Democracy Floundering As Nigeria Becomes a Police State
By Idowu Akinlotan
In 2015, during what was reported as a clash between Shiite members and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State, some 347 Shiites were massacred. Nigerians feebly protested the grotesque use of force, with Kaduna State government, which consented to the mass burial of the victims in two graves, applauding the bloodshed and threatening further show of force in a democracy. Dozens more Shia Muslims members have been mowed down in other protests.
On August 6, 2019, soldiers attacked and killed three policemen and a civilian on Ibi road in Taraba State to free a kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Bala, alias Wadume. They blamed communication gap, but have so far, more than one year later, resisted putting the soldiers on trial. And for a military force still reeling under allegations by Amnesty International of carrying out series of extrajudicial murder, troops on September 8, 2020 extracted bandit leader Terwase Akwasa, alias Gana, from a government convoy en route to embrace amnesty and shot him dead. Again troops implausibly claimed the death occurred during exchange of gunfire.
It has become clear that while an elected government is in office, behaving less and less elected and more and more autocratic, the military has at another visible level carried on as an independent entity neither answerable to the law and the government nor to the constitution. Protests against their highhandedness have become frustratingly empty, and soldiers themselves, like policemen who perpetrate their own unique atrocities, have become more emboldened in defying the law and constitution.
The Army established a university even before the appropriate enabling acts were passed, and sited it in the army chief’s home state, Borno. An Air Force university called the Air Force Institute of Technology, reconfigured from existing service training school (320 Technical Training Group), was also established in the Air Chiefs home state. Why the Joint Chiefs chairman, and the police and naval chief s have not followed suit is incomprehensible. But as if these institutions would be run on subventions from donor agencies from abroad, another institution, this time named after the serving army chief himself, and dedicated to the study of war and peace, has been erected and commissioned in his hometown. Things have never fallen so low or so curious. Never.
Throughout the First Republic, no politician or leader built or sited a university in his hometown, not to talk of naming the institution after himself. But in the past few years, standards have fallen so appallingly that no moral compass is discernible anywhere. The Transportation minister recently and unabashedly sited a Transportation university in the president’s hometown, Daura, and dared anyone to fault his logic or match his sycophancy. The values upon which public service were moored for decades in Nigeria, and only flouted occasionally and sometimes surreptitiously, have disappeared and given way to flagrant abuses sustained increasingly by a plethora of repressive laws and defiant abuse of the rights of individuals. More, these abuses are anchored on the deliberate enthronement of one-sided and divisive appointments that have seen many policies and security agencies ethnically and provocative skewed. Worse, poets who compose harsh poems against public officials, and musicians who produce censorious songs against the government are routinely arrested, oppressed and classified as capital felons.
Many so-called progressive governors perpetrate some of the worst and most atrocious crimes against the constitution. Whether in Zamfara and Edo, Katsina and Kano, or Kaduna and Kogi, free speech is either reinterpreted or denied altogether. Opposing the government at state and federal levels has become a risky enterprise. Ministers submit to hysteria and blatantly encourage the subjugation of citizens and the constitution that guarantees their rights.
The former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and their last president, Goodluck Jonathan, were regarded as incompetent and illiberal. Perhaps. But they can’t compete with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in autocracy and, increasingly, in incompetence. Indeed, the ruling APC has so divided the country, abused the rights of citizens, turned presidential spokesmen into demagogues and trivialised governance to the point that they seem to be encouraging either massive revolt before 2023 or revolt against their party at the next general election.
Despite their best efforts and the rhetoric of their demagogic spokesmen, the presidency and many state governments have become hostile to democracy. They, and particularly the government in Abuja, are sustaining themselves and their programmes not by innovative public finance management but by the most simplistic and destructive policy of accumulating public and especially foreign loans.
The Muhammadu Buhari presidency has for instance in five years borrowed nearly 60 percent of the foreign loans its predecessors borrowed in 16 years. They defend the loans, including the abominable conditions upon which they were secured, and insisted that since it would be used for productive and visible projects, particularly infrastructural projects, it was alright, regardless of the crippling cost of servicing the loans. They are even prepared to binge on more loans.
APC’s brinkmanship is numbing. It is true that electricity tariff review was due this year. But with single-minded recklessness, the government chose this year to also scrap the controversial and fraudulent fuel subsidy regime that grew into monstrous levels during the Jonathan years. Both electricity and fuel price increases are indefensible; but the timing of the increase, especially in the face of widespread poverty and lack of social safety nets, is even more reckless. The consequences will be found not in street protests, to which Nigerians have become inured and the government desensitised, but in higher and more dangerous and convoluted forms of insecurity. The poor and hungry will make homes, highways, public offices, private sector, and the moral pivot upon which all these sectors turn to be completely insecure. Kidnapping, armed robbery and corruption will become intractable and ubiquitous. Increasing police and military recruitment, apart from running them incompetently despite their rising number, is a fruitless exercise. Hospitals remain broken, schools are decrepit, and roads have become death traps. These problems and challenges call for the most innovative thinking by any government. Instead, these challenges are met by incompetence, conservatism and deliberate perversion of values. If the government does not change tack and call for help, they will birth disaster.
It is perhaps after viewing these challenges and the increasing helplessness and recklessness of the government that former president Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja last Thursday warned that Nigeria was becoming a failed and divided state. It is likely he will be ignored again, as the Buhari presidency has repeatedly done to all the former president’s warnings. But despite his personal failings and foibles, including his antidemocratic outlook, Chief Obasanjo is right. He says Nigeria is failing. The country actually manifests almost all the indices of failure. It has little control of its police or military, both of which act above the law and spend on non-essentials at a time of war. The state — both federal and state — routinely reinterprets, misinterprets and abuses the rights of citizens, while the hamstrung legislature and castrated judiciary squirm in helplessness. Endless constitution reviews, begun decades ago, have been emplaced and now almost institutionalised at a huge cost and to no significant purpose.
Meanwhile the cost of governance has recklessly ballooned. For a country that needs urgent, deep and fundamental restructuring to stave off apocalypse, the government prefers to engage in disputes over terms and terminologies as well as tinker.
Chief Obasanjo is right to warn of state failure, but few, not the least the Buhari government, will listen to him. The former president had during a consultative dialogue in Abuja last Thursday said that, “I do appreciate that you all feel sad and embarrassed as most of us feel as Nigerians with the situation we find ourselves in.
Today, Nigeria is fast drifting to a failed and badly divided state; economically our country is becoming a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and socially, we are firming up as an unwholesome and insecure country. And these manifestations are the products of recent mismanagement of diversity and socio-economic development of our country. Old fault lines that were disappearing have opened up in greater fissures and with drums of hatred, disintegration and separation and accompanying choruses being heard loud and clear almost everywhere.” Chief Obasanjo’s person can be faulted, and his motives derided. But his observations and logic in this instance are unimpeachable. Nigeria borrows grains from ECOWAS and welcomes donation of cereals, borrows money at humiliating terms and costs, can’t deploy its police efficiently, engages in meaningless military spending, sometimes without appropriation, cannot discipline erring security officers, and has no clue why insecurity has become so rampant or how to deal with it beyond the customary deployment of soldiers in trouble spots.
The light of democracy in Nigeria is all but extinguished. Nothing came out of the massacre of hundreds of Shiites in Zaria, Abuja and Kaduna city. Boko Haram militants will continue to be rehabilitated, perhaps occasionally given the kind of heroic welcome they got at Dapchi, Yobe State. The blatant extrajudicial murder of Benue militant leader Akwasi, who was in a government convoy on the way to embrace amnesty, has probably cost the military their hard-earned positive image secured during and immediately after the civil war. Nothing will come out of the extra-judicial murder, nor do the military care. They and the police are now officially above the law and the constitution, and the country has become a police state. Extra-judicial killings will continue, self-determination groups peacefully agitating for autonomy will be crushed, and the legislature will simply look askance and bemused.
The judiciary was destroyed after 2015. It is now a divided, largely sectarian establishment neither useful to itself nor to the country. Appointment of judges will be determined by lobbying and favouritism, with fine judges compromised by the horrendous influence peddling going on in those secretive quarters.
It is a cruel disservice to Nigeria to argue that the country is not a failed state or on the way to failure. Indeed, more atrocities should be expected. Arrests of all kinds should be anticipated, for the rights of citizens have become a meaningless constitutional expression. The economy will continue to be mismanaged, and critics will be silenced. But more critics will rise up, and will also be crushed. The country has a constitution; but this now amounts to nothing in the face of a relentless and unsparing anti-democratic government. Chief Obasanjo may have helped lay the foundation for the monstrosity the country is witnessing, but his warnings are reasonable and urgent.
The fear now is that it may be too late — late for the country, and late for democracy whose light is flickering. For no one, it seems, can restrain those in whose hands the levers of power reside. What is worse is that in the months leading to 2023, if that transition can be delivered safely, the country should expect more impunity and subterfuge from the top, subterfuge so brazen that it will attempt to concretise ethnic, religious and all forms of divisions.
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