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Most of Africa’s past, even present, leaders have been complicit in the misrepresentation of Africa, as they have often been instruments of neo-colonialism. African leaders, with any sign of bravery are often summarily sabotaged, if not executed—invariably with the aid of fellow Black Africans. Africa needs who have Africans' interests at heart. 

President Trump’s alleged invective, mislabelling African states and Haiti as sh*thole countries, merely voices the attitude of most westerners toward the zip code of Africans. Most Americans broadminded enough to travel to Africa, often do so within the context of vacationing on a safari, to see or touch the animals, if they are not shooting them. Most of Africa’s past leaders have been complicit in that misrepresentation of Africa, as they have often been amenable puppets of neo-colonialism or subtle imperialist tendencies. African leaders, with any mix of gumption and spine are often summarily sabotaged, if not executed—invariably with the aid of fellow Black Africans, who are fifth columnists.

Nigeria’s leaders are no exception to the rule. Arguably, Nigeria’s most admired leader was General Murtala Muhammed. He may have been an exception to the litany of kowtowing “rulers” often propped by external powers, to serve non-Nigerian interests. After the counter-coup of July 1966, in which Murtala (as he is fondly called by Nigerians) had led an aggrieved contingent of military officers of northern Nigerian extraction, some western powers persuaded him to cede leadership of the government to a man they picked, and whom it was believed, was more pliable than the “brash” Murtala. Muhammed’s countercoup was originally intended to lead the north of Nigeria into secession as an independent nation.

However, the British had just discovered that the region of Biafra, which would be contested in the ensuing Nigerian Civil War, was sitting on oil. Should secession occur, the north would be impoverished, and their Igbo “enemies” would become fabulously wealthy, because of “black gold”. Consequently, the putschists were advised to keep Nigeria intact, to mutually benefit from the oil proceeds from southern Nigeria.

Although the British choice and amenable gentleman, Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon, became head of state of Nigeria in 1975 the intransigent Murtala would overthrow him in a bloodless coup, becoming head of state. Murtala combated corruption and championed wealth creation and Nigeria’s industrialisation. Additionally, he leveraged Nigeria’s membership in the oil cartel, Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, to power the nation’s economic development.

In foreign policy, Murtala made Nigeria “neutral” by advancing the “Nigeria first” policy, while emphasising the independence of African states, to buoy the dignity of Africans. His independence would cause him to butt heads with the United States. In fighting apartheid South Africa, Murtala used Nigeria’s oil money in support of the African National Congress, and in warring Angola, he supported the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. The apartheid government of South Africa and the United States, supported the rival National Union for the Total Independence of Angola forces led by the controversial stooge, Jonas Savimbi. Murtala’s support strained relations with the United States, which pressed for the withdrawal of Cuban troops and Soviet advisers from Angola. The civil war in Angola was one of the most prominent proxy wars of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. African leaders were either pawns in this combustible impasse, or “neutral,” brokering deals in the interest of their respective countries, while asserting their independence from the superpowers.

On 13 February 1976, Lieutenant Colonel Buka Suka Dimka assassinated General Murtala Muhammed in an abortive coup, allegedly sponsored by foreign powers that resented the Nigerian General’s lack of lackey in him. He was only 37 years old. He fought for the ascendancy of independent African states.  It was not palatable to the West, given its history of subjugating Africans. Today, there are still many in the West, who wish to stand on the grandiosity of white supremacy. And there will always be enough African puppets, too willing to toe the line, at the expense of African development and Black lives.

Such was the case with the young Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, the ambitious army chief of staff, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Backed by Western funding of the army and motivated by their desire to have Soviet presence extirpated from Congo, Mobutu would orchestrate the assassination of the defiant, pan-Africanist Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. Failing to secure Western assistance, in stanching the Belgian-supported secessionists in his country, Lumumba was forced to secure Soviet aid—which riled the West. Mobutu, described by TIME as the “archetypal African dictator,” eventually embezzled about US $15 billion from his nation’s coffers. He owed his rise, to being a lackey to foreign powers, as he brutally repressed his countrymen, among whom he lived, like a deity. However, foreign enablers are no excuse to a military dictator’s oppression and corruption

Perhaps, had he lived, Murtala could have been Nigeria’s benevolent military dictator that industrialised Nigeria, just as the South Korean military dictator, Park Chung-hee did for his country, before his assassination in 1979. Park presided over a period of rapid economic growth in South Korea, described as the “Miracle on the Han River.”

The “oil deals” in contemporary Nigeria, still reflect an imbalanced relationship: the exploiter and his lackey Black allies versus the disenfranchised indigenes, which most white supremacist counterparts are more comfortable supporting. They manifest how past dictators and questionable “democratically elected” Nigerian presidents have mismanaged oil fields, often parsing off trillions in value to western entities, some of whose presidents may turn around and denigrate the African continent as a “sh*thole” despite the fact that they shamelessly get rich off generous Africa’s bounty of resources. (It is ironic that President Trump had once bragged that his friends make money from Africa, only to allegedly turn around and call Africa—responsible for enriching many of his friends, including leaders and owners of Exxon-Mobil—a sh*thole.)

If Nigeria did not have an ignoble history of incompetent leaders, eager to toady to foreign interests, perhaps there would be economic security in the country. China is now the largest economy in the world (a feat it achieved earlier than the 2025 prognosis). My friends from China, including professors, often speak of how China developed its industries indigenously, without having to outsource the brain sector to the West, which was more technologically advanced just three decades ago. One of my law school friends from China said, “what is the big deal in building and managing industries? You learn by trial and error, and then it becomes experience and intellectual asset for your own people, at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing to foreign ‘experts.’”

Questionable Nigerian leaders are still outsourcing everything, thereby declaring to the whole world that “Nigerians” don’t have the brains, to think, and solve their problems by themselves. They still appear to crave the validation from external elements, and “oyinbo oga” to say go on, like they once declared, “Go on Gowon.” And John Bull jumped to attention: “Yes, sir!”

Talented youth of Nigeria: it is time to break away from the generation that failed us.

Nigeria copied the presidential system and written constitution of America, when it was crafting its second republic. The presidential system of government has been a feature of our democracy for almost 20 years. However, it is quizzical that while, we copied the American system of government, given its history of diversity, like Nigeria’s, our legal system contradictorily, apes the British system. Did Nigeria’s past leaders act haphazardly? What do you expect gun-toting rebels to do—act like rocket scientists?

Speaking of gun-toting coupists, they should be prohibited from holding public office in a democracy. Considering the US Constitution serves as a template for Nigeria’s, it is pertinent to refer to it. According to Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment in the United States Constitution:

“No person shall be a senator or representative in congress, or elector of president […] or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States […], having previously taken an oath, […] as an officer of the United States, […] engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the [Constitution of the United States].”

Thus, all coup plotters are barred from elective office. Going forward, Nigerians must operate a noble, judicious, and equitable constitution that breaks from the treachery of its previous military leaders and does not reward them for their history of perfidy and affinity with treason against our beloved state. General Buhari must be the last of his kind to hold office in Nigeria.

Previous military leaders bolstered bigoted tropes against Blackness. The image of the brutish “African rogue dictator,” who nonetheless is a pawn of corrupting foreign powers, persists. The era of coupists reinforced a history of calumniatory stereotypes about Africans. These rogue dictator types—in the fashion of the caricatured Field Marshall Idi Amin of Uganda—were often fodder for American late-night parodies. Their racist counterparts, who controlled them or at least influenced them in their advisory capacity (those dictators loved the foreign advisors, unlike the Chinese, who had the confidence to believe in their own people’s brains), were never similarly targeted. Instead, President Trump, whose “friends” may have been among those, who once controlled African dictators, was pilloried as an African dictator, and not as a foreigner that controlled African dictators.

Many foreign entities stymie Nigeria’s industrialisation, which will benefit all Nigerians. Some would rather enrich a smattering of millionaires in scandalous fashion, so long as they can keep their boots on Nigeria’s neck, and continue to scorch the average Nigerian’s dignity, as he wallows with his family in penury. Conditions are exerted that perpetuate that vicious cycle of a benighted “African darkness” that has been purveyed for too long. And then they can say glibly, “see, even their ‘democratically elected’ leaders have no empathy for their own people to uplift them,’” citing the historical pejorative of the decadence of Africans, which white colonisers supposedly came to eradicate from Africa in the first place. (But are these democratically elected presidents not the same men, once garbed in uniform and boots that had served extra-Nigerian interests? Although they were never punished for their crimes against Nigerians, they are nonetheless guilty of them.) This is the narrative past Nigerian leaders have helped spin. We will not be forced to form a cult of personality for them, like Mobutu forced the Congolese to do for him. Their time is up.

* Olurotimi Osha attended Columbia University in the city of New York and is currently a Doctor of Law candidate at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC, in the United States.