This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.
The putsch is being reported as a coup by lower-ranking officers and senior people have reportedly been arrested in Gao. Apparently, the action was engendered by soldiers’ dissatisfaction with the level of support from the government in fighting the Tuareg insurgency. Insurgents are reportedly thrilled by events, which they feel will make it easier for them to move ahead and take more towns in the North.
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has got to be watching all this nervously. A coup by lower-ranking officers has been a fear of Nigeria watchers since the pre-Civil War days. Senior Nigerian officers are especially likely to be watching events in Mali carefully, while simultaneously looking over their shoulder, so to speak.
The parallelism is just too close to home to disregard: Nigeria, like Mali, is a country with an insurgency in its North that it cannot control. However, a difference may be that the GON is spending a lot on security, even though how much of that money goes for equipment that rank and file soldiers need and get is not known.
Boko Haram’s views on the Mali coup and the Tuareg reaction is also highly relevant. Will they be encouraged by what unfolds, particularly if a series of northern towns fall? How to answer that one? In other words, what lower-ranking officers in Nigeria’s army might do, and what senior officers might do to pre-empt it, is only half the equation. In past Nigerian coups, an active insurgency was not part of the political environment. Now it is.