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2015 elections: Democracy or dictatorship, the choice is yours (1)


“Men at some time are masters of their fates:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” 

― William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

IT is often assumed there is no ideological divide in Nigerian politics today. And the upcoming 2015 Presidential Election isn’t really cast as a battle of political ideas, in the classic sense. Both parties are business and entrepreneur friendly and believe government creating an ‘enabling environment’ for business, PPP’s and all that. Nor are their key priorities dissimilar at all, in no particular order: infrastructure and power, education, health, agriculture, the oil sector and the economy, security and defence. These are priorities for practically all-developing nations, in truth.  

  However, GEJ versus Buhari in actuality represents a huge battle of ideas. Fundamentally, the election is about how Nigeria sees itself as a nation. And the stakes are nothing as mundane as ‘transformation versus change’, or ‘corruption versus integrity’ – despite all the shouting. The election is really about whether Nigeria is fundamentally a democracy versus whether we are fundamentally a dictatorship. Do we vote to entrench the democratic norm of the rule of law -however boring, non-gragra, non-shouty and process-driven it is, with everyone’ rights protected – even for those suspected or accused? Or do we vote to entrench tyranny – autocratic executive fiat over judicial process, gragra, shouty, ‘throw people in jail with a presumption of guilt, use of force with reckless abandon based on one person’s view however popular? You can call it ‘discipline’, or call it what it actually is – tyranny. Even the majority’s view of who is guilty is inconsequential, without actual evidence and an actual trial and judgement based on all the facts with guilt proven beyond reasonable doubt.  

  The sad fact is this particular idea of ‘discipline’ by arbitrary force is hardly new. How long will we try to use brute force to defeat corruption? In his broadcast after murdering Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region in January 1966, Major Nzeogwu said that the coup aimed, ‘to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife.’ He went further, ‘Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least.’  

Sounds pretty much the same problems then as now – just the percentage demanded now is higher. More worrying, it is pretty much the same proposed solutions – only this time in mufti. Some change? Of course, ‘Order’ or ‘fighting corruption, are hardly original excuses for a coup. Pretty much every coup in history has been about ‘restoring order’ and ‘fighting corruption’. Indeed, Julius Caesar toppled the Roman Republic for the sake of ‘restoring order’ (that kept him immune from prosecution, strangely enough) and ‘fighting the corruption’ of Rome’s Aristocratic Class. The rest, as they say, is history. 

  What is more perplexing, though, is that anyone seriously considers it will work any better than any other the other times it has been attempted to solve Nigeria’s basic problems by removing a civilian administration. It failed woefully and tragically in 1966 – leading to the civil war, failed again in 1983 – led by Buhari incidentally, that bequeathed us IBB, and again in 1993 when Abacha toppled Ernest Shonekan’s ‘Transitional Government’ to usher our worst tyranny to date. A political coup is still a coup, and that seems to be what is being attempted in these elections. 

  The script is familiar, it was the same as in early 1966: ‘politicians are corrupt and Nigeria needs saving’. This is certainly the overwhelming sentiment now – at least if Nigerian social media and press are any indication. And, indeed, Nigeria is at a crossroads. Do we move forward into the future, or be led backwards by the Generals? When IBB came out to endorse Buhari as, ‘one of our own’, the alarm bells should have screamed. More worryingly in a recent statement attributed to him – which from the language used sounds much like IBB – our former overlord spoke about why he supported Buhari as GEJ ‘insulted General Obasanjo’. He also doubted that ‘the boys of our boys’ who command the army could be used to rig for the PDP. Espirit de corps has always been their cardinal rule – except in July 1966. Our very own coup-maestro in a recent interview described how coups happened, ‘the military does not intervene unless there is a fertile ground for the intervention.’ When you plan a coup, you must first make sure the ground is fertile. Or better yet, fertilise it.  

  And it all feels like a military intelligence psy-ops style operation. Paranoid, perhaps, but this is Nigeria, after all. When he lost the 2011 election, Buhari and his party refused to accept the very legitimacy of the GEJ mandate; creating the space for any action against the administration, because it was ‘illegitimate’. Fertiliser. When Boko Haram wantonly bomb and murder innocent Nigerians, Buhari and the APC said, ‘PDP is Boko Haram’, it excused terrorism. Fertiliser. All the shouting about corruption is mostly fertiliser as well. Take, for instance, the fuel subsidy, which ironically GEJ tried to abolish: ‘No, you are going to steal the money!’ ‘You are using the subsidy to let your boys chop!’ More fertiliser. And for the icing, ‘GEJ says stealing is not corruption’. Well, in law, stealing is not corruption – different burden of proof, different sets of legal precedents, different sentencing. And this is why steal a phone you get 15 years, and embezzle N2.8b; you get two and a half years and a fine. But who cares? Even more fertiliser…

• Alli is a London-based media expert and commentator with over 20 years experience in global media.

Post-Script – One realises that this opinion piece will likely generate a lot of biased ‘criticism’ as demonstrating some personal animus because of Professor Ambrose Alli’s treatment at the hands of Buhari and his Junta. Another piece specifically about this will follow shortly. 

  Allow me a small segue, as I mention fertiliser. In 1976, Lt General Olusegun Obasanjo – our then military overlord – launched Operation Feed the Nation with great fanfare. The idea was increase food production in Nigeria by encouraging both large and small-scale farming and harnessing the irrigation potential of damming Nigeria’s river basins at huge cost. It also instituted the import and distribution of large amounts of subsidised fertiliser to farmers all over Nigeria. Great idea in principle, failed woefully in practice. Apart from the huge World Bank debt, and the embezzlement of the money for the dams never properly built, its legacy was a cartel controlling subsidised fertiliser that was then sold to smallholders and larger farmer for a huge mark up. 

This is likely from where IBB got the basic idea for the fuel subsidy. The fertiliser scam lasted almost 40 years and cost us billions of dollars. A cabal of retired generals through proxies controlled it. These generals are the untouchables, who are above the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This scam was only quietly and efficiently stopped recently by the GEJ administration – no show trials, shouting or arbitrarily ‘throwing people in jail’, but by using technology and application of due process to cut out the scammers and their agents. The result is a 500 per cent increase in rice production over the last two years. In my view, a much more effective way of actually solving the problem of corruption – though this may not appeal to the seeming public bloodlust for those ‘stealing our commonwealth blind’.

  Corruption is not our biggest problem, to be frank. Impunity is. It is impunity that fuels corruption – knowing that you can commit crimes and never be held responsible kind of does that. And Buhari and the other Generals are the very embodiment of impunity. In fact, it is only impunity that allows a man, Buhari, who is known to have been an active participant in the events of July 1966 in Abeokuta, where he was posted, to have the temerity to stand for election as president of a democracy in 2015. Let us look at what we know: There was a coup, Ironsi the Head of State (HOS) was murdered in Ibadan. This was a crime, but because of the coup’s success it is a legally if not a morally ambiguous action. Moving against other senior officers in the Ironsi Administration in Lagos would also fall under the coup. So far so clear. But what happened in Abeokuta can in no way be described as part of a coup. All we are told officially is that hundreds of Ibo officers and men of the Nigerian Army went ‘missing’ over three days. This is a shockingly casual description of mass murder – and there are several eyewitness reports that stated that it was exactly this – mass murder.      

The fundamental question we must ask is, who is really best placed to save Nigeria, and how best to do it? This very legitimate question has been all but lost in all the shouting. In fact, to even ask it or for a debate about what is at stake is to invite abuse and condemnation as a ‘paid’ agent or beneficiary/excuser of corruption. But do we want justice, or do we want a lynching? Is mob justice, however disguised in judicial robes, really a solution? Most well-meaning, educated and responsible Nigerians, frustrated with crime, were mostly in favour of thieves being subject to mob justice, until the full horror of this was exposed by the Aluu 4 video. Now we are being asked to vote to enshrine this idea of ‘justice’ as a central plank in our legal system?   

  The other key issue is security, especially with regards to the Boko Haram insurgency. I was most shocked to read Governor Fashola – who I highly respect – attack GEJ regarding the handling of security situation and terrorism, and compare what happens in Nigeria to what happens in France or the USA. In the Western world no politician could ever be electable if they attack the government and the governing party during or immediately after a terrorist atrocity by accusing the government of complicity in that act – without extremely cast iron proof. Not even the racist Front National attacked President Hollande and his Socialist Party for favouring immigration, promoting multiculturalism and thus fostering terrorism in France’s homegrown Moslem population. Even the oblique reference didn’t come up until the criminals were dealt with. An attack on France is an attack on them all. Why did Fashola not attack Buhari for refusing to moderate with Boko Haram – which may have saved Nigerian lives – when the terrorists asked him to? Who has ever heard of such an unpatriotic patriot?  

  Perhaps we should look to ‘the boys of our boys’ – who, if the New York Times recent article about the rift between Nigeria and the USA about security is anything to go by, are a key part of the problem. The U.S. refuses to share full intelligence with us because they themselves feel that Boko Haram has infiltrated the military command. Oga, call ‘the boys of your boys’ to order o! The Americans also, ‘attributed the deficits to chronic corruption on the part of Nigerian commanders, saying that they had pocketed the money meant for their soldiers.’ It  ‘the boys of our boys’ learnt some lessons very well. And here I must fault President GEJ. He must over-ride the tradition of impunity and seniority in the military and promote the professional and effective officers who we do have in our military to quell this bunch of killers masquerading as Moslems.  And indeed, he must demonstrate how he will deal with ‘big-ticket’ corruption that so vexes Nigerians, myself included. But it must be dealt with following the rule of law and democratic norms.

  Nigeria is a democracy, thank God! So we can vote as our conscience dictates. But we must vote taking into account all the facts – and not just be blinded by frustration. Citizens also have the responsibility to think, be informed, and to hold our public servants – military and civilian – to account. Would Occupy Nigeria have lasted two days under a Buhari presidency without shots being fired at protesters? Should Buhari not account for the injustices his dictatorship meted out to Nigerian citizens? And we must ask these questions repeatedly until we get satisfactory answers. This is the real significance of certificate-gate. For the first time ever, Buhari has been forced to answer a question and recognise that he too is subject to the law. So consider the implications before you vote for dictatorship. Or is what Mark Anthony said as he buried Caesar true also for Nigeria? ‘Oh judgement! Thou hast fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason…’ 

• Alli is a London-based media expert and commentator with over 20 years experience in global media.

Post-Script – One realises that this opinion piece will likely generate a lot of biased ‘criticism’ as demonstrating some personal animus because of Professor Ambrose Alli’s treatment at the hands of Buhari and his Junta. Another piece specifically about this will follow shortly. 

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