Rev. Fr. Timothy ETSENAMHE
June 12 was all about Moshood Kashimawo Abiola; it was also the victory of democracy over military tyranny. It was called Abiola Day, celebrated in Lagos and some western states in Nigeria. MKO Abiola as was fondly called was a succeful businessman, publisher and an astute politician. He won the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, the first after the 1993 military coup. He defeated Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) while he was of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), at a time Nigeria operated two party system. It was judged to be the freest and fairest elections ever in the history of Nigeria. He was indeed the man of the people. He was loved and widely voted for, from North to south, East to West. However the military Head of State then, General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the electionon grounds of electoral malpractices. Abiola was not sworn in but got incarcerated when he declared himself President. He died on the day he was to be set free. These tragic events have made Abiola a symbol of democracy, unity and a dream that was never lived by Nigerians.
It is widely believed, that perhaps, in an attempt to atone for the sins of the military, to score some cheap political points and massage thefriendship with some Yoruba elite who foisted on Nigeria this government, President Mohammadu Buhari on June 6, 2018, declared June 12 as the new date to mark Nigeria Democracy Day which would commemorate the day the military handed over power to an elected civilian government in 1999, ‘’marking the beginning of the longest continuous civilian rule since Nigeria’s independence in 1960.’’Following the trajectory of the APC led government superintendent by the retired General in the past six years one would say that democracy hasbeenovertly ridiculed. What would anyone expect from a man who in 1983 came into power through a military coup d’état? One would only state the obvious to assert that celebrating democracy in the present realities of governance in Nigeria is a charade.
This government, although prides itself as democratic, to a large extent, violates some quintessential elements of democracy. A government that is consistent in suppressing the freedom of her citizens leaves nothing to be desired, not to talk of being democratic. Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right of an individual or a community of persons to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The present government has shown it has little or no regard for freedom of speech. The government of Mohammadu Buhari has seized every opportunity to label almost every honest opinion of its opposition as hate speech, libelous, slanderous and incitement. Nigerians remember the protest tagged ‘Occupy Nigeria’ that began on the 2nd of January 2012 that lasted till about 16th January, 2012. Buhari and many other APC big wings and other notable personalities came to the streets protesting the removal of fuel subsidy. One very disturbing fact about that protest was the manner theprotesters conducted themselves. It was tumultuous to the extent of carrying a coffin with the name of President Goodluck Jonathan inscribed on it as if he were dead. What would be more slanderous and hateful than this? No surprise, they are been paid today in their coin.
The recent June 12 peaceful protest for good governance across some cities in the country, just like the EndSARS protest, and the consequent reprisal attacks on protesters buttresses the fact that democracy is a charade in Nigeria at the moment. The right to protest is somewhat a manifestation of the right to freedom of assembly, right to freedom of association, and the right to freedom of speech. Peaceful Protest is one way masses make their views and opinions known to the government and not a way to remove the President from ASO rock. It is unlawful for the state to attack and arrest her citizens who are protesting peacefully in realization of their dream. The June 12 protests were quelled by brutal police and military actions. People were arrested, canisters were used to disperse protesters and many where brutalized. Democracy gives allowance to people to air their views because it is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is not a government by one powerful man who wants people to worship him. Nigerians did not elect a deity to lead them. President Buhari is being deified by members of his cabinet and almost every principal functionary in all the arms of government; and rightly so, he seems to be accorded the respect and status due to the likes of Oshun, Shango, Ogun, et cetera. Therefore, he does not go anywhere, says nothing to the citizens but expects them to read his body language or perhaps get a chief priest to speak for him. Obviously Garba Shehu and Femi Adeshina fit in so well in this sacerdotal office.
A healthy democracy respects the freedom of the press or freedom of the media. This freedom entails that communication and expression through various media, including print and electronic media especially published materials, should be considered a right to be exercised freely. We cannot overemphasize the importance of the media today. Thomas Jefferson was noted to have said that ‘’were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’’The media is ruling the world of today, and thanks to the new technologies that have revolutionized communication and media in general. The internet today has enabled internet-based publishing, making publishing and news dissemination inexpensive, while having a global outreach. At the moment, young people are contributing immensely to national and global economies through social media at a time the pandemic has made it necessary and expedient that business interactions should be less physical. It is not very wise to at this time place a ban on a significant microblogging and social networking service like the Twitter by the federal government of Nigeria.
Rather than clampdown on twitter, the government would have sorted out legal measures of controlling the platform using national security, anti- terror measures and copyright laws to issue takedown notices and restrict opposition speech, if it were necessary.It is very disheartening to hear that some senators argue that social media has done more harm than good because it has caused so much deaths in Nigeria. It is absurd and at the same time an unreasonable assertion. Hundreds of innocent Nigerians are killed, maimed, rapped, burnt and kidnapped everyday by marauding Fulani herders and no proactive measure; no ban has been placed on the activities of these terrorist as I would call them. Buhari’s government is known to be chasing trivialities while the main issues are left unattended to and at best played politics with.
Nigerians are taken aback by this government’s disregard for the rule of law and justice. The President’s elongation of the tenure of office of the Inspector General of Police according to some legal luminaries is a breach of the constitution and the police act. It is usual of this government to act outside the purview of the constitution. Consequently they marshal out experts in law to explain the intention of the president. There has never been this high level of constitutional meandering like we see today with this government in the history of democracy in Nigeria. The lopsidedness of political appointments so far speaks so much of this government as being dictatorial and having preferential option for a certain ethnicity and religion. This kind of attitude creates division and incite people to self-determination. Nigeria has never been this openly divided. Secessionists are thundering and beating the drums of separation more than ever. This is no doubt occasioned by the sectional style of leadership of the President.
Democracy thrives better in diversity. Dimitris Chryssochoou in his essay, Federalism and Democracy Reconsidered, opined that ‘’democracy is viewed as constantly seeking to accommodate the varying interests of different collectivities within a viable political frame work.’’ There is no room for sectionalism, chauvinism and any form of preferentialism in democracy. Sadly, these are the realities we face in the polity of Nigeria. Bandits, Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists are negotiated with, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association war threats are tolerated but IPOB is treated with iron fist and the president is ready to speak the only language they understand-the language of police and military brutality, killing, raping, and maiming of innocent people. Of course, may be,‘’they are a dot’’! Indeed democracy in Nigeria under president Buhari is a ‘demonstration of craze,’ and to celebrate it is just a mere false outward show.