Governance is the Enabler to Resisting the Seeming Resurgence of the Military in West Africa – Prof. Adoyi Onoja

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I read Professor Jibrin Ibrahim’s essay entitled “enablers of the return of the military in West Africa” with interest for that which it posited and especially that I thought the essay ignored.

The essay’s albeit idealistic, off-the-reality on the ground and seemingly mimicking western prognosis of development on the continent was one perspective amongst many other perspectives. This perspective does little to explain that which underpin the capacity of the citizens to resist coups in the sub region.

Governance and the delivery of governance to the people, in the short, medium and long term basis, incorporating every demographic group, underpin the building of the capacity of the citizens to resist coups be it constitutional or military.

By governance, I am adopting the World Bank’s perspective of the effective and efficient utilisation of human and material resources for the benefit of most people.

The prime reason for the democratic turnaround in the region in the 1990s following the failure of military and one party authoritarian system is the promise that governance would deliver services and economic opportunities to the people.

Is the democracy driven governance, in the countries of the region and all over Africa, unleashing services and economic opportunities for most people to enable the will and the wherewithal among the people to defend and advance democracy?

The creation of economic opportunities for the people is the antidote against coups. In delivering economic opportunities for the people, democracy will make meaning to the people thus spurring in the people the will to protect, defend and advance democracy.

Professor Ibrahim ignored this fundamental point in his submission. It is not just about the antics of the leaderships in the region and/or developments outside the region having impact on the region. The leaderships have offered little and/or nothing to the people to make democracy standout against military rule or other non-representative forms of government.

The rising lawlessness evident in the region is the result of the paucity of transformational ideas within the democracy ideals to transform institutions and persons beneficially. This explains the consequent decay and collapse of ideas, institutions and thus persons. The leaderships particularly in Nigeria (and this goes for most countries on the continent) describe the development as “security challenges”. They proceeded – wrongly – to step up the intervention of “security” which is the name and work of the executive agencies of the military, intelligence and law enforcement (MILE) as solution to growing citizens’ discontent.

The leaderships justified this approach on the relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution including and especially Section 14 subsection 2B. They seemed unconcerned about the source of the 1999 Constitution and the interests it seeks to advance and protect. The Constitution’s provisions are at the heart of the crisis of governance bedevilling civil rule since 1999.

There is a political economic calculation, for the operators of civil rule, to this “security” or the significant and overwhelming presence of the military, intelligence and law enforcement in the polity. The MILE has always remained threatening to the civil political establishment. The political class is not unaware of the MILE’s vast governance infrastructures built over the course of several decades of holding political power. Of this infrastructures, the psychological infrastructure and its hold on the people, as orchestrated lawlessness grow and spread, is central as one of the foremost enablers of the MILE’s bid to regain political power should they chose to take this path.

The management of “security” is the quid pro quo that civil political establishment uses to assuage the MILE’s feeling of loss of power and wealth. The quid pro quo addresses the MILE’s loss of wealth as it ensured that through “security”, their elites get their share of the commonwealth in the absence of political power.

Any democracy that fails to generate and produce economic prosperity for the people cannot and will not retain and maintain the support of the people. In democracy and through the instrument of governance, security is wellbeing in all of its forms.

It is because the security most Nigerians envisaged is wellbeing in all of its forms that prompted most Nigerians and indeed most peoples in the different countries in Africa to kick out military rule and other non-representative rule in favour of representative rule. In failing to secure their people, these democracies enabled the resurgence of coups whether constitutional or military in Africa.

The development in Africa is akin to the resurgence of the left in the political space of South American countries. As one analyst noted, it may not be a return of the “Pink Tide” of leftist governments that swept into power across South America in the early 2000s—and were largely swept out again amid a conservative backlash in the mid-2010s. But the region’s left has been showing signs of revival. Arguably, there is something of this development in the signs of revival of military coup on the continent of Africa particularly in West Africa considered as the coup belt of the continent.

In the pitch that sold political liberalisation to the continent in the late 1980s to early 1990s, there was marked connection between adopting democracy and attracting and generating economic growth. Democracies that failed the test to connect these two and deliver economic opportunities for their peoples on the short, medium and long term are vulnerable to the perpetual political instability evident and increasingly underway in almost all the countries of the continent. No country, on the continent, under this test, is at present immune from coup whether the constitutional type or the military type.

Nigeria is NOT immune from military coup, in the continent’s coup belt, if the preceding two decades of representative rule is the barometer for this measurement. There is very little that representative rule is doing differently from military rule to endear this rule type to most Nigerians.

Our Take: Democracy fails when it is unable to provide economic security for the people; when people are unable to access the benefits of democracy, they revolt. This is evident across the west African countries where the leaders have failed woefully; where the ideals of democracy have been defeated. This failure of the government and failure in governance consequently predisposes Nigeria and even other West African countries to the resurgence of the military coup.

The government must begin to recognize what democracy entails; that security in a democratic dispensation must speak to the well-being and economic security of the people and thus, work harmoniously to bring this into realization.

About the Author(s): Prof. Adoyi Onoja teaches history courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the Department of History and security courses at the graduate level in the Security Studies Unit of the Institute of Governance and Development Studies, Nasarawa State University, Keffi. He can be contacted through and on

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