By Tunde Rahman
In the wake of the botched coup in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan has again been showing his true colours, moving against known and perceived opponents of his autocratic rule. He is hiding under the pretext of the failed coup to rein in the opposition. Agency reports had it that over 50,000 people have been rounded up, including at least 2, 839 soldiers who have been detained in a relentless arrest over the coup plot. And the figure is still rising. The Turkish President has also pinned the conspiracy in Turkey on the US-based critic of his regime, M. Fethullah Gulen, preacher, writer and poet, accusing him of masterminding the coup. He asked the US authorities to extradite Gulen to Turkey if indeed America is an ally of Turkey. US Secretary of State John Kerry has, however, said Erdogan should first forward the evidence of Gulen’s complicity.
Erdogan’s rule reminds one of the dark period of late General Sani Abacha junta in Nigeria, when all known repressive methods in the book were employed against perceived enemies. There were fathom coups and orchestrated moves all in a bid to decimate perceived political enemies. Some claimed the Friday, July 15, 2016 coup in Turkey was orchestrated by Erdogan and his backers to prop up his authoritarian rule. Could he have sacrificed the more than 265 people, including 104 rebel soldiers, reportedly killed in the putsch? Some 1, 440 others were also wounded. What all these statistics imply is the world needs to pay serious attention to Turkey. Erdogan has always employed underhand tactics in ruling Turkey. He has caged the media and suppressed the opposition. He censured the social media and barred access to WikiLeaks website. The three-month emergency rule he declared on that country in the wake of the coup is an indication that something more sinister is underway. Erdogan poses a danger to Turkey’s secularism, which the world has always admired. A predominantly Muslim country, Turkey embraced secularism but Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been taking steps to move the nation towards Islamic extremism.
Recent developments in Turkey, however, underscored the fact that military coups are no longer fashionable anywhere in the world. Some officers in the Turkish military had rolled out the tanks against Erdogan, puncturing the seeming seamless ride democracy had enjoyed in Europe. A coup in the heart of Europe was simply unthinkable! It initially appeared as if the coupists were having their way, as if the military putsch had succeeded. The state television TRT announced a country-wide curfew. An announcer on the TV station read a statement on the orders of the military, accusing the government of President Erdogan of eroding the democratic and secular rule of law, and disclosing that Turkey would be run by a “Peace Council” that would ensure the safety of the population. The whereabouts of President Erdogan were then unknown. Whereas the coupists had seized the TV station, Erdogan addressed the nation in Skype and with his Twitter feeds, saying the coup was the work of a minority within the military and calling on his supporters to move to the streets in protest. In response to the call, thousands spilled onto the capital Istanbul and in no time at all, the situation changed. The coup had been put down. President Erdogan is back to office.
The lesson to draw from this by African nations and other developing countries where you still witness coups is the significance of people power. What brought Erdogan back was the power of the people. The people trooped onto the streets, demanding that the military return to their barracks. With that bewildering crowd we saw on TV and the strident demand of the people, the rebellious soldiers were left with no choice than to recoil to their shells where they were rounded up, waiting for the fate that would now befall them.
Turkey has been rocked by coups and counter coups for more than five decades or so. And like that European nation that has seen more of military rule than democracy, Nigeria has also had her own fair share of military coups. People power can stop a coup as in the extant case in Turkey. What also sustains a military coup is the acquiescence of the people, particularly the connivance of the ruling elites with the coupists. No military coup had succeeded anywhere without their civilian collaborators, the civilian wing of the ruling military elites if you like. In Nigeria, you find that each time some civilians are enraged by certain decisions of the government; they would wish the military were back. In one instance in late 1999 in an interview with a newsmagazine, an elected Senator was so exasperated by the Obasanjo regime that he fell short of calling for outright military intervention. For him, instead of the country still having Obasanjo as president, it was better the military came back. Some also felt that way during President Goodluck Jonathan’s time when impunity was at its zenith. And only recently, the military had to stridently deny speculations that some soldiers were planning a coup against President Buhari.
President Erdogan who was rallied back to office by the people has been in power since 2003. He has been accused of anti-democratic moves, even dictatorial tendencies. And the coup was the bloodiest challenge to his 13-year autocratic rule. Yet the people rallied round him because they know the worst civilian administration is better than the best military government. That should be the watchword. Unpopular governments should be changed through popular votes at periodic elections, not through the barrels of the gun. There should n’t be any place for military intervention in a democracy. That for me is the major take away from the Turkish coup.
*Tunde Rahman is Managing Editor of Western Post