By Obi Nwakanma
Nigeria has a President who is, by the designation of the Constitution, the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
His real name is Muhammadu Buhari. Some Nigerians might however be justified in calling him, ‘President Photo,’ on account that he has turned out to be a wall-flower President. The only time they see Buhari is when he is hanging as a picture on the wall.
He feels inanimate. This is why the rumour which was circulated by his adversaries gained currency that what we see in these pictures is not actually Buhari, but a perfect clone, an actor called Jubril from Sudan.
Many Nigerians actually believe this. Why? Because the President is remote. He is like a trick of photography, cropped to create a hologram. No one seems to know what Buhari thinks. He rarely appears in public. No one sees him at parties, on a close range, in the company of his ministers or in a function commissioning a project.
There are, in fact, not too many projects to commission. There are no state banquets. No receptions for visiting heads of government. No constituency visits. He does not tour Nigeria. He does not appear to know Nigeria beyond a certain radius. He is never on the streets to converse with that species whom everybody calls the ‘ordinary Nigerian’ (even though there is nothing ‘ordinary’ about any Nigerian).
The President is in permanent seclusion. People see him only in pictures picking his teeth in self-satisfied and perfect indifference to the goings-on in Nigeria; Nigerians hear only rumours about when he makes his very frequent but highly secretive hospital visits to the UK or Dubai or Saudi Arabia. Nobody knows when the President is in Nigeria or when he is not.
They only see ‘President photo’ hanging on the wall; mute and immutable. Even on highly volatile national events, he finds it difficult, inconvenient; a true waste of time addressing Nigerians. And that has sown the feelings, and perhaps rightly so, that the President has utter disdain for Nigerians, particularly the troublesome ones in the South.
After all, he did once call Nigerian youth “lazy” and described Nigerians as “corrupt.” That is, every Nigerian, aside from Muhammadu Buhari. These feelings were amplified last week when young, aggrieved Nigerians rose up in protest against police brutality. In spite of the din on the street, the President stayed holed up inside Aso Rock. He did not address Nigerians until he was probably forced to do so. He did not visit the site of the disturbances to ascertain from, and touch base with these young Nigerians. He maintained the silence of the Buddha.
Of course, when Governor Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State visited him the previous week at Aso Rock to communicate the situation, and present the reports of the governors on the restiveness on the streets, the President stayed to form. The Inspector-General of Police disbanded SARS and replaced it with SWAT. The streets erupted. Youth gangs went around sacking police stations and causing mayhem. It was clear that, for many, the brutality of the police was just the symptom of a larger national malaise. It was about a loss of hope. It was about the hunger in the land.
It was about distrust of the politicians; particularly the legislators whose jumbo emoluments have been a source of anger in the land, particularly because they do nothing. They do not represent the people. They just sit, rubber stamp executive shenanigans, and get paid large sums of money that could have gone long distances in creating really good, well-paying jobs for a vast army of young educated, unemployed Nigerians. The youths of Nigeria went rioting in the past two weeks, the President said nada. Then came Tuesday. Black Tuesday it is now called: October 20, 2020. It has a ring to it. But that was the day soldiers brutally shot, and massacred peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate. Now, government disinformation experts, and spinmeisters, are trying to fudge the number of the dead and even raise questions about whether actual people died at all in the alleged shooting.
The real question, however, is, who, in fact, ordered soldiers to shoot at the protesters at Lekki? Governor Sanwo-Olu has denied giving such an order. When pressed, he said that the presence of soldiers was from orders beyond his control. Clearly, only the President has the authority to bring out the guns of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
No one deploys troops without his authority. But even so, the President cannot deploy troops inside Nigeria without first securing emergency power granted by the authorization of a joint sitting of the National Assembly. Section 217 (2 d) of the Nigerian Constitution is explicit on this. Typically, the nation must be at war, or at the very verge of invasion by an external force, or on clear insurrection, for such an emergency power to be activated.
To send troops out just on a whim, and without an Act of the National Assembly which duly grants the President the necessary emergency powers, amounts to an unconscionable violation of the very Constitution that establishes the office of the President, his power, and which as well, places limitations on the use of that power under a constitutional government, is called abuse of power. This is one of the most egregious of political crimes.
A President who abuses his office by any form of political corruption: misuse of public funds, misuse of political power; misuse of the executive office of the President by the open practice of nepotism, or by the flagrant disobedience of the Constitution which he swore in his oath of office to apply and defend, is often subject to legislative inquiry, and ultimately sanction, which might include impeachment and, in fact, a possible trial before the courts that might send him to jail. So, the question Nigerians need to know today is, did President Buhari order troops to open fire on unarmed protesters on Tuesday? Did he secure the power to deploy troops for internal security operations from the National Assembly?
If indeed the National Assembly granted him such a power, when were the issues debated, and the request passed? We run a democracy, and there is no democracy without rule of law. Those who ordered, or participated in the killing of young Nigerians on Tuesday, must be brought to face justice. It is this lack of justice for the extra-judicial killing of Nigerians, and this kind of brutality which fed the protests in this face place. The use of indiscriminate force and the killing of unarmed citizens whom the President has duly acknowledged as within their rights to protest constitutes grounds for investigation of this President.
If the National Assembly fails to do its duty to Nigerians by investigating and sanctioning this act of lawlessness, then it might expose Nigeria to ridicule at the International Criminal Court. As I noted earlier, one of the key problems that have inflamed these youth protests is the sense of hopelessness currently faced by the youths of Nigeria about their present and about an even bleaker future; but far more salient than that sense of despair is what equally inspires the despondence: distrust of politicians; especially distrust of the legislators whether at the National Assembly or the State Assemblies who have failed to represent the citizens well. They collect jumbo pay and stay quiet. Their silence and inaction permit executive recklessness. Particularly this National Assembly which has proved to be a mere rubber stamp Assembly. It has allowed President Buhari to drive Nigeria to the brink of national despair and disintegration. It has been unwilling and unable to hold the President to account; it has never called the President out of his serial acts of misgovernance, which include the high level of corruption in his administration; the high level of disregard of the Nigerian public and the high degree of irresponsibility shown to the public welfare of Nigerians by an absentee President. On Thursday, President Buhari was finally compelled to address Nigerians.
The President delivered a speech that showed very clearly that he was out of touch with Nigerians. It was a washy, self-regarding speech of a man talking down on Nigerians, and offering pretty little other than platitudes. It was a badly written speech and it was poorly delivered! What was equally stark was the silence on very significant things. Not once did the President mention the shooting at Lekki, or offer a word of condolence or sympathy to the aggrieved. He chose silence even in his own speech.
It was a poor political act like the attempts by his goons to foment troubles and paint the current protests in ethnic and regional colours. Not once did the President condemn the targeting in Abuja of the businesses of Nigerians that were burnt. The footage of such acts captured and circulating on the net is a dastardly indictment of a government willing to divide Nigerians in order to maintain itself in power. Nigeria is at the cusp of implosion.
Many of us have been warning about this for a long time. These protests are early signs of what lies ahead. The young people in Nigeria are “woke.” The trouble this time is that it is no longer possible to intimidate them with guns. Indeed, very soon, they will stop running. They will seize the guns and start firing back at the military or the police. If anybody has never seen it, now is the time to watch the footage of the 1979 Iranian revolution when a well-equipped Army dropped their arms and fled because the crowd at whom they were shooting could not stop. They ran towards the bullets. It was like the sea.