DEMOCRACY is supposed to be based on the will of the people. The Nigerian constitution like many others declare that sovereignty belongs to the people from whom all power flow. But in practice, the power of the people in most countries,Â including in Europe, begin and end with their vote.
In America and many other nations, only the rich or those for whom huge sums of money are cornered, contest elections. The role of the people in such cases is to make up the campaign crowds and vote at the elections. So it is government of the rich, by the rich, for the people. In some countries like Nigeria, even the basic right to vote does not exist. Therefore, in countries like Nigeria, it is not democracy, but civil rule.
Given this scenario, democracy is not practiced by most countries, and except for the politics of it, it is not respected. Therefore, those who think that the undemocratic seizure of power will not be tolerated by the international community are livingÂ an illusion.
In 1989, Sudan had an elected leadership. Omar Hassan al-Bashir was then a colonel. He decided with his friends that although coups were getting out of fashion, the world would tolerate at least one more. He sacked the government, abolished political parties, opportunistically imposed Islamic codes and established a Revolutionary Council for National Salvation. After seven years, he conducted elections which he â€˜wonâ€™.
Three years later, the new democrat whose leadership was of course recognised, dismissed the Speaker, HassanÂ al- Turabi and disbanded the National Assembly. A year later, he got himself re-elected. The big nations who are against him today, do so not due to the fact thatÂ he is a coup plotter butÂ because of the genocide he is carrying out in Darfur.
As late as last December, PresidentÂ Mamadou Tandja of Niger Republic organised a coup to elongate his tenure in office beyond the constitutional two terms. When the Constitutional Court over-ruled his ambition, he dissolved it, and when the parliament stirred, he sacked it. Today he remains in office.
There are numerous other examples of coups which became acceptable to the international community such as those of General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan and the military junta in Mauritania that has transformed into the â€˜electedâ€™ ruling party. So it is not true that coups such as the one that threw out elected PresidentÂ Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar are now outdated. What is interesting about the latter was that the military coup had a civilian face.
Perhaps the easiest way to allow a coup is to side-track or circumvent the constitution; refuse to allow the Vice President to act when it is obvious that the incumbent is in- disposed.Â President Lansana Conte of Guinea was sick for a long time.
His family, minders and power hawkersÂ thought the best way to guarantee their hold on power was to keep him in the presidency ratherÂ than allow the Vice President to act. They succeeded in maintaining this masqueradeÂ and ruling by proxy for some time until Conte passed on. With the system distorted, the power peddlers assumed they could put some interim arrangement in place and continue their rule.
But an army captain, Dadis Camara simply mobilised his colleagues and bulldozed the civilian contraption. So the myopia of a few became the tragedy of Guinea- Conakry; a country with generals where a captain became Head of State and a general, his deputy.Â Logically, the first casualties were the Conte family and the elites in power. After the massacre of pro democracy activists, Camara was shot by a bodyguard. What is instructive even in this backward political setting was that the ragtag regime had the gumption to get the Deputy to act while Camara was in hospital in Morocco.
In contrast, Nigeria with a constitution and clearly defined provisions, has refused the democratically elected Vice President toÂ act even for a second despiteÂ the fact that the President has been on sick-bed in Saudi Arabia for over two months.
Yet the political elites are incapable of seeing the danger in this childish game of running a complex country with weak democratic roots by proxy. They seem to relish in the illusion that there can be no undemocratic bid for power.
The men holding the two most powerfulÂ military offices in the country, Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Paul Dike andÂ Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Abdurahman Dambazau three days agoÂ found it necessary to give such assurances. Dike declared: â€œ The Nigerian Armed Forces will never depart from its chosen path of honour…instead, we must defend democracy at all costsâ€.
On the other hand, DambazauÂ said: â€œMeddling in political issues does not complement our constitutional role in any way, shape or form…democracy remains the most acceptableÂ form of governanceâ€. I say, well spoken generals, but where is the insurance? I do not think anybody can give such guarantee because conspirators are not likely to apply to the military high command for permission to carry out unconstitutional acts.
In the Second Republic, the military chiefsÂ seemed to believe that coups had become outdated and unacceptable. The then GOC of the Third Armoured Division, Jos , General Muhammadu Buhari told soldiers to study the constitution and understand their role. When a coup rolled by, Buhari was at its head.
The military cannot guarantee democracy; it is the people who can. For the people to do so effectively, the political elites must not endanger the polity as they are doing today in Nigeria where a simple constitutional step such as the Vice President acting in the Presidentâ€™s absence or when he is indisposed, is being allowed to flare into a conflagration threatening the polity.
The Nigerian people, and indeed, the African people must be on the alert because veteran coup plotters are like dogs who tend to return to their vomit.