After the return of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu from England in 1957 after a 13-year sojourn for his educational pursuits, his wealthy and influential father wanted him to put his education to good use by joining the family business. The former rebel had other ideas, as he had a brief stint in the colonial service and then headed to the army then known as the Queen’s Regiment.
The livid Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu tried to ‘talk some sense’ into the young man and enlisted the support of the then Governor-General, James Robertson, to ‘bail him out.’ The British colonial administrator told Emeka point blank that if he thought what happened in Egypt in 1952 when Colonel Abdel Nasser came to power through a coup could ever happen in Nigeria, he was mistaken. That statement turned out to be prophetic, as it marked the pattern of Africa’s governance for the next three decades.
Military rule became the preferred mode of administration for many African nations. Pan-Africanism, which was largely spearheaded by Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, hurriedly gave way to the spread of cult-like, cold-blooded dictators.
The continent bred the likes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin, Sani Abacha, Gnassingbe Eyadema, etc., whose brutality and visionless leadership saw the perpetual under-development of the world’s second-largest continent.
No form of dissent, especially from the impoverished intelligentsia and media, was tolerated, and the large wave of migrations, especially for economic reasons started as a result of the incursion by the men in Khaki.
Corruption was another sinister legacy that military rule in Africa bequeathed, which is still haunting the continent till date. The practice of salting away billions of dollars in developed economies especially in Europe had its roots during the military rule. Sese Seko was allegedly far richer than Zaire where he ruled with an iron fist for over three decades. Dictators like Ibrahim Babangida, Idi Amin, Omar Bongo, Teodoro Mbasogo, Jean Bedel Bokassa amassed obscene wealth appropriated from the commonwealth of their countries and so drove their people to destitution that they longed for a return of their erstwhile colonial masters.
The 1990s saw the wave of democratisations which swept through the continent like the harmattan’s bushfire. A common occurrence ran through as military dictators merely used democracy as a subterfuge to continue in office. Ghana led the way when Jerry John Rawlings became democratically elected in 1992 after being in power via a second coup for eleven years. He kept his word by handing over power after two terms. Gnassingbe Eyadema had no term limit, as he kept tinkering with the constitution to have an indefinite stay in office till death took him away. The late General Sani Abacha masterminded the formation of five political parties which all adopted him as their sole presidential candidate for the proposed 1998 elections until his sudden death. The agenda was to succeed himself.
Yahya Jammeh of the smallest West African state of The Gambia belonged to this category. As a lieutenant in the army, he ousted Dawda Jawara in a bloodless coup in 1994 and has ruled with an iron fist for twenty-two years. He bowed to the pressure to democratise but always put himself on the ballot in such a manner that the bid of any potential rival to defeat him was dead on arrival. He didn’t set any term limit and constantly changed the rules in the middle of the game all in his rapacious bid to remain in power for life. He gunned for his fifth term this year after boasting that he would remain in power for a billion years if Allah willed it. He had earlier won in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011. His old tricks still bared its fangs when he barred observers from the European Union and ECOWAS from being accredited to observe the polls. He also ordered a complete shut-down of internet services and international phone calls so as to prevent the free flow of communication of the irregularities that were sure to have been perpetuated. He extended his crackdown on the media when officials from the Gambian National Intelligence Agency arrested the Director-General of the state television and radio, Momodou Sabally, and his colleague, Bakary Fatty, when he felt their fair coverage of the activities of the opposition was an affront on him. Adama Barrow, learning from the example of Senegal, Niger and Nigeria, smartly formed a coalition of seven political parties which aided his victory of the uncouth dictator by over 50,000 votes.
It is indeed a victory for democracy that the autocrat who claimed he could cure AIDS and female infertility accepted the electoral verdict and even congratulated his challenger. Needless bloodshed was averted in this surprising show of good sportsmanship. We recall the bloodbath that greeted the hotly disputed elections in 2011 in Cote D’Ivoirie between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo refused to cede power after he lost to the latter and an unnecessary war erupted as a result. While it is no big deal in the West for losers to quickly concede elections, It is cause for celebration in Africa with the ‘big man’ syndrome that deifies the rulers. Despite his 22-year misrule, Jammeh’s last minute action will etch his name in gold in a way akin to how the robber got a last minute reprieve from Jesus Christ on the cross and was assured of paradise. This should be an opportunity for him to explore his ‘feat’ in medicine by devoting his time to his acclaimed cure for the HIV scourge. Perhaps he may win the next Nobel prize.
The power of incumbency is fast becoming a myth in Africa as a new dawn of servant-leadership is fast catching up here. Power for its mere sake is giving way for accountable leadership with utmost respect for the people. The ‘Divine Right of Kings’ cloaked under military or civilian dictatorships is now being replaced with democratic tenets and the leaders exercising power at the pleasure of the people in whom rests the ultimate sovereignty. The dark ages of the reign of the despots will soon find its way to the museum for the next generation to learn from their rise and fall.
As Ghana heads to the polls today, we are guaranteed that the Heavens will not fall should in case John Dramani Mahama loses. We watch with keen interest what the fate of the remaining despots like Gabon’s Omar Bongo and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe would be as there is certainly no place for their antiquated ideology.