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100 Days, I Cup Of Rice, 2 Coups

By Chris Gyang



FG wage award

It is entirely fortuitous that as the current governments at the state and federal levels marked their first one hundred days, the sudden removal of fuel subsidy was having devastating effects on the lives of citizens and the world was coming to terms with the aftershocks of the military coups executed in two African countries, among other events.

But, when you look below the surface, you will find some salient but incredible nexuses between the three. So, can we extract some sense from these seemingly unrelated situations?

During the commemorations of the first one hundred days of these administrations, those politicians whose intense lobbying, pulling of strings and boot-licking earned them appointments, contracts and all sorts of patronage celebrated along with the new people in government.

But those who felt sidelined and given the short shrift have started plotting how to take their pound of flesh come 2027. They feel that the efforts and sacrifices they made to bring the new incumbents to power did not merit the ignominy and contempt with which they have been so openly rewarded. They patiently bide their time for the day of reckoning.

In July this year, President Tinubu unveiled plans to pay N8,000 to 12 million families to cushion the effects of the fuel subsidy removal. In fact, the Senate had approved his request to borrow $800 million from the World Bank and amended the 2022 Supplementary Appropriation Act to accommodate another N500 billion for the same purpose.

But this was met with stiff resistance by organized labour, professional bodies, economists and prominent and not so prominent Nigerians. They insisted that government’s penchant for blindly throwing money at social and economic problems had woefully failed to curb poverty in the last eight years. Instead, it had only exacerbated penury by pushing Nigeria to the lowest rungs of the global poverty ladder.

Nigerians suggested that government should invest such funds in providing infrastructure to make citizens stand on their feet economically; invest in agriculture to make it more viable; subsidise education, health and public transportation; make the power and communication sectors more efficient; and improve roads to make them yield more value to the economy.

Realising the futility of that initial gamble, President Tinubu resorted to another deceptive ruse. This time around, he dressed the so-called palliatives in gaudy and sinister robes and hurled them at the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory Authority to implement.

That came in the form of the N5 billion which was approved in early August for each state to purchase truckloads of rice, foodstuff, other grains and assorted essential commodities and distribute to that amorphous entity that government loves to call ‘the poorest of the poor’.

This time around, the so-called palliatives amounted to a paltry N185 billion. Compare it to the initial $800 million they had intended to borrow from the World Bank and the N500 billion the Senate had approved for the same purpose through the amended 2022 Supplementary Appropriation Act. What do you see?

Now, state governments have been abandoned to struggle with the almost impossible task of sharing so little to a large population of hungry and equally angry masses.

Moreover, the Tinubu government has not clearly informed most Nigerians that only 52% of that N5billion is a grant while the remaining 48% is a repayable loan. Daily, you see millions of gullible and poverty ravaged Nigerians on national television desperately queueing up from dusk to dawn to get paltry crumbs of these so-called palliatives. At the end of the day, they effusively thank the Federal Government for “coming to our aid.”

Apparently, the entire package and the spirit behind it has not pleased a majority of Nigerians. Which was why, on September 1, 2023, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, President, Joe Ejiro, picked holes and rubbished it on a CHANNELS TV programme.

He said: “If you share that N5 bbillion or even the five trucks of rice or grains, people will not get one or half cup of rice. If you share the N5billion, many people, probably within the working class or the poor of the poor, may not get N1,500. Now, is that palliative?”

We leave the reader to kindly answer that question. But it must be said that it was on that basis that NLC members embarked on a two-day nationwide warning strike on September 5 and 6. And although the NLC was seen to be doing too little very late, most Nigerians saw it as better than taking the Federal Government’s glaring disregard for the welfare of the masses lying down.

Now, let’s look at the two military putsch in Niger Republic and Gabon. But first, a little snippet that may give us a bit of an insight into some of the underlying catalysts behind these resurgent military take-overs.

Recently, President Emmanuel Macron of France was said to have flared up against the constitutional provision that barred him from seeking office for a third term. BREITBART (September 2, 2023) reported: “During a closed-doors meeting with leaders of opposition parties on Wednesday in Seine-Saint-Denis, the 45-year-old leader reportedly declared:  ‘Not being able to be re-elected is disastrous bullshit,’ participants of the meeting told the Le Figaro newspaper.”

The publication explained that, in line with constitutional reforms passed in 2008, the French presidency is now limited to only two consecutive terms of five years each. Macron is in his second term. The president was said to have been miffed by a suggestion that the constitution be further amended to limit the president’s tenure to a term of seven years.

In fact, there have been insinuations that Mr. Macron may be planning to go as far as changing the constitution to allow him take a third shot at the presidency. But BREITBART quoted the French essayist, Maxime Tandonnet, as warning about the dire consequences: “A formula allowing three mandates, i.e. fifteen years – and why not twenty years? – would risk amplifying the scourges of self-to-one, cronyism, clannism and corruption.”

He further pointed out that the longer a leader remained in power, the more likely they could lose sight of existing reality, adding: “Life in palaces and planes, surrounded by servants and courtiers, in the obsession with the curve of popularity polls, translates into a radical break with the daily life of the French.”

Do you see any parallels between Macron’s contempt for constitutional values and the way some African leaders, especially those in Francophone Africa, have approached democratic governance in their respective countries?

But even if Macron does not succeed in changing the constitution before the next election in 2027, that would not be end the French people would have heard from him.  BREITBART gives the reason: “As opposed to the United States, the term limit rule in France only prevents politicians from serving more than two consecutive terms, meaning that Macron could theoretically run for president again in 2023.”

Could this fluidity in the French democratic system and its leaders’ open disdain for it have rubbed off so perniciously on some of their former colonies? Ali Bongo came into power in 2009 after the death of his father who had ruled for 45 years.

Ali had just ‘won’ a much disputed third term. During the election, foreign observers and journalists were barred just as it was marred by vote rigging and widespread violence. Those were some of reasons that prompted the military to strike.

In Cameroon, 90-year-old Paul Biya, who has been in power for 41 years, is plotting for his son to take over from him while Theodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who is 81, has been in power for 44 years.

President Alassane Quattara of Cote d’Ivoire contested and ‘won’ a very contentious election for a third term in 2020. In these countries, the cult of personality is so strong that it overshadows all institutions of state. The leader is feared and revered as a god.

In the face of all these, the former colonial power, France, would only raise an eyebrow when its economic and political interests are threatened. Its strangle hold of the erstwhile colony is firm, complete and asphyxiating.

In Niger Republic, just as in most of Francophone Africa, France has continued to exert undue control over all matters of state, especially its huge natural resources. Not only is its national currency slavishly tied to the French Franc, their political structures exist at the pleasure of the former imperial power.

It is a sad testament to the level African leaders are beholden to their foreign backers in Europe that Ali Bongo’s first response following his overthrow on August 30 was an appeal to his friends and allies outside the country while ordinary Gabonese celebrated on the streets.

He had sent out a video published by Mefo Info on Facebook with this appeal: “The people here have arrested me, my family. My son is nowhere. My wife is in another place…. Right now, I am at the residence. Nothing is happening, I don’t know what’s going on. I am calling you to make noise.”    

Unfortunately, both regional and continental blocs such as the Economic Community of Central African States, ECCAS, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and the African Union, AU, stand by and watch so-called democratic governments all over the continent trample on the democratic and civil rights of Africans without raising a finger.

They only react when citizens resort to self-help through mass protests, violent unrests or, in extreme cases, unconstitutional change of government.

This malaise of the abuse of democratic privilege is likewise deeply entrenched in other African countries. The 78-year-old Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, has been in power for 37 years. His son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, now a retired General, had confirmed in a tweet on March 22, 2023, that he was going to contest for the presidency after his father’s inordinately prolonged rule.

He had said: “You have wanted me to say it forever! Okay, in the name of Jesus Christ my God, in the name of all the young people of Uganda and the world, and in the name of our great revolution, I will stand for the Presidency in 2026.”

The pompous and swashbuckling 48-year-old, who was a presidential adviser at the time, had expressed frustration at his own father’s long stay in power. But that was not for any altruistic reason. It was because the older Museveni was delaying his own personal ambition for the perpetuation of their dynasty!

So, on another occasion, he tweeted: “The Prime Minister of UK is 42 years old, the Prime Minister of Finland is 37 years. Some of us are hitting 50 years old. We are tired of waiting forever.” Apparently, he was riding roughshod over suffering Ugandans who had endured his father’s brutal dictatorship for more than three decades.

Ironically, the son was celebrating the youthful leaders of other countries while his own father was unleashing state machinery of coercion to viciously hound the 41-year-old Bobi Wine and other opposition figures who dared to contest the presidency.

Paul Kagame of Rwanda has been in power since 2000. In that period, he has jailed opposition leaders and forced others into total submission or exile. Praised for his extraordinary economic exploits in a country ravaged by the 1994 genocide, Western countries appear to condone his soiled human rights and democratic credentials.

ALJAZEERA (September 4, 2023) reported that, in Zimbabwe, the incumbent, President Emerson Mnangagwa, was declared winner of the August 23 presidential vote which the regional block, Southern African Development Community (SADC) said “fell short of regional standards.” Also, the European Union observer mission declared that the elections were held under a “climate of fear.” The main opposition party had described the results as a “gigantic fraud.”

With the lingering litigations challenging most of the results the 2023 general elections, especially the presidential vote, the scenario painted above may well have been describing the Nigerian situation. Most people here strongly feel that the electoral system is deeply flawed. Which is why it is so open to manipulation. As a result, the entire democratic process and politicians are widely viewed with great suspicion, even scorn. 

But even in these deserts of desolation, there are prosperous oases of democracy all over the continent. The May 25, 2023, AFRICA DEMOCRACY INDEX ranks Africa’s 10 leading democracies in the following order: Mauritius, Botswana, Cape Verde, Namibia, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, Kenya and Madagascar.

Among the criteria used to arrive at this ranking are strong commitment to political participation and effective governance, robust and inclusive electoral processes, a vibrant multiparty system, dedication to democratic principles and functioning government, among others.

When military dictatorships were the order of the day in Africa in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, this was the popular refrain among the forces of democracy and civil rights activists: “The worse civilian regime is better than the benevolent military dictatorship.” But from the late 90s to the present day, it is becoming clear that there is a growing sense of disenchantment with the democratic structures that were instituted. The uptick in military coups is a clear testament to this.

Nigeria’s President Tinubu has spared no efforts in making sure that the Niger coup is reversed and democratic structures restored. Understandably, he is, first and foremost, the current ECOWAS Chairman. Second, he had a raw taste of military rule in his NADECO days and so has a firsthand knowledge of what military rule really holds for the general progress of citizens and the country as a whole.

No doubt, military rule is not the best form of government ever. In fact, we must never forget that the current brutal and atrocious civil war going on in Sudan today has its roots in a military take-over which citizens thronged the streets to celebrate. The country has had 35 military coups in its modern history which has earned it the epithet, ‘laboratory of coups’.

But, in order to avoid turning this into an academic exercise, it must be admitted that most of the so-called elected African leaders have not allowed democracy and all of its accompanying values to properly thrive. Selfishness has persistently watered it down.

Nigerians continue to watch in utmost wonder, pain and disgust as their elected leaders live in unbelievable splendor, squander mania and opulence as they struggle to get hold of a cup of rice or garri whenever government decides to remember them. Added to that, their votes are seldom allowed to count during elections. 

Herein lies the critical challenge for African leaders such as President Tinubu of Nigeria who sits over one of the largest democracies in the world. The fact that most Nigerians applauded the military take-overs in west and central Africa says a lot about the way they perceive their own democracy and the manner in which the politicians have handled it so far.

There is no denying the fact that these Nigerians, just as their fellow Africans in Gabon, Niger, Burnkina Faso, Mali, etc, see themselves as cheap pawns in the hands of the self-serving political elite.     

But, certainly, it is not yet sunset for democracy in Africa. However, the key players on this slippery turf must desist from shifting the goal post to suit their proclivities. Whenever we wish to caution politicians against engaging in the kinds of wanton political heists that have characterized our system so far, we always resort to these evergreen words of J.F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

For me, however, it is this profound foundation upon which the above eternal truth is built that matters most: “For too long, my country, the wealthiest nation on a poor continent, failed to carry out its full responsibilities to its sister republics. We have now accepted that responsibility. In the same way those who possess wealth and power in poor nations must accept their own responsibilities. They must lead the fight for the basic reforms which alone can preserve the fabric of their own society.”

(GYANG is the Chairman of the N.G.O, Journalists Coalition for Citizens’ Rights Initiative – JCCRI. Email:

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