by Amanze Obi
This must be one of the strangest things coming from the APC government of Muhammadu Buhari. The government has just shocked the civilised world with its plan to try the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), in secret over the charges it preferred against him.
Let us recall that Buhari’s government had, in July this year, despatched operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) to invade Dasuki’s houses in Abuja and Sokoto. The invasion was crude and rude. It violated not just the fundamental human rights of Dasuki, it was completely lacking in civility and decency. The conduct of DSS operatives at Dasuki’s residences was a sad reminder of the dark and shackled days of military dictatorship in Nigeria. But it happened under the white-washed regime that is laying claim to populism.
Government and its agents had, after the invasion, accused Dasuki of sundry crimes. He was accused of treason and felony for being in possession of firearms that could be used to overthrow the federal government. He was also accused of misuse of power, corruption and the like. Based on these wild allegations, government charged Dasuki to court. He has since been standing trial before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
But then to demonstrate its poor hold on the situation, government has been amending with reckless abandon the charges it brought against Dasuki. It dropped all the charges it initially brought against the former NSA but held on to one – illegal possession of firearms.
Strangely, when the court resumed seating this Monday, government sought to slam more charges against Dasuki. It asked the court to include in the charge sheet other issues like alleged retention of funds, which formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act contrary to the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011. From the one-count charge of illegal possession of firearms, government is now pressing for a five-count charge against Dasuki. But that is beside the point.
The real shock of the moment is that government is asking for a secret trial for Dasuki. The application brought to court by government’s prosecutor contained shocking details. Here are some of them. Government wants the names and addresses of all its witnesses not to be disclosed in any record or report of proceedings that may be accessible to the public and that the witnesses should use pseudonyms in the course of proceedings. Government is also asking that its witnesses should wear facial masks while giving evidence against the former NSA. The witnesses are to be granted access to a non-public route to and from the court premises and courtrooms and they must be allowed to use private witnesses room. Also, the prosecution does not want any member of the public to witness the trial. The prosecution said the witnesses would not testify without secret trial for fear of reprisal from undisclosed places. That is the absurdity before us. That is the incredible narrative coming from government.
It is difficult to pigeonhole this strange request from government without feeling that somebody is in a trance. I refuse to believe that someone in his right senses will conjure this strangeness. You want to try someone in secret in today’s world? And over what? How grievous can these allegations get to warrant such a strange application from the prosecution? Even the worst of military regimes never subscribed to this crudity. Facial masks? Private routes? Pseudonyms? Secret trial? What all this tells us is that government is not sincere in the Dasuki trial. It has so much to hide. That is why it cannot face the public. Government is simply looking for a secret route through which it can railroad Dasuki into jail. But that trick is too cheap. We are not taken in by it.
In the face of all this, we cannot but ask: What is government afraid of? Why does it want a secret trial? What happened to transparency? Why is government not interested in carrying the people along? Is government forgetting so soon that it derived its legitimacy from the same people it is trying to shut out? Somebody must be forgetting something. Those who are leading government into this blind campaign must have forgotten the populist posturing of those who constitute the government. Now, the new men of power are behaving as if they never had a past. That is why they want to present us with a world of make-belief. When did courtrooms become trial grounds for Hollywood movies and the artificial world of film tricks? Someone should please tell this government not to take Nigerians for a ride.
Even more so is the claim by the prosecution that the witnesses will not testify in public for fear of reprisal attacks. Then we ask: Who is afraid of whom? In this situation, government is in possession of all the instruments of coercion and suppression. That was why it invaded Dasuki’s houses, carted away vehicles and other personal possessions of his, confiscated his travel documents and kept him under house arrest for more than 24 hours. That was naked show of power. With all the powers at the disposal of government, is it not laughable that it is pretending as if it cannot protect those it is unleashing on Dasuki as witnesses? But pretences will not do. Nigerians cannot be led by the nose. They can see through the smokescreen of deception and crudity. A government that has no respect for human rights and the rule of law can go on like this. That is what the Buhari government has descended into. A government that was barely two months old before it slipped into dictatorship must have been so programmed from the very beginning. What can be said is that the people were fooled. They were cajoled into believing that they were dealing with a decent political formation that wanted power.
From demands such as the one the Buhari government is making of the Federal High Court in the Dasuki trial, it is obvious that Nigerians are in for full blown dictatorship. Those who were taken in by the propaganda of the then opposition that grabbed power by default must be realising their folly now. Buhari has bared his fangs. He was a known and established dictator before he presented himself for public office in 2015. When he stepped out, people who have a sense of history reminded Nigerians of who Buhari was. They told Nigerians that Buhari could not change. They equally said that Buhari was not and could not be the change APC was looking for.
But their message was discountenanced. It did not sink. Those who were blinded by the exuberance and excitement of the moment said Buhari had changed. That he would never again do those things for which he was despised and feared by Nigerians.
Nigerians are now at the crossroads of history. They thought Buhari had changed. They, therefore, entrusted him with change. Now, they are discovering to their chagrin that Buhari has not changed and that he cannot change. In any case, how do you expect a man who is over 70 years of age to change? Those who were carried away by the change mantra certainly did not think. Today, they are victims of their own mental flights. What a pity.
Dr. Amanze Obi runs a column in Daily Sun, BROKEN TONGUES where this article first appeared. He served as a commissioner under former governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State Obi can be reached via email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.