With the 2019 general election a few months away, the penchant of the Federal Government for harassing, intimidating and oppressing rival politicians by deploying security agencies against them is fouling up the political mood of the nation. Tension enveloped the country last week when the police and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission agents besieged the Abuja homes of Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, the Senate President and his deputy, respectively, in early morning operations. Similarly, Benue State is on edge after the police allegedly aided a faction of the House of Assembly in a move to remove Governor Samuel Ortom. This is a mark of nervousness on the part of the government, although the police and officials of the Muhammadu Buhari administration have denied their involvement.
Interestingly, Saraki managed to evade the cordon, but Ekweremadu could not make it to the National Assembly that day. With Saraki presiding over plenary, 14 senators of the All Progressives Congress defected to the Peoples Democratic Party and the African Democratic Party. A similar gale of defection occurred simultaneously in the House of Representatives involving 37 lawmakers. More than this was the resort to strong-arm tactics on perceived opposition politicians.
This ugly phenomenon replicates itself whenever the four-year election cycle comes around. Perhaps, out of desperation to retain power, the incumbent government throws the rule of law overboard. The security agents act dictatorially. For the past week, police have locked down the Benue State legislature. Coincidentally, Ortom has just defected from the APC to the PDP. In May, police took over the Kano State assembly at the height of the crisis of impeachment of the Speaker, Abdullahi Ata. Ata was eventually impeached on July 30, a week after Rabiu Kwankwaso, a Kano senator, defected from the APC to the PDP. This is not peculiar to the present administration.
Throughout the Fourth Republic, Nigeria has witnessed crude politicking and abuse of state power. It is absurd, however, that the misuse of power is still rampant in Buhari’s second coming. The President campaigned for change in the last election, perhaps on the strength of the abuse he had suffered from past governments. In the build-up to 2015, the Goodluck Jonathan administration openly deployed state police/military power to undermine the coalition of opposition politicians, who fused into the APC. In a reckless abuse of military power, the Nigerian Army told a bewildered nation that Buhari had no secondary school certificate and, therefore, was not qualified to contest the presidential election. It nearly tipped the country overboard.
So, these abuses speak ill of the Buhari government. Buhari had tasted the abuse of power in 2003, when he was battling to prove that the 2003 presidential poll was rigged in favour of Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP. The police invaded the All Nigeria Peoples Party solidarity rally in Kano, firing tear gas to disrupt it. His running mate, Chuba Okadigbo, who attended the rally, died the following day. It is incomprehensible that a man who went through this experience has not taken steps to stamp out the current abuse.
Instead, a wave of abuse is sweeping through the country. On July 16, a coalition of Southern and Middle Belt Forum elders accused the Nigerian Air Force of denying landing rights to the plane ferrying them to Makurdi for a conference on restructuring Nigeria. NAF denied the allegations, however. On Buhari’s watch, the State Security Service is dabbling in petty politics. Ridiculously, the SSS enmeshed itself in the Nigeria Football Federation leadership tussle, ejecting one of the parties to the fiasco from the Glass House. Ordinarily, this is not the responsibility of the SSS but that of the police. The SSS should concern itself with its core mandate of intelligence gathering. In the July governorship election in Ekiti State, SSS officers wore masks and arrested teachers.
All this devalues Buhari’s government and severely tests his democratic credentials. Sadly, the Jonathan government acted similarly in Ekiti State, abusing police power in the 2014 governorship election. The then Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, and his Edo State counterpart, Adams Oshiomhole (now APC National Chairman), had the plane carrying them from Benin detained by the military at the Akure Airport. They were eventually barred from travelling by road to the final rally for the APC governorship candidate – Kayode Fayemi – for that June’s governorship ballot.
Amaechi, the arrowhead of the G-7 (the group of PDP governors who defected to the APC in 2013), also had a running battle with the then Commissioner of Police in Rivers State, Joseph Mbu. Mbu once barred Amaechi’s motorcade from entering the Government House. Shortly after that, police barred Amaechi and his supporters from welcoming members of the G-7 at the Port Harcourt Airport during their solidarity visit to the then governor. Ironically, government is using the same Gestapo tactics against the opposition.
This is indicative of the entrenchment of do-or-die politics in Nigeria. Because of the spoils of office, political office holders use everything at their disposal, including state security agencies, to cling on to power. The September governorship election in Osun State will give a hint of whether Buhari and his officials can curb this malady in time ahead of the polls next year. In 2014, the SSS, under Jonathan, invaded the state, their faces masked and whisked away people. This is wrong.
For Nigeria to witness true democracy, government has to give the security agencies the independence to do their jobs professionally. In the United States, all candidates are accorded police protection, no matter their party affiliations. Therefore, Nigeria’s security agencies should be accountable to the people, not to the incumbent government alone. All laws that give public officials the wiggle room to abuse the security agencies should be expunged from the books. Buhari, perceived by Nigerians as upright, should use his perceived integrity to eradicate the abuse by security agencies.