BUHARI AND THE NIGERIAN DESPERATION — By AYO SOGUNRO

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The biggest failure of the Goodluck Jonathan regime is, probably, its unwitting reconciliation of sworn enemies. This is not just a reference to the political alliances formed under the banner of the opposing APC—but to the fact that a number of Nigerians are now poised for the 2015 presidential elections in firm support of General Mohammed Buhari—a scenario which would have been unthinkable some ten years ago.

Of course, this doesn’t imply that the General, by himself, has not tried hard to gain his present spot. He contested for the office in 2003, in 2007 and in 2011—and he was firmly rejected by Nigerians at each instance. But this tenacity and experiential level is what gave him the overwhelming edge in the APC and resulted in his primary election as that party’s candidate.

But on a popular, nationwide level, Buhari’s third defeat in 2011 should have been conclusive of the firm rejection of his candidacy by Nigerians. In fact, at that time, the General resigned to his supposed fate and vowed not to contest for the office anymore.

There was reason for this continuous rejection by Nigerians. Buhari’s military regime between 1983 and 1985 took full advantage of the military nature of their government and struck a kind of terror in Nigerian hearts that had never been experienced before then.

Preceding military administrations had been mildly autocratic and rarely tyrannical. And not until Abacha’s brutal despotism did Nigerians begin to recover from the hangover of the Buhari regime. However, Abacha reigned for some 5 years and had time to spread his terror while Buhari—and his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon—had ruled for less than two. Yet, within those two years, the deeds—and misdeeds—of the administration would grow into a source of urban legends, based in both fact and fiction.

That so much effect could be generated from such a little space of time is indicative enough of how efficient the Buhari administration was.

But there are negative facts about the administration that cannot be denied by the present campaign: the suppression of criticism, intolerance for academics and intellectuals, outright rejection of human rights and the judicial process; and a vague blindness to misbehaviour by the administration’s supporters.

The philosophy behind most of the inhumane actions of the Buhari regime was summed up in the phrase “War Against Indiscipline” on the Victorian schoolmaster’s theory that the effective way to curtail an errant child was by a thorough whipping. And “a whipping” was what Buhari’s administration gave Nigerians in those two years. Unfortunately, “indiscipline” was whatever the man at the top referred to as indiscipline, and Buhari’s personal opinion on this became law.

This brute-force social engineering had its intended effect: the Nigerian society was cleaner, more orderly, more disciplined and less susceptible to corrupt influences. But forced behaviour can last only for as long as there was someone to enforce it, and this case was no different. As soon as the opportunity for relief came in the form of the Ibrahim Babangida coup, it was welcomed by the liberated hands—with its pseudo-civilian style, structural adjustment programs, free-to-air corruption and all the jazz.

In the face of public jubilation at his overthrow, Buhari went away quietly and the stories of his administration were passed down, with fear and trembling, to the next generation.

And so, Buhari’s file was closed and it was inconceivable that Nigerians would ever consider entrusting their fates in his hands. But then Goodluck Jonathan came along—and in the last four years, his administration has helped to cement Buhari in a messianic halo.

Today, there are many Nigerians who have lined up behind Buhari—not because he has earned the right, but solely because they are fed up with the perceived inefficiencies of the Jonathan administration. For them, Buhari has become a default candidate, simply because he is the only strong alternative to Goodluck Jonathan.

Of course, there are many Buhari supporters who champion his historical anti-corruption stance as a valuable requirement for the office of president, but these supporters conveniently ignore his historical inhumane actions—or sweep it under the rug of collateral damages. Buhari himself has not come out to apologise—hypocritically or truthfully—for the misdeeds of his administration.

In any case, these arguments about Buhari’s character are practically moot at the moment: now, Buhari has come to represent a flag for Nigerians who are strongly opposed to the continued administration of the present occupants of Aso Rock.

Nigerians may consider Buhari as the default alternative to Jonathan, but we still ought to make him work for his votes. He has old questions to answer, and new realities to deal with: an economic agenda in a globalised world—one far removed from the realities of the 1980s—for example. But maybe Buhari has no time for all that grammar, maybe he has simply come to continue his crusade against corruption through a new police state.

We don’t know.

Is the removal of Jonathan’s inefficiencies worth the risk of a Buhari autocracy? Will Fela Kuti, Tai Solarin, Sam Mbakwe, Adekunle Ajasin, Ambrose Alli, Solomon Lar and all others who understand  the consequences of Buhari’s personal wrath approve this potential re-entry into the late 1980s?

We don’t know.

These are questions Nigerians will probably have to come back to in 2019. Right now, a fair number of Nigerians just want Goodluck Jonathan out of office, and Buhari is their default option. As a friend says: “It’s a very dangerous place to be.”

But it’s also a desperate one—no thanks to President Goodluck Jonathan.

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Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in socio-legal philosophy on this blog. Interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.

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ON CONSTITUTIONAL POLICEMEN AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAWMAKERS | by Ayo Sogunro

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Mr Suleiman Abba seems to have settled fine into his new job. More importantly, he is making it into the headlines quite splendidly. Such notoriety comes with the territory—being the Inspector General of Police of Nigeria and all.

However, his recent order to withdraw the security aides of the Speaker of the federal House of Representatives seems to have caused some political uproar and general indifference. Frankly, I opt for the indifference option, because, you see, I don’t think Mr Aminu Waziri Tambuwal—or any current Nigerian politician—deserves any better protection than I do. Not because I lay any claim to some special considerations, but just because I believe that if basic security is still unavailable to a Nigerian citizen in 2014, then why should the politicians rest easier?

To pursue that subject a bit, I would be quite happy if all policemen were withdrawn from individual politicians and added to the general patrol—there is more hope of the security personnel adding more value to the society this way. If a politician feels threatened, he or she should examine his or her handiwork. The only protection a politician deserves should be the protection of the people they serve—but let us reserve that discussion for now.

So, back to Mr Abba and the Speaker: if the news reported the policeman correctly, he claimed to be enforcing the provisions of the 1999 constitution, and considering that, to him, the Speaker had breached the Constitution, he was constrained by his oath of office to sanction the Speaker immediately. This was quite an overreaching decision.

All this moral outrage is admirable, and it is a conscientious interference of a type that one hopes would be emulated on even worthier causes. But (sad as it may seem to many in the armed forces) we do not run a police state; instead, we are, somehow, running a constitutional democracy. And, flawed as this system may seem, we still have to abide by its fundamental principles if we are not to make a total nonsense of it.

Now, what does this constitutional democracy have to say about these problematic circumstances? Let’s start with the granddaddy of our laws, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which says, in s. 109(1) that a member of the House should “vacate” his seat if, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of his term. Now, since “vacate” is a rather individualistic decision when it comes to practical terms, s. 109(2) requires the Speaker of the House to give effect to the vacating process after he provides satisfactory evidence on the matter.

Now, this is awkward.

And you can see why: because, in this case, the Speaker is also the person who requires vacationing. And he only can give effect to his own vacationing. In short, the Constitution dropped the ball on that one.

Personally, I would have suggested that such a member be “lifted up and bundled out by citizens from his constituency” or such other exciting procedure. But, for now, we are stuck with the Speaker being required to give effect to his own removal. Which leads us to three other possibilities.

One, the House elects a new Speaker and, once the old Speaker is an ordinary member, he is summarily vacated or bundled off as required. But, this is a political solution and we know how tricky that is.

Two, the Speaker does the honourable thing and vacates himself from office without ado—but we know the chances of that happening. Zero, just to be clear.

Three, the Attorney General of the Federation goes to court, on behalf of “we the people”, and asks for an judgement declaring the Speaker’s seat vacant and removing Mr Tambuwal by force—which would then justify using the police to execute the court order. That is, if the AGF or the President cares that much.

Now, to make matters worse, the Constitution proceeds to offer an escape route by permitting legislators to defect if there was a split, merger or factional dispute in the political party. And because everyone knows every party in Nigeria is constantly suffering from identity crisis, a lot of legislators have based selfish defections on this particular excuse.

Not unexpectedly.

And so, the law and the facts have made a right mess of things. And when the law goes messy, we ought to turn to the lawyers and the judges to straighten things out. We don’t call the police to sort it out. Every police action in a constitutional democracy has to be traceable to either a direct order from the president, or a direct provision from the enabling law of the police force.

Otherwise, no sir, it is not the duty of the Nigerian Police Force to interpret the law for Nigerians. The alternative scenario, if we were to push it to the logical conclusion, would then result in policemen marching into homes and offices to enforce provisions of the Constitution directly—and we will have to skip that pesky process known as litigation.

Now, to emphasise: by all means withdraw the security detail of the Speaker, but do so as a direct executive order—and leave the constitutional interpretation for the judges.


 

Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in quasi socio-legal philosophy on this blog. You may interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.

Re: To the Guys That Want To Take Down LIB | Love Letter from Ayo Sogunro

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Dearest Linda Ikeji,

Re: To the Guys That Want To Take Down LIB

Permit me the indulgence of a few lines to your eminent personality. I have been a constant fan of your work, although from afar. To be honest, I rarely open your blog volitionally, never scrolled through the news items on a slow day, never typed out the address on my browser to open it; yet, like hundreds of thousands of other Nigerians—I find myself falling into your domain through the intricacies of internet sharing and their damn hyperlinks. Despite this non-conscious increment of your page views, I dare say that I have had no cause to complain about the content of LIB—I expected to find gossip and entertainment not Shakespeare, and you have never disappointed me.

So, again, I am a huge admirer of your intrepid work.

But this is not to say I have not had some mixed feelings—possibly on the verge of “beef”: as a writer who has managed to capture some viral attention on social media myself, I know how difficult it is to get to the top. Like you have rightly pointed out, you are highly ranked in the Nigerian cybersphere. And, you could say I envy—to use our recent diction—your super-megastar blog status.

Yet, this is not an automatic “hating”.

You see, I do not hold your successes against you. The fact that gossip and entertainment blogs rank higher than informative or analytical ones is hardly your fault—it’s just a simple reflection of our society’s intellectual values. More importantly, if you don’t make the money from this, someone else will, anyway. Considering your status as, I think, a single black woman, it is all the more inspiring that you are the one raking in all that cash and influence. Believe me, this is a really inspiring story—worthy of its own biopic sometime.

But on the other hand, here is the problem: we live in a world of laws and regulations, and most of your critics have come from that angle. And a lot of people cherish these legal values. In fact, some people are almost insane about the extent to which they are prepared to enforce laws. These people are passionate enough about their rights under the law to come across as your “haters”. I, for one, am willing to ignore a lot of these unreasonable laws—but not everyone one can be as patient as I am.

Now, what do I mean?

Take, for example, the other day when you published my letter criticizing that son of the Abachas: I was quite happy to see it posted on your blog even without you requesting permission. Practically the whole of Nigeria’s internet did, anyway. I didn’t mind. I am crazy like that. For people like me, we are happy to see our content shared around the world without restrictions, even where the person sharing it is making money from it. To people like me, the moral right to be acknowledged as the writer is sufficient, and we do not care much about the economic rights—which is why I will never get to buy a Range Rover.

You got the moral rights acknowledgment aspect correct in your response to these so-called haters. But, a lot of my writer friends are not haters, they are simply hard workers who would also like, very much, to buy their own Range Rovers someday; a difficult enough ambition in Nigeria, where writing is about the lowest paying job or business an African can have. Consequently, a number of my writer friends are very guarded, not just about the moral rights, but also about the economic rights of their writings.

Now, I do not necessarily agree with their position about sharing online content. This is where you and I are on the same page—afterall, we should all be grateful first to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, who gave us this medium without copyright or licensing restrictions. But, we do not control the laws or the regulations governing copyright—and so we have to understand the point of my writer friends. These people are not “haters” and they do not want to take down your blog just to make some money. No, they are mostly writers with genuine economic copyright grievances—and that 2014 Range Rover Sport Supercharged didn’t help them to suddenly become more understanding.

Consequently, we should be able to see their perspective, considering also that Google sees their perspective.

All of these is why: first, as a publisher, you need a lawyer to help you circumnavigate the murky waters of copyright—forget the excuse that everyone else is doing it, and focus on doing it right; secondly, start some payment terms for the hungry, trekking, writers whose writing you “borrow”—you will be surprised how cooperative they can get. Thirdly, you may need an accountant too, just to balance the costs of all these economics. It’s a small price to pay to save yourself the burden of critics—and you may end up having to own, maybe, not a Range Rover. But you will rest easy from spammers, hackers, and critics who will stop at nothing to get you off the charts.

These, of course, do not mean you will not have genuine haters determined to make cyberspace a warfront for you—but for genuine haters, just like you said, you have “the backing of God”, same as the rest of us mortals. Meanwhile, get the backing of the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for all the other stuff. You’re in the big leagues now, and the legal world comes with the package.

On a personal note, I am also very keen on changing my car; My 2004 Honda Accord is so not supercharged and has become a bit of a drag with old age. A retainer with my firm would be a quietly and quite satisfactory arrangement for both of us. As a bonus: you get the services of a great writer into the bargain—particularly to help with all those pesky original content.

I look forward to your prompt response.

Yours respectfully, sincerely, faithfully, captivated and so on, etc.

Ayo Sogunro

P.S.: You know you don’t need my permission to share this—we now have an understanding.


Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in quasi socio-legal philosophy on this blog. You may interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.

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