Unwitting return to military tactics
The electoral marvel of March 28, 2015, when an incumbent president lost a general election to an opposition candidate, seems to be turning into a democratic nightmare. Gradually, there seems to be a continuous obduracy of the military style in the nation’s polity, such that even in citizens’ mannerism, belligerence and bellicosity get easy expression.
The militarisation of the polity seem to be a carryover from President Muhammadu Buhari’ days as military head of state from December 1983 through August 1985.
The defining feature of Buhari’s tenure as military head of state was the war against indiscipline. That policy thrust began with the massive clamping of politically exposed persons, especially, president, vice president, ministers and governors into jail or house arrest. Though, the imprisonment of the politicians was regularised through military tribunals, the legal maxim that accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty, was turned on its head.
Speaking with nostalgia about that era during his official visit to the United Kingdom, shortly after mounting the saddle as civilian president, Buhari expressed worry that in his present office as head of government, he is being hindered by the rule of law to expedite action on the fight against corruption.
Also, when the president visited the Republic of South Africa, he regretted not being president at a comparatively younger age, and that the judiciary was his major headache in the execution of the major campaign promise.
The president has, with his utterances and body language, shown abhorrence to civil procedures and processes, thus leaving his appointees no option than to interpret same through their actions. For instance, apart from isolating the judiciary as a cog in the wheel of anti-corruption battle, the president also accused the media of being too nosey for his liking. With these aversions to openness and consensus building, the president craves a similar culture as obtained from 1983 to 1999.
Given the foregoing, therefore, most observers say that agents of government, particularly those in the coercive agencies; seem to have been pre-programmed, or what psychologists refer to as auto-suggestion; to carry out their functions according to the military mindset of their principal.
Consequently, recent events in the country suggest that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Services (DSS) descending towards the Gestapo style in its operational tactics.
From the invasion of the Akwa Ibom Government House in 2015, through the prolonged detention of the Director of Radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the immediate past National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki to the evasive manouvres in the trial of former national publicity secretary of opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Olisa Metuh; the EFCC and DSS have engaged more in combative persecution than civil prosecution.
With subtlety and guile, the two agencies have continued to show disdain for the nation’s constitution, especially as it pertains to the detention of suspects. It is this sidelining of the grundnorm that precipitates the growing unease in the polity that agents of the Federal Government have their minds trained on disused draconian laws like Decree 02 and 04 of the Supreme Military Council of 1983, which held sway during the military junta then headed by the incumbent president.
The DSS and EFCC seem to be on overdrive by going outside their mandates to invade, detain and hold hostage political prisoners in the name of fighting corruption. Apart from the detention of Dasuki, a recent example is the detention of Femi Fani-Kayode beyond the 48 hours stipulated by the constitution before an accused person is taken to court.
The outrage over increasing cases of extra-legal detentions, as well as, hard-to-meet bail conditions has increased, culminating in the doubts by citizens whether in-built mechanisms for democracy to survive such excesses receive the confidence of the agents of government. Other commentators worry if the awesome powers of the president within the present democratic setting are such that if allowed full expression, could thrash the same democratic experiment.
Politicians may be blamed for giving back to quasi-military democrats the political power they lost by the discovery of violent overthrow of governments as an aberration. The lessons are being learned even, the nation may resolve not to elect people with military backgrounds, but the instant challenge is that with the precedence being set, if another political party comes into government and decides to toe the same path, thatcould lead to a shrinking of the democratic space.
The planned trial of President of Senate and his deputy, Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, billed for tomorrow over the alleged forgery of the senate rules; comes as another test for the democratic processes. Most senators perceive the trial as a continuing effort of the executive arm to interfere in the internal business of the legislature after the failure to dictate the leadership structure of the floor functionaries.
Under the Nigeria’s presidential system, modeled after that of the United States of America (US), a system of checks and balances presupposes that the three arms of government-legislature, executive and judiciary-exist as interdependent organs.
In the appointment of judges and cabinet ministers, the legislature screens and approves the list to advise the president. Simultaneously in the event of gray areas or dissonance between the executive and legislature in the application of constitutional provisions, the judiciary comes in to perform its constitutionally assigned roles.
What seems to be precipitating adverse comments from a section of the polity is the fear that such drastic application of rules by an arm of government may trigger reprisals that may in turn damage the beneficial and harmonious collaboration of the three arms.
In criminal prosecutions, it is often said by lawyers that allegations must be proved beyond reasonable doubts. The scheme, observers argue, is the recourse to the substituted service applied and reports that tough bail conditions await the suspects. This supposes that the prosecution could have been programmed to serve a political purpose.
However, the decision to use substituted means to serve the accused persons was said to have been adopted after the police failed to arraign them, which prompted the presiding judge at the Federal High Court in the FCT to grant the order.
The expected break down in harmonious interdependence between the legislature and the executive, manifested recently when the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Malam Abubakar Malami, (SAN), failed to appear before the senate to explain the rationale behind federal government’s decision to charge the senate president and his deputy to court over alleged forgery of Senate rules.
The resolution to invite the AGF followed a motion by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), who contended that “it was regrettable that the presidency had failed to be concerned about the huge crises of monumental proportion confronting the nation and instead was concentrating on chasing shadows by seeking to overthrow the leadership of the Senate at all cost.”
Melaye further held that the charges against Saraki, Ekweremadu and Maikasuwa, were in gross violation of the ruling of a Federal High Court in Abuja, which struck out the case in 2015 on the grounds that the National Assembly was an independent arm, insulated from the interference of another arms.
The senator noted with dismay “the lack of respect for judicial decisions and the resolutions of the National Assembly by the executive, which is beginning to arrogate itself unifying powers of the federation.”
Shortly after he was appointed as acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, told journalists that he would lead the anti-corruption fight of the commission with due regards to three dicta: the fear of God, the constitution and rule of law. The chairman had been reported to accuse lawyers, journalists and the judiciary of colluding with corrupt persons to obstruct justice.
The International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) said the situation in the country calls for sober reflection, stressing that the country was gradually sliding to military rule and suspension of the constitution.
In a statement signed by the chairman of Trustees, Emeka Umeagbalasi, Intersociety decried the prolonged detention of Kanu by the federal authorities even inspite of the court ruling, adding that the prejudicial statements from president Buhari has tended to make some judicial officers to behave in a manner to echo the president’s heart.