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Why we must all act to save our democracy

Gbadebo Rhodes Vivour

Since Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015 as democratic president, I have engaged his government from a policy standpoint, criticizing the policy choices he gets wrong and commending those he gets right, albeit sparingly.

Buhari
President Buhari
  • It is against this backdrop that I strongly disagree with much of the President’s address on Independence Day because it failed to address two critical issues currently threatening Nigeria’s much-cherished democracy – insecurity and citizens’ rights.Hear the President: “This administration inherited a skewed economy, where the oil sector comprised only eight per cent of GDP. Past periods of relatively high economic growth were driven by our reliance on oil sector revenues to finance our demands for imported goods and services. Regrettably, previous governments abandoned the residual investment-driven non-oil sector which constituted 40 per cent of GDP.”

    From the foregoing, it would seem that the president is still stuck in campaign mode, employing rhetoric and using the mistakes or mis-governance of his predecessor(s) to justify, or maybe seek sympathy, for today’s mishaps. This administration has been in office for five years, not five months; therefore, blaming a government it swore to out-perform is a strong indictment on its record in office.
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This kind of posture, one that continues to pass the buck at a time of heightened insecurity and economic woes cannot be excused. The president owns the bully pulpit now and is constitutionally empowered to ensure the welfare and security of all citizens. This, unfortunately, has not been the case thus far.

Only last week, Babar Baloch, spokesperson to UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency), claimed that 40,000 Nigerians have been forced to cross from north-west Nigeria into Niger as a result of an upsurge in violent attacks on civilians.

“People are seeking safety from indiscriminate attacks unleashed by organized armed groups on men, women, and children,” said Mr Baloch. According to UNHCR, over 250,000 people have been displaced from the north-east due to increased attacks from insurgents. This has forced another 30,000+ people (in January 2019) alone to flee to the Cameroonian border.

Boko Haram, by the way, has increased its attacks on the Nigerian military – killing hundreds and carting away sensitive military equipment. The reality, according to a damning report by the New York Times (and also corroborated by a top military officer quoted in a national newspaper) is that ”while we are battling with refurbished “Shilka,” ISWAP fighters continue to deploy the latest weapons and technology in their sustained attacks.

I am however more frightened by the surge in extortion, extrajudicial killings and the intimidation of young Nigerians by a police force that is supposed to protect us. It has become a norm for the police to pick up innocent young people with laptops with a view to subjecting them to harassment, intimidation and extortion. Sometimes, these young people are shot brazenly in full public glare. As a result, young Nigerians have now become deeply traumatized and victimized by a system that not only impoverishes them but also brutalizes them without provocation.

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  • Of great concern also has been the vicious clampdown on dissenting voices, the illegal detention of innocent Nigerians and the disregard for court orders. It is impossible to sustain or grow democracy in a hostile state governed by hostile leaders. This explains why the constitution protects the right of every Nigerian to free speech. According to Jiti Ogunye, lawyer and public affairs analyst, “Democracy is anchored on the rule of law and the rule of law is disrespected when a court gives order and that order is not obeyed.”This government of President Buhari must resist the urge to erode the right to free speech and the attempt to suffocate civil society because it is our democracy that suffers. On our own side, as citizens, we must keep those who govern at all levels of government on their toes so that they can deliver on their mandate.

    Government at all levels must also learn to take full responsibility for everything that happens under their watch. They cannot enjoy the privileges of high office and avoid the responsibilities that come with it. The government must protect the lives and liberties of all Nigerians however inconvenient it may seem. History has never been kind to those who abdicate their responsibilities and on whose watch the rights of citizens are abused.

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