By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Those who have always doubted the possibility that a former military despot would change in a democratic dispensation may not be far from the truth.
Recent happenings in the country have added credence to this as fears expressed by his critics that he is still the same military dictator that ruled Nigeria from 1983-1985.
Buhari’s era as a military head of state, according to critics, saw many Nigerians face the most draconian hardship and human rights violations by any government in the history of the country.
Currently, the perceived anti-democratic actions and inactions of the government he heads have left many aghast. Given that Nigeria is in a democratic regime, some of the actions of the government today tend to pose grave danger to democracy both in Nigeria and within the African continent. But Buhari has continued to assure that he would not be part of any breach of the constitution or human rights abuse. Unfortunately, many can’t reconcile that with happenings in his government.
The presidency is perceived to have continued to exert undue influence within key government agencies which opponents said, serve as the secret police of the government and are being used to stifle opposition voices and perceived enemies of the government.
Opponents have often cited the case of Judges being intimidated, tortured and their houses broken into by government agencies.
Also often cited is the allegation that some Nigerians are being perpetually detained in spite of court orders ordering their release from detention. The case of Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser under former President Goodluck Jonathan, is a major reference point. In spite of several court orders ordering his bail, the powers of the day have refused to bulge and continue to detain him.
This perceived disdain for the rule of law is also well established in the handling of the case against Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. While Kanu was still being detained, the president was said to have questioned the right to bail him on live Television programme.
As the 2019 general elections approach, current political happenings in the country are being scrutinsed. These include the continued detention of Col Sambo Dasuki after he was granted bail by the court, the travails of El Zak-Zaky, the siege on the senate president’s home, Dr Abubakar Saraki in Abuja ;his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and police action in the Benue State House of Assembly among other issues.
These were some of the issues political opponents of the ruling APC see as indications that Nigeria’s democracy is under threat.
Some of these individuals and groups like Ohanaeze have insisted on restructuring of the system.
Top among the political issues that are seen to be threatening democracy is disregard for the rule of law.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP had accused the ruling All Progressives Congress of bringing recklessness, abuse of rights of citizens and outright flouting of judicial pronouncements by security agencies into democracy and governance.
According to the PDP, the government of the day is known to have openly pronounced persons facing trial guilty and sanctioned their continued incarceration despite being granted bail by the courts.
Institutions that should protect the citizenry, according to the PDP are being used by the powers of the day to oppress them instead.
The ruling party would always defend their actions, alerting Nigerians that “corruption is fighting back”.
Total disdain for rule of law and judicial institutions, according to the opposition party portends great danger for democracy and constitutionally-guaranteed rights of the people.
The party had said: “There is apparent scorn for the principle of separation of powers, especially the independence of the legislature, manifested in the declared craving to regulate the funding and running of the National Assembly and series of events affecting the legislature.”
Just recently, the Igbo apex body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo described the detention of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as a rape on democracy.
According to the National Publicity Secretary of the body,:” It has become imperative to state without equivocation that Nigeria’s democracy has been put under the custody of the APC and the Nigeria Police Force, the EFCC and other security agencies have been turned to militant wings of the APC.
“The arrest, intimidation and harassment of the DSP, Senator Ike Ekweremadu lends credence to the fact that democracy is collapsing irretrievably.
“It is obvious that this action is a continuation of the ugly and uncivil events of last week where the once gallant Nigeria Police and the EFCC became lords unto themselves and moved to barricade the residences of the Senate President and his Deputy respectively.
“Having failed in that orchestrated attempt to prevent the Senate presiding officers from accessing the National Assembly the fateful day, they decided to go for Ekweremadu’s jugular.
At one point, award winning Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie had reacted to the state of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Besides describing Buhari’s economic policies as ‘outdated’ and his view of Nigerians as ‘infantile’, Adichie had also said that “his intentions, good as they well might be, are rooted in an outdated economic model and an infantile view of Nigerians. For him, it seems, patriotism is not a voluntary and flexible thing, with room for dissent, but a martial enterprise: to obey without questioning. Nationalism is not negotiated, but enforced”, she wrote in an opinion for the New York Times.
Speaking on violent clashes in the country, she blamed this on Buhari’s ‘aloofness’ and ‘absence of sensitive leadership’.
She said: “Since Buhari came to power, villages in the middle-belt and southern regions have been raided, the inhabitants killed, their farmlands sacked. Those attacked believe the herdsmen want to forcibly take over their lands for cattle grazing.
“It would be unfair to blame Buhari for these killings, which are in part a result of complex interactions between climate change and land use. But leadership is as much about perception as it is about action, and Buhari has appeared disengaged. It took him months and much criticism from civil society to finally issue a statement “condemning” the killings. His aloofness feels, at worst, like a tacit enabling of murder and, at best, an absence of sensitive leadership.
“Most important, his behaviour suggests he is tone-deaf to the widely-held belief among southern Nigerians that he promotes a northern Sunni Muslim agenda. He was no less opaque when the Nigerian Army murdered hundreds of members of a Shiite Muslim group , burying them in hastily dug graves. Or when soldiers killed members of the small secessionist pro-Biafran movement who were protesting the arrest of their leader…”
Commenting on Buhari’s alleged outright disregard for the rule of law, former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Timi Frank, said that the act of disobeying the rule of law and selective persecution against the perceived enemies of the government form part of challenges confronting the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He urged the president to address what he described as infighting within the National Assembly and the clamp down on opposition voices.
In an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, titled “June 12 and the burden of good governance”, Timi Frank had said “the flagrant disregard for the rule of law, disobeying of court orders, acute nepotism, selective persecution, and lack of transparency are some of the ills very prevalent in the nation today.
“Many a people believe that the duo of Sheikh EL Zak Zaky and the erstwhile NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtf), are some of the personal witch-hunt of your administration.
“The infighting within the National Assembly and the clamp down on opposition voices is clearly in sharp contrast to the democracy that was envisaged and clamoured for by Nigerians before your inception.
“As we draw near to another election year, it will be beneficial to your administration that these concerns are vigorously addressed, so as to usher in a ray of hope for a better Nigeria.”
Although Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central said he is going on with the reconciliation efforts of the APC, he had in a Facebook post sometime outlined 15 things threatening Nigeria’s democracy at the moment.
According to the lawmaker, mass killings in the North Central and North West, violations of freedom of speech, unaddressed perception of nepotism and many more are part of those things that are standing against Nigeria now.
Senator Shehu Sani also listed onslaught against the parliament and parliamentarians; religious bigotry and rise of ethnic nationalism; disobedience to court orders and resistance to rule of law and unaddressed perception of nepotism and favoritism as impediments to democracy.
According to him, “ timidity of the major opposition party and disorderliness of the ruling party; public perception of credibility and moral problems of members of the parliament over corruption issues and public perception of a tyrannical and autocratic president contemptuous of democratic values, surrounded by a vicious cabal were seen as threatening Nigeria’s democracy at the moment.”
Senator Sani also listed arbitrariness and increasing lawlessness of security agencies; compromised and subservient states assemblies and emperor governors operating above the laws; a dubious national objection to hate speech that shields people in position of power and targets ordinary Nigerians and the prominence of the rabid political and economic interest and ambitions of the political elites over the peace and unity of the country.
Expressing fears that Nigeria’s democracy is under threat, some Southern and Middle Belt leaders also decried recent happenings in Nigeria, condemning the payment of $496 million to the United States government for the purchase of Tucano aircraft by President Muhammadu Buhari without the National Assembly’s approval.
The group described the action of the president on the release of unapproved funds as a violation of the constitution, “because the constitution is clear on how executive can spend funds”.
In a communiqué read by John Nwodo at the end of a meeting, he said: “Section 80 (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution is very clear on how the president could spend Nigerian funds. The provision states ‘No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly. As it is, the President has violated the provision of the highest law in the land.
“Nigeria is a republic founded on rule of law, where each arm of government is bound to be guided by the dictates of the Constitution, this flagrant violation and unapproved spending must be abated as well as sanctioned.
“We therefore call on the National Assembly to do the needful as well as call on the United States Government to return the money paid to its treasury as the money paid was not authorized.”
Also speaking on the issue, Dr Doyin Okupe, Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to former President Goodluck Jonathan said: “We Nigerians are not matured to understand that no matter how we love power, we must not destroy the system. The rule of law is sacrosanct and must be obeyed. Obasanjo disregarded the rule of law and Buhari is doing it. You don’t use the police and state agencies to fight political enemies.
“Whenever we decide to amend our constitution, we should include that if the Inspector General of Police, IGP, and service chiefs disregard the rule of law, petitions could be written against them and two-third of the national assembly could vote to remove them. That will make them to be neutral.
“The APC should learn from the mistakes of the PDP. That was why there was migration from PDP to APC in 2015. The elites of APC should have avoided that. They should acknowledge that the APC is crumbling and Oshiomhole and Lai Mohammed are saying they will not lose sleep over the defections. These people should be wiser. Oshiomhole behaves like an undertaker. He’s grandstanding and that is not the way to manage a party. The APC house has broken and the elites are grandstanding. You don’t use ‘ gra-gra’ and intimidation, especially when elections are approaching.”
In his comments, elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai said: “It’s very frightening and not good for democracy. The operatives of government and security chiefs are supposed to be non-partisan. But some of them see themselves as part of government in power and when one does not support government, they lay siege on them. Those who support government are protected but those who don’t are intimidated. The police and other security agencies should not be doing that. Many, including foreign observers have noted what happens during elections and the police always look the other way.
“Laying siege on the house of the senate president and his deputy cannot be done without the connivance of the powers that be. It’s a pity. And now, a few senators would gather to remove the senate president. The legislature and the judiciary are seriously threatened in this democracy. The development is worrisome and I’m really concerned.”
First republic politician, Mbazulike Amaechi said, “Nigeria is practicing dictatorship. Of all the military heads of state, its only Buhari that overthrew a democratic government. Other dictators overthrew military regimes. He is still a dictator. I have been saying it. He may have come in through a democratic regime but there is no difference between Buhari the dictator and Buhari the President. Whether he is wearing khaki or agbada, he is the same. Nigerians must fight to regain the country.
“Amongst all those who fought for the independence of Nigeria, I’m the only one still alive and I urge all the political parties to come together and eschew dictatorship in the country. We cannot continue like this because what is happening now has not happened in Nigeria before where institutions of democracy like the legislature and the judiciary are being trampled upon. It is not something to keep quiet about. It is something Nigerians should fight to stop because it is dictatorship.”
Chief Chekwas Okorie, the national chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP)in his submission toed a similar line.
“What is happening today especially the disregard for rule of law is a major threat to democracy and may lead to something more sinister. Where the pronouncements of the court are being disregarded and the state cannot protect the citizenry, we are heading towards anarchy. Indeed, the only way to a civilized society is for the powers that be and the security agencies and everybody to obey the rule of law. When the rule of law is disregarded, we are indeed heading towards anarchy”
For Chief Ayo Adebanjo, former chieftain of national Democratic Coalition and Afenifere leader, “Government in Nigeria does not want to tolerate opposition. A leopard does not change its skin. Buhari is a military man and as that, he has not changed.