Nigeria’s gradual return to dictatorship – Femi Aribisala
By Femi Aribisala
Nigerians are not students of history. History, in Nigeria, is so contentious, it is not even taught in our schools. However, we educate our future through the study of history. A country without a history is one without a compass. It is a country without a plan. The future of a country begins in its history.
Defenders and supporters of President Buhari would have us forget his history. They would have us believe the man has changed. But all the evidence indicates the contrary to be the case.
Remembering Decree 4
On Friday, 23rd August, 1985, the military government of Major-General Muhammadu Buhari decided to place me under arrest. My crime was that I wrote, among others, an article entitled: “Counter-trading Nigeria’s Future” in the National Concord, exposing the government’s scam of diverting public funds into private coffers through barter-trade with Brazil.
A man by the name of Benson Norman was sent from the State Security Services (SSS) to my office to get me. Not finding me, he left a note that I must present myself unfailingly at the SSS office at 15 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi Lagos the next Monday morning.
However, on Sunday, 25th August, 1985, Lateef Aminu came to my house first thing in the morning to inform me that the government of Buhari/Idiagbon had been overthrown. Thereafter, Muhammadu Gambo opened the prison doors of 15 Awolowo Road on public television, revealing people in various stages of undress and malnutrition that had been kept in the dungeons without trial by Buhari’s hound-dogs.
In short, the Lord God Almighty saved me from the repression of General Buhari. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to anyone if I don’t buy the hype that President Buhari is now a democrat.
Under the Buhari/Idiagbon regime, once you ended up at 15 Awolowo Road, you may never be heard of again. Decree Number 2 of 1984 empowered Tunde Idiagbon to arrest and detain anybody indefinitely without trial and without legal reprieve.
As self-imposed Head of State, Buhari had no regard for human rights. Immediately he seized power, he announced that he would “tamper with” the press. Soon, the infamous Decree Number 4 was promulgated which made even the publication of the truth a punishable offence.
Under this cover, Buhari jailed innocent journalists, including Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabo. He abolished civil liberties, promulgated retroactive decrees enabling him to kill Bernard Ogedengbe through jungle justice, proscribed civil society organizations and professional groups, and exercised “absolute” power.
It is this same Buhari that some would now have us believe has gone through some metamorphosis and become a democrat. At his presidential inaugural in 2015, Buhari himself confused his speech by saying: “the past is prologue.” This means ominously that his past will continue in his future. Says Wole Soyinka: “In Buhari, we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest prospect of change.”
Indeed, our fears now have more recent validation. There are ominous signs of a return to the dark days of Decree 4. The latest salvo is the banning of AIT and Ray Power stations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in the most anti-democratic manner. This signals that, if care is not taken, the so-called “next level” of Buhari’s government might be a return to dictatorship.
Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
Is’haq Modibbo Kawu is a veteran journalist. He was still writing a column at Vanguard newspaper when he was appointed as Director-General of the NBC. His appointment could not be faulted given his pedigree. But it would appear that something happens when people get into a position of power: they forget their roots.
Like Adams Oshiomhole, a veteran labour leader who, after he became governor, confiscated the livelihood of a poor street-seller and told her to “go and die;” Kawu, a veteran journalist has become the instrument whereby Buhari has shown a new determination to kill press freedom in Nigeria.
Kawu fails to understand that, as D.G. NBC, he is not supposed to be an instrument of the APC or the government. The NBC is the National Broadcasting Commission. It is not Government Broadcasting Commission. Neither is it the APC Broadcasting Commission. It belongs to Nigeria and therefore, under our democratic system, it cannot be partisan. Both the APC and the PDP are equally Nigerian.
However, Kawu is a card-carrying member of the APC. Not only that, while still D.G. NBC, he ran to secure nomination as APC gubernatorial candidate for Kwara State. When he was unsuccessful, he continued as D.G. NBC.
In that position, he saw himself as an APC man hired to protect the party’s interests against those of the opposition. Therefore, he objected to any and every criticism of the president, and sent warning letters everywhere to that effect. But whoever said in a democracy that the president should be above criticism? How can you have a legal opposition without criticism?
For example, Kawu’s NBC objected that a tweet was read on AIT where President Buhari was apparently referred to as “lifeless.” The Commission is of the view that this kind of rhetoric is “inflammatory and divisive.” But “division” is a sine qua non of the democratic process. How, for example, can the PDP operate without dividing Nigerians from the APC? And how, in the interest of democracy, should the president of Nigeria be above criticism?
Says President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but morally treasonable.”
Kawu closed down AIT/Ray Power without a court order. But at the same time, he is alleged by the Coalition Against Corruption and Bad Governance (CACOBAG) to have awarded no less than 6 illegal radio station licenses to his private company, Word, Sound and Vision Multimedia (WSV), without even the approval of the president.
AIT/Ray Power has been closed down capriciously after 21 years of operation for being divisive, but an unconstitutional Fulani Radio Station has been licensed by the federal government of Nigeria. Is a Fulani Radio Station not divisive?
The people now offended by the audacity to repeat Donald Trump’s categorization of President Buhari as “lifeless” are the same people who called President Jonathan “clueless.” TVC and Radio Continental did worse than AIT during Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency, but at no time did the government then try to muzzle them.
Even the president’s best allies must admit he made more than inflammatory speeches when in opposition. Buhari’s threats during the campaign for the 2011 elections incited widespread violence in the North after he lost. His supporters went on a rampage; looting and killing. By the time the mayhem had subsided, over 1000 people had been slaughtered in cold blood and some 65,000 displaced.
In November 2012, Buhari demanded that Boko Haram terrorists should be given special treatment like Niger Delta militants. He said: “The (Niger Delta militants) were trained in some skills and were given employment, but the ones in the north were being killed.” He called the Jonathan government “the biggest Boko Haram” and declared the war against their insurgency a “strategic plan” by the government to “destroy the North.”
In 2014, Buhari laid down another marker. He said: “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.”
His acolytes followed his example. In January 2014, Nasir El-Rufai said: “The next election is likely to be violent and many people are likely going to die. And the only alternative left to get power is to take it by force; this is the reality on ground.”
Lawal Kaita, also of the APC, told the government bold-face: “We will make Nigeria ungovernable for Jonathan.” In addition, APC Central confirmed Rotimi Amaechi’s threat that if APC were to lose the 2015 presidential election, it would form a parallel government.
Even as president, Buhari’s inflammatory statements have continued unabated. On the eve of the recently-concluded 2019 elections, he directed the military to shoot and kill ballot snatchers. This shows our president does not understand the democratic ethos.
Under the Nigerian Constitution and our laws, ballot snatchers are arrested and prosecuted, not shot and killed. The military does not turn its guns on Nigerians; it uses its guns to protect Nigerians against foreign aggression.
Assault on democracy
The summary closure of AIT and Ray Power is a blatant attack on democracy in Nigeria. It violates the rights of freedom of expression and free speech enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. This puts Nigeria on the slippery slope to dictatorship.
As President Harry Truman of the United States said: “”Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of the opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens.”
Neither Mr. President, nor his party of the APC, are friends of democracy. If they were, the 2019 election would not now be a major bone of contention. If Buhari were a democrat, he would not call those who exercised the free choice to vote against him in Abuja “evil.” Everyone can see that the fights and killings in the state primaries of the APC are entirely anathema to democracy.
As human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome observes: “APC’s leading lights have so far preached terror, body bags, mayhem, strife, stoned their president and leaders, booed others, killed some in cold bloodshed, denied themselves tickets, and generally engaged in acts of gangsterism, hooliganism and shameless ‘agberoism’ quite unbecoming of a ruling party.”
Rule of fear
In Buhari’s Nigeria, the rule of fear is fast replacing the rule of law. The government summarily violates the right of self-assembly of pro-Biafran activists by sending soldiers to shoot them. It locks up people, like Shiite leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, without trial.
Fulani herdsmen, wielding AK47 rifles, continue to kill innocent farmers; while the government responds by withdrawing the license of legal gun-owners. The judiciary is assaulted by the illegality of the president summarily suspending the Chief Justice and replacing him with another judge.
There is a big fight now underway to subjugate the legislature by interfering in the choice of its leaders. This involves withdrawing the corruption case of one of the contestants from the EFCC in exchange for his withdrawal from the race in order to pave the way for the choice of the presidency. And now, war has been declared on the Fourth Estate by the “indefinite” closure of AIT/Ray Power.
Nigerians need to rise up in one accord and defend our still nascent democracy before it is too late. Otherwise, Buhari’s past will, indeed, become his prologue.