The title of my article of September 6, 2017, “The return of General Buhari” was chosen advisedly. I sought to point readers to recall President Muhammadu Buhari’s history as a general and former military dictator. In my mind, Buhari’s return from his second medical vacation and specifically the tone and content of his national broadcast thereupon signaled the formal abandonment of pretenses to being a reformed democrat and marked a fundamental change in the essence and character of the regime from a civilian democratic administration, which in any event had been quite tenuous, to a full-blown authoritarian one, sustained by military power and not the consent of the governed. I have not been disappointed, unfortunately!
It is useful to lay out in full the president’s broadcast of August 21, 2017-“My dear citizens, I am very grateful to God and to all Nigerians for their prayers. I am pleased to be back on home soil among my brothers and sisters. In the course of my stay in the United Kingdom, I have been kept in daily touch with events at home. Nigerians are robust and lively in discussing their affairs, but I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far. In 2003 after I joined partisan politics, the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu came and stayed as my guest in my hometown Daura. Over two days we discussed in great depth till late into the night and analyzed the problems of Nigeria. We both came to the conclusion that the country must remain one and united. Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood. Every Nigerian has the right to live and pursue his business anywhere in Nigeria without let or hindrance. I believe the very vast majority of Nigerians share this view. This is not to deny that there are legitimate concerns. Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence. The National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse. The national consensus is that, it is better to live together than to live apart. Furthermore, I am charging the Security Agencies not to let the successes achieved in the last 18 months be a sign to relax. Terrorists and criminals must be fought and destroyed relentlessly so that the majority of us can live in peace and safety. Therefore we are going to reinforce and reinvigorate the fight not only against-elements of Boko Haram which are attempting a new series of attacks on soft targets; kidnappings, farmers versus herdsmen clashes; in addition to ethnic violence fuelled by political mischief makers. We shall tackle them all. Finally, dear Nigerians, our collective interest now is to eschew petty differences and come together to face common challenges-economic security, political evolution and integration, as well as lasting peace among all Nigerians. I remain resolutely committed to ensuring that these goals are achieved and maintained. I am so glad to be home. Thank you and may God bless our dear Nation.”
In that speech and specifically the underlined sections, Buhari spoke to intimidate and silence any dissent in the polity. He attempted to draw national “red lines” outside the ambit of the law, beyond which discourse was not permitted; sought to circumscribe “permissible” discourse to only the National Assembly and the Council of State; attempted to foist a purported private conversation between himself and a dead man, Ikemba Nnewi Odumegwu Ojukwu as representative of a national “conference”; and appeared to characterize both legitimate and illegitimate agitation as “terrorists”, “criminals”, “political mischief makers” and “irresponsible elements” charging security agencies to fight and tackle them all!
In my article, I went beyond hinting in the title about an emerging undemocratic transition; I actually wrote that, “…in a way, the person that returned from London and made that address was not an elected civilian democrat, but the military general who ruled in 1984!” Since that broadcast, Buhari has launched “Operation Python Dance” across the entire South-East region; his military has invaded communities and explicitly proclaimed a “show of force”; they have tortured civilians, making young men lie in and drink muddy water; they have reportedly shot some people dead; overawed the elected governments and governors of the South-East states compelling them to submit to military instructions and preferences; and in a Freudian moment in which the “military high command” seemed to believe it represented the “Supreme Military Council” or “Armed Forces Ruling Council” of the era of military dictatorship, they actually usurped the powers of other arms of government and purported to declare Nnamdi Kanu’s Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) a terrorist organization! The armed forces have since announced that it proposes to commence “Operation Crocodile Smile” in the South-South and South-West states imminently!
In my view, in the last month, Nigeria’s democratic consolidation has been reversed by two decades and the notion of a military government is now no longer far-fetched! Indeed conspiracy theorists might surmise that what we are witnessing is a “creeping coup” to prepare our minds for the real thing and some may see that option as the “plan B” that some cabals and hegemonic forces have arrived at!