Tyranny in the name of national security
The submission by President Muhammadu Buhari that the rule of law is secondary to national security reminds me of two contiguous Yoruba proverbs that describe the constancy of human character. The first one says Ko si bi a se le se Ifa ti k oni huiwaekuro literally meaning that “whatever you do to reshape Ifa, it will still exude the character of palm kernel.” This is because the Ifa is a by-product of the kernel. The second one that has similar meaning is Ko si bi a se se ebolo ti k oni run igbe which simply means “no matter how well you prepare crassocephalum, it will still emit the odour of its natural habitat.” The truth is that Buhari has never pretended to be a respecter of human freedom and independence, particularly, with his conviction that people and societies are inherently corrupt and must be checked within and without the ambit of the law of the land.
Rudimentary course in civic education makes the meaning and definition of the “Rule of Law” naked to any eye that can see but the image of the “Breach of National Security’’ on the other hand, creates a subjective ambience that makes the meaning multidimensional and therefore may require a magnifying glass far beyond the perception of the beholder. It is in this regard that the rule of law is sacrosanct while “ Breach of National Security” is subject to the interpretation of a competent law court. Most autocratic leaders who set aside the rule of law have used their own short sight to send their detractors who are not necessarily foes of the nation to the guillotine and death chambers. After all, principles of impartiality, equality before the law, fair hearing, supremacy of the law and right of appeal should all be glaring to everybody.
The greatest fault of Mr. President is the adjacent belief that once you are accused of improper conduct then you are guilty. There is nothing that Buhari is doing at the moment as a democratically elected president of Nigeria that he did not do in 1983. Substantial part of his tenure at that time was employed to blaming his immediate predecessor in office and hunting down those who opposed his position on national issues. To expect a detour now is to anticipate that leopard will change its coloration.
Whether in uniform and out of it, Buhari has never claimed to be a democrat in spirit and this character he has demonstrated since 2015 when he had the opportunity of being elected in a democratic arrangement. The continuous incarceration of the former National Security Adviser, Sabo Dasuki, despite his release on bail by courts of competent jurisdiction six times, retention of the Muslim Cleric, El-Zkyzaky and his wife inside the steel gate despite their release by courts are all indications of his government’s disregard for the rule of law. He is been very consistent about the handling of issues pertaining to anyone accused of impropriety in the society even if such individual, at the end of the day, emerged out of the problem with a clean slate.
Interestingly, the first indicator of human freedom is expressed in speeches and words and that is the reason why the media is always the first victim of every autocratic and totalitarian regimes since human history. However, Mr. President should not ignore two sacrosanct facts. The first is that the only way you can remove human freedom is to extract the human brain from its cranium because the fact that people are gagged does not mean that they do not hold personal views on issues and that they would do all within their God given endowment to escape from the gulag of the enemies of human independence. The second is that no dictator has survived a society, it is the larger community that will eventually, if I may use the African parlance, “see the back” of haters of freedom. Oppression does not subdue humanity, it strengthens it. Although, society may be humiliated mentally and sometimes physiologically but it will eventually arise from the rubbles of authoritarianism with renewed strength and vigor.
Like Professor Wole Soyinka rightly observed penultimate week, the President may be showing us a green-light that his administration would distance itself from the ambit of the rule of law during his second term. It is in this regard that he requires strong counseling from his political advisers that moves against personal liberty of the citizenry will suffer a serious backlash and record him negatively for posterity. What he needs at his age is a deep and positive foot-print on the sand of time through articulate and sustainable policies that will assure the citizens that after all, it is a pride to wear the beret and hold the flag of Nigeria in any arena where the comity of nations is gathered. That cannot be achieved through intimidation and harassment of opposition.
I am not a politician, therefore I do not know if he would win the 2019 election but I do know that his statement and the forum he choose to release it must have expanded the radius and consequently the circle of his enemies. I am aware too that he has stylishly withdrawn this statement but why dream of it in the first instance?
President Buhari should not become a victim of his own dogmatism. As an elder statesman, he ought to have been schooled by age and experience and learn from abundant repository of historical documents. Where are the dictators of yesteryears who transcended the surface of the earth like colossus during their lifetimes only for posterity to record and judge them more by their negative tendencies towards rather than their good contribution to humanity. Where is Adolf Hitler? Where is Vlad III who was alleged by history to have bathed with the blood of his people? Where is Vladimir Lenin, a man famous for instituting the “Red Terror” that eliminated millions of his own people? Where is Alhaji Dada Idi Amin? Where is our own General Sanni Abacha? How did Saddam Hussein end? For a president of a nation like Iraq to hide inside a hole with battered body before he was finally dragged out to die “like fowl” by the same people for whom he built houses, education, health and other facilities that enhanced their standard of living cannot be a palatable story to tell. We must not be blind to history.
It is only a deaf fly that follows the corpse to the grave.
Prof. Ojikutu wrote from the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.
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