By Shaka Momodu
It was Andrew Napolitano, a former US judge and now Fox News analyst who wrote sometime ago, at the height of claims that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) might have abused its powers by inserting a spy/spies in the Trump Campaign Organisation to gather intelligence about its contacts and interactions, that “liberty is rarely lost overnight. The wall of tyranny often begins with benign building blocks of safety — each one lying on top of a predecessor — eventually collectively constituting an impediment to the exercise of free choices by free people, often not even recognised until it is too late”.
Recently, Nathan Robinson, the editor of Current Affairs also issued a dire warning, closely following Napolitano’s observation, when a section of the United States media was gleefully celebrating Julian Assange’s arrest for exposing US government’s secrets. According to him, “Authoritarianism doesn’t come all at once. It creeps slowly, normalising itself bit by bit, until you don’t realise that it’s too late.” First they came for Assange, and if you said nothing, they’re coming for you next, he signed off.
Nigeria is in a perilous state and the limited freedom we all once knew and enjoyed is being systematically taken away from us by the All Progressives Congress (APC). They are not afraid of any consequences because there are none. Once you’re a supporter of the APC, you have a licence to kill, rig, and disrupt elections or commit any crime and go scot-free. We are witnessing a chilling rise in government intolerance and the gradual emasculation of all the institutions of state meant to protect our democracy and freedoms.
The judiciary and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been effectively captured and commandeered by the APC-led government to do its bidding. While the security forces aid and abet electoral fraud, INEC rubber-stamps the heist, subject to the dictates of the powers that be. There is now a complete erosion of trust and confidence in the judiciary, not seen even in the military era. Osun and Kano judgments upholding the governorship elections remain a stain on the credibility of the judiciary.
It is now an open season on Nigerians, as impunity and lawlessness reign in the land. What is happening appears to be a prelude to the political architecture of a bigger and more ominous plan; the foundation to prepare grounds for this sinister and frightening endpoint – the rumoured third term agenda which the government has vehemently denied is being boldly laid brick by brick. Make no mistake here, the ruling APC-led government is willing to test the limits of the people’s tolerance of its lawlessness and will push as far it can even at the point of plunging the country into crises with unimaginable consequences to achieve its mission. It has proved it is ready to unleash violence on voters just to retain power. What is happening now appears to be a dress rehearsal for what is to come in 2023.
My observation dovetails into the statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari’s former supporter and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana. He was quoted to have made this frightening observation: “Our country has gone to the dogs and the media must help. That is why the war is against the media because for the 2023 race, the media must be silenced. You may have a third term campaign very soon. Very soon, they are going to destroy all possible opponents and they have started. So by the time they bring in the third term agenda, the media would have gone but we are not going to allow it.”
The Hate Speech Bill designed to regulate or to stymie freedom of expression is another lethal weapon in Buhari’s unspoken agenda to further the strangulation of the media as many have pointed out. I believe his record with the Decree No. 4 of 1984 that forbade any journalist from reporting information considered embarrassing to any government official is instructive here. We should look at his contempt for free speech which dates back over 36 years. It is instructive that Buhari was packaged and presented to Nigerians in 2015 as a reformed democrat. Some of us cautioned then that you cannot present a man to be who he is not. Though he still pretends to be a democrat, he conveniently looks the other way as security operatives and APC’s thugs molest and prevent Nigerians from exercising their democratic right to elect leaders of their choice.
As I said earlier in this article, the tell-tale signs are all too visible to ignore. A man who is preparing to leave power would be thinking of an endearing legacy to bequeath to his country. But we are seeing a rise in institutional abuses and a total disregard for due process of law which bolsters the growing whispers that Buhari has NO plans to vacate power beyond his constitutional term limit. It is a frightening prospect.
Only the extremely naïve will wave this off as a fabrication of alarmists or another wailing wailer bellyaching cry. We ignored obvious red flags in 2015, and see where it has landed us. The antecedents of APC’s cardinals speak loudly to what is to come. These people whimsically refused to deepen our democracy that was already raring to go and even discontinued the reform of the electoral system on very flimsy excuses. All the moderate gains of 16 years of democracy under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been rolled back by these political buccaneers masquerading as progressive democrats. We have seen how people were prevented from freely exercising their right to vote and the systematic rigging of elections by a party that has clearly been emboldened by the public persona of the president to take no prisoners. The latest in a series of electoral heists just took place in Kogi and Bayelsa states. According to reports, police helicopters were used to scare voters away from various centres for men in dark tinted SUVs to move in, snatch voting materials and disappear.
Buhari is prepared to look the other way while his cabal deploys the full powers of his office to rig elections all around the country and achieve big wins for his party. Then he emerges from his cocoon all smiles, to immediately congratulate his party’s victorious candidates and receives them in the Presidential Villa. He advises opposition candidates that lost to go to court where he knows full well they will not get justice (somebody joked recently that he doubles as the Chief Justice of Nigeria). This is his modus operandi and this is how he will feign ignorance while his cabal in collusion with the National Assembly will execute his third term agenda for him.
By now, I think even the blind can see through Buhari’s flimsy excuses for refusing to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, and the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria. Elections under Buhari are tantamount to war. Gradually, electoral violence, thuggery, ballot-box snatching, grand theft of the people’s mandate, vote allocation and outright vote buying with official imprimatur either through the nebulous Trader Moni or the pay-as-you-vote system at various polling units, all with the active involvement and connivance of soldiers, police, navy, Air Force etc., have been deeply entrenched by the APC.
Subverting the free expression of the people’s will amounts to a coup. Only that this time, we did not hear martial music or witness the seizure of radio/television stations and other strategic government assets like in the past. These people have got wiser with time. Buhari’s coup against the people has evolved into using security operatives to rig elections. Voting under Buhari is now tantamount to going to the front line. Tragically, the man once claimed that he was coming to restore sanity, he also claimed to be fighting corruption, but he is today celebrating impunity and backslapping his foot soldiers for delivering on his body language. It is an irony of immense proportion that the same Buhari who for several election cycle cried out loud even when he clearly lost, that he was rigged out in the elections he participated in is today superintending over a thoroughly corrupt, violence laden electoral process. In several places results declared where thugs and security operatives prevented elections from holding. He and his party are now big beneficiaries of election rigging. And it’s all smiles at the result.
If his intentions were genuine, how on earth could he not have been aware of what the APC has done? Did he not read the papers or see video footage and media coverage of what happened? Was he not given full security briefing, or because of the involvement of security operatives there was no need to do a security report? How can he even be celebrating this monumental travesty of our elections? Can our democracy survive Buhari? His silence while his party used the country’s security forces and thugs to kill, maim and destroy the integrity of elections in the country speaks powerfully to the fact that this man green-lighted the abuses that took place. He has emboldened people to carry out grievous acts, viz. thuggery, vandalism, intimidation, snatching of election materials, and disruption of voting and killing of voters. His recent statement after the Bayelsa and Kogi heists is a mocking endorsement of how his party subverted the supreme will of the people. He knows full well his presidency has commandeered the judiciary, and the courts under him don’t dispense justice anymore; they rely on technicalities to dismiss cases. Nothing will deviate from the script. There will be no surprises and going to court is a sheer waste of time, especially with his chief justice at the helm.
Buhari celebrating Yahaya Bello’s landslide? A man, unarguably the worst-performing governor in a generation, a man that owes workers years of unpaid salaries and pensions, a governor who has impoverished his people won a landslide? Do elections really have meaning to these people? Do votes count at all to Buhari and his fellow APC people? Does he believe those outlandish election results? I am just flabbergasted. So deep down in the president’s mind he believes the people of Kogi chose to continue on the path of suffering under Yahaya Bello? Workers preferring to go home at the end of each month without salaries under Bello? Well maybe, Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai’s appeal to Kogi people to forgive Bello for his poor performance did the magic and the people decided to be generous in forgiveness by giving him a landslide return?
Under Buhari, the Kogi State House of Assembly set a new record in what a commentator described as “impunity at its finest”. For the first time in our democracy, the House, succumbing to the bullying governor and in clear violation of the Constitution, impeached the deputy governor, Mr Simon Achuba despite having been cleared of all charges by an impeachment inquiry that investigated the allegations of gross misconduct that were levelled against him. What did Buhari do? He looked the other way. He did not rise to defend the constitution. What of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami? All the nation got was radio silence from him. The cowed chief judge of the state got the message and proceeded to swear in a new deputy governor handpicked by the governor. Something must be wrong with the black man.
Omoyele Sowore’s continued detention despite meeting his bail conditions is another evidence of this government’s lawlessness. The Department of State Security (DSS) had tried to shift responsibility for the continued detention of Sowore to his lawyers, that there was nobody to hand him over to. But the guys that appeared at DSS office to take Sowore were sprayed with bullets and teargas. Seeing that, that lie had fallen flat, it made a U-turn to say Sowore and others asked to be detained in its custody in preference for Kuje Prison because of the privileges they enjoy in its custody. Well, the latest in a series of comical claims is that DSS has just told the world that Sowore is still plotting and “mobilising Nigerians for violence and revolution against the government via telephone” from detention.
These people just can’t get a straight story. So DSS has only just realised this after its lies about not seeing anyone to release Sowore to exploded in its face? Even a child can see through these lies. It should release evidence of how and who he was mobilising because many of us don’t believe its new claim which is just a pretext to continue to hold him against court orders. It appears DSS is not only trying to get a witness to sing, but to compose a song.