By Bola A. Akinterinwa
Coup d’état has always been a critical issue of discourse in contemporary international relations, especially since the accession of many African countries into national sovereignty in the 1960s when coup-making was not taken as a big deal. When dictators, military or civilian, are friendly with the big powers, whatever was done by dictators in terms of bad governance was generally overlooked by the big powers. When the matter was about being pro-communist or unfriendliness, the policy was always to remove them, even brutally.
This brutality was revisited on June 22, 1990 during the Opening Session of the 16th Conference of Franco-African Heads of State, held in La Baule, France. At the Summit, France tied the giving of development aid to promotion of democracy and protection of human rights. This new position was given support by other Western countries in such a way that the French position became a common conditionality for financial aid internationally.
Apart from this development, the United States is always on record to seek to police the whole world in order to ensure protection of democratic values. By so doing, the United States is perceived as the chief defender and bastion of democracy. However, fresh concerns are now raised globally following the pro-Donald Trump protests and violent attacks on the US Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 on the instruction of President Donald Trump.
And true enough, the pro-Trump supporters complied with Trump’s instruction, by protesting violently. Some observers variously described the protests as an insurrection, domestic terrorism, sad situation, etc. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi sees it as an expression of insanity. The videos of the protests are unbelievable but true. Many observers have asked questions about the manner of handling of the protests in comparison with the official handling of the protests of the Black Lives Matter (BML) and other black protests. With the encouragement of some Republican Senators also encouraging the protesters, with Donald Trump saluting the courage of the protesters and democrats also calling for a second impeachment, is the international responsibility of President Donald Trump not raised?
Like the United States, Nigeria is the biggest democracy and the epicentre of democracy in Africa. Nigeria also shares the presidential system of government with the United States. Put differently, political governance is largely patterned after that of the United States. As such, what are the lessons possibly to learn from the pro-Trump protest saga, when compared with the #EndSARS protests. Is the attack on the US Capitol not a manifestation of a real coup d’état in a civilian setting?
The Two Protests Compared
The cardinal purpose of the #EndSARS (End Special Anti-Robbery Squad) protests was to seek an end to police brutality under the SARS, restore sanity, and compel the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to imbibe the values of good governance. The SARS was established in 1992 under the Ibrahim Babangida regime, but its roots have also been traced back to 1984 under Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Unlike that of the #EndSARS protests, the objective of the pro-Trump protesters in the United States is two-fold: accidental and profound objectives. The main focus at the level of accidental purpose was to undermine the final certification of the Electoral College presidential results being collated at the Capitol Hill. The protesters simply wanted to disorganise and undermine the review processes.
At the profound level, the purpose was basically to defend white supremacist values of which President Donald Trump has been the chief advocate since his election in 2016. Donald Trump visibly presents himself as racism-oxygenated, blinded with myopia, and wrapped up in the glory of restoration of American greatness by destructive lies-telling, which his followers also short-sightedly take as plain truths. And most unfortunately too, his followers often gave a public impression that they were only supporting Donald Trump’s claim to presidential election victory, but in the erroneous belief that the victory was truly stolen by Joe Biden.
Put differently, Donald Trump wrongly believes that he is a Mr. Big Stuff, who is completely full of himself and enjoying the backing of majority of Americans seeking protection of racial inequality or white supremacy in the United States. Without any whiff of doubt too, a substantial number of Americans, 70 million, voted for his re-election. But over 78 million Americans voted against him. They preferred Joe Biden. Thus, the purpose of the pro-Donald Trump protests was, at best, very selfish, and not patriotic. That of the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria was visibly very patriotic, altruistic and objective. The pro-Trump protesters apparently belong to the Fourth World, and therefore will need to learn lessons from the organisational experiences of the Nigerian #EndSARS protesters who are from the Third World.
On the character of the protests, the #EndSARS protests were very peaceful. The origin of the protests is traceable to 2017 when, in a tweet campaign entitled, #End SARS, a demand was made for the immediate disbanding of the SARS which was only reputed for brutality and violations of human rights. They carried Nigeria’s National Flag, singing the National Anthem. They conducted a multi-religious Sunday thanksgiving service at the venue of their protests at the Lekki toll Plaza. Even though there were different indicators that the Government incited hoodlums to join the peaceful protesters in order to damage and taint their good image and patriotic objectives, there is no disputing the fact that their cardinal objectives were still given prompt attention.
The peaceful protests began on October 8, 2020. On October 11, the SARS was disbanded. As at today, the new SARS has its responsibility limited to armed robbery cases only. It can no longer interface in any civil matter and cyber crimes. Apart from situations of distress calls from the general public, the SARS cannot engage in stop and search activities and in commercial activities of debt recovery, tenancy issues, socio-cultural questions of marital or boy or girl friend relationships. The SARS only has responsibility to control armed robberies and banditry, as well as kidnappings.
On the contrary, the pro-Trump protests were very violent. The protesters carried various dangerous weapons, including guns, improvised explosive devices. They behaved like African armed robbers, climbing the wall to gain access into the Capitol, removing the name plate of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, from her office. They broke windows and doors. They carried the flag of the 1861 Confederate Flag, meaning that they were revolting against and seeking secession from the United States of America of today. The pro-Trump deadly protests in which five people have lost their lives, in the words of Joe Biden, is ‘one of the darkest days in the history of our nation.’
As regards the mania of management of the protests by the security agents, the Nigerian experience clearly showed serious violations of human rights. Non-armed protesters, who were neither soldiers nor in a warfront as combatants, were shot dead. A Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Lekki Toll Gate Incident was put in place by the Government of Lagos State. The panel began meeting thrice a week (Tuesday, Friday and Saturday) as from October 27. Not less than 26 States established a panel of inquiry into police brutality in the spirit of the agreement reached with the #EndSARS protesters. What is noteworthy about the various inquiries is the clear revelation of several contradictions in the defence put up by the military. Eventually, there were calls by Government for the Lagos panel to be disbanded.
The mania of police intervention in the US did not show violation of human rights per se but a double standard when compared with the brutality with which black protests had always been meted out with. There was no visible inhuman mistreatment of the pro-Trump protesters. Although five people died as a result of the protests, the death was not as a result of direct brutal killing.
Besides, President Trump sponsored his followers to march on the Capitol, which they did very violently and which Donald Trump appreciated and considered as very patriotic. President Donald Trump incitement of the violent protests against the Capitol has not only prompted calls for his second impeachment but also calls for national accountability and international responsibility. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded the resignation of President Trump or the application of the 25th Amendment to remove him as President of the United States. Two main concerns are at stake: Donald Trump does not appear to be mentally stable. He can recklessly fiddle with the nuclear nukes or the Red Burton. This requires quickly removing him out of office. This brings us to the other question of international responsibility of Donald Trump’s incitement into insurrection against the Capitol.
Issues in International Responsibility
International responsibility is an important principle in international law. It is defined by many factors: sanctity of agreement, obligations, duties, need for reparation, need to sanction illegality, etc. Speaking grosso modo, it is when a State breaches an international obligation or fails in its duties that the international responsibility of the State is always called to question, with the ultimate objective of making the State to make reparation. All Member-States of the international community do have various responsibilities under international law to protect to assist in the maintenance of international peace and security of life and property.
While this principle of international responsibility may generally apply in bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral disputes, it should not be confused with a similar principle, IR2P (International Responsibility to Protect), which compels the international community, as a whole, to ensure that there is never again any mass atrocity of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The IR2P principle was developed by the International Committee on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001, following the sad experiences of the genocide in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the initiative of the Government of Canada to prevent future occurrences.
International responsibility, as well as IR2P, at the level of the pro-Trump protesters and attacks on the Capitol can both be applicable. First, Donald Trump is hardly a respecter of international law. Second, the rule of pacta sunt servanda means absolutely nothing to him. Third, he is not a decent statesman and does not appreciate protocolar rules. Four, and in fact, his American citizens now seriously fear that Donald Trump might degenerate into a reckless state of mind before January 20, 2021, not only to provoke a fresh mayhem, but also to play around with nuclear nukes. Donald Trump is a predictable belligerent.
The IR2P can also be raised in this same vein, since one main rationale for the adoption of the principle is not simply to suppress, but also to prevent. Section 138 of the World Summit Outcome Document provides that ‘each individual State has the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means…’ Most unfortunately, however, it is precisely Donald Trump who is required to prevent such crimes, that is actually inciting people to engage in the crimes which are all capable of leading to general public unrest and insecurity.
Perhaps more relevantly, Section 139 of the same World Summit Outcome Document provides that ‘the international community, through the United Nations, also has responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.’ Thus, there cannot be any qualms about the point that President Donald Trump is both nationally and internationally liable. His international responsibility is necessarily raised at both the domestic and international levels. This is why the aftermath of Donald Trump’s political life should be specially monitored.
Since Donald Trump freely rejoices in the destruction of others, the possibility of using nuclear arms to destroy his own people cannot be ruled out and cannot be an exaggeration, particularly in light of the videos of the Donald Trump-sponsored terrorist attacks on the Capitol.
In this regard, and without gainsaying, Donald Trump has seriously shamed the Republican Party. He has shamed the whole people of America. He has disgraced Western civilisation and the myth of superiority of democracy and the rule of law as the best form of political governance. He has also shown the limitations of American democracy.
It is unimaginable that Donald Trump could tell the protesters that he loved them and that they were special people for engaging in the use of terror to make a claim. Donald Trump specifically told the protesters to march on the Capitol as they could not win ‘our country back with weakness.’ In other words, whatever would be required to bring our country back should be used, inclusive of the use of force and terror. Thus Donald Trump preached illegalities and flagrant disobedience to rule of law.
In this regard, with 70 million voters behind him, the fear is that he might be more dangerous and unpredictable, especially within the remaining days of his presidency. For instance, he is projected to be capable of creating more problems for the polity, especially for the GOPs, in the foreseeable future. This cannot but require the need to prevent him from qualifying to contest for presidential elections in 2024.
Again, on the aspect of international responsibility, many issues are still raised. The first is Donald Trump’s incitement of his supporters to assault the Capitol. The incitement was not as terrible as his unrepentant support for them by asking them to show strength in bringing our country back, and not by weakness. The immediate implication is the decision to impeach him. The process of the impeachment has been started. In the event of a second impeachment, Donald Trump cannot but become the first president in American history to be impeached twice.
Second, the managers of the social media, in particular, the Tweet managers, have moved away from the temporary suspension from the use of social media to propagate lies to a permanent suspension status. Donald Trump has therefore been technically defeated in his quest to upturn the election results which have been to his own detriment. There have been speculations that Donald Trump is most likely to react to the permanent suspension of his tweets because tweeting has been a major instrument of his political governance. The suspension means inability to communicate with his other belligerent followers. It also means inability to foment new troubles, especially in light of the strategic calculations of the need to nip in the bud the holding of a fresh attack on January 17.
Third, the international image of the United States has been seriously tainted with the terroristic character of the pro-Trump protests. What the United States stand for has also been subjected to international rethinking. What really does ‘America First’ policy mean in international relations? Nonsense! There is the urgent need to redefine the policy and that of making America great and great again. Making America respected again and relevant, repackaging democracy as the best form of government that promotes tolerance, makes peaceful coexistence cherished by everyone, and serves as an antidote to reckless manu militari civilian dictatorship and military coups d’état, remain the urgent challenges of US foreign policy to address. While President-elect Joe Biden may want to quickly focus his attention on the serious problems of COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines, and on how to grow the economy and reunify the American people at the domestic level, the promotion of a better entente with the whole world, particularly with the traditional allies of the US with whom relations have been bastardised, has become a desideratum and urgent, if the international responsibility of the United States is not to be raised internationally and if the US is to be able to provide a legitimate leadership for the free world in the foreseeable future.