Not even the eventual purported resignation of ousted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (as if he had any other option except suicide) would make up for Nigeria’s wide-ranging political and diplomatic mess witnessed for a week in cleansing Zimbabwe’s Augean stable. The political mess in the country was waiting all along to be cleared for decades of lethargy, conspiracy of silence, betrayal of the people, especially by fellow African leaders who seemed to have abandoned them, as Zimbabweans were imprisoned, conquered and enslaved, being only short of wailing for help to be rescued from continental concentration camp.
In the beginning of early post-independence years in Africa, there was hope, indeed belief the newly emerging indigenous administrations all over the continent, portended civilised conduct as in other parts of the world. What nobody bargained for was the barbarian style of emerging leaders lording it over their people as perpetual authoritarians, subjecting citizens to all forms of mis-governance without hope of relief through the ballot box.
And if ever any hope of change through ballot box existed, such was provocatively manipulated without any justification, especially when compared to long colonial rule, which provided basic amenities, like education, health, good roads, community harmony and security as well as almost full employment. Authoritarianism and perpetual rule to compel what Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would call “zombieism” thrived all over the continent. Reasonably comfortable life provided for Nigerians under colonial rule gradually disappeared. The difference was clear to Africans in the respective countries privileged to have tasted the two eras.
Hence, following frustration in various African countries expressed in sharp criticisms, armed forces overthrow one administration after another on the continent. Since it is impossible to change army regimes through ballot box, Africans in various countries on the continent, after more than 20 years, yearned for democratic rule and army had to gradually return to barracks, especially following criticisms at home and abroad from vested interests effectively blocked from sharp business practices.
The past 25 years of cooling off of the military from African politics should, therefore, have engendered civilised political conduct among the continent’s elected leaders. Instead, the so-called elected leaders again degenerated to the old days of barbarism in the belief that lawlessness is an inevitable part of political leadership. If only these guys could peep beyond the African continent. Even then, term limit for elected public office holders could still offer some control over their recklessness.
African leaders? Sudan, Togo, Rwanda, Burundi, Cameroun, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, Libya, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Gambia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are few examples of the political recidivists. Elections in these countries or term limits are abolished or extended or, in worst cases, election results are overturned with a defeated leader emerging the winner to perpetuate himself in office. Nigeria was only lucky to escape that experience when the third term plot of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to perpetuate himself in office through a third term was frustrated by the National Assembly under the patriotic leadership of Ken Nnamani as Senate President.
In Zimbabwe, the situation was particularly hopeless for the people who were dehumanised for 37 years by one man, President Robert Mugabe. Lately, he became most guilty by wrongly assuming the power to sack a vice-president (Emmerson Mnangagwa) in violation of the Zimbabwean constitution, just as Obasanjo similarly claimed to have removed Atiku Abubakar as Nigerian vice-president. That blunder by Mugabe was the last straw and despite the abeyance of military rule in Africa, Zimbabwe’s defence forces, rather naively, had to issue him a 24-hour public notice removing him from office almost with an apology, explaining to him that he (Mugabe) was not their target whom they identified as the criminals around him. Mugabe had become such feared by even defence forces so frightened and unsure of the prospects of any move against him.
The Zimbabwean defence forces were visibly afraid of hostile reaction of African countries. Hence, the public notice to Mugabe of the move against him, which, in a very cowardly plea, they explained was not a coup. That tactic was suicidal, as they could have been rounded up for instant execution to keep Mugabe in power. But old age had subdued Mugabe, who rambled through a text in reaction to events around him without a word about the putsch. The entire world at that stage already resigned itself to the end of Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s president after almost 40 years. For some unknown reasons, Nigeria at that stage, among the entire 54 countries, intervened with a silly plea for adherence to Zimbabwe’s constitution. That clearly, even if inadvertently, was capable of blocking Mugabe’s removal from office. Or which constitution was Nigeria pleading to be complied with? The very Zimbabwean constitution Mugabe already trashed all over to keep himself in office?
What section of Zimbabwean constitution legally empowered Mugabe to sack a sitting vice-president? In 2008, leader of Zimbabwean opposition Morgan Tsvangirai won the presidential election, but Mugabe, after days’ suspense, overturned the result and declared himself the winner even after he was no longer eligible to contest following series of extension of his tenure, in violation of the constitution. Nigeria and other African nations still ratified that illegality. Over the years, Nigeria and other African nations had been complicit in Mugabe’s manipulation of electoral processes and violation of his country’s constitution. Otherwise, why was Nigeria silent on the 2008 presidential election rigged by Mugabe forcefully?
President Yahaya Jammeh of the Gambia similarly attempted to reverse a presidential election in his country. Why, on that occasion, did Nigeria mount on ECOWAS force for imminent invasion to enforce the result of an election lost by Jammeh? Here was a country (Nigeria that is), which about four years ago enforced an election result won by opposition leader (and now president) Alhassan Quatara in Core d’Ivoire. Why the difference in Zimbabwe? In Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria pre-empted defeated President Laurent Gbagbo from overturning his defeat to victory. How would Nigeria now place its poor judgment on the fall of Mugabe against the reaction of Zimbabweans in this controversy? The people after 37 years were all out to rid the country of everything Robert Mugabe and Nigerian was pleading the constitution. Would Nigeria, as a country and people, ever condone an elected leader in office for 37 years or even ordinarily beyond the two terms stipulated in the constitution? And if the people or the armed forces revolted in Nigeria in such circumstances, who would be pleading the constitution?
If Nigeria could not assist Zimbabweans in their effort to remove Mugabe, the country (Nigeria) should have completely kept off so that Zimbabweans could determine their fate. After 37 years of forced and uninterrupted rule and without prospect of peaceful or voluntary exit, Mugabe deserved to be removed by any means possible. If any Nigerian leader in the past or future tried a Mugabe option of 37 years uninterrupted rule, our history is that we would similarly have employed the removal of such a leader by any means possible. And if Nigerians could subdue their leaders never to try the Mugabe gamble, we should, whenever the need arises, allow fellow Africans to similarly contain their leaders on the continent.
Only lately, Nigeria dignified Togolese President Faure Eyadema by joining in election him chairman of ECOWAS, and then hosting him at Aso Rock. Does Nigerian government not know that for the past four months and till now, protesting Togolese are being shot dead for daring to resist Eyadema’s unwillingness to comply with the country’s constitution, which has ended his tenure? Should the man face a military revolt today, Nigeria will be calling on Togolese nationalists to respect the constitution? And through Nigeria’s fault in getting him elected, Eyadema will boost, henceforth, his attempted perpetuation of his rule by flaunting his new status as chairman of ECOWAS. What a strange diplomacy by Nigeria.
Anyway, why is Nigeria keeping quiet on the bloodshed going on in Togo? Eyadema has ruled for 12 years and is hell-bent on not complying with the constitution to quit. Ironically, Eyadema has the guts to ally with Nigeria on regional security in a diplomatic con to remain in office.
As in Zimbabwe and Togo, so it is in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. Respectively, Paul Kigame, Pierre Nkurunziza, Yoweri Muzeveni, Joseph Kabila and Edga Lungu have all completed their terms as in their respective constitution. Museveni is over 30 years in office. Zambia’s Edga Lumfu publicly warned a judge not to nullify amendment to the constitution enabling him to contest election beyond the term limit in the constitution. Joseph Kabila has been butchering his countrymen and women, much to the alarm of United Nations Secretary-General, for protesting and demanding his exit from power in Democratic Republic of Congo instead of perpetuating himself in office. Similarly, Burundi’s President Nkurunziza has refused to quit after completing his tenure limit. Burundians who protested had been sent to their graves untimely.
There is a peculiar case in Cameroon, where southerners in the country are being killed every day for insisting on their self-determination for their future. The pit here is that southern Cameroonians were former Nigerians of Eastern Region origin misled by their leaders to vote in a 1958 referendum to join French Cameroons. if Nigeria could allow the southern Cameroonians to vote for joining French Cameroons, why should Cameroon government be shooting them for demanding self-determination?
The Mugabe political cancer has spread to these African countries with the on-going bloodshed from brutal repression of protesters demanding compliance with term limit for public office holders. Down the line, continued bloodshed will cause people’s revolt or inevitably intervention of armed forces. Will Nigeria at that stage be calling for respect for the constitution? Now is the time to speak out on the on-going massacre in West, East and Central Africa.
Nigeria’s mess over Zimbabwe can only largely contribute to the bloodshed in these countries, as Africans rise against sit-tight leaders.