The gloves are finally off
by Christopher Akor
The pretences are over: Nigeria is fast sliding into full blown dictatorship and authoritarianism. Human rights, rights to life, freedom of expression, assembly and association are being flagrantly abused and no one, it appears, have a right to oppose, criticize or ask the government probing questions without the government sending security agencies after such an individual.
This has been the pattern since 2015 when Buhari assumed office. But majority of Nigerians closed their eyes to the abuses and dictatorial tendencies of the regime in the futile belief that such approaches were needed by the government to effectively fight corruption and insecurity in the country. However, for many – including members of the National Assembly – the reality is just dawning.
Just a few months after coming to power, precisely on December 12 2015, the Nigerian military in broad daylight murdered in cold blood over 347 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) who allegedly blocked the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai in Zaria. Not done with the group, the Nigerian government also demolished the headquarter of the group, brutalised and arrested the leader, Shiek El Zakzaky, his wife and many other members. The government has continued to detain these arrested individuals illegally since then even after many courts have granted them bail and ordered the government to release them.
Although the military used several lies to justify the killings, a panel set up by the Kaduna state government to investigate the killings indicted the Nigerian army for the Zaria massacre. But no one has yet been held accountable for this atrocity – and the government has continued its systematic clampdown on the group.
Of course, since we are not Shiites or members of the IMN and since many of us do not particularly like their modus operandi – frequent processions that disrupts our peace and ease of movement on the streets – we all looked the other way or were even silently happy Buhari has quietly taken care of them.
Then came the turn of Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu. They were clamped into detention and the government refused to release them even after the courts granted them bail. Even when Kanu was released, it appeared the government had a plan to take him out of the equation completely and since operation python dance, he’s disappeared and no one can account for his whereabout. Yet, we all kept quiet and even praised the government for being hard on corrupt individuals and separatists.
Then came the turn of the National Assembly. It began when Isau Misau, the Senator representing Bauchi Central Senatorial district and a retired Deputy Superintendent of police, accused the Inspector General of Police of wanton corruption and bribe-taking in discharging his duties. According to the Senator, insider sources revealed to him the IGP collects bribe to make top postings within the force. The Senator also revealed the IGP pockets over N120 billion annually from payment for special security services rendered by the police to corporate organisations and very important personalities and that such monies do not reflect in police annual budgets or internally generated revenue neither do the over 50, 000 police personnel deployed to perform such duties benefit from the money. The organisations and individuals requiring their services have to settle them separately.
Rather than order an investigation into the allegation, the preoccupation of the government is to neutralise the Senator completely. First the police accused Misau of being a deserter who did not validly resign from the force before entering politics. When the police service commission eventually exonerated Senator Misau by confirming he validly retired from the force, the presidency turned the heat on the Misau, charging him to court for making injurious statements against the IGP. He has been battling to free himself in the courts for almost a year now.
Then came that of Senator Shehu Sani, who was so bold as to disagree with his tempestuous governor – Nasir El-Rufai – and takes occasional shots at the presidency. Pronto, he was accused of being an accessory to murder and summoned to Kaduna to answer to those charges. Luckily for him, the alleged criminal who named him later came out to reveal that the military tortured him to claim that Senator Sani contracted him to murder one Lawan Maiduna.
The same pattern has played out in the cases of Senator Dino Melaye and the Senate President. The police really went hard on Melaye, trying to physically incapacitate him to allow the recall process initiated against him by his governor in Kogi is concluded. Luckily for Melaye, a thuggish character himself, the recall process fell flat on its face and some days ago, his accuser has also recanted in court.
For Saraki, the strenuous attempt by the police boss, who has refused to answer the summons of the National Assembly to answer questions on the rising insecurity in the country, to link him to the robbery in Offa, Kwara state, has rankled him and reminded him of the capacity of the administration to destroy every conceivable opposition in its way to fully consolidating its hold on power. To make the message sink in, both the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives have received notifications from the Department of State Security and Police that their security details from both agencies were being significantly reduced!
Well, all these just remind me of the eternal words of Martin Niemoller (1892–1984), a prominent pastor and anti Nazi activist:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
If anyone is in doubt about the terrible human rights record of this administration, I will recommend the US states department’s annual report on human rights in Nigeria for 2017 titled: “Nigeria 2017 Human Rights Report.” To be sure, the report detailed human rights infractions, abuse of power, extrajudicial killings, corruption and transparency issues in Nigeria since 2015. Specifically, the report listed these infractions to include: extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages; criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labor.”
In support of its damning verdict and as evidence of the impunity with which the Nigerian government operates, the report noted that the Nigerian government does not take steps to hold to account officials who perpetuated impunity whether in the security forces or in civil society. The report cited atrocities committed in the Northeast by members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), the army, police and officials who systematically abuse inmates in the various Internally Displaced People’s camps scattered across the region.
A part of me wanted to rejoice and tell the Senators “serve you right”. But then I remember we may still have approximately five years of the administration to go and I may also end up in the gulag of the administration. May God help us!