By Owei Lakemfa
TRAGICALLY, our country is headed back to the odious days of General Sani Abacha when dissent was regarded as criminal, protest as a coup and reason as treason. In the last few days, patriotic Nigerians including people in this government who disagreed with the invasion of our courts by hooded armed men, and resort to self-help by the President Muhammadu Buhari government, have been ordered to shut up. Countries like the United States and United Kingdom and organisations like the European Union and Amnesty International who have raised concern about the violation of basic freedom and refusal by the government to respect the rule of law, have also been asked to shut their mouths. All these are a rehearse of the antics of the Abacha regime.
The editorials of two newspapers on December 11, sounded the alarm that now is the time for the government of Buhari to pull back, change direction and save itself and the country. The Vanguard Newspaper editorial was subtle but made the point that there are international “witnesses to the double-speak and the difference between what the regime preaches and practices” It warned that: “The danger in treading this path is that with the increased sidelining of the rule of law by the government, the country risks being isolated, with our development partners treating Nigeria as a pariah nation which was the case during the General Sani Abacha regime.” The editorial also warned that: “…Nigeria could acquire the reputation of a rogue state.”
The Punch editorial was more punchy; it lamented the trampling of the rule of law into the dust by President Buhari, argued that his actions have brought the Presidency into disrepute, hence it would no longer accord him the title of the very high rank of President until he retraces his footsteps.
The reaction of the Buhari Presidency to all these, was not to be introspective. Rather, it is shouting down every criticism as if that would drown and wash the truth away. The president’s handlers appear power drunk and in a stupor; they seem incapable of comprehending reality. In fact when people protested against the invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja which went viral across the globe, regime functionaries told us what we saw was not reality but a drama staged by the victims of the infamous act.
When some presidential officials began to accept the truth, they seemed incapable of understanding that even if the government has disdain for the priests of the court, its agents do not need to pee in the sacred altar. The handlers of President Buhari behave like babies who yell at everything and are only quiet when they are overfed and are asleep.
As a disingenuous way of distancing President Buhari from the invasion of the courts, his handlers said: “The DSS does not necessarily need the permission of the presidency in all cases to carry out its essential responsibilities…This is a matter for the DSS, acting under its powers.” They assume that Nigerians are not intelligent enough to know a king cannot be separated from the atrocities of the palace guards. Does a king need to hold a gun before you know he pulled the trigger?
Nigeria is heavily indebted. But rather than put funds to judicious use, money is being wasted hiring hungry youths, buying them t-shirts and printing placards to publicly protest in favour of security forces violating the sanctity of the courts and human rights. Photographs show some of these urchins carrying the placards upside down, indicating that education has by-passed them.
President Buhari has been the most powerful president since the country returned to civil rule two decades ago. His nominees know better to acquiesce to all he wants, and his ministers were told to report not to him or the vice president, but to an unelected officer who is not known to the constitution. With the change in the National Assembly, NASS, leadership, he now has full control, so the Senate president didn’t need to waste his breathe saying the NASS would pass all what President Buhari wants.
The moves to demolish the judiciary and pack its debris under the structure of the Presidency are on-going. President Buhari had accused the judiciary of being a clog in the wheel of progress especially in the claimed fight against corruption. This government had invaded the homes of serving judges and subjected them to media trial. It has unconstitutionally removed the Chief Justice of the Federation and ridiculed the symbol of the judiciary. Touts have been used to protest and threaten a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, for insisting that government obeys the courts. Armed government agents have invaded the courts and sent sitting judicial officers scampering for safety right inside the courts.
So there is every sense the president is given the impression that only he matters. The head of state holding or controlling all arms of government reportedly led Louis XIV of France to proclaim: “L’etat c’est moi” (I am the state) and Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France (May 1804 to April 1814) to boast: “I am France, my will is law.”
President Buhari was military ruler in 1984-85. His colleagues claimed they removed him from office because his regime was too rigid and uncompromising in its attitudes to issues of national significance; that it arrogated to itself absolute knowledge of problems and solutions, was incapable of understanding that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions, and that the situation was made worse by a number of other government functionaries and organisations, chief among which is the Nigerian Security Organisation, NSO, now renamed the DSS.
This assessment and the fact that President Buhari was a military dictator, were well known, but he said he had become a democrat. He now has to show this in words and deeds. His handlers also need to assist him in this rather than behave like garrison commanders. Nigeria has always been there for Buhari including his education and upkeep since 1962 when he joined the army at 19. It is time for him to also be there for Nigeria. This is when the country needs him to reduce tension and return it to the path of security, rule of law, constitutionalism and democracy.
Those who in the face of national crises, keep silent hoping this will make them find favour in the eyes President Buhari and help them realize their ambition to be governors, senators, ministers or president in 2023, may be in for a surprise. Those who have ears, let them hear. As for the Nigerian populace, I urge them to persevere; a people united, can never be defeated!