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Opinions of Monday, 21 September 2015

Columnist: Adebayo Olowo-Ake

W. Africans want Nigeria to be tough on Burkinabe coupists

The so-called coup that occurred in Burkina Faso recently was as surprising as it was uncalled for. True, soldiers often staged coups to redress personal issues and couch it as a response to the socio-economic problems the citizenry experience, but according to many Burkinabes, this recent coup is clearly a consequence of the uncertainty being faced by one, over-pampered segment of the nation’s military—the Presidential Guard (RSP).

Announced by Lt.-Col Mamadou Bamba (also from the same Presidential Guard), the putsch triggered massive demonstrations against its planners and executioners by the masses, a resistance that is gaining ground and has elicited support from Nigeria, the regional grouping-ECOWAS- and the United Nations. Given that elections would take place next month, not a few experts were baffled as to why the soldiers would strike at this time, especially given the strength and courage of civil resistance to ousted leader, Blaise Campaore, to whom the current traducers appear to owe loyalty.

President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has himself condemned the coup but some West African diplomats we spoke to felt his language did not appear strong enough. Given the moral authority, economic and military clout that Nigeria wields under its current President, they feel that a very strong message ought to have been sent to the coupists which in turn will resonate with other potentially troublesome actors in say, Guinea-Bissau-a perennially challenging spot.

One diplomat suggested that President Buhari’s statement should have been read by the spokesperson of Nigeria’s Foreign Ministry, with a top Nigerian military officer present alongside, even if he or she would say nothing during the reading. That would send a powerful message across, he opined.

There are also some observers who told Gaskiya.net that they are worried about the possible role of Cote D’Ivoire in the unfolding situation in Burkina Faso. It is alleged that President Alasan Ouatarra enjoyed the support of Campaore during his own problems with defeated leader, Laurent Gbagbo, before rightfully and eventually becoming the President of Cote d’ Ivoire. Ouatarra is alleged to have tacitly backed the coup, perhaps with a view to paving the way for the return of Campaore, or at the very worst, the emergence of someone loyal to him.

The dangerous game played by Burkina Faso in the civil war in Liberia, in concert with the regime of the late President Houphouet Boigny, which saw them back former President Charles Taylor when he unleashed unprecedented violence on Liberia and killed many Nigerians, Ghanaians, Guineans and other West African citizens on his way to eventually becoming President of that country is still fresh in the minds of some experts in the region and they cite this in calling for a very unambiguous response from Nigeria to the Burkina Presidential Guard and its external supporters.

This is particularly so they claim, because the majority of the country’s military appear not to be behind the coup and should things escalate, another civil war could break out in the region if the larger military responds.

In view of these fears, it is the considered opinion of Gaskiya.net that the Nigerian President should indeed act and talk tough, as there is no other leader on the continent today with the force of his moral authority, personal integrity, military experience and geo-political backing as leader of the most populous and strongest economically-endowed nation on the continent.

While it is most likely that the mutinous brigands masquerading as the Presidential Guard of Burkina Faso will see reason and back down, the risk exists that, if they are not sufficiently put in their place, they could emerge later to assassinate the leadership to be freely elected, as they did to the late Thomas Sankara.

The capacity of these elite but priviledge-hunting troops to cause problems in future, especially if someone loyal to their former boss, Mr. Campaore is not elected, should be curtailed now. That will only happen if Nigeria sends very clear and unambiguous message to them, their leadership and its external backers.