Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Comment - Judge Not That Ye Be Not Judged

At which point is it reasonable to judge the performance of a government? Four years, eighteen months, two months or do you take a look on the very day they assume power and decide that they would never make it?

Since the customary three, four or five years that make up the life of a government under a constitution do not seem to count for very much in our part of the world and the people normally don't get a chance to make their judgement at the polls, it would be a good idea to try and agree on a reasonable time table within which a government can be judged.

Barely two months after President Babangida had assumed power, the plotters had started "their evil machinations" and this was supposed to be proof that their motives were selfish and had nothing to do with the good of Nigeria.

It is probably impertinent to ask now at what point the December 31, 1983 coup was plotted or, for that matter, the August 27, 1985 one. At what point was it recognised that General Buhari had to go or that ex-President Shagari was a disaster for Nigeria? The point might be made that it was the patriotic day of Maj-Gen. Abacha and his colleagues to have spared Nigeria the agony of the 19 months of the Buhari rule or at least to have limited it to six months or whatever the period was that they considered his rule to have been acceptable.

After the civilian government was overthrown, it was widely reported that billions of Naira had been stolen by the politicians. Some might wonder whether the country might not have saved a few more billions if the coup which ousted them had been staged a year or two or three or even four years earlier and thus preventing the looting altogether ... It does not take very long to realise that this line of thinking can be carried to the ridiculous.

Over in Ghana, the last two constitutionally elected civilian governments lasted for about two years each and by the end of that period, Acheampong and then Rawlings had decided Busia and Limann were irredeemable and booted them out of office. Obviously if the same criterion had been used on Acheampong and Rawlings, the results would have been very revealing.

Two years into the Acheampong regime, the economic situation was "good" (at least compared to what Ghanaians have later learnt to endure) thanks to the bumper harvest that he inherited. However, by the time his colleagues ousted him from power another five years later, he had completely destroyed Ghana in every way imaginable — the economy was destroyed, every sphere of life had deteriorated to alarming proportions that nobody could have imagined at the beginning of the Acheampong regime.

Obviously, if Acheampong had been overthrown two years after he seized power, Ghana would have been saved a lot of headaches and yet one can envisage that his apologists would have been able to claim that his was a "golden age".

Perhaps it is worth recalling that when he staged his coup he told the whole world that he had started the plan for the coup within six months of Busia winning the elections; in other words, the coup had nothing to do with the performance of the government he had overthrown.

There is the theory that the second Rawlings coup of December 31, 1981 had nothing to do with the performance of the Limann Administration, because he had determined to stage a coup anyway and his handing over of power to an elected government had all been a big charade. According to this theory, the plot to overthrow Limann was germinated even before the hapless man had assumed power and thus the two years he stayed in power was of no significance really because that just happens to be the amount of time it took Rawlings to complete his plans to stage the coup.

Two years into the Rawlings regime, things could not have been any worse in the life of any country with widespread famine, political murders and the collapse of all infrastructure. If his performance had had to be judged at the end of the same period that he had allowed Limann, there is no doubt that the general consensus would have been abject failure.

However, having held onto power and lasted into his fifth year now, and with the reappearance of food and goods on the market, he has been able to improve on his "performance" and an evaluation today would be very different from the report card he would have got in 1983.

The lesson seems to be that the present trend of performance of a government being evaluated by a group of army officers is less than satisfactory. In spite of the brave claim that is being made by the top brass of the Armed Forces today that a coup needs the support of the people to succeed, the fact remains that in practice, that is not really true.

Very few people in the West African region are willing to challenge soldiers, especially the gun-totting variety that are common on our streets and all that is usually needed for a coup to succeed is to get enough officers in strategic positions to support the plot or to promise them the ministerial positions that they crave. Or, as has happened in Ghana on occasions, all it needs is for a few determined soldiers to shoot their way into the radio station and the rest of the soldiers will fall in line after a few days, the civilians will also follow.

We would like to suggest that it is not the time span after which a government assumes power within which a coup plot is hatched that should determine whether it is acceptable or not; the evaluation of the performance of a government ought not to be the preserve of soldiers or any exclusive group. That is a right that should remain with the people. When any group of people arrogate to themselves the right to evaluate and deliver their judgement on a government, then we cannot help but get into the never ending syndrome of coups.

It is refreshing to note that the soldiers themselves — in Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia are now loudest in proclaiming that there have been too many coups and that stability is needed for any development to take place. That is a message that should properly be addressed to those offering the advice.

Unfortunately, these protestations will only attain some legitimacy when they themselves disclaim the right they have conferred upon themselves to be the ultimate arbiter of public competence and morality and when they receive their own power from being elected by the people.

Otherwise it makes it difficult to appreciate why they should not be judged by the same yardstick that they had used to measure their predecessors.

See also: Close Encounters and June 4th

Judge that ye be not judged talking drums 1986-03-17

talking drums 1986-03-17 African musicians in London - Spiritual revivalism sweeps across west africa