Mr. President, Can You See Your Face?
By Eniola Bello
“In pursuance of the primary objective of saving our great nation from total collapse, I, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the Nigerian Army have, after due consultation amongst the services of the armed forces, been formally invested with the authority of the Head of the Federal Military Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is with humility and a deep sense of responsibility that I accept this challenge and call to national duty.”
The quote above was the opening statement of General Muhammadu Buhari’s inaugural speech as military leader barely 24 hours after some members of the armed forces sacked the second republic in the early hours of December 31, 1984. Reading that speech again, and superimposing the issues raised therein on current realities, there’s the temptation to conclude that Buhari, since he was elected president in 2015, seemed to have a primary objective of leading Nigeria to “total collapse”, the very reason for which he had once claimed the military sacked the second republic. Dear readers, follow me on a journey to the past as we take excerpts from Buhari’s 1984 inaugural speech and contextualize them within the policies and programmes, nay the actions and inactions of his presidency in the last five years, or thereabouts.
“… Little did the military realise that the political leadership of the second republic will circumvent most of the checks and balances in the constitution and bring the present state of general insecurity”.
Since its inauguration in 2015, the Buhari presidency has serially undermined the other estates of the realm, using agencies of state like the DSS (Department of State Services, the police and the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) to intimidate, attack and arrest lawmakers and judges and journalists, making nonsense of constitutional checks and balances that make democracy thick. In the early hours of 7th August 2018, the DSS took over the National Assembly, blocking all entrances and preventing federal legislators from accessing the premises and carrying out their constitutional duties. The leadership of the 8th National Assembly wasted a lot of time, energy and resources defending its integrity in court and fencing off the police and EFCC attacks and intimidation. Today, the parliamernt has, to all intents and purposes, become a lackey of the presidency with Ahmed Lawan, senate president and chairman of the 9th National Assembly promising to approve all requests from the presidency to the Senate ostensibly because any request from Buhari is “good for the nation”. With that statement, the parliament, perhaps the most important institution with the constitutional powers to check executive excesses, has been cowed. Early October 2016, DSS officers, like armed hoodlums, raided the homes of some senior judges in the dead of the night, breaking down doors and wardrobes. The then No.1 judicial official, Chief Justice Walter Onoghen, was forced out of office in hazy circumstances. Under this government, court orders have been serially disobeyed. Armed agencies of state not only cherry pick what court orders to obey and which to ignore, they have in some instances turned themselves into alternate courts. Several court orders for the release of a former NSA (National Security Adviser) Sambo Dasuki and Shiite leader Ibrahim el-Zakyzaky had been ignored.
The brazen invasion of an Abuja court by masked, gun-totting men of the secret service last Friday to re-arrest activist and Sahara Reporters founder Omoyele Sowore, following his release on bail less than 24 hours earlier, is a new low in the nation’s history of the struggle for democracy and freedom. In an attempt by armed agents of state to forcefully take away Sowore, the presiding judge and lawyers in court were threatened with guns. Not even under the vilest dictatorship of the late Gen. Sani Abacha did security agents violate the sanctity of the courts. Though a very repressive military administration, security agents of the period always had the presence of mind to lay ambush outside of the courts in re-arresting anybody in their custody released on bail. How will judges be able to perform their constitutional duties with such a brazen display of force, such brainless intimidation, and such disregard for court orders? In addition to illegal arrests and detention, some journalists are facing prosecution on terrorism and treason charges. There’s even an on-going attempt to push through a bill into law whereby those critical of government and its agents could face the death penalty. Even the political leadership of the second republic, which Buhari accused of cicumventing “most of the checks and balances in the constitution”, did not carry out one tenth of the reckless, mindless and unconstitutional actions the present administration has unleashed on other institutions of democracy.
“The premium on political power became so exceedingly high that political contestants regarded victory at elections as a matter of life and death struggle and were determined to capture or retain power by all means… The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thuggery were relative to the resources available to the parties”.
Buhari, who became president in 2015 on his fourth electoral attempt, never accepted defeat in the three previous elections he lost. He always alleged that he was rigged out when it was obvious to even the blind that in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections, he didn’t have the structure and finances and national support base to have won a general election. In spite of the coalition of forces that formed the APC (All Progressives Congress) and finally made his electoral victory possible in 2015, Buhari still had to resort to self-help when he was quoted as saying, in the count down to that election, that any thing other than victory for him, “the dog and the baboon would be soaked in blood”. Wasn’t such a statement a ready example of “a matter of life and death struggle” to capture “power by all means’? Since then, almost every election (general or provincial) under the Buhari presidency had been a matter of life and death struggle to capture or retain power. After procuring victories in party primary and electoral contests almost always marred by kidnappings and killings and violence and bloodshed, Buhari’s political associates and followers and self-proclaimed adopted sons usually retire to the The Villa with INEC certificates of return, the president somehow making himself available for celebratory shaking of blood-stained hands. The latest and most reckless of such electoral perfidy was the Kogi governorship election. The violence and bloodshed and killings, mostly captured on video, were outrageous. Rather than condemn the conduct of the election, if not give the winner a wide berth, Buhari, without any display of sensitivity to the widespread outrage on the conduct of that election or any sense of shame at the manner his “political son” procured victory, congratulated Governor Yahya Bello for “a race well run and a victory well won”.
“The situation could have been avoided if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities”.
In the first four years of the Buhari presidency, the legislators under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki were alive to their constitutional responsibilities at least in one area – vigorously standing as checks to the excesses of the presidency, ministries and departmental agencies. Partly because of this, security agencies hounded, for four years, the leadership of the legislators without let or hindrance. Following his re-election, Buhari and his party ensured the imposition of an effete leadership on the parliament, a leadership that has committed itself to do whatever the president wanted. If, as it is said, the morning shows the day, from what we have seen so far, the 9th National Assembly may end up being the most incapable, in the history of Nigerian democracy, of checking executive excesses.
“… We have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowing to execute government projects with attendant domestic pressure and soaring external debts… Nigeria was already condemned perpetually with the twin problem of heavy budget deficits and weak balance of payments position…”
If the second republic was guilty of depending on borrowing, the Buhari presidency practically revels in it. From a total debt position of slightly over N12 trillion when it took office in 2015, the Buhari administration has jerked up the nation’s debt position to some N24.9 trillion or $81.27 billion as at the first quarter of this year. Despite public outcry, it has asked the parliament to allow it take another N10 trillion loan. In the last five years, the administration has been running a budget deficit of about N2 trillion each year. The 2019 budget deficit for instance was N1.92 trillion, out of which N1.605 trillion funding was expected from domestic and foreign borrowing. And of the N8.92 trillion 2019 budget, N2.14 trillion or 31% of N7 trillion expected revenue was dedicated to debt service.
The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society”.
Nothing on the scale of corruption, ineptitude and insensitivity in the second republic compares to what the nation has seen in the last five years. Central to the corruption in this administration is the “misuse and abuse of public office for self and group aggrandisement”, a vice the then General Buhari emphasized he wouldn’t tolerate while swearing in the state military governors, and his cabinet, respectively on January 4, and January 18 1984.
Today, Buhari is the biggest abuser of public office for group, if not self-aggrandisement. US-based Professor Farook Kperogi, in his column in Nigerian Tribune recently, exposed a complicated web of nephews and cousins and in-laws and some other family members of Buhari holding appointments in different sectors of government. His aides have mastered his body language. A federal polytechnic and University of Transportation have been cited in Daura, Buhari’s village. The police chief appointed four Daura indigenes as state commissioners in flagrant violation of federal character principle. In its last recruitment exercise, the DSS was reported to have employed over 50 Katsina indigenes in an exercise some states had below 10. Some officials of government have even borrowed a leaf from Buhari’s playbook; while the army chief established the army university in his community in Biu, the air force chief cited the air force university in Bauchi where he comes from. Since his inauguration in 2015, Buhari has come under critical examination for his nepotism and clannishness and provincialism. But the harder he is criticised, the deeper he withdraws to giving appointments to people from his own area of the country. He is not only insensitive to criticism, he seems incapable of sanctioning bad behaviour, even where his aides have proved to be grossly incompetent or behaved in ways that embarrassed the administration.
The various attempts by the Buhari presidency to constrict the democratic space, arrest freedom, intimidate other institutions that breathe life into democracy, and indeed go rogue are too many to be regarded as coincidences or isolated cases. Whatever may be the end result, Buhari should go read his inaugural speech in 1984 and hold it up as a mirror to his presidency. He would find the resemblance therein uncanny, unfortunately. Whatever may be his ultimate agenda, the path he is now treading would take him to one destination – the civil society would mobilise against him and the international community would isolate his administration. That would not augur well for the country.
Back Page with Eniola Bello [Thisday Newspapers]