The dangers of repudiating history
Following early signals that the Buhari administration was not totally committed to upholding the rule of law and due process, I started writing, since 2016, to warn about the administration’s gradual descent into autocracy/dictatorship. Of course, not many people took me seriously either because they were blinded by their love and support for the president and his change agenda, or because they were oblivious of the reality at the time. Not all were unaware though. Some respected lawyers, academicians and thought leaders noticed the trend, but haven invested so much energy and reputation into the Buhari project, they could not turn their backs on him.
But much more dangerous was a belief, prevalent in Nigeria at the time, that corruption could not be effectively fought within the ambits of the rule of law. We were therefore willing to overlook the occasional disregard of the law and the judiciary and the employment of unconventional and unlawful methods in dealing with the hoard of corrupt officials in Nigeria.
However, with the recent happenings in the polity – the wilful disregard of the rule of law, wanton human rights abuses, the not-so-subtle attempts to silence all opposition and divergent voices, and to illegally remove and replace the leadership of the national assembly – Nigerians are beginning to see a pattern. And when the a democratically elected president looks all citizens in the eyes and tell them national security and public interests would come before individuals rights, then they know no one is really safe from the clutches of such a state, as the Senate President, Senators Shehu Sani, Dino Melaye and Isa Misau have discovered lately.
But Buhari didn’t just take us by surprise. He has a history which we all failed to take into account. In the run up to the 2015 general elections, I’d watched with shock and horror how we all repudiated our history – of events that happened between 1984 and 1985 – and proclaimed Buhari to be the answer to all our national woes and the best person to fix our ailing economy. Being a keen student of Nigerian government and politics, I’d read virtually every available historical account of the Buhari military regime – and there was almost a universal consensus that the regime was a major economic disaster. Unable to convince multilateral agencies to advance lines of credit to Nigeria following the regime’s stubborn refusal to countenance even a partial devaluation of the country’s currency and due to the drying up of the country’s foreign reserves in the face of declining oil prices, the regime choose rather to engage in counter-trading (or more appropriately trade by barter) where the country bartered its oil cheaply for spare parts and other raw materials to escape from its economic immobilism.
Expectedly, the measure only worsened the country’s dire economic situations. Wages still went unpaid and there were general shortages of basic commodities like rice, milk, sugar, etc and the helpless masses had to queue endlessly to get to these items. Industries had to close shop and those that managed to remain open operated at very low capacity.
Confronted by the apparent failure of its policies to revamp the economy, the regime became even more oppressive and intolerant of criticism. As Adebayo Olukoshi and Tajudeen Abdulraheem rightly noted, “The Nigerian Security Organisation’s powers were significantly expanded. Then the state began to play the old card of blaming so-called illegal ECOWAS immigrants, especially from Ghana, for the continued shortage of commodities and jobs. But the diversion created by the second mass expulsion of aliens early in 1985 was only short-lived and was soon exhausted.”
As rational explanations ran dry, repression became the norm. The famous decree 4 that prohibited journalists from reporting anything that could embarrass the regime, even if it were true, was promulgated. It did not take long before two journalists fell fowl of the law and were consequently locked up. Soldiers were sent out with whips to enforce order and discipline on the streets and ensure cleanliness in people’s homes. Special secret military tribunals were set up to try politicians accused of corruption despite protests and boycotts of the tribunals by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). The accused were all presumed guilty until they could prove their innocence, and few managed that task. Most were given ridiculously long sentences, some running into hundreds of years. Certain crimes like drug trafficking, smuggling, and oil bunkering were made to carry the death sentence and three Nigerians were retroactively executed under this law. The most sensational example of the regime’s recklessness was the botched attempted kidnap and forced repatriation of Nigeria’s former Transport Minister under the Shagari regime, Umaru Dikko, who was found drugged in a crate in a London airport that had been tagged as diplomatic baggage. This led to a break-up of diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the Britain.
Three years into Buhari’s presidency, the history we all rejected and repudiated has come back to haunt us. Just like 1984/85, we have had to endure the worst economic recession in Nigeria in almost 30 years, watched as hyper-inflation and rapid depreciation of the naira erode the spending power of Nigerians and threw millions of Nigerians into extreme poverty. Even, various attempts have been made to bring back the infamous “Decree 4” in form of the “Anti Social Media Bill”. With the president’s stand on the rule of law, Nigerians should be ready for a full blown dictatorship in his second term – and perhaps after.
There are feelers that some persons are working on a life presidency project for the president. Recently, the APC candidate for the Senatorial bye-election in Bauchi south, Lawal Yahaya-Gusau stated explicitly that he had only one agenda for seeking to go to the senate – to work towards a constitutional amendment to pave the way for Buhari to become president-for-life. Yahaya-Gusau did win the election and there has been no word of caution or denunciation from either the party or the presidency. Considering how Obasanjo’s third-term project started, we will be foolish to dismiss Yahaya-Gusau’s campaign promise as wishful thinking.
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