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With Buhari, One Step Forward, 10 Backwards

With Buhari, One Step Forward, 10 Backwards

Had the Human Rights Activists had a Crystal Ball….

I wonder whether the Human Rights Activists of the military era, who fought for our return to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s would have bothered, had they had a crystal ball to see the future, and how bitter life in Nigeria would become under democracy. I do agree that our rights, especially those contained in Sections 39 & 40 of today’s 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2018)(the Constitution), that is, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly and association, which are fundamental rights that are very much cherished globally were under threat in the military era, andå at the time, more or less dependent on the benevolence of the military dictator whose regime we were under. See the cases of Ashiru & åç v Isah (2022) LPELR-58311(CA); El-Rufai v Senate of the National Assembly & Ors (2014) LPELR-23115(CA) on the definition of fundamental rights. I suppose the harsh clamp down on those freedoms by the Sani Abacha regime, akin to that of General Muhammadu Buhari that promulgated Decrees No. 2 & 4 of 1984, authorising the indefinite and incommunicado detention of Nigerians, and prohibiting free speech even if it was the truth, as long as it hurt the government or brought it into disrepute, made the longing for democracy even more. See the 1984 matter of the Buhari Military Regime Against Guardian Newspaper Journalists, Nduka Irabor & Tunde Thompson who were jailed for several months, for allegedly publishing a list of ambassadorial appointments made by the Buhari regime, before the official release of the list.

While those Pro-Democracy Activists believed that life would be better under a democracy where they could enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed under Chapter IV of the Constitution, at least, those of Sections 39 & 40, I’m quite sure they didn’t envisage the type of democracy which we  have had since 1999, more so today – an oligarchic type of democracy (where a clique of like-minded cronies rule, as opposed to majority rule) leading many to now believe that our quality of life may have been better under some of the past military leaders (not all), as Nigerians have not enjoyed too many dividends of democracy, and those same fundamental rights which they love so much are stifled under false pretences like hate speech, while agencies like the DSS, SSS and EFCC are also used as instruments of oppression and suppression in this so-called democratic dispensation; having the #EndSARS military response to a protest by unarmed youths who ironically, were demonstrating against Police brutality amongst other things, just as if we were still under an autocratic military government (I remember going to a peaceful demonstration with Professor Jadesola Akande (of blessed memory) and others in the early 2000s during the time of one of the PDP governments,  after one of the airplane crashes that took so many lives – we were dispersed by law enforcement’s tear-gas, and a pregnant lady who collapsed as a result of the tear-gas during the outing, had to be rushed to the hospital); and like an autocratic leader who is not accountable to the people, the drafters of the so-called Constitution, included the mechanism of Section 6(6)(c) which ousts the jurisdiction of courts with regard to accountability for governance (Chapter II of the Constitution), akin to being in the military days! See however, the contrasting dictum of Niki Tobi JSC on the possibility of the justiciability of Chapter II of the Constitution in Olafisoye v FRN (2004) LPELR-2553(SC).

Between 1984 ‘Essenco’ and Today’s Cash Crunch

Strangely, supporters of this democratic dispensation may argue that there is freedom of expression, as for example, last week, we saw videos of people in the Banks who have been unable to withdraw their own money since the introduction of the CBN’s Naira redesign, totally frustrated, a lady, even to the point of undressing, and a man, stripping completely naked in the banking hall to vent their anger and exasperation. The tragicomic argument is that, such a show of displeasure denouncing a government policy, may not have been possible during a military regime, unlike how women had to queue up obediently without displaying any iota of anger, dissatisfaction or irritation, sometimes beaten and brutalised by soldiers, to purchase “Essenco” (Essential Commodities)  like salt, sugar, soap, toothpaste and milk during the Buhari military regime. It seems like some kind of ‘Déjà Vu’, where almost 40 years later, people are queuing up for PVCs, fuel, and cash! Just like today, the black market operators thrived in the days of Essenco. Fuel is also readily available at higher black market prices, while POS Operators are taking advantage of the shortage of cash, and selling N1,000 for between N1,100 & N1,200. 

Military Coups/Regime v Civilian Coups/Oligarchic Democracy: Are they One and the Same?

To what must be the disappointment of pro-democracy fighters, today, it seems that we are in a make-believe democracy, where certain institutions under the control of the Executive are used as tools to perpetuate dictatorial rule, and are present-day substitutes of instruments of dictatorship. It is sad that, at times, the National Assembly (NASS)(whose role is inter alia, to make laws for peace, order and good government of the Federation) and some of the Tribunals and Courts who adjudicate on election matters (and are supposed to do so with equity and justice), are also part of taking actions which make for bad government and enthroning candidates who didn’t/don’t win through democratic means, respectively. Take for example, the House of Representatives’ recent approval of another N1 trillion in ways and means advances to fund the 2023 supplementary budget; NASS enacted the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 (CBN Act), which sets out the conditions for ways and means advances in its Section 38. Not only has the CBN breached its own enabling statute, the House of Representatives has breached a law it passed, by granting the said approval contrary to the  provisions of Section 38 of the CBN Act – an example of unlawful, despotic behaviour exhibited by the Executive, in conspiracy with the CBN and the Legislature, each group only interested in furthering its own purpose!

“Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people…..” (President Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863). Has this truly obtained in Nigeria since our return to democracy in 1999? With our politicians’ penchant for vote buying, election rigging and other electoral malpractices, how many people in elective offices are there because they actually won their elections fair and square? What we have had are civilian coups, where candidates are inflicted upon the people through crooked means, starting from within their political parties which lack internal democracy themselves. How does this then differ from a military junta coming into power by means of a coup d’etat? The civilian and military methods of assuming office may vary, but the result is more or less the same. Unwanted politicians are thrust upon us, just as the military leaders used force to impose themselves on us. Those INEC officials who assist in rigging elections, and the tribunals and courts that then declare the wrong candidates as the winners of elections, either based on one technicality or the other, or just by handing down perverse decisions, by their actions, are simply replacing the soldiers who are used to overthrow one government for another by force – civilian coup. 

It looks to me as if, we are more or less in the same boat as we were 25 years ago, only that our living conditions are worse. The Economist (Weekly Magazine) Middle East & Africa of 2/2/2023 stated thus: “Nigerians who will vote on February 25th, are poorer today than eight years ago. Much of the blame falls on the outgoing President, Muhammadu Buhari, who has governed badly during his eight years in office. Fully 89% of Nigerians think the country is heading in the wrong direction, according to Afrobarometer, a pollster. On his watch, the economy has stagnated and violence has spread…..A country that once exported security through peacekeeping missions now exports trouble, destabilising neighbours.” This is a summary of the fact that, Government has failed to achieve majority of its Chapter II constitutional aims and objectives of governance.

Just as we had power concentrated in the hands of the despotic military ruler and a few others in the military days, that is, in the hands of the top Generals and their cronies, so also does it obtain today. Contrary to Sections 1(2) (which strictly prohibits government being controlled by persons or a group of persons), 14(2)(c) &  (3) of the Constitution, aside from power residing in the hands of every leader’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ (also comprising of his cronies) since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999, most of the critical areas of governance have a semblance of being controlled by a few other groups, formed on the basis of tribe, religion, and other illogical bases aside from capability and capacity. I’m sure that, if we examine the governance structure of most States of the Federation, we will find this oligarchic type rule also replicated there. 

I see not too much of a marked difference, between the military era and what obtains now. The hero worship of President Buhari by some today, as in the days of General Abacha, and the inability to call them out to take responsibility for some of their mistakes/misgovernance (when no one is infallible, except God), either in order to get ahead politically and otherwise by boot licking and staying in good graces in the case of the former, and out of pure fear of punishment, including maiming and killing in the case of the latter, buttresses the fact that there is a similarity between the military era and so-called democratic dispensation that currently obtains in Nigeria.


The general elections are upon us, less than three weeks away; and with all that Nigerians have seen transpire in the last few months, from the party primaries to the elections, it is simply evidence of the civilian coups which I described above, already in the making, including the internal coup attempts by the APC government against its own party’s outing in the coming election, with its disastrous policies which have hurt the people really badly, namely fuel and currency redesign. Even if this situation normalises now or after the elections, much damage seems to have already been done. The confusion being generated by terms like front end, back end, server, BVAS Report, uploading etc, being orchestrated in the Election Petition Tribunal, should not be used to attempt to render the BVAS unreliable or cast aspersions on its precision, a sample of which we are already seeing, starting with the Oyetola v Adeleke case. BVAS was recently introduced by INEC as part of its electoral reform (also the Electoral Reform Act 2022), to oust controversy from elections/election petitions, why then, all this uncertainty? Nigeria, whither are we bound? As we take one step forward, we seem to take another 10 steps backwards! Though it is indisputable that Government has mostly failed in its purpose, it can also not be denied that there lies a serious deficiency in the character of  the governed, that is, we, the people. Once an opportunity presents itself, like the fuel shortage and cash crunch, we waste no time in looking for ways to take advantage of the situation to enrich ourselves, not minding what kind of pain and suffering we inflict on our fellow man. What a vicious cycle! This is, however, a story for another day.

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