Government and #EndSARS Protesters as Terrorists: Foreign Policy and Waking Up Trouble When it Sleeps

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The political governance of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) is fraught with deepening crisis of legitimacy, not because he has not been duly elected, but because, Nigeria, over which he is presiding, is ridden with problems with a recidivist, if not permanent, character. The permanent problems are not only essentially a resultant from conscious policies of neglect or don’t care attitude, but are also raising different questions as to whether PMB is really in charge of the governance of the country. Many questions are often raised because professional politicians frequently behave as other sovereigns. They behave recklessly with impunity. Lawmakers also make laws above which they often place themselves.

And true enough, societal indiscipline is galloping. In the specific case of Lagos State, for example, many, if not most of the privately owned commercial vehicles by law enforcement agents, especially by the policemen and soldiers, never respect traffic rules. Why are traffic rules disobeyed?

Besides, there are always media reports on how government officials loot public funds recklessly and on how politico-economic chicanery has become the new way of life in Nigeria. Even just last week, on Channels Television’s Seun Okinbaloye’s Politics Today, Mr. Abdullahi Sule, an APC stalwart and Governor of Nassarawa State, revealed how over N600m was embezzled by public officials, prompting the suspension from office of 62 Directors and Local Government autonomy. Corruption is not only institutional and syndicated, but has also fantastically become endemic.

National cohesion was by force under military dictatorships and by manu militari under democratic dispensations. Governance by manu militari has been particularly on the increase since 2015 with the sharpened insurgency of the Boko Haramists, PMB’s policy of nepotism, increasing demands for self-determination, calls for national restructuring, public allegations of President Buhari having a Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda, Fulani herdsmen-farmers dispute, armed banditry, kidnapping, etc.

More important, the recidivist character of these problems also partly explains the unending demands for political restructuring. The general belief as at today is such that there is no way Nigeria can be kept united in the foreseeable future without first restructuring. The country appears to be on the path of another civil war because PMB is vehemently opposed to restructuring, while the many apparent contradictions, unfairness, and injustice in the system have been deepening. These issues are largely the main dynamics of the #EndSARS protests, which not only began with calls for an end to police brutality, but also had popular support.

Anti-SARS Protest as People’s Protest
The #EndSARS protest, in light of the public support it enjoys, can be rightly considered as a people’s protest. The protest is manifestly the culmination of public complaints to which the Government has paid very little or no attention. What appears to be most unfortunate is that Government wrongly gives the impression that the law of Nigeria only applies to one section of the country and not holistically to the country. Besides, protests meant to bring about good governance are unnecessarily and subjectively politicised. Northern governors, as well as northern legislators in the National Assembly present the #EndSARS protesters as an attempt to unseat PMB. National questions are generally given a northern regional connotation. In fact, political governance of Nigeria appears to be conducted on the basis of a North versus South dichotomy. One illustration of this observation is the double standard approach to the control of mineral resources in the country.

Media reports have it that the Zamfara State Government was about to sell N2 billion Naira worth of gold to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in conformity with the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI), but this right and freedom to commercialise gold that normally belongs to the Federal Government of Nigeria is vehemently refused to the people of South-South who have been asking, for a long time now, for control over resources in their region. The demand for resource control in their areas is largely because of the devastating effect of oil exploration and exploitation which have polluted the environment and made it very inclement to live in. There is no meaningful development there.

Obadiah Mailafia, former Deputy Governor of the CBN and columnist with The Punch newspapers, has rightly reminded that, while, on the basis of the 1999 Constitution and the Minerals Act, 2007, Solid Minerals remain in the Exclusive Legislative List, the land necessarily belongs to the local communities on the basis of the 1978 Land Use Act. Put differently, the content or what is within the land belongs to the Federal Government, while the land as container, belongs to the people. Consequently, mining gold by private individuals in a constitutive State of Nigeria,like Zamfara, cannot but be illegal.

As further explained by Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad, the Emir of Anka and Chairman of Zamfara Council of Chiefs, the illegal miners of gold in Zamfara are Fulani. In his words, ‘here in Zamfara, the bandits are predominantly Fulani… (who) come from outside the State or even other countries.’ They join the people of Zamfara to ‘…operate freely with little or no challenges from anywhere’ (vide The Punch of May 19, 2019).

What creates a double standard and warranting protests is at the level of another national resource, crude oil. At the level of the people of the South-South, crude oil similarly belongs to the Federal Government of Nigeria and the land also belongs to the people. Thus, crude oil similarly remains a noisome issue: the people of the South-South want to be able to exploit ”their” oil resources, but are not allowed any right over the petroleum resources in their area. Why is this so? Why is the Federal Government keeping mute on the people’s and state exploitation of gold in Zamfara State? This publicly perceived double standard is currently fuelling national controversy and seriously threatening national cohesion as well.

Second, there is the controversy over the Constitution of Nigeria. In this regard, the Constitution provides for religious secularity which forbids national or any constitutive State religion. But contrary to this constitutional provision, the Northern States are referred to as Sharia States or Muslim States. This is an open contradiction that gives impression of double standard in the governance of Nigeria. True, while state religion can be accommodated under a true federal system, such an accommodation cannot be superior to the Constitution of Nigeria.

Third, is again, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, even as amended, which is not believed to have been made by the people of Nigeria. The opening statement in the Constitution, ”We the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” is considered very fraudulent as it is not a resultant from the political will of the people of Nigeria. It is, indeed a military-couched constitution, designed to protect more of military interests than of the people’s interests. This is why there has been a general clamour for a people’s constitution.

Chief Wole Olanipekun, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a legal luminary, has argued in favour of a completely new constitution and not simply for an amendment to it. As he put it, on Saturday, November 14, 2020 in Ikere Ekiti, Ekiti State during the 2020 edition of the yearly Wole Olanipekun Scholarship ceremony, what the Constitution needs is ”a total overhaul, a re-drafting, a re-crafting and a total replacement, starting from the preamble to the definition of schedule’ (vide The Punch, November 16, 2020, p.41).

More significantly, he believes that restructuring the polity has become a desideratum. In light of the #EndSARS protests, he believes that there is the urgent need ‘to drastically restructure this country, starting from the architectural layout of government and governance as wantonly displayed in the Constitution foisted on us by the outgoing (sic) military government without any input by Nigerians.’

And perhaps most importantly, he said ‘all arms of government have to be completely redefined, resituated and re-strategised for a new Nigeria, which will bring about unity, and faith, peace and progress.’ In his eyes, this can be made possible by applying the doctrine of necessity and this cannot imply the suspension or termination of government at the levels of Federal, State or Local Government.

Most unfortunately, however, all efforts to address the Constitutional problems, particularly the need to restructure, have been to no avail. There was the 2005 Constitutional Conference, the purpose of which was to seek a possible replacement to the 1999 Constitution, as well as the 2014 National Conference, which recommended political restructuring, but the report of which was simply kept in the drawer to gather dust. PMB himself told the general public that he never had time to look at the report and that the reports were in his drawers.

What is noteworthy about this point is that the call for political restructuring is a popular demand, particularly in the southern part of Nigeria. However, this demand is mostly opposed to in the North. The visible impression often given by Government is that political governance is predicated on North-South interest dichotomy.

Fourth, and related to the issue of political restructuring, is also the controversy over the choice of appropriate system of government for Nigeria: parliamentary or presidential system? Many learned opinions have it that the presidential system as practised in Nigeria is over centralised and does not allow for true federalism to exist. It is also believed to be too costly in terms of costs of governance.

Air Commodore (rtd.) Luke Ochulor, the first Military Governor of Delta State and one-time Acting Military Governor of Rivers State, noted in an interview with George Onyejiuwa of the Sunday Sun, on November 15, 2020 that from 1970 until the early 1980s, Nigeria’s resources were well managed. However, ‘what destroyed Nigeria is the presidential system of government, which was adopted in 1979,’ he said.

In his eyes, the parliamentary system is more appropriate for Nigeria because it is easier and cheaper. Presidential system has a dictatorial nature. As commodore Ucholr further put it, ‘those who want to come and fleece Nigeria from outside would egg on the people to adopt presidential system so that they would find it easy to consider a few leaders and collect what belongs to all of us. You can see that the presidential system of government that we are operating has made it a winner-takes-all kind of system. This is why he believes in restructuring as a solution to Nigeria’s problems.

PMB, Rule of Law and Nigeria’s Future
And perhaps most notably, the situational reality in the country, as at today, is that PMB is standing like another Rock of Gibraltar against any demand for restructuring of the country, while the generality of the people, especially in the southern part of Nigeria are saying, in the mania of the American people’s reaction to the intransigence of President Donald Trump to accept election defeat, that if PMB does not accept the idea of restructuring, Nigeria will restructure itself. The implication of Nigeria having to restructure itself cannot be far-fetched: imminence of war. But can Nigeria survive a second civil war? Most unlikely! This is why there is the need to thread softly in considering peaceful protesters as terrorists. The foreign policy implications can be devastating in the immediate and long run.

Above all, and most disturbingly too, PMB has many cases of blatant disregard for rule of law. At times he subjects the rule of law to the primacy of national security, which under normal circumstances, is to be ensured within the framework of law. At times, he simply consciously refuses to respect the Constitution of the land. It was just last week Thursday, 19th November that a very revered constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, drew public attention to PMB’s ‘subversion’ of the EFCC Act and the 1999 Constitution. He reminded that Section 2(3) of the EFCC Act requires that ‘the Chairman and members of the Commission, other than ex-officio members, shall be subject to confirmation of the Senate’ (vide The Nation of Thursday, November 19, 2020, p.22)

What is important about this provision, Professor Nwabueze has said, is not the nomination per se, but the appointment that has to be given a senatorial confirmation. For instance, Mr. Ibrahim Magu was appointed in an acting capacity on November 9, 2016 as the Chairman of the EFCC. His appointment was referred to the Senate for confirmation two times, and two times, the appointment was rejected on the basis of the report of the DSS, which says Ibrahim Magu is not fit to hold such a position. Rather than have him replaced, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President, reportedly reacted and saying that ‘Magu will be EFCC Chairman as long as Buhari and I (Yemi Osinbajo) remain in office.’

In this regard, Professor Nwabueze has it that the statement of Professor Osinbajo ‘amounts to a defiance not only of the command of the Constitution requiring the approval of the Senate (Section 147), but also ‘a defiance of the decision of the Senate which twice rejected the appointment of Magu for weighty enough reasons.’ Additionally, Professor Nwabueze also posited that, with Magu functioning as acting Chairman of the EFCC for more than four years already, ‘the implication, from the legal standpoint, is that the President and Vice President who enabled him to so act and who defiantly stood by him while he was so acting are vicariously liable for his acts.’

This example is a good illustration of how a President has made a nonsense of the EFCC Act, not to talk of the Constitution, a grundnorm for that matter. Professor Osinbajo is clearly saying, even as a learned person, that politics can always override the Constitution of the land with impunity. This is one major rationale for the many calls for political restructuring in some climes and for self-determination and regional autonomy in some others. The PMB government that refuses to respect the Constitution of the land is the same administration that is considering peaceful protesters as terrorists. The dynamics of political instability in the country is easy to understand with the foregoing.

In fact, the future of a united, strong and vibrant Nigeria cannot be guaranteed with the way PMB is going about the issue of political restructuring and the consideration of #EndSARS protesters as terrorists. Government should always remember that members of the Boko Haram group began as peaceful protesters before they became recidivist insurgents. Government should therefore be more careful in not pushing anyone, youths or their sponsors, into new terrorists in the true sense of the word.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti has explained it differently: pushing Nigerians into unwanted insurgency is like going into the room of trouble and waking up trouble. What does anyone want by going into the room of trouble if it is not to find trouble?

Most unfortunately, PMB does not understand that he is the temporal father of all Nigerians. By implication, his lack of understanding affects national unity. He does not know that, as the father of modern-day Nigeria, he must never provoke his children to anger as provided in Colossians 3: 21. He has unnecessarily been myopic about the criticality of the consequences of provoking the children into anger by portraying them as terrorists, who they are not really. Considering peaceful protesters and people reportedly funding peaceful protesters as terrorists cannot but generate an encounter from orders and counter-orders both of which can only amount to disorder with likely debilitating effects.

Describing non-terrorists as terrorists only pushes them to become one. If serious learned academics, sophisticated technicians, technologists, and seasoned engineers complain and are treated as terrorists, government will only be pushing them to the wall to fight back. In this case, no Commander-in-chief of any country will be able to contain a guerrilla terrorism that it may lead to. Terrorists do not have battle fields. Consequently, PMB must learn how not to destroy Nigeria unwillingly. Describing peaceful protesters as terrorists is unnecessarily killing Nigeria softly. Fela Anikulapo Kuti metaphorically put it thus: ‘when trouble sleeps, yanga (braggadocio) go wake am up, weting he dey find, na palaver he dey find’.