Okechukwu Nwanguma is the executive director at Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre. He has expressed disappointment at the calibre of ministerial nominees submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari , saying they offer no hope for Nigeria.
What do you make of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial list?
It took a clear six months after President Buhari’s election for his first term before he constituted his cabinet. Similarly, it was five months after he was declared winner in February, and going to the third month after he was sworn in for second term before he submitted his ministerial list to the Senate for screening. He was quoted to have said he was taking his time to appoint people he knows because in his first term he was foisted with a list of strangers. But the ministerial list has nearly half of the same ministers who failed woefully in his first term. More troubling is that the Senate failed to ask the nominees appropriate questions. The Senate screening process has been nothing more than a rubber stamping exercise.
The delay in constituting a cabinet shows the lack of a sense of urgency on the part of Buhari to tackle and address Nigeria’s economic challenges, rescue the economy from dire distress and halt the steadily deteriorating security situation across the country. The choice of the wrong people, including those who had earlier failed as ministers in the first term is a clear indication of the President’s lack of commitment to turning things around. The President clearly has no clue how to halt the drift and steer the country back to the path of national unity, public confidence, stability, progress and prosperity.
What prospects do you see for Nigeria with this ministerial list?
The country is not just on a standstill, but on a steady decline with deepening economic woes and worsening insecurity. It’s never been as bad before, as it is today. Of course, no investor will take the gamble to invest in a destabilised and rudderless country. Nigeria has never gone this low or been divided as it is today since after the civil war. Today, Nigeria is in a precipice and there are clear signs that things will get worse in the next four years. Nigerians have lost hope with the calibre of people on the saddle. There is anger in the land. The government is contemptuous of the rule of law and grossly disobedient to court orders. The country is not being governed. It is simply moving on its own internal dynamics. With the quality and character of people he has chosen as ministers; with a pliant and subservient leadership at the National Assembly, the next four years will obviously witness retrogression in all facets of national life.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently wrote President Buhari on the state of affairs in the country. What do you make of that?
Former President Obasanjo’s latest open letter to President Buhari highlights the clear and present dangers facing the county and calling the attention of Buhari on the need to urgently address them to save Nigerian from imminent disintegration from a possible civil strife. But unfortunately the government labels every genuine critic as unpatriotic. But these men who defend every undemocratic and unlawful actions of government are the ones who are unpatriotic. What is more unpatriotic than the President appointing rogue politicians as ministers? What is more unpatriotic than the government subverting due process and rule of law? I fear that with the way the Shiites case is being handled, it may create another monster in the mould of Boko Haram. This government is not guided by history and a government which ignores the lessons of history inevitably repeats the mistakes of history and inexorably leads the country to peril.
But the Shiites have been accused of violence against non members
In 2004, army officers opened fire on a procession of members of the IMN in Zaria killing several of them. Three of El-Zakzaky’s children were killed while a fourth one was seriously injured. The army claimed that the group blocked the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff.
Later on the same day, the army reinforced and invaded El-Zakzaky’s house and killed several more members of the movement. They also arrested El-Zakzaky and his wife. A government judicial panel of inquiry in 2015 found that the military massacred nearly 400 members of the movement and buried them in mass graves. The panel of inquiry, among other recommendations, ordered that the military officers responsible for this mass atrocity should be subjected to criminal trial. Government has failed to try the atrocious murderers till date. The government has also refused to obey the court orders that El-Zakzaky and his wife be released on bail.
In response to the sustained protests by members of the group demanding the release of their leader and wife, in compliance with court orders, government deployed brutal and disproportionate force to quell their protests resulting in the injury of hundreds of the protesters and the unfortunate death of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Operations, of the FCT Command. While government was yet to carry out this basic obligation of ensuring impartial and credible investigation into the cause of death, it rushed to court to procure an ex parte order declaring a group that says it is not armed, a terrorist group.
Are you saying that the activities of the IMN does not merit its being classified a terrorist group?
It is shocking that while this same government that has looked away and done nothing while armed herdsmen repeatedly unleash violence on helpless citizens could summon the shameless courage to declare a group terrorist merely for exercising their fundamental rights under the constitution to peacefully protest and demand that government should act in accordance with the rule of law and release their leader from unlawful detention.
Only justice can guarantee peace. Peace cannot be decreed or enforced no matter the amount of violence or force of arms. Force of arm has never defeated force of conviction. Abuse of governmental power and impunity promotes lawlessness, resistance and violence and creates or deepens instability. History is replete with instances where otherwise peaceful groups became radicalised and resorted to armed violence.
While government has woefully failed to contain Boko Haram, it is, by its ill-informed and wrong response, tending towards radicalising and driving the Shiites underground and transforming them into another intractable security threat. This will worsen the state of insecurity already compounded by the terrorist activities of the herdsmen.
Declaring the Shiiites terrorist is counter-productive. It is not the appropriate response to the problem at hand- which is government’s contempt for the rule of law and the authority of the courts. Government should comply with the order of courts and release El-Zakzaky and his wife and bring to account, all those responsible for mass atrocities.