Buhari and the looming siege
WHILE the citizens are willing to accept the plea of President Muhammadu Buhari and his loyalists to be patient for him to prove that he is the right person the nation needs as a helmsman now, he is sadly not eager to help himself in this regard. Through his actions so far, Buhari tends to ride roughshod over the people as though they had been conquered by him. Obviously, in Buhari’s reckoning, there are no guiding rules for partnership between him and the people. What matters is the dominance of his warped vision of governance and the expression of his whimsical dictates as the rules of the land. Thus the citizens are confronted with the likely reality of the grim warning of elder statesmen like Prof. Ben Nwabueze that the president is on the brink of dictatorship.
Or, how does the presidency explain the fact that under a supposed democratic government, operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) last week invaded the Akwa Ibom State government house? Nigerians are not troubled with the veracity or otherwise of the allegation that the attack was meant to kidnap the sitting governor. Rather, Nigerians are outraged that this could happen at all at a time that there is so much avowal by the ruling party that its elected officials are agents of change. If this is happening now, so how much progress have we made as a nation in 16 years since the return of democracy.
Under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, it was the disturbing norm to use his proxies to attack some state governors under various guises ranging from anti-corruption campaign to a failure to pay appropriate political debts. But one would have thought that the nation had learnt its lessons through those mistakes. It is therefore surprising that the DSS operatives drawn from their headquarters in Abuja and their state office in Akwa Ibom could attack the official residence of Governor Udom Emmanuel. From the nature of the invasion, it was clear that the securit operatives were all out to do extensive damage to the state.
In their rampage, the SSS operatives broke into rooms and guest houses within the government house. In the process, they damaged valuables belonging to the state government and the people of the state. While the DSS operatives claim that huge amounts of arms and dollars were found, the leaders of the state have insisted that this allegation was only a ruse under which the DSS acting on the directive of the presidency tried to undermine the state government. Already, the state House of Assembly has dared the DSS to make public the incriminating items it claims to have recovered from the government house.
Before this attack, the commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state was allegedly harassed by operatives of DSS. In the light of these attacks, we cannot dismiss the fear of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) that the presidency has begun a calculated campaign to lay siege to the states where there are governors of the opposition party. We are not saying that the security operatives should not be allowed to do their work and search wherever they suspect there is a threat to the security of the nation. But the manner this is being done is obviously ominous. What has clearly lent credence to this perspective is that the invasion of the Akwa Ibom State government house has not provoked outrage on the part of the presidency. It is sad that the presidency has not vehemently dissociated itself from these rampaging security operatives. The only reaction of the presidency is like a whimper that only betrays its complicity in the invasion.
All Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media, could say about the invasion was that the PDP was still smarting from the pain of its defeat at the last elections. His own words betray a lack of a robust defence by the presidency: “ The PDP has got to a level of paranoia. While we ignore their rantings, we also sympathise with them because they are still reeling from the bloody nose Nigerians gave them at the polls. It takes a long time to recover from such a buffeting, and that is why they imagine vain things.” Should this be all the defence of the presidency? Has the PDP imagined this egregious case of state brigandage? If the allegation of the Akwa Ibom State government is false, why has the DSS not debunked it?
The president and his party have not ceased jarring public consciousness with the mantra of their readiness to salvage Nigerians from the degradation into which it has been plunged over the years. But definitely the action of the DSS has not cast the president in the mould of a person who is interested in serving the nation in line with its constitution. He has been sacking from public service those he believes have been involved in activities that are inimical to the interest of the nation in so far as they violate its constitution. For instance, just last week, the president sacked the former spokesperson of the DSS , Marilyn Ogar, two directors and 42 other senior officials for their alleged political partisanship under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
But since this is the reason for the purge, one would have expected that the DSS operatives would not replicate the perceived illegalities that those sacked have been accused of perpetrating. Obviously, there is now the perception that Buhari is only removing those who he thinks would not be willing tools for the expression of his whims and caprices and only replacing them with his minions that would be used to thwart the will of the people. While we are not supporting any act of illegality, it must be stated that if Buhari had really embarked on a campaign to sanitise the state governments, it should not be restricted to those of the opposition. And as long as Buhari cannot claim that there are no issues with the governors of his ruling party that should provoke his outrage, these attacks on opposition governors and other officials would only amount to a condemnable campaign to muzzle them.
The Nigeria that Buhari is presiding over now is different from the one he ruled with jackboots 30 years ago. He is a president of a democratic Nigeria where he has been elected to lead strictly in line with the dictates of the constitution. He cannot bring positive change to the nation in violation of the constitution. He must allay the fear of Nigerians that the invasion of Akwa Ibom State government house and other similar incidents since he became president are ominous signs of the bleak fate that would befall the citizens under his administration.
•Dr. Onomuakpokpo is a member of The Guardian Editorial Board.