Democracy in the Boxing Ring? By Masara Kim

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The medical vacation embarked upon by president Buhari before the latest was probably free from arguments because he officially handed presidential powers to his deputy, Yemi Osibanjo in line with the relevant sections of the constitution. This time however, the president before traveling, in a notification letter to the Senate assigned the Vice President the unprecedented role of ‘coordinating’ President.

Section 145 of the 1999 constitution as referenced by the Senate in questioning the use of the phrase only warrants the vice president to function ‘Acting President’. That was the beginning of an uproar that has probably not settled up till date. Alh. Lai Mohammed, the Minister for Information and Culture has attempted clarifying that the use of ‘Coordinating President’ was harmless. However, reports following that development have suggested that the President had in collaboration with his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari deliberately inserted the word in the letter to tactically deny the VP the right to run the office in his absence.

According to a report credited to Sahara Reporters, the Chief of Staff had technically taken over presidential powers, possibly before the letter reached the senate. The report suggests that Kyari had moved vital documents off the President’s office and began overseeing public functions on behalf of the President.

The report specifically cites the ‘return’ of the abducted ‘Chibok girls’ where the COS rushed to receive them instead of the VP or the Minister for Women Affairs under whose office all issues regarding the kidnapped girls were placed.

The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari as well as several commentators including a Kano politician, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, had alleged that the Presidency was being run by a clique in the villa. Dr. Mohammed had specifically listed Mamman Daura, Abba Kyari and a host of others as being the powers in the presidency.

The President has not specifically responded to the allegations. However, in an interview with Osasu Igbinedion, Host of The Osasu Show, just after the September 2016 UN General Assembly in New York , the President was specifically asked about Mamman Daura’s alleged presidential powers.

Buhari did not respond but simply said: “I stood for the election, I visited every local government in , I travelled by road, by air, and so on, and we had one of the most credible elections. So whoever feels he has lost somehow is his own problem, I have no problem.”

Meanwhile, the APC is a party born of the quest for “democratic good governance,” as the party’s national leader, Bola Tinubu said in his September 2016 statement demanding the resignation of party chairman, John Oyegun.

“Democratic Good Governance” as captured in the words of Tinubu implies operating in the interest of the majority who are the masses. These cabals have however been alleged to be in the business of substituting lists of appointees, speeches and other official documents. This simply means forcing Nigerians to accept the decisions and choices of this few rather than what is generally acceptable.

The President has since inauguration been allegedly massively employing, empowering and appointing majorly northern Muslims against the provisions of the Federal Character Act. His statement on assumption of office, that he belongs to nobody, but belongs to everybody notwithstanding.

Buhari had until inauguration suspended AIT from covering Presidential activities likely due to its boss’ alleged role during the Presidential campaigns. Chief Raymond Dokpesi, the Chairman of DAAR Communications has no doubt undergone serious scrutiny by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission after allegedly receiving hundreds of millions to run campaign adverts for ex-president Jonathan.

Buhari on coming to office recalled a Deutsche-Welle reporter earlier expelled from the Asso Rock by the ex president. That was a bit reassuring but many perceived it to be a move to satisfy personal and/or religious interests given that the station, as alleged reports mostly with bias in favour of the Hausa-Fulani.

More so, at the opening of the Congress of the Federation of African Journalists on 29 April, the President through the Information and Culture Minister claimed that his administration “has never even contemplated the harassing, not to mention killing, of any journalist”.

He claimed that not a single journalist was being detained or harassed in . However, on the same day, a publisher Jacob Onjewu Dickson was in police cell in Kaduna. The Kaduna state police had charged Dickson with incitement over a story that angry young people stoned and booed governor Nasir El-Rufai.

That might be a state issue but under Buhari, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Nigeria as the 13th country on its 2015 Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where the killers of journalists walk free.

The CPJ’s website lists several other cases where journalists have been attacked and detained by state officials since Buhari was sworn in as president on 29 May 2015. On 1st June 2015, police officers in Abuja, attacked Muhammad Atta-Kafin-Dangi, a journalist with Radio Nigeria, for attempting to cover a protest staged by commercial motorcyclists (Okada).

On 25th June, Yomi Olomofe, the publisher of Prime Magazine was severely beaten inside the Nigerian Customs Service offices in Badagry. He was investigating reports that customs officials on the Nigeria-Benin border were assisting smugglers when more than 15 men reportedly attacked him and another journalist in front of senior officials, who did not intervene. Olomofe was beaten until he lost consciousness.

In addition, in November, officers of the Nigerian Prisons Service reportedly beat Vanguard newspaper journalist Emmanuel Elebeke at the high court in the Abuja after he took pictures of three murder accused. Likewise, on 20th February 2016, officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps attacked and arrested three journalists in Owerri, Imo state. Similarly, journalists were attacked by securities at the Plateau State government house in July 2016 while covering a protest. By September 2016, during the Edo election, soldiers and DSS were said to have molested and arrested 10 journalists. Shortly later that year, Publisher of Sahara Reporters and a Jos city correspondent of Eagle Online newspaper were in custody.

This is not to talk of the arrest of Premium Time’s publisher and Judiciary reporter in January 2017 for allegedly reporting an alleged inadequacy of the Chief of Army Staff. Similarly, a Punch reporter was in April 2017 banned from the Presidential Villa after reporting the President’s ill-heath.

Many observers perceive such to be a move to scuttle the media and deny the free access or sharing of information. The government has denied such insinuations but virtually every popular critic of the President, whether on the mainstream or social media has undergone one form of impunity or the other.

In fact, many victims of the APC government’s anti-corruption crusade including Emir Sanusi of Kano have either been open in their criticism of government or they belong to the opposition. Aside the APC, only core northerners seem to have immunity against the President’s anti-corruption fight, even with the popular whistleblower policy.

Sambo Dasuki, a northerner was said to have been the officer that arrested Buhari after the 1980s coup that overthrew him as head of state aside his membership of the PDP. That perhaps explains why he is among top individuals being tried for corruption.

One might say if the southerners allegedly being tormented under the anti-corruption campaign are guilty, the question of region is of no consequence. However, the EFCC seems to be losing its case against many of those being tried, top among whom is wife of the former President Jonathan.

As a matter of fact, most of those facing trials as being corrupt are said to be likely victims of setups. The Deputy Senate President, Ikwere Madu recently raised a similar alarm on plots to have his house raided with exhibits planted therein.

Meanwhile, it is on record that the legislative and judicial arms of government in the country have suffered severe trials under the present administration. In addition, it appears only under Buhari has any head of government agency disregarded parliamentary orders.

Typical of that is the recent dragging to court of the Senate by the SGF until his suspension over a probe of his financial activities regarding the northeast rehabilitation fund. The Customs boss, Hameed Ali recently issued directives for private car owners to be arrested if they don’t show evidence of payment of customs duty. The Senate invited him for questioning as it should since it is holding breath for the grassroots people. But Hameed declined, leaning on an injunction by the Attorney General.

Several other instances of ‘political excesses’ can be cited under the present government, particularly the application of democratic principles. Meanwhile, the administration of Goodluck Jonathan is believed to have ended somewhat prematurely due to perceived injustices and political extravagance.

Buhari is just two years in office as against the six years Jonathan spent. The aforementioned and many more issues of democratic concern are already prominent against him, though with matchless ‘integrity’ in anti-corruption fight. Whether he is going to improve on his image or end up like his predecessor, only time will tell.

Masara Kim Usman, Jos


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