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Buhari, El-Rufai and other body bag democrats

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Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari


Any doubt about the nation being imperilled by its warped leadership recruitment has been counteracted by sundry developments in this electoral season. We are again confronted with the stark reminder that in over five decades, those we have entrusted with leadership have often unravelled as a bunch of incompetents who strive to plumb the nadir of retrogression. Thus, the tragedy is that in every epoch, the messiah we think has been thrown up to reverse the savage depredations of his predecessor uncannily considers himself as holding the mandate of surpassing the greed and a lack of direction of past national villains.

To be sure, this bleak state of national affairs becomes inevitable as long as it is not those who have prepared for leadership that we allow to lead. We are neither attracted to them by the incipient genius in leadership they have demonstrated in community service nor their championing of a pro-people cause. Eventually, those we are saddled with as leaders, in the words of Nasir El-Rufai are “accidental public servants.”

How does a nation develop when we give leadership to those who do not understand its demands? For too long, we have given leadership to those who think the purpose of their being in public office is to serve the parochial interest of their families, tribe or religion. Of course, past leaders in the country have demonstrated this proclivity. But this fiendish leadership trajectory has gripped the public imagination in the past three years and some months because President Muhammadu Buhari has taken it to an intolerable level. Thus, we must come to terms with the reality that if the country must develop through adherence to the principles of democracy as enunciated in our constitution despite its phalanx of imperfections, there should be no reason to doubt the fidelity of our leaders to its demands.

Here lies the perennial national tragedy. Our leaders who ought to be the custodians of democracy are its implacable foes. Yes, in some cases, there is a linkage between their anti-democracy disposition and their metamorphosis from military despots. But the fact we most note is that they fail as democrats because they have also failed as leaders in military jackboots. However, we are reminded by history that there have been military leaders who became the sources of the transformation of their nations. If our former military leaders who now consider themselves as born again democrats cannot render themselves amenable to the nuances of democracy, we endanger democracy and our nation when we allow them to occupy leadership positions. If they think that because they have become used to coups and they have become incapable of engendering good governance by persuasion and consensus as required by democracy, we should save our democracy and nation by rebuffing their offer to serve us.

The resistance to the imperatives of democracy by former military leaders is demonstrated by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo who introduced electoral victory by “capture” and “do or die “into the nation’s political lexicon. This is a lexicon that captures a disposition to thwart the electoral process and appropriate an electoral favour that the electorate have not willingly dispensed. It then ceases to surprise that El-Rufai who had his political tutelage in the Obasanjo era has swelled the political lexicon by introducing body bags. El-Rufai who is currently the governor of Kaduna State recently warned foreign authorities not to interfere with Nigeria’s electoral process or they would return home in body bags. The offence of these observers was that they made public their agitations about the Buhari government’s negations of free and fair elections and the dialogic character of democracy.

Those who expected Buhari to repudiate El-Rufai’s rhetoric of violence were disappointed. Buhari declared publicly that El-Rufai articulated the position of his government.But Nigerians and other nationals were not to wait for long before they understood why Buhari offered this robust defence of El-Rufai. For, in Buhari, the propensity for a macabre political lexicon has found its boldest expression. Yes, Buhari is a retired military general. He fought in the civil war. And in his current government, he has seen or heard of so much blood being spilled by Boko Haram and Fulani helmsmen.

But these probably are not why Buhari sees nothing wrong with politics steeped in the blood of fellow citizens. Remember, as far as 2012 Buhari demonstrated that he would not mind shedding the blood of his fellow citizens to achieve his aspiration of being the nation’s president. He warned that if the presidential election of 2015 was rigged against him, the dog and baboon would be soaked in blood. Hence, if we are shocked now that Buhari gleefully disclosed that he had ordered the military and the police to kill ballot box snatchers and other electoral enemies, it only means that we had thought that he had changed.

But then, why would he change if he believed that it was such rhetoric of violence that quickly made Goodluck Jonathan to concede defeat? Perhaps, he also expects Atiku Abubakar to demur at the prospect of a blood-soaked national landscape and accept his electoral misfortune. At the same time, it could also be clear to Buhari that Atiku is not likely to quickly accept defeat like Jonathan. And that is why this time, Buhari is not content with the use of animal imagery to convey the harm he is capable of inflicting on the nation. He rather opted to undisguisedly alert us to the human destruction that he could inflict through the military and the police.

The outrage has been deafening. Shocked citizens have drawn the attention of Buhari to the law’s provisions for such electoral offences that Buhari wants to address with summary death. But Buhari has not recanted. Rather, the presidency has insisted on the justness of his position. His aides have rapturously embraced an opportunity to proliferate sophistries in sycophantic loyalty to Buhari. Despite all the protestations of Buhari and his aides, it is clear that the president’s position is by no means reflective of a disposition to protect democracy. If Buhari really wanted a transparent electoral process that is unsullied by thuggery, he would have signaled this by signing the electoral bill. Again, Buhari would not have endorsed a perverted electoral process that gave his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) victory in Osun State.

Buhari’s hostility towards other arms of government is not meant to protect democracy but truncate it. He takes actions that cast doubts on the sanctity of the electoral process. He chose to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen about three days before the jurist set up panels to consider petitions arising from the elections that were scheduled to hold weeks away. How would those from the opposition who would lose at those panels accept that the judges are not made to do the bidding of the ruling party? If they are not sure of getting justice from those panels would they not resort to self-help and endanger our democracy and the nation?

Thus, if the nation must protect its democracy, it should not make people like Buhari and El-Rufai its guardians. And the next elections offer the citizens an opportunity to choose the right people who can protect democracy. They should not count Buhari among these people because he did not pay any price for the return of democracy. While Nigerians were being killed in the fight for democracy, Buhari was hobnobbing with the dictator Sani Abacha.

Again, if democracy must outlive these body bag democrats, they should not be allowed to have their way. For it is clear that their body bag rhetoric has the potential of truncating the nation’s democracy. Consider this: If a soldier or policeman who is carried away by the order of Buhari shoots dead an innocent person, there would be apocalyptic reprisals. Even if the person shot is a supposed ballot box snatcher, it would still trigger the same baleful consequences. Worse, there is the danger of the APC using this order to pervert the electoral process. Now, peace-loving Nigerians would be scared of going to discharge their civic responsibility of casting their votes. And if that happens, the APC would now have the opportunity to claim victory.

If democracy must survive the onslaught of these body bags democrats, the leaders of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the military and police like other citizens must protect it in legitimate violation of the ruthlessness and illegality Buhari wants to perpetrate through them. For the managers of INEC, it should go beyond just declaring that the position of Buhari conflicts with the provisions of the electoral act. INEC should conduct transparent elections that would deny these body bag democrats the pleasure of quenching their thirst for blood. Nigeria needs true democrats who would seek votes based on their nascent or demonstrated commitment to the welfare of the citizens and not through the perversion of the electoral process and the unleashing of violence.


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