By Alade Rotimi-John
President Muhammadu Buhari’s bleary-eyed riposte as reply or response to strident wide-spread agitation for the restructuring of Nigeria’s political process is tantamount to an obloquy or isokuso in local idiomatic expression. Either from the view of it as a betrayal of the solemn pledge he made to the people through his party in 2015 or of the inflexible demand of office to accede to popular wishes as an incident of the democratic culture, Buhari’s modus operandi are a derogation from the earlier packaging or characterisation of him as a born-again democrat or progressive. His repudiation of his party’s position on restructuring has confirmed the indubitable fact that his All Progressives Congress (APC) is irreparably split on many important issue regarding the effectual governance of Nigeria – open grazing, true federalism, the constitution, fiscal responsibility, external borrowing, the economy and most of the economic questions that fall under the rubric of progressivism, etc. Wise and sensitive leadership might have held the fragile Nigerian estate more delicately or from falling apart.
From the moment Buhari stepped into office he was torn by conflicting advice from cronies, ethnic Fulani chauvinists, Northern irredentists, sectarian bigots, etc. and by his own private agenda which he kept close to his chest. The result has been irresolution and confusion. Buhari would not act with dispatch or decisiveness he should. He has waffled through a programme of cronyism and nepotism regarding appointments into key offices of state in an impunitous breach of the national aide memoire or rule book. A stream of anguished protests has expectedly trailed Buhari’s indocility on many matters as he makes one appointment after another ignoring popular plaintive pleas regarding his smug violation of constitutional provisions. One significant revealing incident may not be missed. Reporters had asked to know how Buhari was going to run his administration given the uneven spread of the vote he garnered at the polls. Buhari cavalierly responded that he was not expected to pay any attention to constituencies where the vote results showed a mere 5% performance by his party. His words spread anguish and despondency throughout the land. The signal had flashed that Buhari is after all not for everybody.
The RUGA controversy may well have proved the litmus test of Buhari’s “Am for nobody; am for everybody” dictum. Buhari at his inauguration in 2015 had assured all that he was not going to be preferential or partial towards any person or group. However, in the wake of the rampaging onslaughts of herdsmen on the farmlands of their host communities and the attendant destruction of farm crops and produce, etc. involving the violent sacking and take-over of farmlands, the government touted a diversionary RUGA programme whereby land will be made available all over the country to provide grazing space for herds just to placate the “unstoppable” herdsmen who were identified as generally belonging to the Fulani ethnic stock like Buhari. The whole country was up in opposition regarding the one-sidedly placatory RUGA plan. For many critical weeks, the President dithered only to emerge someday to delight himself by saying the herdsmen are fellow Nigerians seeking grazing land and ought be accommodated. No bigger flabby response to a raging fire had issued forth from a head of government. Only one small advance spear-headed by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, code-named National Livestock Transformation Programme, punctuated this dreary string of national calamities. This programme too proved nominal in the end as it was found to be a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing ploy. Its purpose was to douse the RUGA tension and lull the entire nation to sleep.
Buhari has refused to make up his mind what to do with the rampaging herdsmen and their variants in form of bandits, terrorists, kidnappers, ritualists, etc. who straddle the entire landscape, holding the Nigerian state by the jugular and running a parallel government. Whatever name they are called whether it be Boko-Haram, Fulani herdsmen militia or any other name, if any set of people raises the standard of religious prejudice or attempts to make religious beliefs or the subscription to an ethnic creed the test of fitness to live or hold public office or participate in the socio-political process, it must be condemned by all who hold dear the ideals of peaceable living and the effective management of Nigeria’s diversity or plurality.
The reluctance or failure of the government to proscribe or declare Boko-Haram or the so-called bandits as terror groups has infuriated many and has presented the government as invidious or unfair in contradistinction to its posture or attitude to less combative or deadly groups. Whereas so much energy and resources have been devoted to stifling self-determination agitation efforts in the South-East and South-West, the bandits, kidnappers and other social miscreants terrorising the North-West and North Central regions have been allowed free rein as government and its agencies have treated them with kid gloves respecting their infamy. In the case of the kidnappers, bandits and terrorists, there is wide-spread acknowledgment of an official self-indulgent policy position to placate them by offering them large sums of money and brandishing before them an ill-thought-out amnesty regime as a way of deterring them or talking them out of their criminal tendencies.
El-Rufai’s experience is however an indication of how far government can succeed. Parents, guardians and community sympathisers have doled out millions of naira to bandits, kidnappers, herdsmen, etc. through their official agents just to secure the release of abducted school children and other hapless victims of this season of anomie. Buhari’s hackneyed response to all these is that the security agencies have been empowered to deal decisively with the situation even as he refused to rejig the obviously failing security architecture. The result has been palpable failure.
It is required of President Buhari to roundly denounce by name the public officials particularly in his North-West geopolitical zone who have made mockery of our democracy or our peaceable existence. Let him expose and denounce the city fathers, the representatives, and the go-betweens of the cynical response to the official obligation for the protection of the rights of the individual. The open assault on our peaceable living or on the requirement for a radical approach to the nation’s processes, assails the general public from voicing objection to official niggardly methods to the obligation to protect and defend peaceful assemblage and free speech. Many have become lily-livered and afraid to protest on-going maladies. It must not be taken that the people are pleased or are otherwise freely disposed to the ongoing shenanigans. Buhari has been too tongue-tied throughout considering the siege on civil liberties, free speech, free movement and the assault on the bundle of constitutional guarantees which are altogether an incident of the people’s citizenship denomination. His paternalistic attitude towards the violators of the people’s right to basic freedoms has been identified as the reason for the persistent duration of the ugly incident that has become the stained badge of our existence.
Although it may appear that certain wielders of power in Nigeria still defer humbly to Buhari, even when evidently their people continue to fight on. This point can be gleaned implicitly from statements made in denial of the involvement of these leaders in the objective of the vast majority of their people. The people are frustrated, dis-enchanted and helpless. They see a direct, palpable and undisguised attack upon their basic freedoms or humanity. It is impossible to overstate this point. But many of their leaders publicly hold positions that are at variance with the people’s will and desire.
It needs to be recognised that human beings do not cohere for long periods simply from sentiments or in the hope of a common advantage. Neither the British creation of Nigeria nor the amalgamation of its diverse parts can exist forever. Ambitions, desire and hopes change too rapidly for that. The only force whose binding power is supreme and beyond human strength is the force of common grievance. It is a stern and bitter force. It is invoked when there is a denial of a common right. It is already at work in our present circumstance. Its final verdict is unassailable as it is just, fair and incontestable. The vengeful, vindictive procedure of an army of occupation will not determine its modus vivendi.
As the great Montesquieu observed, “Let me write the songs of a nation and I care not who writes its laws”. The people no longer care about the invidious drafting of self-abnegating laws or of their devious interpretation at the courts. The people’s songs are their cries, their wailings and their loud groanings. They cannot be ignored for too long without dire consequences.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote vide email@example.com
Source: The Guardian