Donald Trump’s arraignment and why strong institutions matter
Although the whole process of arresting and arraigning Donald trump in a Manhattan Court last Tuesday looked more like a reality TV drama than a judicial action, the inherent message it conveys should be a lesson to many Nigerians: Democracy requires strong institutions to endure. Trump is a rich and influential businessman, a former president, yet he could not bribe or intimidate the Manhattan District Attorney with his money, power and influence. He had to travel five hours from Florida to New York to surrender to the authorities and take a plea in the Court. Trump looked humble, deflated and defeated as he was processed and taken to court.
As he himself said, it was ‘’surreal’’. This is a tribute to the triumph of democracy and rule of law. Nobody in the US is above the law, and nobody should be below it. Although the former President himself and some Republicans believe that the indictment is politically motivated (it might just be), Trump has all the opportunity to defend himself, and he is actually innocent until found guilty. The jury will never come under political pressures in their decision. The American democracy is not perfect, but it has endured for centuries because no single one man is greater than the state, and that is the major undoing of the Nigerian society. How did the Americans achieve this?
As the 45th President was boarding his Boeing 757 jet at Palm Beach International Airport to head for New York for the arraignment, a federal agency in Abuja was being intimidated and coerced by some powerful persons to issue a N5 million fine against Channels TV. The punishment against Channels, for broadcasting a live interview in which Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed suggested that Tinubu should not be inaugurated, is one of the gravest violations of free speech in this Fourth Republic. Baba-Ahmed, Labour Party’s Vice-Presidential candidate, was simply voicing his personal opinions, and in many democracies around the world, nobody is punished for holding his opinions and no media house is slammed with fines for
No media house in the UK would be fined for airing an interview in which an opposition politician suggests that Mr. Rishi Sunak should not be PM. Nobody in the US was fined or arrested for alleging that Biden stole the 2020 election; and despite all its negative broadcasts against the Democrats, Fox News has never been punished. There were many instances of intimidation and harassment of media houses and journalists. We all saw how Arise News, its Chairman, Nduka Ogbaigbena and many other independent media houses and their journalists were constantly pummeled during the campaigns. I have my fears for the media under the incoming administration.
There are too many powerful and corrupt people in Nigeria (in and outside government) who can intimidate government agencies and institutions to do their bidding. They are above the law and, in some instances, they are in full control of resources of the state. These people are threats to our democracy. When government institutions like the law enforcement agencies or regulatory authorities like the NBC are forced to go after media houses or the perceived enemies of the President, our liberties are eroded and democracy is imperiled. If our media houses are under constant harassment or operate under environment of fear and are subject to draconian measures, democracy will give way to a civilian dictatorship. Many African countries have been destroyed by civilian leaders who were democratically elected, but gradually transmuted themselves into tyrants. I have a strong sense of foreboding that we may soon be going that route.
As President Barrack Obama once said, African countries require strong institutions, but not strong men, to build enduring democracies. Strong institutions withstand anti-democratic forces and promote rule of law. I urge the media, judiciary, INEC, the National Assembly, civil society organizations and many other institutions that support our democracy to stand ready to resist the coming onslaught. The media was relentless in the fight against the military. It should never be or feel intimidated, no matter the circumstances.