By Emmanuel Onwubiko
President Muhammadu Buhari has rounded up a recent globetrotting session, first to the United Kingdom on a two weeks’ medical vacation and then to China whereby he joined other African political office holders to go caps in hand to a parley organized by the Chinese government to announce a $60 Billion loan deals for different African economies that are in the various stages of collapse including those African Nations which are at the verge of dictatorship.
Although there are snippets of information from the presidential media office in Abuja that President Buhari is soon to jet off once more to New York to appear at the United Nations as head of the Nigerian delegation to a conference, his two high profile trips to Europe and China were heralded by events that threatens the stability of constitutional democracy in Nigeria and the aftermath is still being felt across board.
Only few days or hours after Buhari jetted off to the United Kingdom after ceremonially making his deputy, the Acting President, the secret police which is under the purview of the presidency struck at the National Assembly with 100 hooded armed operatives to stop legislators from gaining access to the expansive complex.
The invasion of the precinct of the National Assembly by the Department of State Services came against the backdrop of major political hurricane that blew across the senate of the Federal Republic characterized by the top level defections of dozens of Senators and the senate president from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
President Buhari, it would be noted rode on the back of All Progressives Congress to score a pyrrhic victory in 2015 against the incumbent president produced courtesy of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan was magnanimous in defeat and handed over power without even the faintest resistance – quite unlike the African big men who hold sway in most African Nations and are manipulating their constitutions to remain in power.
So the defection of the Senate President to Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) marked the major resurgence of the opposition party even as two serving governors of the All Progressives Congress from Sokoto and Benue cross carpeted to the Peoples’ Democratic Party. In the case of Benue, the governor has little say on his defection because his former political family the APC failed to rein in the rampaging armed Fulani herdsmen that have killed over 300 civilians and 50 soldiers and police in their attempts to seize landed assets of farmers for grazing of their cows. President Muhammadu Buhari who is Fulani and owns heads of cattle has done nothing to combate the attacks and prosecute the culprits who have continued to destroy farmlands and have killed thousands in many Christian dominated communities to an extent that the United States President Donald Trump condemned the killings and told the visiting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to put an end to it just as the US authority through their embassy had repeated similar line of concern. All these developments notwithstanding, President Buhari has continued to throw sucker punches aimed at killing constitutional democracy.
It was amidst these several revolutionary political moves, that the secret police was allegedly drafted reportedly by the vacationing president to attempt a regime change in the National Assembly.
Just before Buhari jetted off to London, he had held many high profile meetings with his party hierarchy including the garrulous national chairman Mr. Adams Oshiomhole and all the security chiefs. But the invasion of the National Assembly which is similar to an attempt to overthrow a constituted constituent part of the tripartite arms of government was roundly condemned.
The then Acting President who is the vice president to Buhari behaved like Pontius Pilate by washing his hands off the coup plot against the leadership of the National Assembly as masterminded by the DSS headed then by Buhari’s Cousin/Kinsman – Lawal Daura. But Daura reportedly informed the Acting President that he was directed to embark on that line of action by “powers from above”, meaning the vacationing president who had handed over power to his vice.
Yemi Osinbanjo did not find the explanation funny and so he engineered the dismissal of the defaulting head of DSS who nevertheless spoke to the media through a front and insisted that the invasion of the National Assembly was a general decision reached by all the relevant authorities in the Federal government headed by President Buhari.
Section 1 (2) of the constitution states clearly that: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed nor shall person or group of person take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provision of the constitution.”
Section 4 states thus: “The legislative powers of the federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in National Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of the Senate and the House of Representatives.”
In effect the invasion of the National Assembly by armed Security Operatives from the DSS amounted to an attempted coup plot. The failure to prosecute the erstwhile DSS boss and all others involved in this show of shame is tantamount to elevating impunity to the hallmark of the current administration.
The invasion by the DSS is a very fundamental sucker punch against Nigeria’s constitutional democracy amongst the several self-imposed afflictions that we have witnessed since the current government of Buhari came on board in the year 2015.
The urban dictionary told us that “Sucker Punch is one of the most common attacks that can happen in street fight. The most common scenario with a sucker punch is an attacker coming at you with his backups on his two sides, and while he is verbally attacking you, one of his friends throws a punch at you when you least expect it.”
Nigerians were shocked and showed greater apprehension that at a time most observers are expecting Nigerians to deepen the practice of constitutional democracy, that the major beneficiary of a transparent transition of power from a democratic government to another, has now become the harbinger of several sucker punches against constitutional democracy.
Nigerians were yet to recover from the shock of the near forceful overthrow of constituted democratic authority at the National Assembly by hooded armed operatives deployed by the DSS at the directive of president Buhari, the president then threw another devastating sucker punch against democracy by telling lawyers to their faces that national security takes precedence over rule of law.
The president clearly misinterpreted a ruling of the Supreme Court in a case of treason made against one of the erstwhile Niger Delta Militants Mr. Asari Dokubo. The Supreme Court could never have stated that the principle of Rule of law which is the foundational plank on which everything in the Nigerian state is built upon, is subservient to the so-called national security interest. This is because what is termed national security interest must be captured within the framework of the Rule of law.
However, President Buhari has a different idea which is not in consonance with the tenets of constitutional democracy. The Nigerian Bar Association woke up from functional slumber and took strong exception to this latest sucker punch of Buhari against the survival of constitutional democracy.
In a communiqué it issued at the end of its 58th annual General Conference that took place in Abuja, the NBA maintained that contrary to Buhari’s warped understanding of the conversation between rule of law and national security, the issues of national security must be managed within the perimeters and parameters of the rule of law.
The lawyers’ body also upbraided the President Buhari’s government over incessant disobedience of court orders.
Lawyers were not alone in raising their voices against the attacks targeted at the soul of constitutional democracy by president Buhari.
The head of the judicial arm of government known as chief justice of Nigeria in the person of Walter Onnoghen condemned the disregard for court rulings, saying it is an act of impunity that is threatening the independence of the judiciary.
The United States embassy was also quoted as condemning the escalating cases of impunity in the current administration.
The charge d’ Affaires, U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, David Young, linked the rising cases of violence by armed Fulani herdsmen to impunity which the government has failed to address.
“We must condemn those behind these terrible acts; they must be caught and prosecuted. We must break the cycle of impunity that breeds violence and leads to attacks and reprisal attacks.”
Perhaps, the greatest sucker punch of Buhari targeting Nigeria’s constitutional democracy is his continuous violation of section 14 (3) of the Nigerian constitution regarding federal character principle in cases of top level security appointments as well as other strategic picks. He has also just appointed his kinsman to be incharge of the security minting and printing press that will coordinate the printing of the sensitive materials and ballot papers to be used in the 2019 Presidential election.
Section 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution says: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
However, Buhari has concentrated all the key appointments to only Moslems and his Hausa/Fulani ethno-religious group to the dismay of the over 300 other ethnic nationalities.
His latest sucker punch was the removal of the acting Director General of the DSS Mr. Mathew Seiyefa, a Christian from the crude oil rich Niger Delta for a retiree from Kano called Yusuf Magaji Bichi.
The Southern and Middle Belt leaders criticized this illegal appointment and the concentration of security appointments to only a section.
What this latest assault to the constitution means is that the coming year 2019 election will not be free and fair because the entire security apparatuses are in the hands of Hausa/Fulani even as the hierarchy of the electoral body is in the hands of Fulani whilst the man to print the ballot papers is Buhari’s kinsman. Already, the head of INEC had made a sensational remark stating that due to insecurity he may shift the date of the election.
His statement coincided with the total concentration of the security team in the hands of one section where the president hails and also the inexplicable resurgence of boko haram terrorists hitherto said to have been technically defeated.
Observers are saying that the sudden rise of the attacks of armed boko haram may have some political nexus so as to keep the status quo in politics as it is in breach of the constitutional requirement for a mandatory election every four years in which Nigerians who owns the sovereignty of Nigeria must be allowed to decide who their political leaders for another four years would be.
These sucker punches against democracy by Buhari are reminiscent of how the dictator from Peru Mr. Alberto Fujimori started bit- by- bit to subvert democracy in his homeland and then completely overthrowing constitutional democracy on April 5th, 1992 when he illegally dissolved parliament, almost similar to the failed attempt by the 100 hooded armed security operatives deployed by the Department of State Services controlled by the presidency.
There is suspicion that Professor Yakubu Mahmood may subvert the 2019 election if it becomes crystal clear that his kinsman president Buhari may loose a free and fair contest. Already, the influential Europe based magazine The Economist has predicted that Buhari would lose the 2019 election.
Professor Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their book “How Democracies Die” alluded to a scenario resembling the widespread fear that the INEC’s boss may subvert the 2019 poll when these writers discussed a similar scenario in their book.
“To better understand how elected autocrats subtly undermine institutions, it is helpful to imagine a soccer game. To consolidate power, would – be authoritarians must capture the referees, sideline at least some of the other side’s star players, and rewrite the rules of the game to lock in their advantage, in effect tilting the playing field against their opponents.”
The above scenarios have played out on micro levels in Edo, Ondo, Ekiti elections in which INEC subverted free and fair contests and let the All Progressives Congress manipulate the electoral process. Same thing is happening now in Osun state with open pre-election vote buying clothed under some governmental context.
Sadly, Nigerians are fast asleep and snoring whilst those who control political power continues to subvert democracy with sucker punches and it would take awareness of the electorate and active resistance to tyranny to save constitutional democracy from dying. Are Nigerians ready and willing to save constitutional democracy from imminent death as a combined deadly effects of the anti-democratic sucker punches from Buhari and his blind followers? Only time shall tell.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwanigeria.com; firstname.lastname@example.org .