The Good The Bad And The Ugly About Nigeria’s Democracy

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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Gentlemen of the forth estate of the realm, we thank you for your presence and support towards protection and promotion of the human rights of Nigerians. We have invited you to join us at a media round table so we deliberate on the three key and/or thematic issues of the good, the bad and the ugly of Nigeria’s democracy.

We deliberately started with highlighting some salient good deeds observable with the ways and manner of our practice of democracy to demonstrate to the world that although the economic situations of millions of families are very tough and degenerating to a state of absolute poverty, yet we observed that majority of Nigerians have chosen to protect democracy and save it from the atrocious misconducts of those holding political and bureaucratic offices in the land.

We note with joy that some institutions of government are waking up from functional slumber and have begun to reshape their outlook to comply substantially with best global practices, respect for rule of law, respect for human rights and/or profession of readiness to accord respect to the constitutionally guaranteed human rights of all Nigerians.

We note with joy that the Nigerian Army headed by Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai has begun the mainstream of respect for the human rights of Nigerians in their internal security operations. The department of Civil/Military relations within the Army from our very recent visit and observations has been given a pride of place.

We challenge those heading that department to concretize and actualize the comprehensive aspirations of inculcating respect for human rights of all Nigerians on the non-commissioned military operatives because there are still a lot of issues with this demand of most Nigerians and it is a reality that most military operatives have yet to imbibe the lessons of respect for human rights. We got assurances from the Chief of Army Staff that his operatives and officers are more than ready to comply with Rules of Engagements which embodies respect for the human rights of Nigerians. We challenged the Army Chief who has submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the National Human Right Commission the petition over the encounter the military had with the Shiite Islamic movement in Zaria, Kaduna State has also submitted that to the claims of a massacre that his operatives followed the tome tested and time honored Ruled of Engagement even as he denied that operatives engaged in extrajudicial killings.

We call on all parties to the current petition being entertained by the National Human Rights Commission to give peace a chance and await a dispassionate resolution of the entire issue. The Nigerian government should also take measures to ensure that there is no cover up in the emerging allegations of arms smuggling in which Iran was singled out by Islamic cleric in Kaduna. The case of illegal arms shipment into Nigeria some two years is about to be swept under the carpets. The Nigerian government till date has yet to tell Nigeria the exact update about that celebrated case whereby some Iranians were arrested with heavy weapons at the Apapa Port in Lagos. Again, few weeks back, a leading mastermind of the Islamic state was stopped in Lebanon Airport enroute Nigeria on the invitation of some persons within Nigeria. Let Nigerians demand transparency and proper accountability in this regard.

We also challenge the Army Chief to fish out the military operatives who allegedly shot and killed protesters in the South East who were calling for the release of Mr. Nnamdi Kanu the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra and Director of Radio Biafra.

His words: "the prickliness of democracies towards elected and unelected representatives is encouraged by the fact that democracy thrives on separations. In monitory democracies, for instance, everything seems disconnected: civil society from government, representatives from those whom they represent, executives from legislatures, majorities from minorities, civil power from military and police power, parties from voters, experts from laypeople, consumers from producers, journalists from audiences, the young from the old, workers from capitalists, lawyers from clients, doctors from patients".

Both government and civil society are internally fragmented in democracy, so says the University teacher of politics. These multiple, criss-crossing separations are necessary conditions of citizens’ equal freedom from concentration of power.

Democracies he says, try hard to take the sting out of imperiousness. They resist the call for social unity and political concord. Those who wield power are reminded constantly of their (potential) powerlessness. They are kept permanently on their toes by the push-pull dynamics set in train by differences. (The and Death of Democracy, John Keane).

Last month a certain man who teaches criminology at the Zaria Kaduna State based Ahmadu Bello University went overboard and sounded like a peasant farmer with no former education when he told the Nigerian media that he is opposed to the notion of rule of law that would regard alleged offenders as being innocent in the eye of the law. He was angered by the fact that alleged thieves of humongous public fund are being granted bails by the Federal High Court's in Nigeria. This man was supported by someone who is identified in the media as a Lagos based constitutional lawyer who also frowned at this idea of fair hearing for those former government officials accused of heist of security votes. Shortly after, the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami was quoted as literally bullying high court judges that the executive arm of government will catch up with them and jail them if they fraternize with suspected thieves of public fund. These statements are unconstitutional because section 36 (5) of the constitution recognize that suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty not in the court of public opinion but in the competent courts of law.

May we remind the current administration in Nigeria at all levels that since what we profess to practice is democracy they don’t have the leeway to tinker with principles of this novel way of administering the various governmental structures.

Those elected and inaugurated to govern Nigeria for Nigerians are constitutionally obliged to play by the rules of the game and must never be allowed to deviate to the practice of tyranny which is absolutely antithetical to the underlying principles of democracy anchored on the respect for rule of law, respect for the fundamental human rights of all and sundry and institutional building for good governance. Besides, the constitution provides for clear separation of powers by all the three layers of political administration to avoid fusing absolute power into the hands of a single ruler.

The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) embodies some of the essential elements/provisions that must be complied with totally by all authorities and persons to guarantee smooth implementation of good governance and there are critical safeguards against arbitrariness on the side of the Head of State.

Section 14(1) provides as follows: “the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.”

It therefore follows that those holding political offices must be careful not to fall into the temptation of dictatorship and tyranny.

The best way to guarantee the life of Nigerian democracy is for officials of government to resist the urge to undermine constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law. Those urging president Buhari to disregard these constitutional principles at the alter of opportunistic chase and persecution of perceived political opponents in the guise of anti-graft war are only misleading the administration and inevitably if the president disregards the constitutional provisions that guarantees separation of powers it therefore follow that the demise of democracy becomes imminent.

In going about carrying out the fight against all corrupt practices, those heading the respective agencies of law enforcement such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission must be immune from executive interferences and the only way to ensure that this happens and the anti-graft mechanisms are seen as completely non-partisan is for the National Assembly to make legislative safeguards against all executive interference so the wheel of democracy is allowed to run constitutionally.

Both the former and current presidents had in their respective handing over and taking over speeches on May 28th and 29th of last year accepted the indubitable fact that democracy can only survive when the key players play by the rules of the game.

Erstwhile president in his speech stated thus;
“My Administration has emphasized giving a free hand to our Anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). We preferred that they mature into strong institutions instead of being the images, the hammer and the anvil of a strong man. We must encourage them to abide by the rule of law and due process instead of resorting to dramatic or illegal actions orchestrated for cheap applause.”

The current president also on May 29th, 2015 inaugural ceremony addressed the importance of separation of powers thus;

“Elsewhere, relations between Abuja and the States have to be clarified if we are to serve the country better. Constitutionally there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers of government but that should not mean the Federal Government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments. Not least the operations of the Local Government Joint Account. While the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of its operations it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked. As far as the constitution allows me I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.”

However there is a considerable atmosphere of mutual suspicions that the current government has embarked on large scale witch-hunt of political opponents in the guise of prosecuting key government officials of the immediate pastPeoples Democratic Party of corruption relating to the operations of the office of the National Security Adviserto the then President Colonel Sambo Dasuki. Even before letting the accused persons have their days in court of law as prescribed by the constitution, key government officials including President Muhammadu Buhari have demonized all those arrested as thieves and the media has made caricature of these accused persons and the propaganda circulating is that the last ruling national party was made up of thieves. This is wholly untrue because majority of those who are the core members of the current party in power at the center known as All Progressives Congress were for many years leading members of the party which they now seek to demonize and unfortunately the anti graft agencies have joined the bandwagon of singing the anti- PDP chorus so much so that many independent observers are worried that Nigeria is sliding towards dictatorship. All lovers of democracy must join hands to stop the drift from democracy to autocracy in Nigeria and we must give justice to all irrespective of political or Ethno Religious affiliations. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) stated rightly thus:" if justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers".

Importantly, judges and lawyers must safeguard the independence and integrity of the judiciary and not let bullying tactics of some government officials to frighten them into submitting to dictatorship of one man. It is the height of bullying for some lawyers like Femi Falana to continue to shout out allegations that are untested and unsubstantiated against key officers of the last administration especially his continuous bullying of erstwhile Finance Minister Professor (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala over the so called arms procurement scam. Senior lawyers should stop media bullying tactics for these are antithetical to democratic tenets.

Falana's attempt to link NOI with Dasukigate for no reason is unconscionable and wrong. The credibility of civil society is damaged when we allow ourselves to become political tools

2. We must fight corruption but the blatant politicization demonstrated in Falana's frivolous petition to the ICC is not good for the country

3. The ICC is for blatant human rights violations like the Shiite issue not for this politicized petition

4. The obsession of Falana and Oshiomole with okonjo Iweala is not normal. Was she the only minister in the last government?

5. Why don't they talk about her legacy in You-win, TSA, sovereign wealth fund etc?

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @ , , .