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One thing that has been clear since last year’s inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s President is that he does not feel comfortable with the way the judiciary and the legislature overrule him on many issues. Left to him, the moment he pronounces anyone guilty, that person should be jailed. And if he does not like any law of the land, he should be able to amend it or repeal it and proceed as he wishes without having to get the permission of the National Assembly.
Unfortunately, that is not the situation. And one can see that the President does not feel happy with this situation.
In August, Buhari asked for emergency powers to tackle the economy. That did not sail through. Some devil’s advocates have even asked that the constitution be suspended to give him a free hand to rule the nation.
Next week (December 14), it will be one year since the Nigerian Army invaded the homes of members of the Shia Muslims in Kaduna, shot a minimum of 347 dead, and took away the leader of the group, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife. For that one year, neither the government nor the army has uttered a word about the whereabouts of El-Zakzaky or why he is being detained without any legal backing. But most curiously, in that one year, El-Zakzaky was never charged to court, neither did the government obtain a court order authorising it to detain him for security reasons in line with the constitution. He was just taken away, locked away and kept out of circulation as “His Excellency” pleases.
Last week, following a case filed by El-Zakzaky, the court ordered that he be released unconditionally within 45 days and that a house be built for him in addition to a payment of N50m damages to him. These are some of the reasons Buhari does not like the courts and the National Assembly. When he tries to do things “in the national interest,” these two arms of government come up with their own decisions that run counter to his views. This was how he wanted to borrow $29.96bn in October and the National Assembly shot it down. Imagine such effrontery! Questioning and thwarting the plans of the President!
Similarly, a former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd.), was arrested on December 1, 2015 over the alleged misappropriation of the funds meant for arms procurement, while Mr. Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra was arrested on October 14, 2015. One year after, there is no concrete sign to show that the Federal Government is keen on seeing them tried in the law court. It seems the Federal Government is more concerned about ensuring that their cases are delayed as long as possible. Therefore, the government employs tactics like amending the charges, dropping some counts, adding fresh ones, and asking for endless adjournments. Given the weight of the accusation against Dasuki and the hoopla that has been raised about it, one would have thought that the government would be eager to start the court case, so as to quickly find Dasuki and all his accomplices guilty and jail them, to serve as a warning to everybody. The same goes for Kanu and the weight of accusation against him.
But it seems the government does not want to try them. It just feels satisfied having them locked up and denied any opportunity to get bail, no matter how many times the courts grant them bail. In addition, the Federal Government has applied to have veiled witnesses appear against the two. One wonders what it is hiding that it cannot try these two with witnesses who are not masked, given its claim that it has a mountain of evidence against them.
Why is President Buhari not eager to see these men face trial in a court of law? The reason is simple. He is not certain that the court will find these men guilty. In his media chat last year – the only one in his 19 months in office – he made it clear that these men were guilty. If the court finds them innocent and discharges them, that will not make him happy. So, the only alternative is to personally “punish” them by keeping them in detention as long as he is in office, to teach them a lesson, while demonising them by periodically releasing information that paints them in bad light.
Given his antecedents with court orders, it is unlikely that Buhari will obey last week’s order made by the court on El-Zakzaky. He will find a way around it, and it will be justified by those who make it their duty to justify anything the President does.
But one thing that cannot be denied President Buhari is his ability to speak as his mind thinks, without trying to be politically correct or diplomatic. Buhari is an open book that is easy to read and understand. That is why in close to two years, he has only had one media chat in Nigeria. But any time he travels out – especially to the Western Hemisphere – he is compelled to address people and respond to their questions, and such forums usually produce one statement considered as a gaffe. That was how gaffes about those who gave him 97 per cent vote versus those who gave him five per cent arose as well as the gaffe on his wife belonging to his kitchen, his sitting room and the other room. But in Nigeria where he can avoid live interviews or ex tempore speeches, he avoids them because his blunt comments may run against public opinion.
Buhari’s democratic and human rights record since last year has been abysmal. The recent indictment of the Nigerian Army under his watch by Amnesty International on the killing of 150 IPOB civilians was another dent on his record. The report showed that soldiers shot at civilians who had gathered to pray, killed those who were already injured and arrested, and poured acid on some injured people to intensify their pain and hasten their death. IPOB said that contrary to the 150 reported killed by Amnesty International, 2,000 of their members have been killed in the last one year by security agents. The Shiites have been killed in similar fashion since last year. And all this is happening in a democracy under a civilian President.
Interestingly, when IPOB members were being killed last year, some Shiites justified it or kept quiet because IPOB members were Igbo and Christians. Now that the killings have affected them, they have begun to raise their voices against the killing of civilians. Many other Nigerians who are neither Igbo nor Shiites are either justifying the killings or looking the other way. In line with the “Turn by Turn Nigeria Limited,” coined by Chief Bode George during the first term of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president, who knows when the killings will be their turn? It may be students protesting. It may be mothers protesting. It may be people protesting electoral fraud. Then the silent Nigerians will find their voices.
It reminds us of the famous poem by Martin Niemöller on the systematic, group-by-group repression by the Nazis:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.