By Levi Ohakwem
“This is how we tend to think of democracies dying: at the hands of men with guns. In classic coup d’état, military leaders seize power, put a sudden and violent end to constitutional rule and establish a dictatorship. But there is another way to break a democracy. It is less dramatic, but it can be equally destructive.
In this second route, democracies die, not at the hands of army generals, but rather at the hands of elected leaders: presidents and prime ministers who subvert the very democratic process that brought them to power”. – Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (Harvard professors) in “How Democracies Die” (2018)
It is rather shocking that some Nigerians were surprised that the Abuja residence of the nonagenarian leader of the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clerk was raided. But, actually, the behavior of the security and anti-graft agencies in recent times has an established pattern. If you are a critic of the government, first you are branded a wailer, then a looter. Next, you are visited by any of the many security or anti-graft agencies tucked in the laps of the President’s kinsmen. Examples abound.
Chief Clark criticised the mistreatment of the Niger Delta. He has tackled the government over the lopsided appointments into nine positions on the board of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in which only one person (Dr. Thomas M. A. John), apart from Ibe Kachikwu (in his capacity as the Minister of State for Petroleum), is from the South South, while the South-West got one and the South East got nothing. He deplored the 55 major appointments during the reorganisation of the NNPC in which the oil-bearing South got only 19 positions, while the non oil-bearing North cornered 36. South East was left empty-handed.
Chief Clark has been unsparing, albeit constructive, in his criticism of the administration’s approach to the death campaign of the militant herdsmen across the country, especially its lethargic dispositions to the genocidal sack of Middle Belt indigenes and forceful takeover of their ancestral lands by marauding herdsmen. He has been one of the avid campaigners for restructuring.
By July this year, the clarion activisms of Chief Clark and other Southern and Middle Belt leaders had become so intolerable that the chartered flight, which was to convey the leaders of PANDEF, Afanifere, and Ohanaeze to the Middle Belt Conference on restructuring in Makurdi, Benue State, was denied landing permission, thus aborting their participation. Therefore, if morning foretells the day, every discerning Nigerian knew it was only a matter of time before Chief Clark, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeifes, Chief Ayo Adebanjos, etc. were harassed. And predictably, the big masquerade began the dastardly dance at his Aso residence.
Meanwhile, there are many similarities between this latest raid and the raid on Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s official guest house on 26th May 2017. In a same case scenario, the Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood initially denied the raiders of Ekweremadu’s guest house were policemen. But when the evidences became incontrovertible, Moshood recanted, but claimed that the men embarked on the oppression based on a wrong information by a whistleblower that Ekweremadu stockpiled arms at the guest house. He, however, insisted that the Inspector-General of police wasn’t aware of such high profile operation. Okay oo.
Next, they paraded one Mr. Ahmed Echoda for allegedly conniving with one Maiwada Adamu to misinform the police contrary to Section 97(1) and 140 of the Penal Code Law. They arraigned the man before Chief Magistrate Umar Kagarko of the of Upper Area Court, Gudu District, Abuja on 30th May 2017.
The charge read: “That you, Ahmed Echoda, age 50 of 44, Living Truth Street, Masaka, Nasarawa State and one Maiwada Adamu, now at large, did conspire among yourselve by informing the office of the IGP at Guzepe Area of FCT Abuja that house… Ganges Street, Maitama FCT, Abuja occupied by Oliver Ogbenyi is being maintained and used for criminal activities, including keeping of arms and ammunition. Unfortunately, after the police carried out diligence execution of the search warrant, no incriminating items were found there. You by such action mislead the police and hereby committed the above offences.”
The accused pleaded not guilty, was remanded till the next hearing on 5th June 2017 when he was granted bail. That was the last Nigerians heard about the arraignment seen by many as another magic.
In a report entitled “Obono-Obla: How native doctor led panel to Ekweremadu’s ‘home’”, a national daily (Sun Newspapers, Saturday,12th May 2018) reported how the government even engaged the services of a spiritualist all in the bud to nail Ekweremadu. According to the report, the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP) headed by Okoi Obono-Obla, embarked on the search of allegedly buried loots at House D1, Nasiru Barau Close, Usman Nagogo Drive, Katampe Estate, Phase III, Abuja, which it thought belonged to the Senator.
According to the report, “It was however gathered that the Panel additionally secured the services of a native doctor, whom the whistleblower, claimed had the spiritual power to discover money anywhere it is hidden. Investigations however revealed that the occupants of the said property at Katampe Estate told the heavily armed operatives that the building belonged to them, as they had nothing to do with Ekweremadu whom they only see on the television.
“Not satisfied, the team forced its way into the property and ransacked the entire property. The native doctor was said to have pointed at several points, which the manual labourers hired for the operation dug up, but to no avail. The angry police team arrested the native doctor as the whistleblower, Mr. Ali, had fled”.
On 24th July, policemen numbering hundreds laid siege to the Abuja residences of Senators Bukola Saraki and Ekweremadu, to physically prevent them from presiding over the Senate, an action seen as a failed coup against the duo. But when it failed the police denied that their men were responsible, despite trending videos and images. Police also claimed the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, was not aware.
Fast-forward to September, neither the presidency nor the Inspector-General of Police was aware of the invasion of the Chief Edwin Clerk. With Niger Delta youth, activists, and militants threatening fire and brimstone, the police quickly sent emissaries of senior officers to beg Pa Clark, while the officers that led the operation were quickly dismissed.
Ironically, loots and arms appear to be found in the homes of the opposition and voices of dissent alone. Nobody dares search the homes of leaders of Myetti Allah, who threaten other tribes, governors, and Senate President at will.
Whatever our political inclinations, the Harvard University professors have warned us: democracies no longer die abruptly in the hands of military coup makers, but gradually in the hands of elected leaders, who abuse and subvert rule of law and institutions of democracy. Pray, what is left of democracy when free speech is gagged, the legislature strangulated, courts overran and their orders spurned, voices of opposition framed-up and scandalised, journalists detained without trial, and elected leaders publicly subordinate rule of law to their discretions? When people who came to power vide free and credible electoral process brazenly destroy and desecrate the same process that brought them to power; when the United States Institute of Peace predicts bedlam over what it foresees as the likely gross abuse of security agencies and electoral process by the ruling party in the 2019 general elections, is it not prelude to requiem mass for democracy.
Strangely, because it is Ekweremadu, Saraki, Dino Melaye, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Isah Misau, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, Sambo Dasuki, Chief Clark, etc. today, some persons sheepishly cheer on the escalating impunity. They are enjoying rides on a tiger’s back, forgetting that tiger riders always end up as tiger’s meal because dictatorship’s only loyalty is to its self-preservation. Anyone is dispensable, sometimes as a meal – a lesson the police officers, who raided Clark’s home and sacked DG of the Department of State Services (DSS) have now learnt the hard way.
We either collectively defend our democracy or watch it slip though our fingers. The choice is ours.
- Ohakwem lives in Lagos