Perhaps, much more than most countries that have been subject to military rule, Nigerians have suffered and continued to suffer the tragic consequences of the injection of the military into her politics. From a needless civil war to military dictatorships, assassinations, nepotism, corruption, misrule, extra-judicial detentions and other human rights violations—the haemorrhaging effect of military rule has left the nation still bleeding from its wounds.
In response to the vain assaults on human dignity and other excesses of military rule, pro-democracy movements began to emerge in the 80’s, but many paid a bitter price for daring to challenge the usurpers of the people’s sovereignty. It’s a story nobody can tell better than Gani Fawehinmi of blessed memory who was a serial customer of prisons across Nigeria and most famously in Gashua courtesy of his extra-judicial detentions by repressive military regimes intent on silencing his advocacy for human rights and democracy.
With the cancellation of the June 12 elections in 1993, by General Ibrahim Babangida and the incarceration of Moshood Abiola, the presumptive winner of the elections, the advocacy for civil rights and democracy was given new life, evolving into what became known as the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). Led by a coalition of pro-democracy activists that included Bola Tinubu, Ayo Opadokun, Ralph Obioha, Anthony Enahoro and Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu amongst others, the group canvassed an end to military rule and its attendant human rights violations. At the same time, reeling under the scathing criticisms of pro-democracy groups, the increasingly isolated dictatorship of General Sanni Abacha peaked with scores of assassinations, extra judicial detentions and globally condemned execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni nine in the aftermath of a kangaroo trial. NADECO and other civil rights activists accordingly amplified the destructive effects of military rule on the polity and offered a clear democratic alternative anchored on constitutional rule, inclusion, respect for human rights and good governance.
Sanni Abacha’s sudden death in 1998 paved the way for a return to civil rule as the military finally bowed out under much pressure. By 1999, the fourth republic was in place and Nigeria commenced yet another democratic experiment under the leadership of Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a former military dictator turned democrat under whom modest democratic gains were made further consolidated by Presidents Musa Yar Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. But with the 2015 elections and the Buhari presidency – it seems all the gains made in the last 16 years of democratic rule has been reversed and Nigeria returned to full blown dictatorship, extra judicial detentions and other human rights violations. In just five months of Buhari’s administration, human rights violations have reached a level comparable to erstwhile military regimes. Not only has the DSS under the leadership of Lawal Musa Daura been notoriously deployed to harass and intimidate individuals it has veered into active extrajudicial detentions in a manner reminiscent of Sanni Abacha’s brutal regime.
As the timeline aptly indicates; Buhari was sworn in on the 29th of May, but between June and October alone, the DSS has illegally invaded the home of Sambo Dasuki the former national security adviser (NSA) and for several hours sealed off his premises and subjected him to a humiliating ordeal. The former chief security officer (CSO) to ex-president Jonathan Godwin Obua was likewise arrested and held in the dungeons of the DSS for several weeks. In spite of constitutional immunity, the Akwa Ibom state government house was violated by an invasion by the DSS that lasted for several hours. Of greater import is the extra-judicial detention of Nnamdi Kanu the director of the UK based Radio Biafra in the dungeons of DSS since the since the 16TH of October. He was charged to court and duly granted bail on the 19th of October. The stringent bail conditions imposed on him was met on the 20th of October but the DSS has continued to detain him even after subsequent court orders. That someone could be so detained extra judicially in a democratic government that came to power through constitutional means, against a backdrop of other detentions and harassment by the same administration in just five months signals a dangerous slide into tyranny and dictatorship that portends a bad omen for the nation’s democracy.
Nnamdi Kanu’s only offense is his non-violent activism for self rule, but self determination like all other rights is an inalienable right for which he reserves the right to advocate. Some states in the US still fly the confederate flag. The UN Charter as well as the African Charter of human and people’s rights recognises the right of all peoples to self determination. There is nothing inherently criminal in peacefully advocating the right to self determination. In 2014 the Scottish held a referendum on self rule. The British with one of the most powerful armies in the world did not mount any military campaigns to stop the Scottish from seceding, nor was anyone arrested. They allowed them vote and exercise their democratic right to choose. Like my friend John Okiyi Kalu would always say, it’s only in decrepit third world countries that are unable to develop inclusive systems that guarantee equal rights and justice to all citizens that the idea of self determination is abhorred and criminalised–which in itself is an indictment of the leadership of such nations.
It is also patently ironical and hypocritical for Buhari to campaign for the self determination of Palestinians and the people of Western Sahara during his recent United Nations General Assembly address on the basis of the UN founding charter’s recognition of the right to self determination while at the same time killing scores of non-violent pro-Biafran activists and continuing to illegally hold Nnamdi Kanu in detention for advocating same. For a government that came to power on the promise of change; one is now left to wonder if the promised change was to return Nigeria to the dark days of military style dictatorship, repression, extra judicial detentions and wanton human rights abuses as five months of the administration already suggest. And while all this is going on, much of the usually loquacious human rights community have suddenly lost their voice in the face of creeping human rights abuses by the Buhari administration.
As the saying goes, evil triumphs when good men stay silent. The human rights community and indeed all people of good will must speak-out before it’s too late. This democracy was won at a costly price and allowing it to slide back to tyranny is not a worthy choice. Buhari must be compelled by all to respect the rule of law, cease all acts of harassment by the DSS, release Nnamdi Kanu and all those extra judicially detained.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu
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