Egypt, Thailand: Military rule as a curse

(By James Ikechukwu)

The trajectory of the military in all third world countries is the same. You cash in on a political crisis, remove an elected government, suspend the constitution, throw people into jails, shut down media houses, crush the civic will and rule with decrees, promising to restore peace, promote economic growth and hand over power to a democratically-elected government after an indeterminable period.

MILITARY rule, whether in Egypt, Thailand or anywhere in the world is a curse. It is a curse for any people to be ruled by guns. In the contemporary world, military rule is an act of terrorism, because what you want to achieve is to create fear in the populace as a prelude to domination. Your country fed you, clothed you, kitted you and armed you so that you could defend it and its people against external aggression, you then turned the same arms against your country and its people.

   The trajectory of the military in all third world countries is the same. You cash in on a political crisis, remove an elected government, suspend the constitution, throw people into jails, shut down media houses, crush the civic will and rule with decrees, promising to restore peace, promote economic growth and hand over power to a democratically-elected government after an indeterminable period.

  At the end of such interregnum, where the General did not transmute to civilian Head of State as Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt is now poised to do and General Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand may eventually do, the economy would be in a shambles, the treasury looted with reckless abandon, all institutions of government destroyed, the psyche of the populace militarised and the very military institution itself destroyed because of fear coups and counter-coups within.

  How are we sure that it is not the power-mongers in the barracks that fuelled the political crises in Egypt and Thailand in order to stage coups and then reward those civilian collaborators.

  First, the extant constitution did not give you, the military, such powers. The only alternative government recognised by the constitution is within the political parties, not outside it. Then the watchdog of the constitution is the press while its guardian is the judiciary.

  It is even a sign of cowardice to seize power by force of arms. It is opportunistic, cynical and criminal. Because you know other citizens are not carrying guns or armed, so the contest is uneven. If you are sure of yourself, why not resign from the military and stand for elections, on the same level-playing field with others. Then we know you are a strong man. Better still, why don’t you distinguish yourself in war fronts to prove you are indeed a General of Field Marshall? But to seize power by force of arms, sit behind a desk and begin to award ranks to a band of coupists – from Lt. Colonel to General, from Captain to Lt. General – destroying es prit de corps, politicising and demoralising the rank and file and undermining the bastion of discipline and professionalism within the armed forces is altogether a sign of cowardice and banditry. And when such army is now faced with external aggression, they retreat with their tails between their legs, the institution having lost its soul to politics and corruption.

  All those who cherish freedom, the certainties and stability that come with democracy must rise to denounce the military juntas in Egypt and Thailand and do everything possible to remove these dictators from power without further delay.

  The military and police must understand what is meant by patriotism and defence of the constitution. During any political crisis, indeed at all times, their duty is to defend the constitution. It means when the president or Head of State issues an unlawful order, for instance, to crack down on peaceful protests, turn their guns against their own people or aid and abet rigging of elections, they disobey the order. Yes, the president will replace the officer. But by the time his successor disobeys the same unlawful order, then the president would know that the game is over. He will henceforth be forced to reach a compromise with the opposition, resolve any crisis and abide by the constitution. I look forward to a time when the military and police will throw up such men of honour.

  The military must learn to subordinate itself to constituted civil authority. Members of the armed forces and police in the developing nations should take their cue from their colleagues in the developed nations of the world, who earn world-wide respect because of their level of discipline, utmost regard for the civil populace and feats of derring-do in battlefields.

  All elected governments must do something with barrack boredom. If there are no wars to fight, then the military must be engaged in other productive ventures such as agriculture, construction of roads and bridges, etc. where they can earn additional income and contribute to the GDP of their respective countries. Besides, it is necessary to punish those involved in past coups against elected governments either in contemporary Asia, Africa or Latin America based on the constitutions in force as at the time they carry out the unconstitutional and illegal acts. It is elementary in law that no one must be allowed to profit from his own wrong.

  Finally, constituted civil authorities in the third world countries must equip adequately members of the armed forces and the police and reward them handsomely. Their conditions of service must be enviable. The military and police should be the pride of any nation. All forms of corrupt practices in the military and police must be abolished. The political leadership must devise a way of knowing about the welfare of the rank and file of the two institutions.

  In the meantime, I call on Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and General Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand to step down without further delay. They should address their respective nations tonight, apologise for their wrong-doings and restore elected governments.

• Ikechukwu writes from Owerri.

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