By Owei Lakemfa
MAMADOU TANDJA who wasÂ removed in a military coup lastÂ Thursday, February 18,Â after being president of Niger Republic for 10 years, was a time bomb. His overthrow was not only unexpected, but was in some circles, eagerly awaited.
Tandja and his fellow travellers had infected Nigerâ€™s democracy with HIV/AIDSÂ and refused to allow it take retroviral drugs, so the coup was simply an opportunistic disease that delivered the death blow.
Following the coup, there were jubilations rather than protests in the streets. The tears were not for old soldier Tandja, but were tears of joy as new junta leader, Colonel Djibril Adamou Harouna led the neo-colonial army to seize power once again.
Seventy two-year-old Tandja, a veteran coup plotter has, except for a brief period, been in government for the past 36 years; the last 10 years as president. He was one of the coup leaders who on April 16, 1974 overthrew President Hamani Diori, Nigerâ€™s founding president.
Lt Colonel Seyni Kountche who took over died in November 1987 and was replaced by Army Chief, Colonel Ali Saibou who decreed into existence a political party, the National Movement for Development in Society (MNSD) The party was imposed as the sole party which must have military representatives because according to Saibou: â€œPower will not just be handed over to civilians, the presence of the army at their side is indispensable for the countryâ€™s developmentâ€.
Elections were conducted in 1989 and ‘won’Â by the military junta which transformed into a civilian clique. Following mass protests, a National Conference was convened which stripped Saibou and hisÂ ruling gang, including Tandja, of their powers and an interim government led by Andre Salifou installed.
Open elections were held in 1993 in which Mamadou Tandja who had replaced Colonel Saibou as leader of the MNSD was defeated by a coalition of parties led by Mahamane Ousman. A contrived crisis in the National Assembly, led to the re- imposition of military rule, this time underÂ Colonel Ibrahim Bare Mainassara in January 1996.
Six months later, Mainassara held â€˜electionsâ€™Â in which he rigged himself to power. His presidential guards led by Major Daouda Malam Wanke assassinated Saibou in April 1996 and the formerÂ took over.
The military conducted elections on November 24, 1999 and retired Colonel Tandja of the MNSD defeated former Prime MinisterÂ Mahamadou Issoufou.
So after some three decades in government Tandja was now president. He won re-election in December 2004 and was constitutionally expected to leave office on December 22, 2009 after the maximum two terms ofÂ 10 years in office. But he refused.
Rather, he re- wrote the constitution and awarded himself an open ended elongation in office. When the Constitutional Court ruled against this, he sacked the court. When the National Assembly rejected his bid, Tandja dissolved it. When the people protested, he sent armed security against them.
This is what I diagnose as the Tandja disease. This disease afflicts young men in the African neo-colonial armed forces whoÂ after being in power through coups, become so addicted that they are ready to give an arm to return to political office, and after their constitutional terms expire, refuse to leave. They would prefer to endanger the polity and if necessary kill in order to change the constitution and remain in power.
It is the Tandja disease that the Nigerian, Olusegun Aremu ObasanjoÂ suffers from. After being a minister in the General Yakubu Gowon regime in 1975, Deputy Head of State in the GeneralÂ Murtala Ramat Muhammed regime from July 1975 to February 1976, he wasÂ Head of State from 1976 to 1979.
Then 20Â years later, he became president and ruled for the maximum two terms of eight years. But rather than bow out, Obasanjo decided to perpetuate himself in office. He opted to award himself an unconstitutional third term. He endangered the democratic process and expended lots of funds and the countryâ€™s energyÂ in his bid to hang on to power.
When he failed, Obasanjo imposed a chronically sick man on the country as president in what appears to be a childishÂ revenge for not being allowed to rape the constitution.
All those who suffer or suffered from the Tandja disease, including Blaise Campaore of Bourkina Faso, late Generals Gnasingbe Eyadema in Togo, Joseph Mobutu Seseseko in Congo Democratic Republic and Lansana Conte in Guinea, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Yahya Jammeh in Gambia, Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, Samuel Doe in Liberia and Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida in Nigeria, are usually young military officers who seize power then refuse to leave.
They become addictive to power, begin to have delusions that they are the messiahs their countries have been looking for and that unless they remain in power, their countries may collapse. No matterÂ how long they stay in power, even if they shed their military uniforms for civilian garbs, their mental disorderÂ does not allow them to imbibe civil conduct or democratic culture; they do not shed the negative attributes or characteristics of military mentality.
Hence , such human species of the otherwise blessed African continent perpetually constitute a danger to popular democratic governance.
As in the case of Tandja, like in most others, his destructive behaviour and actions made him and the political system so vulnerable that the government was for anybody in the military for the taking . In the specific case of Niger, it appears that once a soldier becomes a colonel, he assumes he has met all criteria to be military Head of State.
The coup plotters knew that internationally, Tandja had become a liability and many would be happy to see him go. Of course the international community from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to the United Nations, and powerful nations like France and United States would make the right noises rejecting the coup, but they would privately grin that another African bastard has hit the dust.