Editor’s Note: Oraye St. Franklyn, a member of Amnesty International in this opinion lists seven reasons why President Muhammadu Buhari is a threat to democracy in Africa.
If anyone believed that Nigeria’s former military despot and current President, Muhammadu Buhari who was elected through what many still consider a controversial election, was a changed man with the credential to drive change in Nigeria, recent happenings in the country prove without a shadow of doubt that just like the proverbial saying, that a leopard cannot change its spots, Mr. Buhari has confirmed the fears expressed by his critics as being of the same mould as he was during his military dictatorship in Nigeria; an era that saw many Nigerians face the most draconian hardship and human rights violations by the government in the history of the country.
Although currently, the ramifications of his various antidemocratic actions and inactions have left many within the country seemingly benumbed, given the brazen audacity of his atrocious exploits within a democracy, the actions nevertheless pose grave danger to democracy within the African continent, which by an unintended import is the greatest risk of Mr. Buhari’s antidemocratic governmental actions.
The reasons adduced in this piece are among the lot of embarrassing complexities to bring to the fore the grave danger Africa faces, if Mr. Muhammadu Buhari continues to enjoy the support of Western democracies in spite of his dictatorial leadership.
1. COMPROMISED INSTITUTIONS AND THE DISDAIN FOR THE RULE OF LAW
In what is akin to the era of the self-styled dictator of Uganda, Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, has completely neutralised the independence of State institutions and usurped their powers as his for personal gains.
From Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which at one time was headed by one who is reportedly a family relative of his, Amina Zakari, and continues to exert undue influence within the Commission as a National Commissioner in the organisation, to the Department of State Services (DSS) headed by another relative of his and stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress, which now serves as the Secret Police of the government by which all manner of unimaginable atrocities are meted at opposition voices and perceived enemies of the government including innocent Judges who refuse to subvert the course of justice as demanded by the government; State institutions have become, more or less, appendages of the office of the President whose orders have assumed the place of law, a practice that is a far-cry from the gains achieved by previous presidents of the country, especially the immediate past President, Goodluck Jonathan.
Today’s Nigeria is reminiscent of the dark days of military dictatorship under Buhari. Judges are being framed, tortured and their houses broken into by Nigeria’s secret police, the DSS. Enemies of the State – that is, personal enemies of the President – are being framed and perpetually detained in spite of court orders ordering their release from detention. The case of Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser under former President Goodluck Jonathan, is a major reference point. In spite of several court orders ordering his bail, Mr. Buhari has refused to bulge and continues to hold him as his personal detainee on what many believe are trumped-up charges.
Buhari’s disdain for the rule of law is also well established in his interest and handling of the case against Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra cause. Mr. Buhari is said to be so miffed at the idea that society and not just the law considers the right to bail for Kanu for advocating for self determination, this is in spite of the fact that Kanu is yet to be convicted for any known crime in Nigeria. On a live television broadcast, Mr. Buhari questioned the right to bail for Kanu, an action that undermines Kanu rights, which serves as a pointer to Mr. Buhari’s extrajudicial disposition to governance and is believed to be the reason behind Mr. Kanu’s continued incarceration and stalling trial just like that of Mr. Sambo Dasuki. The situation is so bad that the presumption of innocence of accused persons in Nigeria’s legal jurisprudence has been upturned by the Buhari regime which presumes guilt on the accused and thereafter embarks on a criminal prosecution which places the burden on the accused to prove his innocence; a complete aberration and marked deviation from norms of jurisprudence and the rule of law in Nigeria.
2. CORRUPTION AND THE FALSE FIGHT AGAINST IT
Mr. Buhari’s ride to power, in spite of the controversies surrounding his election was largely efficacious on account of his promise and the expectation of both Nigerians, including the global community, that he would tackle corruption. Almost two years after, there appears little or nothing to show of a determined institutions-based and scientific approach to tackling corruption.
What Nigerians have witnessed is a systematic clampdown on opposition voices, stalwarts of the former ruling Party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including the former President, his wife Patience Jonathan and their associates on completely false and misleading allegations. There are even concerns in some quarters that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), headed by a core Northerner just like Buhari himself, as do other major institutions, is being used as a hatchet organisation to demarket the South and compromise its economy in favour of the North. These concerns are strengthened by the attack on businesses owned by Nigerians of the South, while Northern interests continue to thrive.
Many also believe that the interest expressed by Mr. Aliko Dangote, Africa’s riches man, suggesting to the Federal Government that the country’s assets like its Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility should be put up for sale, is part of a grand plot by the North to take control of the economic base of the country in addition to its current hold of political power.
The greatest prejudice to the mouthed fight against corruption by the Buhari regime is its population by endemically corrupt individuals, many of whom either have cases in court on corruption or have been indicted for it. Chief among the lot is the former Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi whose disastrous legacies as Governor of one of Nigeria’s richest States has pitched him against the people he once governed and continues to be the reason many consider him as Buhari’s albatross. Amaechi, who sits as Nigeria’s minister for Transportation in the Buhari government and is believed to be one of Buhari’s biggest sponsors to the Presidency, has been indicted for corruption by the Rivers State Government.
The presence of Mr. Amaechi in Buhari’s cabinet makes mockery of his fight against corruption and is considerably a witch-hunt of his perceived enemies and political opponents. Amaechi has been named by Judges, including a Supreme Court Judge as attempting to induce them to subvert the course of justice. Although be denied the allegation, very little is left of credibility in him to support such denial.
3. FUNDAMENTALIST APPROACH TO GOVERNANCE
If Nigerians would remember anything of value from the immediate past administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, it would be that he led a government that had high regard for the rule of law, which also strengthened the practice of democracy in Nigeria.
Just two years after Jonathan’s exit, there is a marked deviation from globally accepted democratic norms in Nigeria. Buhari’s regime displays total disregard for democracy and, beyond being high handed, promotes a fundamentalist disposition to governance.
From the records, there’s virtually no conceivable way that the regime hasn’t assaulted democracy. The idea that elections are the expression of the will and mandate of the vast majority of the people, something that used to be taken for granted in Nigeria, has become wishful thinking. The Buhari regime goes all out to undermine the credibility of elections and even uses the military to molest citizens in a bid to suppress the will of the people and scuttle their mandates. Not even upright judges have been spared. Only recently, homes of judges were broken into by the secret police of the President and Judges, including respected Justices of the Supreme Court were abducted and framed up for not undermining election-related and high profile cases before them, as indirectly directed by the government.
Rivers State, an important oil bearing State with vast wealth has also come under intense fire, as in credit to Buhari’s antidemocratic tendencies and compromises of State Institutions, it remains the only State, to this day, nearly 2 years into the administration that is without representation at the Nigerian Senate and largely at the House of Representatives just because Buhari is bent on having his way by planting both a Governor and legislators from his Party, the All Progressives Congress, against the wishes of Rivers people.
Some may argue that Buhari cannot be directly held to account for the various atrocious incidents that continue to cast him in bad light. As laudable as such a thinking might be, it falls short of credibility and substance. Mr. Buhari cannot but take responsibility for the actions of his appointees and acolytes. Besides, why does the public angst against the prevailing win-at-all-cost approach to politics fall on deaf ears? Can Mr. Buhari also claim ignorance of what is being done to Rivers State? Can he say he is unaware of the recurrent redeployment of security chiefs from the State after very short stays, a practice that, in itself, compromises the Security of the State? Has any word been uttered about the shambolic election that held in Edo in which voters were not only glaringly disenfranchised but of which the results weren’t reflective of the votes cast in spite of its criticism by the African Union? Do these actions have any place in a democracy? Why is the international community quiet about them? Is there a global conspiracy to compromise Nigeria’s democracy?
4. RELIGIOUS CONQUEST
It is widely believed that at the heart of the agenda of the Buhari administration is a sinister plot to conquer southern Nigeria as an extension of the Utman Dan Fodio caliphate of Northern Nigeria. While indeed, there is no real proof of this plot, the pro-Islamic character of the government along with the brazen divisiveness that the President personally promotes against the Southern Nigerians, it is difficult to completely discountenance such plots.
The plot is further complicated by the unrestrained inroads of Fulani herdsmen into the south, freely killing and maiming innocent Nigeria’s whilst claiming a right to graze farmlands and crops of communities across the South. In response to the infringement of the rights of people by Fulani herdsmen, rather than address the crimes perpetrated by them, the government is moving to grant them grazing rights of occupancy of the farmlands and Indigenous communities in the South; thus likely preparing the grounds for full occupancy of such areas. Where in the world does that happen?
Meanwhile Churches in the North continue to be attacked and Christian underaged girls are ceaselessly being abducted by Islamic fundamentalists for brides against their rights. Some have even alleged that the famous Chibok abduction of hundreds of christian girls from their predominantly Christian community can at best be viewed from the prism of religious conquest. Yet, the government continues to keep mute about these things. Even lip service would have sufficed as a measurable means of cover-up.
5. SUBJUGATION OF WOMEN
Mr. Buhari’s recent visit to Angela Merkel of Germany and his comment while standing by one of the most influential women in the world, that his wife, who by effect represents the Nigerian woman, has no place in politics but in the bedroom and kitchen, is by far the most damning effort by any African President in recent history to undermine women’s rights and further subjugate them under the throes of shackling and limiting religious and social burdens.
Besides, the fact that the comment was an insult on women around the world, including his host, a female world leader, Buhari used the opportunity of the world stage to entrench the subjugation of the African woman at a time the global community is pushing for the equality of rights between women and men. If that comment was not a danger to African women, then nothing can endanger their rights to equality with men in society.
6. BAD MODEL FOR AFRICAN DEMOCRACY
It is an open secret that President Obama’s reluctance to visit Nigeria in the entire duration of his term was because such a visit would be viewed as an endorsement of a bad model for African democracy. Whether that is the case or not, given the gains achieved by former President Goodluck Jonathan in strengthening the country’s democracy, what is currently happening in the country is enough to cause global shivers among world leaders.
Nigeria has slipped into dictatorship. Elections are now selections by the President or his acolytes save for some States like Rivers, Bayelsa and the South Eastern States among others where the populace have defied the antidemocratic actions of the Federal Government but not without monumental losses including the loss of lives.
Who would have thought that at this time of civilization and the fancy and appreciation of democracy, Nigerians would be killed or die to cast their votes and ensure that they count. It’s an unfortunate scenario. If allowed to thrive without check by the global community, it would serve as inspiration to African leaders to toe the path of dictatorship.
7. THE STRATEGIC INFLUENCE OF NIGERIA IN AFRICA AND THE WORLD
A thriving Nigerian dictatorship is a threat to world peace and democracy in Africa. The compromised National Institutions and clearly biased government being led by President Buhari amidst the dubious silence by Western democracies over the breaches of human rights and democratic norms can serve as impetus to other African leaders to toe the path of dictatorship.
It is for this reason and more that world leaders, especially American and British leaders who played key roles in the emergence of Mr. Muhammadu Buhari must rise to condemn his draconian leadership. Human rights are universal and inalienable. The infringement of the rights of people in Nigeria is becoming a norm.
The ramification is dangerous for the African continent given the strategic influence and important to Nigeria in the continent. A bad model must not be allowed to thrive. The ball is in the court of those who hold democratic ideals as cherished ideals and a part of global best practices for all nations without exception.
Oraye St. Franklyn, a member of Amnesty International, writes from Okrika, Niger Delta, Nigeria.