In President Muhammadu Buhari’s first tenure, he bitterly complained that the Legislature and the Judiciary were not cooperating with him and were therefore a clog in his wheel of progress. He tried everything possible to muzzle the judiciary by having his security agents to invade the homes of judges at night on the allegations of corruption. He tried everything possible to remove the leadership of the Senate led by Bukola Saraki.
The National Assembly complex as well as the homes of the leadership of the Senate was invaded by the security agencies. The mace of the Senate was stolen in broad daylight by some thugs with no action taken against the perpetrators known to all and sundry. Incidentally, the efforts against the judiciary and the legislature did not yield the required results.
Then in January this year, an allegation of false declaration of assets was brought against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. Speedily, without following the right procedure, the Chief Justice was suspended and an acting Chief Justice in the person of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad was promptly sworn in. Later, Onnoghen was eased out and Muhammad was confirmed as the substantive CJN in July.
Similarly, when the Ninth Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was inaugurated on June 11, Buhari ensured that his nominees were elected as the Senate President, Deputy Senate President and well as Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. With that, Buhari has his preferred candidates in charge of the leadership of the Legislature and Judiciary, thereby crippling the principle of separation of powers upon which democracy is hinged.
Since his first tenure, Buhari has made skewed appointments in the leadership of all the security agencies of Nigeria, not bothered about the complaints raised. So, he has the security firmly under his grip. The judiciary and the legislature are under his control. The civil society has been compromised, divided and weakened. The media is afraid and also divided. The students’ union body and Labour are in disarray. The opposition is afraid of persecution. The import is that Buhari has conquered Nigeria. Whatever he wants to do now is possible. Whatever he does, there is an army of lawyers, politicians, religious leaders, and social media activists to justify it.
Before Buhari, the strongest leader Nigeria ever had was Sani Abacha. He kicked Ernest Shonekan out in 1993 and acted like a lover of democracy who was on a mission to right the wrong of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. When he had dug in, he began to bare his fangs at all opponents. Many Nigerians were shot at and killed.
Many were arrested. Many were framed up for plotting a phantom coup and were sentenced to death. Many escaped on exile. Most Nigerians became afraid to criticise the regime or stage any protest. Abacha eventually deceived Nigerians with the promise of a transition by approving the formation of five political parties. But curiously, one by one, the five political parties began to adopt Abacha as their sole presidential candidate.
It was obvious that Abacha would be the only name on the ballot and therefore become a “democratically elected” president. Nigerians saw that Abacha had conquered Nigeria. With no idea of what else to do about him, Nigerians handed him over to God. On June 8, 1998, Abacha was announced dead. And contrary to the Nigerian spirit, the people trooped out in their numbers to celebrate the death of Abacha. Even soldiers and police joined the civilians in the street to jubilate that Nigeria was free at last from the grip of Abacha.
Early in the second term of the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the third term agenda became a subject of discussion. Even though Obasanjo denied that he was behind the plan and has continued to deny it till today, the signs were clear that there were moves to change the constitution to give him the opportunity to have a third term. Nigerians from different political parties, including members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, registered their fierce opposition to the plan. The matter eventually became a subject of debate in the Senate. But luckily, the Senate, led by Senator Ken Nnamani, threw it out and killed the tenure elongation plan.
However, there was something Obasanjo did not have. He did not have the Judiciary and the Legislature under his control. Secondly, he cared about the view of the outside world, especially the international community which had rated him highly as the first African leader who willingly relinquished power as a military leader.
Today, under the current dispensation of Buhari, the type of helplessness Nigerians experienced under Abacha is close to what is obtainable today.
In August, Omoyele Sowore, was arrested for allegedly planning a protest against the government of Buhari. The government hid under the excuse that the planned protest, which was named “RevolutionNow,” was an attempt to overthrow the government. He was detained and charged for treason among other things. The usual defenders and justifiers of all actions of the President immediately went to town to explain that no government in the world would fold its arms and watch a group plan to undemocratically topple it. Many have argued that the reaction of the administration to Sowore was like killing a fly with a sledgehammer, given that it is obvious that Sowore does not have the capacity to organise a protest that can be a threat to Buhari.
However, there is a trend in the way Buhari reacts to those who oppose him. He does not see any protest or protester as small. The highhanded reaction to Sowore was not just for sake of Sowore. It was to forewarn those contemplating protest that they would not be treated with kid gloves. One could see that the President is not making any attempt to try detainees like Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaki and Major Sambo Dasuki (retd.), both of whom have been in detention for four years now. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra also faced that same fate for two years until the pressure from IPOB became too high, and he was granted bail. These detainees are not facing justice: they are just being punished by Buhari with detention.
Nigerians saw how the security agents reacted to the protest by IPOB members, the Shiite group, #RevolutionNow group, and even the #BringBackOurGirls group with less than two dozens of protesters. The message is clear: Buhari does not like any form of street protest against his government. He comes hard on such protests. On the contrary, he enjoys solidarity protests. Any group that protests in support of Buhari or against his opponents receives police protection all through such a protest.
Therefore, only those who have the liver to face what Sowore is facing should think of organising a protest. The consequence has been that unlike in the past when groups would readily organise a protest, protests against the current government are few and far between. Most people simply complain in their bedrooms and on social media and keep on watching events unfold.
Something similar to what obtained during the Abacha days is replaying today. There is helplessness among Nigerians. There is also resignation to fate. Nigerians feel that they cannot do anything to stop Buhari from doing whatever he wishes; that it is only God that can stop him.
Even within six months of his second four-year tenure, kites are already being flown about the need for Buhari to have a third term. The way things stand, if Buhari decides to seek a third term, it may not be as difficult as it was for Obasanjo, because he has amassed all the critical groups to his side. The chief loser is Nigeria’s democracy, which many thought was maturing.
Azuka Onwuka is a veteran journalist and writer. He is also a social commentator and public affairs analyst. Connect with him on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.