, the former colonial over-lord of Mali to immediately force a return to civilian rule if the Malian thugs in uniform are reluctant to submit themselves to constituted authority. The coup in Mali; if allowed to fester could embolden some treacherous elements in Nigeria to seek extra constitutional access to power. Definitely, some excited elements somewhere could be watching and observing the reaction of the international community to the events playing out in Mali. We have all experienced military rule. We know that the khaki folks come to help nobody but themselves. Thus, Goodluck Jonathan must not delay in reducing the structures of the coupists in Mali to rubble. Goodluck Jonathan must act now and very fast too. Nigeria is already saddled with a plethora of multi faceted internal squabbles, wranglings and other assorted security challenges. Nigeria at this time, can ill afford to have a military dictator at out back door lending encouragement to treacherous and adventurous elements in Nigeria. The ignorant opportunists wearing fatigues in Timbuktu or somewhere close must be flushed out of the seat of power, with a military force led by Nigeria and traveling at a speed faster than the speed of sound and the speed of light.
As some foreign policy wonks would likely suggest, Nigeria should submit to the leadership of the African Union or the ECOWAS in this matter. Oh well, this brings us to the central question: What is Nigeria's primary interest vis a vis the Malian military dictatorship threat? Is the interest of ECOWAS the primary interest of Nigeria in the Malian debacle? Is the interest of he AU the primary interest of Nigeria in the Malian military incursion? Should the interest of Nigeria be surrendered and sacrificed on the alter of African group interest? Last time I checked a toot ache is more troubling to the man with the tooth ache than an earth quake in a country half way around the world?
Yes both the AU and the ECOWAS wants peace and a return to the status quo ante in Mali. The problem is that both organizations do no want same as desperately and as urgently as Nigeria. Nigeria directly has much to lose if a military despot is given sufficient time to get his acts together and comfortably establish himself in Mali. What Nigeria can just not afford is to allow a role model to strategically position himself in our backyard, encouraging Nigeria's own military bad boys. Commonsense dictates that we must not march into Mali all alone. Of course Nigeria must not act alone and Nigeria will not act alone. However, Nigeria must play the role of the pivotal force charging for, stimulating, marshaling and scheming for a very lightening speed return to the status quo ante in Mali.
Back in the day, Nigeria was confronted with the difficult option of leading a quick military intervention force in the West African country of Liberia. When Liberia was boiling in a fratricidal orgy of violence, military strongman Sgt Doe ran to Lagos to seek the rapid military intervention of Nigeria in his country. It took Gen. I. B. Babangida a couple of hours to scramble a Nigerian military contingent that stormed Monrovia and effectively secured Monrovia. Love IBB or hate him. One thing nobody can deny is the fact that IBB was for every intent and every purpose a commander in chief of the Nigeria armed forces. IBB was never reluctant to intervene militarily, whenever he deems it necessary to so intervene. If all speedy diplomatic efforts fail and Nigeria must intervene militarily in Mali, such intervention must be very well planned and co-ordinated with intelligence and strategic back up from France and the United States. The Tuareg thugs reveling around Timbuktu must be factored into the plan to restore democracy in Mali. The mission to intervene and restore civilian rule in Mali must not become convoluted. The mission must not be metamorphosed into a mission for nation building. Just intervene return the popularly elected civilian leader to power, beef up security around him and do a little extra security needful to help keep democracy alive in Mali and get out of the country as fast as we stormed in.
We must not forget Libya and the Ivory Coast. In both countries Nigeria did not have the support of all AU members as Nigeria tried to build support for a military intervention by France via the rebel Ivory Coast military force and ably supported by ECOWAS behind the scene. In Libya, many African countries led by South Africa openly rejected he military option. Nigeria and a host of other countries gave their blessing to the military force that ultimately removed M. Gadafi from power. Thus Nigeria must not wait to secure the support of every African country before doing the needful in Mali. Nigeria should work with both the AU and ECOWAS and in fact give teeth, energy and speed to both organizations at this crucial point in time. As we speedily attempt to find a rapid political solution to the Malian coup problem, Nigeria should also simultaneously engage both France and the USA to map out a rapid military blitzkrieg that would put the neophyte adventurers in Timbuktu and Bamako in their proper place, should diplomatic efforts fail.
For those persons who think that Nigeria would be playing the role of a busy body by seeking to restore civilian rule in Mali; such persons must endeavor to over-come their short sightedness and look and see beyond their nostrils. Nigeria's hard earned democracy will not be safe and secured if a coup in a neighboring country is allowed to develop a tap root. We must endeavor to elevate our perceptions. No country is an island. Now we must understand why the United States will travel half way around the world to protect American interest. In the United States, city, county and corporate police authorities confront internal security challenges on a daily basis. Yet American federal government must go out there and deal with larger external security challenges that could fester and threaten American internal security. That there are internal security challenges in the United States is not a good reason for the United States to ignore a potential threat to American internal security; merely because the threat is still being hosted and gathering momentum in a foreign land. When the house of your next door neighbor is on fire and you start acting like you are not interested in helping to put out the fire in your neighbor's roof; sure enough, the fire will sooner or later engulf your own roof and then it will be too late.
The school of thought that questions the moral propriety of a Nigerian intervention in Mali because Nigeria's democracy is not perfect will at least agree with me that the socio-politico and economic atmosphere under civilian President Goodluck Jonathan is a million times better than what we experienced under Gen. Sani Abacha. Those arguing that Nigeria's civilian leadership has not been a perfect listening leadership will also agree that under a civilian leadership, Nigerians can even protest and express their grievances. Under the military dictators, Nigerians could not even freely protest the annulment of the electoral victory of Bashorun MKO Abiola. Today, Nigeria is enjoying democracy. As they say, the worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship. The democracy being enjoyed in Nigeria today, did not come freely. Some Nigerians like Chief Rewane, Bashorun MKO Abiola, Kudirat Abiola, Shehu Musa Yar A'Adua et al lost their lives on the alter of the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. Some Nigerians like Chief Anthony Enahoro, Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka had to disguise and be smuggled to the USA via crocodile infested rivers and carnivores infested jungles between Nigeria and some of her neighbors to escape the killer bullets of Abacha's apparatchiks like Sgt. Rogers. Those who sacrificed greatly to restore democracy in Nigeria would have sacrificed in vain, should Nigeria whimsically and through indifference allow their hard earned democracy to be torpedoed. One way of protecting Nigeria's democracy is by pulling down the threat of dictatorship in any neighboring country.
Nigeria is a country that has a deep history of coup plotting and where the military politicians have been in power for a longer period than the civilians. Thus, it is imperative and incumbent on Nigerian leaders to do the needful and protect Nigeria's democracy.
Anthony Okosun (TonyOsun@yahoo.co.uk) writes from the USA.