BACKPAGE BY SHAKA MOMODU
Acid rain is falling, the green grasses of the rainforest are turning into yellow. The trees are falling, animals are scampering for safety. What is the source of this rain that carries with it death and destruction? The prophecy of old is becoming a reality. Anyone unlucky enough to be beaten by this rain will suffer a long, agonising and painful end, so says the ancient wisdom. What can we do to stop this evil rail from destroying everything we have laboured for? If only we know that the power of the people is much greater than any strongman or whatever he may throw at us.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari and his lawless regime have already established themselves firmly in the minds of many well-meaning Nigerians as a clear and present danger to the survival of the nation’s democracy, achieved on the sweat and blood of many innocent and unsung Nigerians who died in protests across the country to force the military back to the barracks. The sacrifices made by so many unsung and unappreciated Nigerians gave General Buhari the second chance and space to make a comeback 30 years after he was kicked out of office by his military colleagues. It is ironic that one of the greatest beneficiaries of the benevolence of the people and a freer and freer democratic space, which had hitherto expanded by the day, is riding roughshod over our democratic institutions that powered him to office in 2015 and he is doing everything to constrict the democratic space.
The country achieved a critical milestone and major turning point in 2015 with the first transfer of power from one political party to another since 1999. Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s phone call to Buhari conceding defeat was momentous. That was truly seen by many as evidence that the country’s fledgling democracy, after some initial false starts, was beginning to come of age. Many were proud, the mood was exultant, and expectations were high, as many clicked champagne glasses celebrating the evolution of our democracy and the rise of another leader. It was a moment that resoundingly established our country as a democracy and it resonated around the world. Our country became the “shining city on the hill” to other African countries.
His second coming was supposed to be an opportunity for the general to remedy his past. He promised that much. But from his very first media chat, after he assumed office in 2015, it was obvious General Buhari had not changed contrary to his claim of being a reformed democrat. General Buhari bared his fangs when asked about security agencies not obeying court orders. In his response, he made it clear to Nigerians what he expected of the courts. His calm countenance changed, he became menacingly and visibly agitated. This was how he answered: “If you know the atrocities committed by the people granted bail, then you’d understand. If they jump bail, it will be a problem for this country….”
General Buhari was trying to goad the courts to his expectation. It wasn’t so much about what he said, but the manner he said it, his voice was dark and foreboding. But unfortunately, not many saw it that way. Instead they clapped for him. Even in the face of subsequent unpleasant developments and actions taken by agents of his regime, many excused General Buhari as not being aware. But events would later show he was all along in the know. It was Mark Twain who captured it so well long ago, stating: “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled”.
Having sold his fake and partisan anti-corruption war to a gullible public, after hoodwinking them with his so-called integrity, a former Minister of Police Affairs and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Dr Yakubu Lame from Bauchi State had canvassed the insane idea for the suspension of some aspects of the constitution that inhibit General Buhari from fighting corruption for possibly eight years to allow him the leeway to properly fight the menace. He also advocated for the conferment of emergency powers on the general instead of following the long process of the rule of law to enable him fight corruption more vigorously.
But General Buhari didn’t need to go that route, he signed Executive Order 6 empowering security agencies to seize properties of anyone on suspicion of unexplained wealth. Also, a particularly foolish professor who himself had once been on the receiving end of government abuse of power, serial violations of human rights on mere suspicion of involvement in a coup plot by the General Sani Abacha regime, and currently a part of this regime, declared his contempt for unmoderated rule of law. Even human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana frowned upon courts granting corruption suspects bail.
Goaded by these strange submissions and cheered on by gullible Nigerians, General Buhari proceeded to invade the residences of judges, including that of a Supreme Court judge, ransacked their belongings, his agents planted incriminating evidence against them, arrested them, and marched them to our now notorious Department of State Services (DSS) in the wee hours of the morning on suspicion of corruption.
Then came the turn of the National Assembly to get a taste of General Buhari’s tyrannical impulse and crude resort to self-help when national institutions stand in his way. In August 2018, General Buhari’s DSS in a Gestapo-style laid sage to the National Assembly in an attempt to change the leadership of the Senate which had resisted attempts to be cowed by the executive arm of government. The coup attempt failed following public outrage. With that Senate tenure over, the general and his apparatchiks ensured that a pliable leadership led by Ahmed Lawn as Senate President emerged. Just recently, this jester announced with glee that his leadership would approve any request General Buhari presents to it for approval because any request from Buhari is “good for the nation”.
In August last year, General Buhari voiced his contempt for the rule of law right at the 59th Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference (AGC). With more than a touch of hubris and imperial finality, he declared that the rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest. His Hate Speech Bill, his refusal to obey court orders – arresting and throwing people into prisons without trial were signals that he meant business.
Barely three weeks to the last presidential election and sensing that he was on the ropes, General Buhari came for the former Chief Justice of the Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, who was supposed to preside over the Presidential Election Appeal, under spurious circumstances. He later replaced him with his man Friday, Chief Justice Muhammed Tanko. You saw the military alacrity with which the Supreme Court rubber-stamped his victory!
Just recently, General Buhari’s regime took its lawlessness several steps further, when his Gestapo DSS invaded a Federal High Court to arrest Omoyeye Sowore, whom the same DSS had grudgingly released 12 hours prior after holding him for 125 days and ignoring two court orders granting him bail. As if the sacrilege of violating the courtroom was not enough, the regime defended the action of the DSS. The DSS had earlier issued the stupid explanation that it was Sowore and his supporters that had staged the invasion of the court as propaganda to undermine the DSS. How low can these people stoop?
Where is the Chief Justice of Nigeria in all of this? He couldn’t rise to defend his constituency at a time like this when the whole world is scandalised by the crude and barbaric behaviour of Buhari’s DSS operatives inside the courtroom. From him has been total radio silence when his voice should have been the loudest in condemnation of the incident.
What did I just say? A friend said he would have been sacked the next day by his benefactor had he done that. Allegations of corruption would have been the perfect pretext for that. General Buhari who purportedly won a second term by INEC declaration, and rubber-stamped by the courts, has consolidated his hold on power. Democracy watchdogs, viz. the media, pro-democracy groups and civil society organisations had tolerated and even massaged Buhari’s anti-democratic behaviour since 2015. This I dare say, emboldened him to be more ruthless in manipulating election results through “remote control”, trampling on human rights of Nigerians and disobeying court orders; breaking his own worst record at will.
Now all bets are off and pretences are out of the window. No institution of state is beyond his overreach. He is a man the “nation cannot call to order”. His tyrannical impulses and reflexive dictatorial tendencies to issues of governance are on full display. He doesn’t know much, yet pretends to know it all. A religious fanatic, a tribalist, a clannish and nepotistic ruler whose nearly every action and inaction is driven by primordial considerations of us vs them. His fascist rule which has destroyed and corroded confidence in the institutions of state has entered a new phase. The country has practically collapsed under his incompetent leadership. He has rolled back all the gains of democracy that made it possible for him to be president.
Maj. General Buhari is governing us with a medieval mindset that has remained impervious to modernity and change. Instead of seeing the whole country as his constituency, he has been running a government of his family, clan and cronies, by his family, clan and cronies, and for his family, clan and cronies. He does not give a damn about other parts of the country.
Professor Farooq A. Kperogi gave a detailed expose of the extent of influence peddling amongst General Buhari’s family and extended family members recently, up till now, no one has denied it. According to Kperogi, “There is no equivalent in Nigeria’s 59-year history for the height, depth, breadth, and width of his family members’ offensively brash influence peddling and direct involvement with and in his government. None at all! Buhari operates an unabashed ‘familocracy’, that is, a government that is run by family members for the benefit of family members. On November 10, 2019, I used my Twitter and Facebook timelines to share the names of four biological relatives of Buhari’s who work in the Presidential Villa. However, further investigations have shown that there are way more relatives of Buhari’s (and Mamman Daura’s) who work in the Villa—and in the Katsina State government—than I shared.
Even Buhari family members who are not directly in government are ruthlessly avaricious influence peddlers. There is no Buhari relative today, in and out of government, who isn’t a multi-millionaire.
In Daura, they are called ‘the blood’. They are tastelessly showy and egotistical. They ride the biggest and most expensive cars, own the choicest houses in town, and ride roughshod over people less fortunate than they are. There’s a widespread joke in Daura that goes something like, ‘Want to change your one thousand naira note? Go to Shaiskawa.’ Shaiskawa is the part of Daura town Buhari and his relatives (or ‘the blood’) come from. The Buhari family members’ exhibitionistic preening of their new-found wealth is particularly amusing to Daura people because most of Buhari’s nouveau-riche relatives used to vegetate in squalid poverty up until 2015.”
Kperogi went on to list the names of members of General Buhari’s family and their sudden wealth, “the blood” that constitute the nucleus of what he described as General Buhari’s familocracy. The general’s supporters should read Kperogi’s full article and explain to Nigerians the meaning of corruption. Obviously, Executive Order 6 does not apply to them.
I beg to disagree somewhat with those calling on General Buhari to call his “wild dogs” to order. The fight against tyranny would be more effective if they criticise him frontally. Apart from the fact that the buck stops with him, the actions of the DSS are only a manifestation of his body language.
And for those who still keep quiet in the face of General Buhari’s increasingly tyrannical behaviour, let me remind them of the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr., that “there comes a time when silence is a betrayal.”