Military Coups are Morally Wrong

By: Deji Yesufu

On Tuesday, 1st February, 2020, there were gun fires around the city of Bissau, the capital city of Guinea Bissau. News began to filter out that a military coup was ongoing in the West African country. Yesterday, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, the President of the country, announced that the attempt to steal power in their country by renegade soldiers had failed – there had been a botched military coup in that country. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in some other African countries. Three days ago, the African Union (AU), the organization that houses most African countries under an umbrella, suspended Burkina Faso from its membership. A military coup had occurred in that country in the final week of January, 2022, and that one had been successful. In the last one year alone, there has been military coups in Mali, Chad, Guinea and Burkina Faso, and all of them were successful. Before Nigeria catches the bug of military coups again, I wish to state in this essay why it is morally wrong for the military to rule countries.

Nigeria has had her fair share of military coups. The first military coup occurred in this country on the 15th of January, 1966. Because it was an attempt by junior officers in the military to take over power, it turned out to be a bloody coup. By the close of that January Saturday, the Sarduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of the Western Region, Adegoke Akintola, and a host of other politicians and senior officers in the military were dead. That singular situation plunged the country into a thirty-month civil war – 18 months after the boys struck.

Following the January 1966 coup, there was another coup in July 1966. Then there was the ousting of Gen. Yakubu Gowon in 1975. Then the bloody coup that took the life of Gen. Muritala Mohammed on 13th, February 1976. Then there was a coup in 1983, for which Maj. Gen. Mohammadu Buhari was a beneficiary. In August 1985, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida removed his boss from power and ruled Nigeria with an iron fist for 8 years. There were a few attempted coups under Babangida but the most prominent among them was the Gideon Orkar led coup of 1990. This coup attempt failed and led to the execution of Orkar and his boys. In November 1993, Gen. Abacha removed the Ernest Shonekan led Interim Government, which Babangida had hurriedly put in power, as he stepped aside. Death ceased Abacha suddenly in June 1998 and Gen. Abdusalami Abubukar succeeded him. Abubukar was known to be a professional soldier and not a political one, and thus he helped the country transition to civilian rule in about six months after he came to power. Nigeria has witnessed 23 years of interrupted civilian rule since Abdusalami handed power to Obasanjo.

In spite of the many coups that Nigeria has witnessed, it is important that we understand why it is morally wrong for the military to rule a country. Historically there have indeed been military rulers of countries. Napoleon Bonaparte was a military man who installed himself as Emperor after the chaos of the French revolution in the 18th century. Also, when the British sought to colonize countries, they often employed the force of their military to conquer those lands and for brief periods, the military leader of the contingent that took over control of that country, ruled the country. However, with time, and with advancement in democratic ethos all around the world, military rule has become not only unpopular but largely discredited and discarded. This is why:

The military is a professional body of men (and women). They are persons trained to use weaponry; they are trained to kill. Ideally, a human being cannot willfully pick up a weapon to kill another. People condition their minds with hate to kill others – and even after that, they further condition themselves to handle the guilt that comes with it. The military condition its men to kill for the just cause of offering protection to society and also for just wars that might require the overthrow of rogue nations and the installing of sane governments in countries (like the just need of removing the rogue government in North Korea – I digress). For this end, the military of a country are entrusted with weapons to do their job. It is therefore morally wrong for a group of people, who were given weapons by society, to then take those weapons, steal power from properly constituted authorities, and install themselves in government. This is the reason why as advanced as many developed countries are, and as weaponized as their military come, it never crosses the minds of the military in those countries to take over power.

If by chance they do, it will be practically impossible to explain to the public in such a country what they are doing in the seat of power. The national outcry against such an evil will be so deafening that they will be forced out of power and back into their barrack with immediate effect. There is one thing that is greater than the barrel of the gun: it is called public opinion. And when such an opinion is held widely against a government, that government cannot stand. We have government today because a larger section of society is agreed to have such persons in power – regardless of their failures. The whole process of constituting political parties, electing party flag bearers, running for public office and being elected to government, are all the things that lend credibility to a government. When a group of boys suddenly wield weapons and steal such constituted powers, they are better to be regarded as rogues and they have no moral authority to cling to power. They should leave.

I am almost confident to say that the military can no longer come to power in Nigeria again. I use the word “almost” advisedly because politicians endanger democracies by their irresponsible actions and no one can tell tomorrow. One of the reasons why the boys in the barracks steal power is because they believe that when they come to government, a large section of society will accept them. And people accept military rule because they do not understand the moral incongruity of putting men with weapons at the helm of affairs in the country. Such a country is saying that only brute force can compel order in society. But when we realize that things like the rule of law and the fact that citizens themselves are enlightened about what government is, are the foundational elements for the proper running of society, no one will suggest military government. And Nigeria is today nearing that point in her national psyche. We all saw how the government of Babangida legitimize corruption. Babangida kept himself in power that long by greasing the palms of the military boys around him. When he could no longer give them enough, they removed him. Since then, the culture of money has ruled Nigeria and we are yet to be rid of the corrupting influence of it. I believe Nigerians are wise enough to realize that military rule cannot augur well for us at this time in our national life.

The best bet at fixing this country still remains a commitment to getting our democratic experiment right. With 2023 around the corner, let the politicking begin. We must build healthy political parties and these must produce worthy candidates for elections. We are still under the bondage of money politics but we should remember that it is the military themselves that made money the tool to get and keep power in Nigeria. If we will change this culture, it will never come by bringing the military back to power.

In spite of happenings in neighboring countries, Nigerians must understand that military rule is morally wrong and it is incongruent with modern governments.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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