“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more a slave than they are,” says Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French political philosopher. This witticism seems to capture the situation of the judiciary, civil society and media professionals in President Muhammadu Buhari’s Nigeria in the last four years.
Elected President in 2015 as an opposition candidate in a popularly acclaimed election in which, for the first time, the ruling political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), lost to the newly formed opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), after 16 years in power at the centre and in majority of the sub-national units of government in Nigeria, Buhari was sworn in on May 29, 2019, for a second term, after being declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in a contest against Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President and candidate of the PDP, and other candidates. Atiku has since taken his matter to the election petitions tribunal.
Whether Nigeria’s judiciary can offer justice is a matter to be determined by the future outcome of the substantive matter before the learned justices of the Federal Court of Appeal to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Nigerians are worried because, in the last four years, several judges have had their residences raided by the Department of State Services (DSS) in the wee hours of the night. Many judges in Nigeria are facing criminal prosecution on allegations of financial and professional misconduct levelled against them by the Buhari administration. There are serial violations of the rules and regulations, and relevant codes in the Nigerian law books about the recruitment, promotion and discipline of judicial officers. The National Judicial Council (NJC), the body constitutionally empowered to handle such judicial matters, is gasping for breath, having been reduced to a mere rubber stamp by the executive arm of government.
The controversial removal of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and head of the judicial arm of government in a manner that depicts nothing but the worst form of chicanery reminded any observer of the biblical reign of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Buhari, a retired military chief, disrupted Nigeria’s second attempt at democratic governance with his team of jackboots in a military coup on December 31, 1983, two months after a democratically elected President Shehu Shagari was sworn in for his second term in office. Buhari ruled Nigeria from then to August 27, 1985, when he was dethroned also in a military coup by his Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Babangida, who accused him, among other things of gross human rights violations, lack of team spirit among the ruling military elite and high-handedness.
As the head of Nigeria’s military government, Buhari ruled with iron fist and, under the notorious decree Number 4 of 1984, he jailed two journalists for reporting events and stories considered offensive to the interests of the uniformed men in power. Famous among those who tasted the wrath of Buhari’s draconian treatment against the Nigerian media then were Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor who were jailed for exercising journalistic freedom in reporting the fraud and nepotism in diplomatic postings and closure of foreign missions that were tilted in favour of a section of the country.
During the campaigns for the 2015 election, Buhari promised to be media-friendly, should he win election as President. He claimed to have become a changed person and a converted democrat. To rebrand him in the eyes of the Nigerian media and shapers of public opinion, Thompson, now a veteran journalist, was drafted in to work in his media campaign in 2015.
In the seeming pursuit of the much-touted war against corruption, a cardinal pillar of his campaign and administration, the government has done harm to the businesses of members of the opposition party in many sectors of the economy. The story of Integrated Logistic Services Nigeria Limited (Intels), a corporate and logistic giant in the maritime sector, where an opposition candidate, Atiku, has stakes, has had its boats pilotage monitoring and supervision contract agreement with the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) cancelled by the Buhari government, putting in jeopardy thousands of jobs in an economy already bleeding with massive job losses.
The National Assembly, Nigeria’s legislative arm of government, was invaded by armed marauders on August 7, 2018 in a bid to effect a forceful removal of the leadership of the Senate following a failed trial of the former Senate President at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on false asset declaration charges.
The latest victim is the Nigerian media. In recent times, Nigeria’s foremost leader in private-sector broadcasting, the DAAR Communications Group, has suffered diverse forms of intimidation from Nigeria’s regulatory authorities. The big stick was finally wielded on June 7 against the media group founded by Raymond Dokpesi, a media entrepreneur who has since left the group for partisan politics, pitching his tent with the opposition PDP.
Under Buhari’s first term, journalists and media organisations in Nigeria suffered untold hardships. Jones Abiri, editor of the Weekly Source, was detained without charge in 2016 and denied contact with his family or a lawyer for over two years. Premium Times’ Samuel Ogundipe was detained and prosecuted for refusing to reveal the source of his report. the military raided Daily Trust offices in Abuja and Maiduguri. These bring back sad memories of the press in Nigeria under the long reign of military dictatorships, especially that of the Decree 4 era of General Buhari.
Today, so many bloggers are undergoing prosecution across the states by governors that are on the same party platform as Buhari. It is obvious that the converted democrat has not lived up to th expectations of the media and his own promise to the Nigerian people.
•Jim-Nwoko is a political science scholar at the Catholic University of Nigeria, Abuja