John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: Mali Coup’s Regional Impact

by John Campbell
March 27, 2012

Malians gather in front of the headquarters of the main trade union building as political and civil society leaders call for the army to hand power back to civilians after a coup d'etat, in the capital Bamako, March 26, 2012. (David Lewis/Courtesy Reuters)


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.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by John Ojeah

    Jim, please tell me when a junior officer coup has ever succeeded in Nigeria? Let me answer you: none. All successful Nigerian coups have been carried out by the most ranking senior officers.

    1. Major Kaduna Nzeogwu’s coup of 1966 was carried out by middle level officers but was crushed by Senior officers led by Gen Aguiyi Ironsi.

    2. Lt. Col Buka DImka’s coup was carried out by Junior officers and was crushed by Senior officers, led by Lt Gen Theophilus Danjuma.

    3. Major Gideon Orkar led coup in 1990 was also crushed by senior officers.

    The way Nigerian military is structured, only senior officers were able to carry out successful coups, usually, just overthrowing their ‘very good’ friends. With the advent of ethnic militias all over the country, the potential coup planner will have to carry out tons of ‘brain exercises’ before embarking on such a journey.

  • Posted by Maduka

    Nigeria has had three junior and middle-level officer coups since the sixties:

    1. The Nzeogwu-led coup of 1966.
    2. The Bukar Dimka led coup of 1975.
    3. The Gideon Orkar/ Nyiam/ Ogboru led coup of 1990

    All three coups failed because the senior leadership of the Army was not in support. To conduct a successful coup in Nigeria, you have to do a lot more than seize a radio station – you need the support of all the major divisional commanders. If you cannot get that support, then your coup will begin to unravel, rapidly.

    Secondly, Nigeria is a lot more complex than Mali and the Nigerian Army is not a rag-tag affair of a few thousands like the Malian Army. The Nigerian Army has 85,000 troops from different parts of the country. The potential of a coup destroying the Nigerian Army is very high.

    Thirdly, Jonathan cannot be removed from power without the Niger Delta erupting in violence. What impact is that likely to have on the future of the Nigerian State?

    Fourthly, what idea or goals are likely to unite the junior officer corps of the Nigerian Army? A significant number are drawn from the Christian minority population of Northern Nigeria, are they going to agree with their Muslim counterparts from Northern Nigeria?

    Will the Southern junior officer corps see eye to eye with their counterparts from Northern Nigeria?

    The Jonathan administration has been very good at elevating the profile of Northern minorities and Southerners in the Military. I am also reliably informed that junior officers are very well taken care of.

  • Posted by Maduka

    I also forgot to add that all the junior/mid-level coups were sectional affairs.

    1. The Nzeogwu coup of 1966 was dominated by the Igbo.
    2. The Bukar Dimka coup of 1975 was dominated by people from Benue-Plateau.
    3. The Ogboru / Nyiam / Orkar coup of 1990 was dominated by Middle Belt / Niger Delta.

    One can therefore project that the next junior/middle officer coup (in the unlikely event that it occurs), is likely to be dominated by officers from a particular section of the country. What section of the nation seems to be the most motivated to see the end of the Jonathan administration?

  • Posted by adeyemi jacobs

    Boko Haram at present does not have the capacity to overrun Northern Nigeria, despite the huge support and sympathy they enjoy from Northern Muslims. However, should they achieve that, it would signal the final balkanisation of Nigeria because Boko Haram cannot succeed in the Middle Belt as well as the South. A military coup will be seen as advancing the cause of ethnic jingoists because of the polarization following the 2011 general elections. So the idea of the Mali situation exciting junior Nigerian military officers will not solve anything.

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