Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Preventing Coups in Nigeria (Updated)
updated from: http://www.dawodu.com/omoigui2.htm
Dr. Nowa Omoigui
[SOUTH CAROLINA, U.S.A.]
*This series of articles are part of the civil-military series. They are a modification of an earlier article that was first written in December 1998 during the transition from the last military regime
to the present civilian regime. It is being reposted (with modifications) in recognition of the impending elections and the historical relationship between elections and coups in Nigeria.
THE ROLE OF SECURITY FORCES
On May 11, 2001, there was a conference at the Telstra Theatre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra on “Deterring and Defeating Coups in the Asia Pacific.” ( http://idun.itsc.adfa.edu.au/ADSC/Coups/Coups_Index.htm ) In his opening remarks, Australian Major General Mike Jeffery (rtd) said,
“In addressing coups prevention, it is important to understand what are the basic ingredients of a good, loyal army.
Every good army possesses an indefinable quality called “spirit”. Armies that possess it have an obvious confidence in themselves, pride in being soldiers in the service of their country and in the unit to which they belong and an abiding respect for the enduring qualities inherent in every good soldier - courage, loyalty, discipline and professionalism.
Spirit (or morale) is fostered through a sense of purpose, tradition and honourable achievement; by the unselfish example and leadership of its officer corps; through a sense of close identity with the civil community and an ongoing respect for the political authority, which is its lawful master.
Any weakness in the fostering agencies just mentioned will impact severely on the spirit of any army.”
With this background, additional observations were made by other participants about supporting factors. These include,
1. Longstanding traditions of non-involvement of the armed forces in politics. The first coup attempt in any country should be vigorously opposed to prevent a precedent.
2. Treaties with other democratic nations
3. Maintenance of very Large Reserve Forces in comparison with Regular forces, for example in Switzerland and the United States where it is organized on a decentralized State basis.
4. Conscription has sometimes been viewed as being an effective antidote to coups but it has clearly not been effective in South America.
5. Reliance predominantly on Naval Power. This is not to say there have not been coup attempts by Naval Officers. For example, in Thailand, Admiral Sangad Chaloryu seized power in a coup on October 8, 1976. In addition, there is a well documented history of naval mutinies in countries like Britain, Germany, Russia etc. The coup that removed President Allende of Chile in 1973 was preceded by a plot by politicians to incite a Naval mutiny.
6. Insulation of the Military from Politics and avoidance of misuse of the military to favor the ruling party
7. Bicameral Legislature, particularly when the two chambers sit in different locations.
8. Federal System of Government and its associated command dispersal, as in India
9. Rule of Law, as a cultural imperative
10. Requirement of frequent Parliamentary Approval of Standing Army.
11. Parliamentary checks on the Executive and avoidance of a situation in which the executive is more powerful than the legislature
(Alun A PREECE. (2001) Building the Institutions of Democracy: Military Factors. Paper delivered at the Conference on 'Deterring and Defeating Coups in the Asia Pacific', at the Telstra Theatre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra on 11 May 2001)
Although coups can be difficult to predict because they are usually planned in secrecy, many coups in history do not really come as a total surprise to the government in power. In Nigeria, both the Balewa (1966) and Shagari (1983) governments had intelligence that a military take-over was in the offing but - for different reasons - did little to stop it. In Chief Ayo Rosiji’s biography, for example, he describes how Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun confided his concerns about a junior officers’ coup late in 1965, which he had discussed with Maj. Gen. Ironsi. All efforts by Rosiji (then a federal minister) to stimulate Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa to take comprehensive action failed. Even the British (who usually know what is going on) offered to position a naval vessel near Lagos as an insurance, but Balewa refused. Other sources suggest that when Nzeogwu was reconnoitering the Premier’s lodge in Kaduna in preparation for “Damisa”, he bumped into Sardauna who made a comment that clearly indicates that he knew what was coming. As late as the afternoon of January 14th, the Prime Minister was warned by confidants of rumors of an impending coup. In SG Ikoku’s book “Nigeria’s Fourth Coup d’Etat”, he admits that the possibility of a junior officers’ coup was widely expected by senior ministers in the Shagari government. When the coup came, they were simultaneously surprised and disappointed but ultimately relieved that it had originated from senior officers. Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, who was the Head of the Nigerian Security Organization (NSO) under President Shagari, has revealed that there were no less than ten (10) intelligence reports of coup conspiracies during that regime - including the one that eventually succeeded. While some might ascribe these attitudes to a culturally driven sense of destiny and fatalism (“God willing”), the paralysis of response from previous civilian regimes needs to be more closely examined by future civilian leaders. Democracy has to “want to “ survive.
There is some evidence that such a "willingness to survive" was not absent in the Shagari government. The outcome of an ongoing court case which has pitted former Transport Minister Umaru Dikko under Shagari against former Intelligence Chief Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi will certainly be of interest. Shinkafi is suing Dikko for defaming his character by suggesting that he (Shinkafi) may have been involved in the December 1983 coup plot - and thus did not provide the kind of specific information that would have helped the Shagari regime survive the coup.
But civilians are not alone. In the only serious conversation they had on the subject of security, late General Murtala Mohammed displayed the same sense of fatalistic abandon when then Lt. Gen. Obasanjo (Chief of Staff, SHQ) tried to get him to take his personal security more seriously early in February 1976. Mohammed’s predecessor suffered from the same problem. As he left for the OAU meeting in Kampala, General Gowon even went as far as telling Col. J. N. Garba in July 1975: “…… let it be without bloodshed. I must go to Kampala anyway.” On the contrary, the foremost military conspirators of the last 15 years (Generals I. B. Babangida and S. Abacha) were not shy to confront any challenge, real or imagined.
Thus, there are limits on what an intelligence capability can achieve if the users of intelligence fail (for whatever reason) to act on it. Part of the problem is the issue of lack of specificity and precision. One approach is to develop an early warning system that informs the government that pre-conditions for a coup exist or that the likelihood of a coup occurring has increased. Unfortunately in coup prone nations, such indicators are so frequent that there is danger of threat fatigue. Beyond pre-coup Intelligence there is also the problem of obtaining timely intelligence during a coup, when conventional channels of communication have been compromised and events are extremely fluid and fast moving (Alan Dupont (2001) Using intelligence to predict coups. Paper delivered at the Conference on 'Deterring and Defeating Coups in the Asia Pacific', at the Telstra Theatre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra on 11 May 2001)
Public Communication during a Coup
It is noteworthy that before the 24th coup attempt finally succeeded in toppling President Jaffar El Nemeiry of Sudan (while on a visit abroad), he actually had a powerful independent radio-transmitter and electronic jammer secretly located within the country. This was to enable him have a mechanism for broadcasting appeals for support in the event that disloyal troops took over the country’s ‘official’ radio stations. Unfortunately for Nemeiry, Egypt detained him (on his way back from the US) once the coup was announced in Khartoum.
In Nigeria, the recent emergence of numerous Radio Stations and plans to establish more could be useful in decentralizing sources of radio news and making it more likely that radio broadcasts sympathetic to the democratic regime under siege will in fact be broadcast during the early uncertain hours after an attempted coup - unless the plot is so widespread that all radio stations are emasculated.
Effect of the “Coup Culture” on Training
One more thing that is common to all the Nigerian regimes (civilian and military) after Balewa is the paralysis of nearly all training above the sub-unit level prompted by the conversion (by Major Nzeogwu) of the night exercise ‘Exercise Damisa’ into a full fledged coup on the night of January 14/15, 1966. In a related development, there were unconfirmed reports in the late seventies that weapons procurement (e.g. Leopard Main Battle Tanks) and approval of training curricula (e.g. knife throwing and sniping) may have been adversely impacted by fear on the part of the government not to unwittingly ‘over-arm’ or ‘over-train’ soldiers. These measures (if true) have not stopped coups in the country but have severely affected the professionalism, quality and readiness of the military. The conventional wisdom has been to use opportunities for foreign peace-keeping as a way to get around the problem of training at home, since (conceivably) fully mobilized Nigerian troops based abroad would not be a threat. I have also previously noted the potential for “untainted” troops on assignments abroad to be potentially available for mobilization when the home government is threatened (as occurred with Sudan in 1970). However, even this is not really danger-free. Back in 1964 when the Ghanaian UN contingent was returning from the Congo, Afrifa almost decided to drive straight from the port with his fully armed battalion to seize power (from Nkrumah) on arrival. Eventually this was put off. Colonel Kotoka later staged a successful coup in February 1966. Any proposals on preventing coups in Nigeria, therefore, should take this into account if we intend to have Armed Forces worth their salt on the one hand while ensuring that officers do not abuse our trust.
There have been reports that Nigerian soldiers returning from foreign missions are not allowed to come back armed. Beyond this, however, the problem of denying soldiers on foreign assignment their due salaries and allowances (which used to be major problem) must not be allowed to recur. Several coups in Africa have resulted from such welfare issues among soldiers who had been on peace-keeping duties.
The correct balance between security and training must be found if the military is not to be rendered impotent in its primary duties.
Some recruitment and organizational issues
No serious country leaves the recruitment of its officer corps to chance. In Australia, officers are recruited from the top 3% of civil society. In the US, entry to West Point is tightly regulated, including a requirement for character recommendation from elected representatives in one’s community.
Tragically, for quite some time now, civilian family members eager to ‘have someone there when they take over’ have solicited many entrants to the Nigerian Defence Academy to do so. As is so typical of Nigeria, there are stories of rejected applicants returning “with a note from a Big Man” to overrule the selection committee and established guidelines. As has been alluded to in public by General Abubakar, the average young officer does not dream of becoming a “Patton” or “Rommel” or “Shaka”. They dream of Governorships and ‘plum’ positions as ADC (aide de camp) or MA (military assistant) to “Big Men” who award contracts. And to compound matters, although there are many more highly educated officers in the military than has ever been the case historically, the quality of recent officer recruits is declining along with the decline of the national educational infrastructure which is affecting everything else in the country. The issue of educational quality - beyond merely holding certificates - must, therefore be addressed. Furthermore, the psychosocial profile of incoming officers needs to be researched including extensive background checks and profiling to assure the system that those who are being offered the privilege are not likely to betray it.
The question of ethnicity and identification has led me to wonder if there might be merit in a system which uses “nom de guerre.” What I mean is that once a civilian is accepted for service in the armed forces, he or she should lose his or her civilian name and acquire a military name which does not betray his or her ethnic origin. Only when leaving the Force would such a name then revert to the original civilian name. This idea needs to be thought through some more but may have some merit.
Some commentators have suggested that the Presidency and all federal (state) buildings should be guarded by the “Secret Service” or “Public Officers Protection Unit” which should be administratively under the Ministry of Justice or the Presidency, independent of the Police/ Internal Affairs and Military. For reasons that I have previously stated, the Brigade of Guards could be recast away from its present role as the “guards” of the Presidency - even as part of an outer ring of personal security. [In India (as in many countries), the elite Brigade of Guards does not protect civilian politicians.]
It cannot be overemphasized that ECOWAS (as presently constituted) is not a reliable external military guarantor against coups in member countries although it does provide a forum for applying moral pressure against would be plotters. The problem is that the 1981 ECOWAS Protocol on Mutual Assistance and Defence (MAD) which outlined situations that would require joint sub-regional action against external aggression, as well as intervention in inter-state and intra-state conflicts has never really been implemented. Perhaps, then, if we overcome the obstacles in its way, we should encourage the formation of a security/ defence pact through a West African Defence Force (WADF) with trans-national units located in the capitals of all ECOWAS countries. The WADF will be available to fire-fight regional disputes as determined by the ECOWAS council of Ministers (e.g. ECOMOG), protect the territorial integrity of the region and also help serve (along with the indigenous regional reserves) as a neutral stabilizing (quarantining) force against local coups. Related to this is the need for intelligence sharing among the intelligence organizations of member nations. Because coups tend to be infectious (like a domino), it is the responsibility of every country to warn its neighbors about potential threats to its security. One never knows who might be next.
Some Senators have expressed the sentiment that no regular military unit should be located within the immediate environs of any major administrative capital in the country. Lagos and Abuja in particular, they argue, should be demilitarized and provided with “early warning systems”. (If so, then multinational West African units could take the place of indigenous units as “first responders” in major centers of gravity in the region). “Federal Military training districts” could be established in various geo-political zone where remote training above the sub-unit level can take place quietly, monitored by Intelligence, without threatening the government. A rule should be promulgated to ensure that soldiers, airmen and sailors do not wear their uniforms outside their barracks when not on official duty.
To optimize “mission clannishness” and enhance rivalry, tri-service military institutions could be split up as in some countries. The Army, Airforce, Navy and Ready Reserves could have their own training institutions - as is the case in the United States. The disadvantage of this is high cost, lack of ‘economies of scale’ and a potential for the weakening of operational coordination in a country with no track record of being highly organized in the first place. However, this can be addressed via joint exercises above the sub-unit level.
Although General Gowon rejected the idea in 1966, the Army could also be structured on a regimental basis, which will create a sense of relevance to Nigeria’s primordial reality. Civilians may thus feel a closer “emotional tie” to the Military. Military regiments (fairly distributed) should be renamed in honor of the most famous ethnic national armies that fought against the British. Their uniforms and insignias should reflect something about the cultural heritage of those nationalities and their ultimately common fate at the hands of foreign (British) invaders. Indeed, the Indian Army has such regiments. Examples include the Sikh, Jat, Gurkha, Rajput, Poona Horse and Madras regiments among others. In Nigeria, although such units and regiments may indeed reflect our pre-colonial nationality heritage, actual posting of officers and soldiers should NOT be tribal.
Right now we have mostly abstract numbers some of which have more bearing to the history of foreign military organizations. One example is the 82nd ‘composite’ division in Enugu, which sounds suspiciously like the famous US 82nd Airborne Division, although it may well be related to the 82nd West African Division of World War II! I can relate to it, but I doubt if a farmer in Aba thinks it has anything to do with him. It might be more appropriate to call it the “Abam” Regiment. Similarly, the 3rd Armored Division, Rukuba-Jos, could be called the “Nok” Regiment. There is precedent for this in other countries. In Iraq, for example, there is a Hammurabi Division. Such details have a way of legitimately embedding the military in the historical mindset of the general population.
The present motto of the Nigerian Army, “Victory is with God alone” written in Ajemi (Arabic) character and taken from the flag of the great Sokoto Caliphate, may be more historically appropriate for a “Sokoto Regiment” (or ‘Attahiru Ahmadu Brigade’) rather than the whole country. Some have argued that a new motto (based on a national competition) should be written in English, not because there is anything “wrong” with Ajemi but because National entitles (like the Army) should reflect what unites us - a common history of British conquest. It must be readily admitted, though, that many federal institutions in the country bear curious Greek and Latin mottos, which are not more credible than Ajemi. They too may need to be reviewed.
Some have suggested that, with an eye on cost, ‘Teeth arm’ and ‘Service arm’ military training institutions in the country should be relocated in a fair manner. These observers feel that each of the so-called six or eight “zones” is entitled to get at least one of each category, unless geographic requirements ABSOLUTELY dictate location. I feel such things should be driven by fundamental military principles and that “political balancing” should only occur IF it does not affect military efficiency.
It should be noted that military base locations are a politically sensitive topic even in advanced democracies because of the economic implications for populations that live around them.
Can civilians sabotage a coup?
While the firepower of the modern state makes it an unattractive target for frontal civilian action, the role of motivated civilians in preventing the smooth success of a coup must never be discounted. In April 1961 an attempted coup by Algerian based French Generals against DeGaulle failed after DeGaulle rallied public support, armed party militia, and got elements of the military to give him backing.
In giving credit to soldiers who crushed the revolt, many people scoff at those students of the University of Ibadan and Lagos in Nigeria who marched out of their campuses to protest the Dimka coup in 1976. But what they did was of major psychological value to loyal elements and presented a threat to the ability of the coupists to consolidate, even if the coup had physically been a ‘success’. As has been demonstrated in other countries, it can sometimes take very little to upset a coup, particularly in its early phase. The Trinidad and Tobego experience of 1970 is a case in point.
During the attempted coup (in the eighties) in neighboring Cameroun, a civilian radio station employee set up the transmission switches in such a way that the coup broadcast could only heard in Yaounde. Thus the coupists sat in the station under the mistaken assumption that their broadcast (which was supposed to signal other mutinous elements in the country) was being heard all over Cameroun. Failing to hear the signal, those units did not move out as planned and, therefore, Biya, who had escaped into an underground command bunker, was able to rally “wait and see” troops to flush out the revolt which was essentially contained in Yaounde. It should be obvious, therefore, that a significant proportion of those who work at Nigerian radio stations should be undercover Intelligence operatives trained in the art of communications sabotage.
The military coup in Algeria which was launched in 1991 to forestall the victory of the Islamic party led to a scale of civil strife and insurgency which the planners could never have foreseen. The long term costs have been horrendous.
Civilians in Sierra Leone launched a campaign of civil disobedience when Major Koromah took over in May 1997. While insufficient to stop the take-over, it caused a lot of problems for the regime. But, more recently, thousands of civilians in Ivory Coast confronted security forces and forced out the military régime when there was an attempt by the outgoing military to play games with the election of incoming civilian President Gbagbo. Civilians in Serbia showed similar toughness and determination against former President Milosevic when he tried to use the military to play games. And in what must count for the most dramatic recent example of people power, civilians in Venezuela took control of the streets, radio stations and the Presidential Palace when there was a coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in 2002. The coup collapsed 48 hours later.
Nurturing the military
In the military, it is important to create a climate of "investment" by soldiers in the democratic system. Indeed, one counter-intuitive observation stands out in Nigerian history: military regimes seem to be more "difficult" to overthrow (by the military) than civilian regimes. One reason
may be that in the climate of civil liberties afforded by a civilian regime, the absence of "detention without charge" decrees and the difficulty in summarily purging suspicious officers and soldiers imposes an extra burden in security calculations. But the main reason is probably that more recently, civilian regimes have become easily compartmentalised as "unworthy of support" when would-be plotters exploit the nascent "we versus they" mentality
that now pervades the attitude of soldiers toward "bloody civilians" in Nigeria.
In the external defence context, goals must be clearly defined and the military needs to feel "free" to conduct operations to maximise the chances of "winning". Soldiers get uncomfortable with any situation that portrays lack of "control" or "decisiveness" on the part of a national civilian command structure that does not share its "tough and disciplined" institutional identity. It makes them feel "impotent". Nevertheless, the government must be honest enough with the country and the military, about the facts underlying tensions with other countries to prevent a widening of the gulf between the expected and the observed.
There was some concern that the reaction of the military to the World Court judgment of October 2002 which confirmed that the Bakassi peninsula is in "Cameroun", was publicized by the Press before the reaction of elected authorities, potentially limiting the range of options on the part of the government about how to react. According to the BBC, the local Commander at the scene revealed to the Press that it was the saddest day of his life. What civilian government, would, after such an emotional statement from the military be seen to condone “sadness” among its fighting troops. Fortunately, press statements by the Directorate of Public Affairs in the Army HQ were more circumspect and deferent to the civil authority.
MORE THOUGHTS ON CONSTITUTIONAL MECHANISMS
In my view, keeping in mind the history of Nigerian military coups after “second term” elections, a powerful anti-coup mechanism could be to limit politicians to single terms in office. In this way we might avoid the “do or die” approach they often take to winning re-election at all costs.
In the developing world, specific constitutional provisions to ban coups seem reassuring on the surface, but are inherently limited by the fact that a coup is an extra-constitutional process in a political environment that does not place premium on constitutionalism. Even though the constitution declares itself “supreme”, there is a wide gulf between policy and culture in Nigeria and many developing countries. Official policy is regularly flouted with no backlash from the society, opening a window of opportunity for those who might dare.
The 1979 Nigerian constitution, for example, expressly forbade unconstitutional take-over, but the government was overthrown in December 1983. Successful coup leaders often abrogate the previous Constitution and impose a new legal order. Then they typically negotiate the terms of their eventual departure from government with the political and judicial class in such a way as to protect themselves. Then they promulgate new constitutions to guide the succeeding political order, assisted by onerous provisions for constitutional modification. Even when succeeded by democratically elected leaders, those leaders rarely have the political will to move against successful former coup leaders merely on account of treason. When they rarely do, as in Bangladesh and South Korea, they often do so under cover of egregious human rights violations, corruption or common crimes. Only those unfortunate enough to be accused of plotting an unsuccessful coup end up being tried for that offence. Furthermore, seizure of power is intrinsically a political crime, subject to the same vagaries of time, circumstance, and era which affect public attitudes to political issues. Hugo Chavez, a former paratrooper who was jailed for failing to seize power from Carlos Andres Perez in 1992 was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. In Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq and more recently, General Musharraf even succeeded in getting the Pakistani Supreme Court to retrospectively “ratify” their unconstitutional coups against elected government under the guise of what is known in that country as “The Law of Necessity.”
On the contrary, Fiji provides a mixed record of judicial resistance and acquiescence. In May 1987 Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka staged a coup against the government, but in a letter to the Governor-General, the Supreme Court declared the regime illegal and upheld the 1970 Constitution. Therefore, Colonel Rabuka mounted a second coup in September and assumed full powers, essentially making the country a republic. At this point he arrested all the judges of the Supreme Court. They reacted a few days later by resigning enmasse. Nevertheless two judges later broke ranks and agreed to serve under the Rabuka regime. When Fiji suffered another military coup in May 2000, however, the sitting Chief Justice teamed up with the army to draft new decrees abrogating the 1997 Fijian Constitution, ostensibly, according to him, to "ensure that the maintenance of law and order and justice in this country was not frustrated by any ineffective court machinery that could easily have resulted otherwise without my intervention". (His Honour Mr Justice Kishore Govind (rtd) (2001). The role of the courts. Paper delivered at the Conference on 'Deterring and Defeating Coups in the Asia Pacific', at the Telstra Theatre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra on 11 May 2001) To its credit, the Fiji Court of Appeal, relying on arguments that the legality of the coup should be evaluated using international legal agreements to which Fiji was cosignatory, subsequently held that the 1997 Constitution remained in force. This compelled the military-installed interim Civilian regime to announce a program of return to democratic rule under the Constitution.
In spite of the aforementioned limitations and mixed record, such mechanisms have been tried in various forms in Africa. For example, the Nigerian Constitution seems to have zero tolerance for forceful seizure of power. This has (once again) been written into Section 1 of the current version. Furthermore, like the 1979 version, the 1999 constitution was silent on the fate of coup plotters and their civilian accomplices. One must, therefore, commend the "Prohibition of Unconstitutional take over of Government (and Other Ancillary Matters) Act 2001" sponsored by Senator Adewari Pepple which was passed in November 2001. The bill, enacted under Section 11, states, among other things,
"Any person or group of persons who takes over the government of the federation through unconstitutional means will be liable to life imprisonment, while anyone who serves in such illegal administration will bag 14 years jail term…….any person who seduces any person serving in any of the Armed Forces of Nigeria or any member of the Police Force into breaching his lawful duty and allegiance under the constitution is guilty of felony and is liable to imprisonment for life……It shall not be a defence to a charge under this section that an illegitimate government has purported to amend, suspend or repeal this Act or the constitution or any part thereof.”
Clearly this is an important symbolic move, although it will not by any means - on its own - prevent coups.
Our 1979 constitution contained a clause making it illegal for coups. But then, a previously noted, Brigadiers Babangida, Bako, Abacha, Idiagbon, Buhari and other officers who obviously had no fear that the clause would ever be enforced, suspended it in December 1983. One approach, therefore, could be to draft a section that emphasizes that the constitution is not suspendable - and hope the judiciary will have the moral fortitude to stand firm if such a situation develops. Further, we need to strengthen the language of our ‘anti-coup’ clause with a Ghanaian type quotation. In its 1992 constitution, Sec. 3 (4) declares that:
“All citizens of Ghana shall have the right and duty at all times (a) to defend this constitution, and in particular to resist any person or group or persons seeking to commit any of the acts referred to in clause (3) of this article; and (b) to do all in their power to restore this constitution after it has been suspended, overthrown, or abrogated as referred to in clause (3) of this article”.
The constitution goes on in sub-section 5 to say:
“Any person or group of persons who suppresses or resists the suspension, overthrow or abrogation of this constitution as referred to in clause (3) of this article, commits no offence. The constitution also states that such persons who resist the overthrow of the constitution will be compensated (directly or indirectly) for any losses suffered in the process from a Consolidated Fund.”
This comment recognizes the reality that ultimately, the best insurance against coups is a civil populace ready to disobey military adventurers and fight for democracy and the rule of law. If they don’t, what will happen is that the new military regime - or its successors - simply will not give up power for many years until it has negotiated amnesty for itself.
Another interesting clause is section 218 (3) of our constitution which states:
“The President may, by directions in writing and subject to such conditions as he may think fit, delegate to any member (italics mine) of the Armed Forces of the Federation his powers relating to the operational use of the Armed Forces of the Federation.”
There is a historical precedent for such a clause coming in handy - in defence of the republic - during a coup attempt. In the confusion of the attempted coup after the failed assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler in July 1944, unable to trust the High Command, he bypassed all major commands and directly transferred operational control of the Army to Colonel Otto Skorzeny, the famous German paratrooper and special operations commando extraordinary, in whom he had absolute trust. Skorzeny was ruthless and efficient in using this power to round up conspirators many of whom included officers much more senior to him, until the situation was clear.
While, therefore, the objective seems benign and useful as a basis for legitimizing operational orders, particularly if regular chain of command has been disrupted, this clause also provides perfect cover for a “Pakistan-type” coup in which the President himself organizes a coup against the government. Recently, a similar clause in the Pakistani constitution was removed. Pakistani Generals had misused it in the past with collaboration from the country’s ‘ceremonial’ Presidents. The nearest precedent in Nigerian history is the manner in which Maj. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi “squeezed” the rump cabinet through Senate President Nwafor Orizu to “temporarily hand-over” in January 1966 to enable him crush the mutiny and “avoid disaster”. It is also remarkably similar to the Abacha clause in the decree creating the interim National Government of Shonekan in August 1993. If we may recall, Shonekan was technically not ‘overthrown’ on November 17th, 1993. He ‘handed over’ to the most senior Minister as the rather clairvoyant decree had foreseen. The clause should be deleted or carefully circumscribed in its extent, perhaps with a rider to protect against involuntary invocation or mischievous voluntary invocation, reinforcing the supremacy of Section 1 of the Constitution.
A related issue is how we deal with successful coup plotters after they eventually leave office. If we glamorize them and make them heroes, then we are sending a message to would be usurpers. It should be clear that at anytime a democratic regime is returned to power, coup plotters will be prosecuted. To set a “live” precedent that those who plan coups risk future prosecution, some contributors have suggested that we retrospectively put all the officers responsible for the 1983 coup in Nigeria on trial, in much the same way as has been done in Bangladesh, South Korea and a few other countries. The basic premise would be that civil society places successful and unsuccessful coups on the same moral wavelength, no matter the outcome of the governments that successful coups generate. However, officers who plan subsequent coups against fellow officers who themselves came to power illegally, might then be guilty of being “accessories after the fact of treason”’ but could be retrospectively pardoned depending on whether or not they removed their colleagues with the express intention of restoring civil rule. In putting this into effect however, we must be pragmatic enough to note that many living serving and retired officers belong to the category of successful coupists (with varying degrees of involvement). Some are in a position (militarily and financially) to make it very costly (or even impossible) for the country, unless they are taken by surprise. Thus I shall, for the purposes of this essay, play the ‘Devil’s Advocate’.
We must consider the fact that the “coup culture” in the Nigerian Military is part of a dialogue of measure versus counter measure that has been going on since January 1966, resulting in what some call the “Train and Kill” syndrome. Sadly, we have not been consistent with the way we have dealt with real coup plotters. Even among the January 1966 “plotters” and “killers”, Major C.K. Nzeogwu (for example) was buried with full military honors at the Kaduna Military Cemetery (without his eyes) after apparently being killed in combat in the Nsukka sector. Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu (who was no saint) was reportedly tricked into being murdered unceremoniously shortly after the war. His killer has never been identified. On the other hand, many of their co-conspirators who survived the July 29 coup and the civil war were imprisoned (until the mid-seventies) and later dismissed.
The ‘killers’ of July 29, 1966 have never been tried, whether or not they were acting in retroactive self-defence or in a state of aggravated manslaughter. At least one of them later became Nigeria’s Head of State. Major-General Ironsi and Colonel Fajuyi (both suspected of sympathies and complicity with the January ‘boys’) were convicted by mob-action and shot in the bushes near Ibadan by mutinous subalterns and NCOs, only to have their bodies later released for full military burial. Former Lt. Col. C. O. Ojukwu who led the most serious secession attempt in this country to date was pardoned in 1982 along with General Gowon who was himself suspected of foreknowledge of the February 1976 coup. On the other hand, ‘Major’ Isaac Adaka Boro was released in 1967 from jail by Gowon where he had been held for treasonable insurgency, launched from Bakassi, only to die in action during the civil war. He was buried with honors. Ken Saro Wiwa was not so fortunate under Abacha. He was executed using a method that had not been used since the departure of the British - Hanging - and buried in a mass grave. Acid was reportedly used to hasten decomposition.
Brigadier Ibrahim Bako, an inner-circle coupist killed ‘in cross-fire’ during the 1983 take-over (at Abuja) was later buried with full honors, by his colleagues. Had the coup failed, he may or may not have been so lucky. On the other hand, a large group of imaginary and real failed coupists have been shot and buried incognito (like armed robbers) in ‘acid-enhanced’ mass graves (1976, 1986, 1990) while others have been imprisoned (1995, 1998). Some, like Major Mukoro, Lt. Col. Nyiam and others have since had their names removed from wanted lists. In this connection, even after General Abacha died, the status of self-exiled Lt. Col. Dasuki (with whom Abacha had personal differences) was unclear for sometime even while Colonel L. Gwadabe and others languished in jail awaiting review of their cases. Meanwhile, retired Generals Obasanjo and Yar’Adua received state pardons for the same alleged plot. Most of these incongruencies were later resolved.
Similarly, Maj. Gen. Vatsa was shot while Lt. Gen. Diya (who, despite public opinion, was tried by the fairest special military tribunal in Nigerian history), escaped with his life. The case of executed Col. A. D. S Waya (in 1976) remains a mystery in certain circles. And there are some innocent people who were simply lucky to have escaped being shot back then. Thousands of others over the years who were not guilty of coup plotting but were ‘suspected of potential disloyalty’ either to a sitting government or an incoming administration, suffered arbitrary early termination of promising military careers.
These memories crystallize the brazen hypocrisy with which ‘successful’ coup plotters have imposed themselves on the national scene as ‘social commentators’, ‘leaders’ and ‘new’ democrats. Even making allowance for political climate, the pathology of this inconsistent application of the rule of law since 1966 is so deep and ethnically complicated that we have to come to grips with it as a country in order to start anew and move forward.
If we elect (pragmatically) not to prosecute those officers who have taken part in successful coups, we need to do something to level the playing field. After all, knowing what we now know, who is to say that Nigeria would not have been a better country today had the coup against Buhari failed or the alleged coup against Babangida in 1985 actually been real and succeeded? The same question can be asked of every coup that failed and every government that failed to prevent a coup. The graveyards are full of unsung heroes and unfortunate victims. And there are yet others who today live quiet lives having been vilified for this and that while some who are guiltier than sin, are running around making public statements.
The many unsung officers and other ranks who lost their lives or careers over the years resisting unlawful seizure of power from previous civilian governments should be awarded National Honors by a grateful nation. Some consideration should be given to backdating promotions for these officers and men to adjust for the ranks they might be holding today, had they remained in service. The rationale is to establish precedent that those who resist illegal coups will never be forgotten by society no matter how long it takes.
Simultaneously, we should (like decent Africans) release (to their families and communities) the remains of those executed in the past for alleged and real coup attempts after appropriate forensic identification. Some of Nigeria’s best and brightest are in this category. There is no legal basis for holding on to the corpses of executed convicts. In many countries, including the US, the families are invited to claim the bodies. If their families choose not to rebury them privately, they should be quietly reburied in military cemeteries, singly, and with their names written on their tombstones. Those who think reburial is grotesque need only be reminded that our own General Ironsi was buried three times between July 29, 1966 and July 20, 1967. As controversial as the role he found himself playing was, he now rests in peace in Umuahia, as he should. The last Czar of Russia, killed during the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, was recently reburied in an elaborate ceremony.
OTHER LEGAL MECHANISMS
Outlines for a counter coup strategy based on law are not limited to the Constitution. (Charles Sampford. (2001) "Dare to call it Treason". Outlines for a counter coup strategy based on law. Paper delivered at the Conference on 'Deterring and Defeating Coups in the Asia Pacific', at the Telstra Theatre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra on 11 May 2001)
Opportunities exist for anti-coup provisions in military law, laws governing "the unarmed institutions of the state" such as the bureaucracy and the courts, and international law. According to Charles Sampford,
“…….a successful coup depends on a mass of individual decisions being made by an inter-dependent and inter-related set of officials and subordinates. Some officer (or, in one case, an NCO) has to propose such action to his or her fellows. Others have to decide to join, or at least not to report, the growing conspiracy. Resources must be generated, plans laid and communicated to those who need to know. When the time comes to act and members of the units involved realise what they are being called on to do, orders have to be followed. The majority of members of other units have to decide to join in or not get involved. High officials in the other institutions of the state have to decide to accept orders from the new regime or be replaced. Although it is possible to find a replacement for almost any single state official, a majority of lower officials have to decide to co-operate with the regime and accept directions from either cooperative senior officials or their replacements. Similarly, the coup will not succeed unless judges accept the coup, resign or are replaced. Institutions with a capacity to make government unworkable (including, in many countries, unions and churches) must either refrain from doing so or fail in the attempt. Finally, other countries have to decide not to intervene…….”
This “coup chain” demonstrates the many “choke points” at which a coup could be detected, prevented or resisted. What coup leaders do is to betray the trust of their subordinates, colleagues and seniors and exploit the authority granted to them by the State over their subordinates through pre-existing legal rules. Guidelines state that a coup d’Etat (or act of war against the State) is illegal, and, in the case of Nigeria, expressly expect those who hear or are approached about a plot to report to a “Peace Officer” within an unspecified but presumably reasonable interval. Such peace officers might include one’s Commanding Officer or Service Chief, a court judge or senior Police Officer. Peace Officers outside the military provide an option in the event suspects that one’s military superiors are involved. Unfortunately, most of the time one may not know. Needless to say, inadvertently reporting rumors or evidence of a coup to one of the conspirators carries risk - as was the case with Major Bamidele who reported word of a coup plot to his GOC, Brigadier Buhari, in 1983, only to be arrested and charged while the plot proceeded unhindered. Brigadier Buhari later emerged as the new Head of State when the coup was sprung on December 31st. Thus there may need to be an office in the Presidency and/or Parliament to which civilians and soldiers may confidentially report verifiable treason or conspiracy to commit treason via a “hot-line” without fearing reprisals. But this should be balanced by the need to avoid creating a mechanism for witch-hunts and frivolous petitions designed to get even or set-up others. Investigation should always be thorough and due process followed.
Military training in many countries is inadequate on how to actively resist once a coup is launched, except the two-edged provision in some countries that once the announcement of a coup is heard soldiers and officers should report to their nearest military units to “await further instructions”. Beyond refusing “illegal orders” which by itself is slippery because it depends in part on the soldier’s judgment in the face of an order from a superior, legal guidelines only rarely empower soldiers to take definitive summary action (including use of deadly force) against other soldiers or officers who are in support of a coup, once they become unambiguously aware that that in fact is what is going on (such as at the Radio Station).
If the legal military chain of command has been totally disrupted by early morning arrests or assassinations it is not an offence to "sit on the fence" and take a “wait and see” attitude as most units caught off guard are inclined to do in such situations. Such a legal vacuum actually benefits the coup plotters. In the chaotic and fluid situation that comes in the wake of an announced coup, particularly when communications have been effectively cut, most individuals in key positions have to make a conscious decision - as individuals - to accept, support or resist the coup with limited information on precisely who else is involved, who might be resisting and the probability of success of the plot. This is what Sampford calls the "dilemma of the lone actor." Until it is clear who is in charge of the country, there would no legal basis for taking orders from the radio broadcaster, and if one were to be informally contacted by a Minister or other prominent politician from the regime under threat, who is not part of the National Command Authority, it is not clear what one should do, not to mention the risk of dying while resisting, accidentally being mistaken as part of the mutineers by counter-coup forces whose mobilization one is unaware of, or running afoul of the incoming regime should the plot succeed. Even going to the “nearest military unit” may be dangerous. For these reasons most would simply sit tight, pretending to be “waiting for further instructions from constituted authority” while the democratic regime passes into oblivion.
Sampford recommends that,
1. “The law should be perfectly clear that whatever authority it may have given to coup participants is forfeited by that participation.” (However, one counter-argument to this legal provision is that such officers may well be seeking to overthrow an undemocratic regime or acting to prevent the subversion of democracy).
2. “Where its rules help organise the state, the law should, as far as possible, deny that organisation to would be usurpers.” I have already offered one example above, in which Brigade and Battalion Commanders might be mandated to take orders from State Governors and Local Government Chairmen respectively in the event of a coup at the center in which lines of communication have been cut with the President and Vice President and Service Chiefs. This would instantly (but temporarily) decentralize the armed forces and complicate efforts at coup making - until the National Assembly restores the situation to status quo ante.
3. “The law should specify the particular duties individuals have to take to defeat the coup and from whom they should take orders and/or advice in responding to it.”
4. “By (pre)specifying what others are legally bound to do, it increases the confidence of those contemplating resistance.”
LAWS GOVERNING "THE UNARMED INSTITUTIONS OF THE STATE" LIKE THE CIVIL SERVICE AND JUDICIARY
As is the case with military personnel, public servants face a dilemma when confronted with a coup. Although the constitution and laws of the country are unambiguous about the illegality of an unconstitutional seizure of power, they must decide (as individuals) whether to “resign, resist, refuse to cooperate, or ….. remain in the attempt to exercise a moderating influence” on the new regime.
However, one can only successfully crush a coup by mobilizing and coordinating forces opposed to it. Therefore, officials of the unarmed institutions of the state must be expressly prohibited by civil service laws from accepting orders from coup plotters or their agents. They must also be guided on steps to take to defeat the coup and from whom and how they could get legitimate directives on how to respond.
The concept of Sovereignty and non-Intervention limits but does not prevent the potential role of allies and international law in opposing coup plotters. One big loophole is the tendency for international organizations and many countries to distinguish states from governments in order to avoid the dilemma of deciding whether to deal with a given government. A State is considered such if it has a permanent population, defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. Whether a regime can be recognized as “legal” usually comes down to whether it is in `effective control' of a state and whether or not the recognizing country has specific reasons not to recognize it. For example, in 1997 the US refused to recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan on account of violations of human rights. Although many scholars view the act of international recognition as declaratory rather than constitutive it remains an important symbolic and internally legitimizing achievement for any new regime.
Interestingly, in the last 12 years, the UN Credentials Committee which accredits national delegates to seats at the United Nations mostly decided not to use the criterion of ‘effective control’ if a democratic regime was overthrown. Such actions encouraged
democratic governments in exile and gave them a legitimate international platform. This was the case with Haiti, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Liberia and Afghanistan. Along similar lines, in 1995, Commonwealth Heads of Government moved forward to implement the Harare Declaration of 1991 which upheld democracy, human rights and good governance. It was on this basis that Pakistan and Fiji were
suspended from the Commonwealth after coups in 1999 and 2000 respectively. These actions were complemented by the OAS anti-coup declaration of 1992 and the OAU anti-coup declaration of 1999 in Algiers. (Hilary Charlesworth (2001) International recognition by international law and international organizations. Paper delivered at the Conference on 'Deterring and Defeating Coups in the Asia Pacific', at the Telstra Theatre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra on 11 May 2001)
TRADE POLICY AND COUPS D'ETAT
Investors are genuinely concerned with stability but Trade Policy has not been very effective against coups. [Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, and Kimberly Ann Elliott, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, 2nd Ed, revised 2 vols. (Washington, Institute for International Economics, 1990). http://idun.itsc.adfa.edu.au/ADSC/Coups/]
Such pressure is often spotty, inconsistent and sometimes hypocritical. For example, at the height of the pro-democracy campaign against former Nigerian military dictator General Abacha, the most potent weapon could have been an Oil embargo but key western countries, under pressure from their Oil companies, refused to use it. When Angola backed a coup against President Lissouba of Congo the OAU looked on feebly even though it had previously taken a position against military coups. France, eager to protect its economic interests in that country, turned a blind eye to the coup. When Pakistani General Musharraf seized power, the reaction of the US was muted, supposedly because the country is a nuclear power, but more likely because of longstanding cold war links between the military and security elites of both countries and the tendency (in spite of rhetoric) for the West to place “stability” (at any cost) above “democracy.” Because sanctions can sometimes affect the population more than the regimes they are designed against, it has become popular to use measures like a ban on travel visas for military personnel and their families and suspension of military training programs. But an automatic freeze on the international individual Bank accounts of military officers in praetorian armed forces has not been forthcoming.
According to Professor Ross Buckley, sanctions tend to be most effective when “the goals of intervention are relatively modest; sanctions may be enforced unilaterally (the larger the required coalition of enforcing countries the smaller the prospects of success); the target country is much smaller than the country imposing sanctions; the target country is economically weak and politically unstable; the sender and target are friendly toward one another and conduct substantial trade; sanctions are imposed quickly and decisively to maximize impact; heavy costs are inflicted on the target country (The average cost to the target for all successful cases was nearly 2.5 percent of GNP; by contrast, the cost of failed episodes averaged only 1 percent of GNP); appropriate companion measures are used, when needed, such as covert action, quasi-military measures, or regular military operations; enforcing countries have carefully thought through their means and objectives before deploying sanctions; and lastly, the sender avoids high costs to itself.” (Buckley R (2001). International trade and debt law; paper presented at the Conference on “Deterring and Defeating Coups in the Asia Pacific)
ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL ALLIES PRIOR TO, DURING AND AFTER COUPS
Allies can provide intelligence prior to, during and after the coup. It is a virtual certainty that more advanced countries will have the capability to monitor communications between rebellious units. Their diplomatic missions can provide temporary asylum or might even be a secure command center for countercoup elements. They have been known to provide communications within the country so that pro-government messages can be delivered or broadcast. During the 1960 coup attempt against Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, American embassy personnel physically conveyed secure messages between isolated elements of the regime who were trying to coordinate a response while the Emperor was on his way back from a foreign trip. During the January 1966 coup in Nigeria, some key military commanders (like Major Nzefili, second-in-command of the 4th Battalion at Ibadan) first learnt of the unusual early morning coup related military movements when they were directly contacted by phone in their Barracks by the British and American embassies in Lagos. Allies can also provide external sanctuary on their territories for governments in exile following a coup. This was the case with Haiti during the 1991-94 military regime led by General Cedras.
As previously noted, an ally can also physically intervene. Five such grounds for intervening have been described:
1. Self defence,
2. Protection of the intervening country's citizens
3. Humanitarian assistance
4. Request of the legitimate government
5. Defence Pact obligation.
Sometimes, as with the recent crisis in Ivory Coast, an ally can invoke multiple reasons for intervening or the reason for intervening can change with time, necessitating changes in force structure, size and rules of engagement. At different points in time since the military uprising in Ivory Coast, France
has invoked item’s 2-5. Humanitarian interventions that are not UN “due process” based or authorized can clearly be abused by intervening powers in a bilateral context because it leaves them the discretion of deciding when human rights have been violated. Interventions by request can also be controversial. For example, when France intervened in Gabon in 1964 the invitation
(allegedly by the Vice President) may have followed the intervention. A similar controversy was associated with the US intervention in Grenada. (Christopher C.Joyner, "Reflections on the Lawfulness of Invasion" 78 American Journal of International Law 131, at p133, and various Notes and Comments in that journal on the Grenadan invasion pp. 131-175 and 642-650.)
However, such interventions by request, as when Libya went to the rescue of the government of the Central African Republic in 2002, show that foreign troops can be decisive even if no formal defence pact has been signed.
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