Buhari, a Beneficiary of Protests, Fighting Others

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Buhari protesting in Abuja in 2014

Davidson Iriekpen with agency reports, chronicles how the same President Muhammadu Buhari now tightening the noose on freedom, benefited from protests from 2003 to when he assumed to office in 2015. Even though he never called for a violent change of government. Every elections cycle he participated in and lost, he approached the court to table his grievances

Since he assumed power on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has not received the kind of bashing and criticisms as he received in the last one week with the arrest and detention with the publisher of SaharaReporters and convener of the #RevolutionNow protests, Omoyele Sowore. The reactions of a cross-section of Nigerians and international human rights groups even got fiercer when a Federal High Court in Abuja granted the Department of State Services (DSS) permission to detain Sowore, for 45 days.

Sowore, who also contested the February presidential election on the platform of the African Action Congress (AAC) was arrested penultimate Saturday by operatives of the DSS over his call for revolution ahead of the #RevolutionNow protests which held in some parts of the country on Monday.

Ruling on an ex parte application by the security agency to detain Sowore for 90 days to investigate him for treason-related allegations, the judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo granted the agency permission to hold the activist for only 45 days. According to the judge, the 45 days period, starting from Thursday, lapses on September 21, the date he also fixed for the next hearing session in the case.
He, however, said that the order of detention for 45 days was subject to renewal for further days upon an application by the security agency, in the event that its investigation could not be concluded within the first 45 days.

Applying for the detention order earlier on Tuesday, the DSS, through its lawyer, Mr G.O. Abadua, argued the ex parte application which it anchored on the provisions of section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2013. Ruling on Thursday, the judge said, although the hearing of the application was one-sided as legally allowed under the provisions of section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, he said he had to act on the facts alluded to by the applicant in the application until the contrary was proved. In view of the massive killings and general insecurity and excruciating poverty in the country, Sowore had urged Nigerians to simultaneous protests across 21 cities from August 5. But the police said the protest was an act of terrorism and a call to overthrow President Buhari.

On August 5 when Nigerians took to the streets on to carry out the protests for which the government arrested Sowore to prevent him from taking part, they were met with violence from security forces who also took dozens into custody across the country.

Many pro-democracy campaigners have described the development as a worrying trend of repression by the current government. What perhaps they cannot understand is that the same Buhari assumed office on the back of a campaign that urged Nigerians to overlook his dictatorial antecedents and give him a chance to redeem himself as a redeemed democrat.

But four years on, he has been accused of using federal authorities under him to enforce an expansive crackdown on civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Not only have many critics been harassed and intimidated but arrested for exercising their rights to speech or assembly so much so that his administration is seen as the most heavy-handed since the return of civil rule in 1999.

What a majority of Nigerians cannot understand, is that for 12 years before he finally became president, the same Buhari agitated for a better Nigeria with highly objectionable comments. He was never arrested for them because they were protected by the Constitution. As the then opposition leader, he had urged Nigerians to vote along religious lines, and also advocated the implementation of Sharia law across the country, against Nigeria’s constitution-provided secularity. He also took to the streets on several occasions to protest perceived wrongdoings of governments. After losing his first attempt at presidency in the April 2003 elections, Buhari launched a series of demonstrations across the country to make a case for a purported stolen mandate. Again, after losing at the 2007 general election, Buhari remained a staunch opposition leader against the administration of Umar Musa Yar’Adua, even though they were both of the same hometown. He made several controversial statements on several radio and television appearances, but was never taken into custody. In 2011, Buhari again contested for the presidency and when he lost to Goodluck Jonathan, for the four years after the election, he led other opposition elements to protest different issues of interest to them, from fuel price hike to alleged electoral fraud.

Many would recall that it was as the result of the comments he made during the 2011 election that resulted in the protest that led to the killing of the 12 members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Bauchi State in 2011 after he lost the election and nothing was done to him. During the Arab Spring that swept through the Middle East from 2011, Buhari hailed it, describing it as mandatory for the long-suffering masses in the affected countries. He also encouraged similar agitations in Nigeria as an effective means of nudging a complacent government. He urged a revolution through the ballot. A few months to the 2015 election that brought him to power, Buhari again took to the streets with other members of then-opposition All Progressives Congress to demand improved economy and a free and fair poll.

But since he assumed office, if it is not the police, it is the DSS or ICPC that he uses to hound down opposition. If they are not tagged as corrupt, they tagged as seditious. The first sign that his administration would not be fair came when it started with a partisan anti-corruption farce that was targeting only leaders of the opposition. Although the Buhari administration and security chiefs claimed Sowore was only arrested because he used the word “revolution” in his agitation, there had been previous cases when Nigerians who did not make allusions to a revolution were prevented from holding protests by security forces.

In February 2017, the police frustrated a protest planned by a popular musician, 2Baba, saying they had received intelligence that it would turn violent. The police suppressed the planned protest against economic hardship.

In April 2018, it banned on gathering at the Unity Fountain, a major square in Abuja where #BringBackOurGirls and other civil movements have held demonstrations for years. They castigated former minister, Oby Ezekwesili and other Nigerians who were taking part in regular sit-ins at the location as constituting a ‘nuisance’ with their agitation.

About three months ago, the Buhari administration and security chiefs accused opposition figures, including Atiku Abubakar, of plotting a regime change in Nigeria through unconstitutional means. Despite inundating Nigerians with the purported coup allegations, the government did not provide any evidence to the public. It also turned out that a document security chiefs claimed was circulated by alleged coup plotters did not exist.

“This administration started with a glaringly partisan anti-corruption farce that was targeting only leaders of the opposition, then quickly turned on ordinary Nigerians after many of the opposition targets joined the ruling party to preserve themselves. But it is now clear to adherents of civil liberties across the world that fascism has unfortunately returned to Nigeria.”

“If you are not tagged as corrupt, you will be tagged as seditious. It is difficult for any vocal Nigerian to escape their vindictive ruthlessness unless you are a part of them. We have seen Fulani leaders come on national television to threaten violence without any invitation from security agents, much less an overnight break-in at their residence,” public affairs commentator, Adewale Shotubo, told Premium Times.

“There is nobody that has deceived Nigerians like Buhari. Everybody thought he was a good man. See what he’s doing to the country and the people. He cannot produce his certificate; he cannot fight corruption; he cannot stop killings; he cannot conduct a free and fair election; he cannot make life meaningful for Nigerians; no road, power and food on the table for people. People are no longer safe. Now he doesn’t want to talk or exercise their rights,” says an Ibadan-based analyst, Bola Adewunmi.

However, many of Buhari’s supporters have argued that his calls for protest were always within the ambit of the law. At no time, did he call for a revolution to topple the government in power.