By Owei Lakemfa
Mahamat Idriss Deby, 37, bedecked in the military fatigue of a four-star General spotting a red beret and some decoration on his chest, was seen at the Nigeria Aso Rock Presidential Villa on Friday, May 14, 2021. He had at least two other four star generals in similar fatigue in red and blue berets which announced in unmistakable terms that this is the military dictator of another unfortunate African country.
The non-condemnation, non-rejection, or the acceptance of his coup by so-called democracies, is a testimony to the fact that coups are not out of fashion, out dated or unacceptable in the world. If anything, it is a confirmation that a coup in Africa is welcome if it fits into the agenda of the beholder.
Not even in the mad seasons of Nigeria coup plotting and subversion of professionalism would a 26-year-old have become a General as is the case of Mahamat who was seven when his father overthrew the Chadian government and within 19 years had gone through formal education, military training and become a General!
The senior Deby died on Tuesday, April 19, 2021 reportedly of gunshot wounds sustained in a fight with rebels. But rather than allow the Speaker of the National Assembly, Haroun Kabadi, to act as President for 40 days while fresh elections are held in accordance with the constitution, Mahamat executed a coup sacking the government, dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution. When Chadians protested against the coup, they were killed, injured or detained.
Those like overlord France and big neighbour Nigeria that should condemn the coup, insist on the supremacy of the constitution, stand by democracy and caution the coup plotters against killing protesters, supported the plotters.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian whose country will never allow an unconstitutional take over in its territory, justified the coup, citing so-called needed stability and security. He claimed the overthrow of democracy in Chad was logical because: “There are exceptional circumstances”.
In a dishonest rendering of events, Le Drian said: “Logically, it should be Mr Kabadi…but he refused because of the exceptional security reasons that were needed to ensure the stability of this country.” What choice did the Speaker have with guns trained on him?
Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Jideofor Onyeama in justifying the coup said Nigeria does not want a power vacuum. To solidify military rule in Chad, President Muhammadu Buhari rolled out the red carpet for the coup plotters. He told them: “We are bound together by culture and geography, and we will help in all ways we can.” He did not ask them to stop killing those protesting against the coup or bring the killers to justice. Rather he told them: “We will also help you to ensure a smooth transition in 18 months, as you have promised your people.”
For those of us who fought gruelling and bloody battles against military rule on Nigeria streets, and ensured the return of civilian governance from which Buhari is benefitting, the image of so-called African Head of State in military fatigue sitting under our country’s Coat of Arms in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, is a disgusting and disturbing image.
We had thought that Africa had gone beyond such criminality. But young Deby’s presence, pounding the floors of the hallowed chambers of Nigeria’s Presidency in military boots, is a sad reminder that coups are not a thing of the past. It also gives the impression that while Nigeria’s democratic physique is civil, its soul is military. So, even if the chameleon changes its colours, it does not change its essence.
It is interesting that apart from the Constitution forbidding the non-democratic seizure of power, the Nigerian government and military have been shouting themselves hoarse against any coup. On December 5, 2020, the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, declared, while decorating 39 newly promoted Major Generals that: “Democracy has come to stay. We will not tolerate any agent of destabilisation.
The years of military misadventure in politics have never carried us anywhere. It is over.” He warned the new generals: “Do not hobnob with politicians. At this rank of two star generals, do not lobby for appointment. If you want to lobby for appointment, lobby the Chief of Army Staff and you can only do this through hard work, discipline and loyalty. The crop of officers (39 Major Generals) decorated yesterday will never be dragged into any interest that is contrary to the sustenance of democracy in our nation.
All our eyes are on you. We know there are several moves to get your attention. You must make sure that whatever you are doing, and when some persons approach you, you must act within the confines of the Constitution.”
In the face of the deteriorating security situation in the country and general unease, the Nigerian secret services, the Department of State Services, DSS on Sunday, May 2, 2021, raised a red flag against any attempt to force an unconstitutional change in the country. As if on cue, the next day, the Nigerian Armed Forces issued a statement firmly rejecting any unconstitutional change of government.
It said: “We categorically declare that the Armed Forces of Nigeria remain totally committed to the current administration as well as all the democratic institutions associated with it.” The statement further declared: “We will continue to remain apolitical, subordinate to the civilian authority, firmly loyal to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari and the 1999 Constitution as amended.”
The Presidency followed up these declarations by claiming there are Nigerians who want to force a change in the country. The Presidency in a statement issued by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, claimed that: “The agent provocateurs hope to achieve through artifice and sleight of hands, what they failed to do through the ballot box in the 2019 elections.
Nigerians have opted for democratic rule, and the only acceptable way to change a democratically elected government is through elections, which hold at prescribed times in the country. Any other way is patently illegal and even treasonable. Of course, such would attract the necessary consequences.” So if the Nigerian government is so firmly against coups, why is it supporting and encouraging the coup in Chad?
If a man says he is against theft, why is he supporting his neighbour to steal? For some African leaders, while coups are forbidden dishes, there is nothing wrong in sniffing them or enjoying their aroma provided they are cooked in other shores. They are like chichidodo, the neat, clean bird which hates excrement but feeds on maggots growing in the lavatory or excess dog faeces.