Home ViewpointOpinion Emmanuel Onwubiko: Nigeria needs democrats, not autocrats

Emmanuel Onwubiko: Nigeria needs democrats, not autocrats

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Emmanuel Onwubiko: Nigeria needs democrats, not autocrats

We now have a set of people who are occupying the different public offices at every level in the country, and who by every conceivable account, are not democrats but are persons with heavy doses of autocratic tendencies and manifestations.

The above scenario has happened apparently because the leadership recruitment processes in Nigeria is heavily polluted and contaminated. The central criteria for picking who should govern are not in tandem with what Plato, the ancient Philosopher identified when he stated in his REPUBLIC that was authored around 375 BC concerning Justice, Order and Character of the Just City and the Just Man in which he uniquely stated that MERITS AND COMPETENCIES ARE THE COMPASSES FOR DETERMINING WHO IS BEST SUITED TO RULE.

To clearly understand the basis for the above affirmations, you only need to subject to scientific scrutiny, the media reportage of the statements coming from key officials in the central government since after the nationwide demonstrations by millions of Nigerians who demanded the end to incessant police brutality, use of extrajudicial killings as the only policing tactics and the poor governance standards at every level in Nigeria.

There has been a consistent flow of callous, insensitive, irresponsible and insanely uncoordinated reactions that have emerged from the Federal Government. These officials are clearly speaking from all sides of their mouths in such a way that there is no proper thinking and strategic flow of logic but only brute threats as if to say the rest of us are only but members of a conquered population.

The worst of them have emerged from the spokesmen of President Muhammadu Buhari who do all the talking for the President who is hardly ever seen at public functions but continuously emerges, disappears and reappears from one corner of the FORTIFIED Presidential mansion in Abuja.

Others who have continuously poisoned the airwaves with contaminated and polluted sophistry and incendiary remarks are the minister of information, the police affairs minister and the Inspector General of Police.

In all of these statements, these persons have sounded like people in government who are at war with the rest of us.

For a start, we will examine just the key statements of public threats against the people of Nigeria that have been unleashed by some key government officials and both of them are unelected officials just as one of them told us who spoke for President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Minister of Police Affairs perhaps made the most ethically depraved and jaundiced comment which offends everything that is virtuous about constitutionalism and democracy just as the Police Chief added fuel to the fire by claiming that Nigerians who protested against police brutality were instigated by fake news!

Nothing can be farther from the truth. Indeed these statements are insane and unfortunate.

Indeed, what makes it worst is that the police minister stated that he was actually quoting the President who said his administration will never tolerate civil protests, the type that crippled economic and social activities for about two weeks because he, the President was too slow to respond to the outcry by the protesting public.

Let us hear what he said and then we critique it.

President Muhammadu Buhari says he will do whatever it takes to ensure that there is no repeat of EndSARS protests in Nigeria again.

The Minister of Police Affairs, Muhammad Dingyadi, quoted the president to have said this during the meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) at the State House, Abuja, on Tuesday. Mind you this so-called National Security Council are dominated by Northern Moslems with not a single representative of over 70 million Igbo-speaking Nigerians.

He said the president reassured that the Federal Government would continue to dialogue with relevant “stakeholders” in ensuring peaceful and harmonious socio-economic environment across the country.

“What we are saying is that government will continue to dialogue, it will continue to listen and will continue to carry all stakeholders along in ensuring that there is no repeat of what happened that destroyed a lot of property, public and private, individuals in this country,’’ the minister quoted the president to have said.

The #EndSARS protests started in October with the demand for the disbandment of SARS, a police unit accused of extrajudicial killings and other abuses.

The protests continued after the government announced the dissolution of the unit, with campaigners insisting the measure be implemented. The protests subsided after soldiers shot at demonstrators at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, according to a quick rundown of the protests as made by a news reporter.

Mr Dingyadi said the NSC meeting on Tuesday was convened to brief the president about the security situation in the country.

He said the meeting stressed the need to pay greater attention to the police in the discharge of their functions to maintain peace in the country, in the areas of equipment and modern technology.

According to the minister, the president thanked members of the Council for their efforts in maintaining peace and assured them that he will do whatever it takes to support security agencies in providing peace in the country.

He added: “The meeting noted with concern the increasing cases of armed banditry particularly in the North-West and North-Eastern parts of the country.

“The meeting agreed to be more proactive in dealing with the situation in a more decisive manner.

“The meeting thanked the president for the concern which he has shown in repositioning the police to perform more effectively.

“President reassured that all stakeholders will be involved in the process of maintaining peace in the country, particularly the youth, community leaders, traditional rulers, politicians, public servants, religious leaders etc.’’

The minister said the federal government would continue to maintain its “bureaucratic, humane and just postures” in handling security matters in the country.

These statements are shocking because they underscore the presence of persons in government who were purportedly elected by the voters to preside over democracy but who reason and speaks like autocrats or dictators. Only a tyrant will say his administration will never allow civil protests in a democracy. They do not understand that Protests are the water with which democracy like a garden is watered and nourished. The President should be told that he is the servant of the people and not the political god of the people and therefore he lacks the constitutional powers to deny the people their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms under the Supreme Law of the land. The people of Nigeria are the owners of the sovereignty of Nigeria and the President only exercises authority based on the democratic legitimacy conferred on him by the people through their democratic mandate. He can’t possibly stop the people from ventilating their angst peacefully and constructively. To even conceive such a diabolical thought is an anathema to Constitutionalism and democracy.

The IGP took the entire conversations to the pit of smelly absurdity by stating that Fake news in Nigeria engineered #EndSARS protest.

Mohammad Adamu was reportedly sharing his thoughts on the violent acts recorded in some parts of the country – A day after attending a meeting of the Northern Governors Forum, the IGP says the violence was caused by fake news even as the Forum had called for the censorship of social media, saying it is used to spread fake news.

The Inspector-General Police, Mohammed Adamu, had blamed the violence that erupted after the #EndSARS protests on fake news.

According to the IGP, social media was awash with fake news which he opined, triggered the violence. The IGP made the statement in Lagos on Tuesday, November 3 a day after he attended the northern governors forum meeting which came out with a communique for social media to be censored in Nigeria.

The IGP visited Lagos on a tour of assessment of the burnt and vandalised police stations and other formations in Nigeria’s commercial capital.

He also disclosed that a total of 1,590 suspected hoodlums, who went on rampage to loot and destroy private and public properties during the protest, had been arrested in different parts of Nigeria.

He commended men and officers of the state police command for exhibiting calmness and professionalism in the face of provocation during the violence that marred the protest. His words: “The protest was engineered by fake news. Everyone knows that if a protest stays too long, it will be hijacked and that is what eventually happened. “We know that not everyone in the country is condemning the police because we have received calls from various people commending us, telling us they see and appreciate what we are doing.

“Not everyone in the country will agree that police is bad, we have a few bad eggs but the majority are good. The police are special Nigerians in charge of the protection of the citizens and we must be treated specially.”

The media recalled that the Lagos police command had on Friday, October 23 disclosed that 17 police stations were burnt in the state.

The police Chief is so wrong to spread the fake news that fake news caused the protests. The IGP must surely be living in a different planet to not know that even the police operatives suffer dehumanizing treatment from the police authority because they operate in houses that even animals can’t live there and these are their police stations and barracks. The police in Nigeria is so badly ruined that no decent child will ordinarily want to enlist into the police except those searching for just any kind of jobs to do due to severe unemployment. Police brutality and use of torture and execution of detainees are things that are real to the extent that the United Nations Rapporteur on torture and extralegal execution had written two voluminous reports on these crimes against humanity.

I will start by demolishing the fake news hypothesis sold by the head of Nigeria Police and then introduce the constitutional contexts under which the President must never be allowed to change from a democratically elected president to an autocrat by saying he will never allow the citizens to enjoy their fundamental freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

The fundamental cause of the #ENDSARS protests was the widespread use of torture and extrajudicial killings of citizens by the police.

Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions had on 2nd September 2019 wrote thus:

“I conducted an official country visit to Nigeria from 19 August to 3 September 2019. I warmly thank the Federal Government of Nigeria for their invitation to visit the country, and the officials I met for their availability and support.

I also thank the United Nations (UN) Office in Nigeria and the UN country team. Their logistical and substantive support during my visit was invaluable.

The principal goals of my visit were to examine situations of violations of the right to life by State and non-State actors; the Federal State security strategy and the responses at Federal and State level to allegations of arbitrary deprivation of life. I considered violations allegedly committed by State security agencies and by non-state actors, particularly in the North East, Middle Belt and South of the country, as well as actions taken by the State to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. I also examined specifically the killings of women and members of the LGBTQI community, and, as part of my gender-sensitive approach to my mandate, I included a focus on Nigeria’s criminalization of abortion.

During the twelve days of my mission, I held meetings with the Permanent Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the United Nations Office in Geneva and in New York, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the African Union, representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the Department of Security Services, the National Commission for Refugees and IDPs., the National Security Advisor, the Director of Legal Services of the Federal Ministry of Defence, and the Commander of Operation Safe Haven, the National Human Rights Commission, and representatives of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). I also held meetings with authorities at the State level, including the Security Adviser for the Governor of Benue State, the Commissioner for Defence, the Commissioner for Police and the Director of State Security Services of Benue State; the Attorney General of Plateau; and the Governor of Rivers State.”

The UN envoy continued: “The overall situation that I encountered in Nigeria gives rise to extreme concern. By many measures, the Federal authorities and the international partners are presiding over an injustice-pressure cooker. Some of the specific contexts I examined are simmering.

The warning signs are flashing bright red: increased numbers of attacks and killings over the last five years with a few notable exceptions; increased criminality and spreading insecurity; widespread failure by the federal authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, even for mass killings; a lack of public trust and confidence in the judicial institutions and State institutions more generally; high levels of resentment and grievances within and between communities; toxic ethno-religious narratives and “extremist” ideologies – characterised by dehumanization of the “others” and denial of the legitimacy of the others’ claims; a generalised break down of the rule of law, with particularly acute consequences for the most vulnerable and impoverished populations of Nigeria.

Over the course of its tumultuous history, Nigeria has confronted many challenges and much conflict, including military rule and mass killings. It has also experienced economic boom and considerable economic growth, particularly in the 1990s thanks to its oil resources. Perhaps it is this history that leads (some) commentators, analysts and even officials themselves to downplay or ignore the warning signs or to assume that no matter their gravity that these will be overcome. However, the absence today of accountability functionality is on such a scale that pretending this is anything short of a crisis is a major mistake. It is a tragedy for the people of Nigeria. Unchecked, its ripple effects will spread throughout the sub-region if not the continent, given the country’s central economic, political and cultural leadership role.”

“Country-wide patterns include police and military excessive use of lethal force in violation of applicable international standards, the lack of effective investigations, the absence of meaningful prosecution, the militarisation of policing – all of which are compounded by the lack of transparency and effective communication strategy over the vast majority of security issues, fuelling further distrust and break down of confidence in the security agencies.

Allegations of human rights violations in the Middle Belt include the following:

o Indiscriminate Killings by the Army: on 4 December 2017, Nigeria’s air force fired rockets at villages of Lawaru, Dong, Kodomti, Shafaron and Nzuruwei as a “warning” to deter spiralling communal violence, causing dozens of deaths.

o Failure to and prevent and protect: in 2018, 86 persons were killed in the villages of Palang, Tisan, Nghar, Ruku, Exlan in the State of Plateau, while Military officers were present and refused to engage with the attackers. Local civil society have filed several complaints with various authorities (Federal and State) alleging dereliction of duty. They only received one reply, from the National Human Rights Commission.

o Military’s complicity: in the attack of Mkievowro, in Plateau, in October 2017, witnesses reported that “soldiers present were bribed by Fulanis Herdsmen.” The attack resulted in the killing in the school where people had sought safety of some 29 persons. In this case, the soldiers were arrested and taken to the headquarters to be tried. However, none of the survivors, some two years later, had been asked to provide testimonies and they have not been to trial if a trial did indeed occur.

o Permanent Displacement: I was not able to investigate the allegations that the attacks and killings of members of farming communities aim at permanently displacing them to leave the land for cattle breeding communities. The majority of farmers interviewed in the two provinces have alleged that their former communities or lands has been taken over by Herdsmen communities and in some cases, they have alleged that permanent structures have been established. IDPs camps have now been in place for years and there is limited evidence of any of the IDPs being able to return to their home, with very few exceptions. The situation is therefore getting closer to permanent displacement.”

The UN wrote too that: “Since 2015, members of IPOB have faced arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial executions, predominantly in the context of demonstrations. Between 2015 and 2016, it is alleged that law enforcement officials killed at least 100 IPOB members in different events in Aba (Abia State), and Awka and Onitsha (Anambra State). On 29 and 30 May 2016, during a demonstration, the Nigerian military opened fire on IPOB members and bystanders in Onitsha. At least 60 persons were killed and over 70 injured, mainly shot in the back. The exact number of deaths remains unknown.

Between 12 and 14 September 2017, IPOB followers gathered at the family home of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, in Afara-Ukwu (Abia State) to take part in a peaceful vigil. The military operation (as part of Python Dance II) carried out in the afternoon of 14 September 2017 is alleged to have resulted in the killing of 150 persons. The IPOB leader went in exile and some of its followers remain disappeared since then. No Nigerian soldiers were killed in the operation. Following this event, the Federal High Court in Abuja proscribed IPOB and designated it as a terrorist group.

During my visit, I met with several survivors of various security attacks and witness to killings. I have received a large number of allegations of killings by the Military Forces in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In addition, a number of those arrested are allegedly held incommunicado before being detained without charges. When charges are finally made, they include membership to a terrorist organisation, unlawful gathering and in some cases kidnapping.”

“It is alleged that not a single conviction against IPOB members has been secured since 2015, due to discontinuance or dismissal of charges. None of the killings of IPOB members have been investigated.

On March 8, 2018, the African Commission issued Provisional Measures, asking the Federal Government of Nigeria to rescind its decision branding IPOB and its members as terrorists as well as the proscription and “Not to take any further action so as to avoid irreparable damage to the Victim, IPOB and its members, pending the decision of the Commission on this Communication.”

I am not aware of any steps taken to implement the ACHR interim decision at the time of writing these preliminary observations”.

This and many reports were submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari but he refused to act. How can the IGP be so callous as to dismiss the allegations against his operatives by hundreds of thousands of citizens as fake news? I think the IGP needs further education on the meaning of fake news because if there is any fake news here it is his narrative of twisting the facts to suit his jaundiced way of reasoning.

President Muhammadu Buhari needs to read section 39 .-(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which says: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart idea and information without interference.

Section 40. Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests”.

Mr. President, you have no power to stop peaceful protests in Nigeria or you will simply destroy Nigeria. The soul of constitutional democracy is PEACEFUL PROTESTS.

*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @www. huriwanigeria.com, www.huriwa@blogspot.com, www.thenigerianinsidernews.com.

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