There is an undeniable tendency that governments often ignore at their own peril: bad governance leads to exposure. This exposure takes various forms and often prompts dissatisfied citizens to seek solace elsewhere. It’s a human instinct.
While Francophone countries have remained relatively silent for too long, it’s crucial to understand that the principle of assimilation, which they have been subjected to, is essentially a form of mental conditioning. In contrast, other colonizers allowed their subjects to retain more of their cultural identity.
Countries like Nigeria and Ghana experienced coups decades ago, driven by dissatisfaction with the governance inherited from British colonial rule. The principle of assimilation, pervasive among the French-speaking nations, is, in essence, a form of intellectual slavery. Those who are now rising against it are essentially awakening from a long slumber.
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However, President Bola Tinubu should not be overly concerned about potential copycat coups in Africa. Such coups may indeed occur, but it doesn’t imply that democracy is dying on the continent. Democracy, in its current form, was not born in Africa; it was imposed upon us. Hence, it is unlikely to wither away here. The democratic process in Nigeria is functioning, and Tinubu’s leadership as our president should give us confidence. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we uphold democratic principles, and the citizens themselves will rise against anything that threatens our democracy in Nigeria.
Karl Marx once remarked, “Woe betide the slave owner who feeds and gives his slaves freedom because it is at his own peril.” Marx was highlighting the colonizers’ strategy of maintaining pressure to suppress independent thinking among the colonized.
The Gabonese people endured such suppression for too long. When a person dwells in darkness for an extended period, they may come to accept it as the norm. Birds born in captivity might think that flying is a form of illness. In a society where water is scarce, people may resort to drinking sand. Similarly, individuals caught in a desert may resort to unimaginable actions when hunger and thirst strike.
The Gabonese, like any other people, reached a breaking point. As jobs were lost, homes were taken away, and human dignity was eroded, the ruling elite, who had amassed wealth for themselves and their cronies, assumed that everyone would remain passive. However, when exposure occurs, people start to think, and one cannot deceive everyone forever.
Historical precedents show that exposure often leads to bold action. Major Kaduna Nzeogwu’s exposure to Sandhurst played a role in his decision to organize a coup upon his return to Nigeria. Similarly, Ghana experienced a coup following exposure to certain realities. In 1998, Niger Delta youths’ exposure to the Federal Capital Territory during the ‘Two-Million-Man March’ left a lasting impact on Nigeria.
Gabon’s recent experiences should serve as a lesson to any country that neglects the yearnings of its people. Like dynasties, careless, callous, irresponsible, and unresponsive governance will eventually crumble. Leadership must be proactive and consider the living conditions of society. It must devise strategies that meet the people’s expectations and address the pressing issues that impact their lives.
The ordinary Gabonese saw the coup as a turning point, a manifestation of divine intervention. Hunger and dissatisfaction had become intolerable, and the rulers continued to offer empty gestures. It’s imperative for leadership to recognize that unmet expectations can lead to unintended consequences. Inequality exists even within poverty, and consistent leadership is essential to address it effectively.
As Gabon experiences this awakening, other nations in similar situations should heed the warning signs before it’s too late. Leadership should gauge the barometer of living conditions in society and devise strategies that genuinely benefit the people. The lessons from Gabon resonate across age, tribe, region, and religion. Poverty affects everyone, and it’s the responsibility of leadership to ensure a better future for all.
The Arab Spring and the current awakening in Francophone countries serve as reminders that exposure to long-standing issues can trigger significant societal changes. As we reflect on these developments, may peace prevail in Nigeria and the world.
*Abiodun KOMOLAFE writes from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State, Nigeria [email protected]