By NBF News

The coup in Niger
Thursday, March 04, 2010
The recent coup by a military junta in Niger, though undemocratic and aberrant, was the logical outcome of Mamadou Tandja's despotic and uninspiring ten years of leadership. No doubt, the February 19 putsch led by Col. Djibril Adamou Harouna and Major Salou Djibo was a befitting epilogue to Tandja's vaulting ambition to hold on to power.

It is no surprise that the coup was hailed by civil society groups and the people of the impoverished West African country. It marked an end to Tandja's inglorious rule.

By Niger's constitution, Tandja was to govern the country for two terms of five years each. But towards the expiration of his second term in office late last year, he began to scheme for a third term of another three years in office, which is unknown to the country's constitution.

To ensure that his unpopular mission is accomplished, he organized a kangaroo referendum, changed the nation's constitution, sacked the country's constitutional court and muzzled all dissenting views and opposition. Though, military take-over of democratically elected governments the world over is no longer in vogue as it runs against the dictates of modern democratic culture and norms, Tandja's ouster was unavoidable. The coup that ousted Tandja was self-inflicted, arising from Tandja's handling of power. It was his insatiable lust and avaricious appetite for power that made the coup inevitable and attractive.

Countries with leaders like Tandja are breeding grounds for coups and mass rebellion. Such countries are likely to witness forceful take-over of governments by military adventurists. Therefore, those blaming the change of guards in Niamey should first blame Tandja and his court singers for his willful and orchestrated truncating of Niger's democracy by his penchant disdain of the constitution, the yearnings of his people, the concerns of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the international community.

It is, therefore, expedient that the coupists intervened to terminate the evil and intolerant regime of Tandja. But that in itself does not make it legal or welcome. It is true that what went on in Niger under Tandja cannot pass as democracy at all. Tandja, who came to power in 1999, is a sad reminder of other African despots like Mobutu Sese Seko, Kamuzu Banda and Idi Amin.

The coup plotters, who promised to ensure that Niger becomes an example of democracy and good governance, must stand by their words and restore democracy in the country within a very short time. We say this because it is not uncommon for coup plotters to come to power on populist ideology and later do the opposite.

The junta in Niger must not renege on the promise of restoring democracy back to the country soon. The civil society and the people of Niger must insist on a quick return to democracy.

Good enough, the ECOWAS chairman and Acting President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has pointed out that there is no room for an illegal government in the region. Let it be so. This must not be mere rhetoric.

The only way the coup plotters can assure the people of Niger and the international community that they will fulfill their promise is to organize quick elections and return the country to democracy. Any attempt to deviate from this set goal would be counter-productive and must be resisted by the people. This is where the ECOWAS and the AU must come in and ensure that democracy prevails in Niger.

That Tandja could do what he did was a failure on the part of ECOWAS and AU to strictly monitor the democratic affairs of their members. The suspension of Niger by these bodies was not enough to make him retrace his steps. Not even the withdrawal of aids by the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) could make him change his mind.

What happened in Niger is a lesson to other despots on the continent. It is, indeed, time for them to change their ways or face the music. Coups are not desirable. They thrive where there is bad government. Good government remains the only antidote to coups in Africa.