Two days ago, I sat in front of the television patiently awaiting the scheduled live broadcast of the President who was to address the nation in the wake of another national tragedy. I lounged on the chair and soon drifted into a semi-doze of hazy reflections.
Soon enough, the national anthem diffused softly into my subconscious:
The strains fall gently,
Familiar tunes, softly
Infiltrating the spores of the mind.
The anthem, emblem of our kind
I stared at the screen in agonized wakefulness. The President, gap-toothed and smiling seemed to stare back at me with intelligent understanding. “I know you’re worried” his eyes conveyed, “but I’ve got it all covered.”
The Evil Genius began to speak, his face becoming grave and sober.
“Fellow Nigerians, good evening. It has been six months now since I was sworn-in as your President. Again I congratulate you on your loyal choice. But I have watched, with growing dismay, the recent events across the country. Undemocratic elements are causing trouble through anti-government demonstrations in the South-West, militant activity rages in the South-South, secessionist talks are flaring in the South-East. The North has become a hotbed for fundamentalists. These are perilous times and drastic solutions are required. In order to curb these national problems and move Nigeria in the direction destined for our great country, I shall now outline the reforms which are going to be put in place across the country.”
He paused and assumed an air of dignified benevolence before he continued.
“I have submitted a new constitutional amendment bill before the National Assembly. For too long, Nigerians have requested change, well, now you will have it. But before I go on, let us say a silent prayer for the souls of the previous Senate President, Speaker, Minority Leader, Whip, Clerk and other legislators who lost their lives in the ghastly bomb explosion two weeks ago. May Almighty Allah rest their souls.”
I shuddered inwardly as the newspaper images of the dead politicians invaded my mind. Their death was reminiscent of the political murders of the 90s. Bombs. It was a horrid way to go. The security agency and police authorities had unanimously blamed the violence on the new secessionist groups rising daily in the south-east. In any case, their deaths had paved way for the succession to their previous offices by the President’s men.
“The new leaders of the National Assembly have brought it to my attention that the proposed amendments shall be passed within a week. I shall now attempt to explain the highlights of the new constitution.”
He cleared his throat and flashed a smile. This was the same smile he had on his face when the addressed the stupefied United Nations delegation on the arrest and detention of the Chief Justice of Nigeria on charges of treasonable felony. It was regarded as coincidence that the CJN was to have delivered an election petition ruling on the presidential election two days later. There had been no ruling and the man was still in jail.
“First, the judicial arm of government is being removed from the constitution. I know we are all tired of lawyers, judges and their procedural shenanigans. The judiciary has proven to be unnecessary in the 50 years of Nigeria’s existence. The man on the street has no confidence in the law courts, anymore. Instead, criminal cases shall now be tried by selected tribunals (appointed by the state governors) and civil cases shall be taken before arbitrators. Election petitions shall be taken care of by a panel of representatives from each of the political parties. Customary law and Sharia law issues will be handled by panels appointed by traditional rulers and Islamic leaders respectively. We shall convert the courtrooms to classrooms. This is in line with international best practice and the European civil form of government. We have to move Nigeria into the 21st Century.”
I struggled to integrate the effect of the President’s words. The terror of what Nigerians had complacently created began to creep up on me.
“Second, the tenure limitation on the office of Presidents and Governors to two terms of four years each will be removed. It shall now be an unlimited term of five years for the President. I know you will appreciate this as you have overwhelmingly voted for me and desire that I remain in control for as long as possible. This will enable the continuity of government programs and put a stop to the wasteful abandonment of projects which has been part of our administrative history.”
He wasn’t ever going to leave office!
“Third, the federal structure as we have it is too relaxed, too much power rests in the hands of the local and state governments hence the high rate of corruption at those stages of government. The new constitution is creating a “semi-federal” structure of government. In essence, the President, that is, myself, will now appoint governors and local government chairmen.”
The biting feeling in my guts was as drawn out as stripes of barbed wire on canvas. This had better be a joke!
“Also, what the 1999 Constitution refers to as Fundamental Human Rights is highly overrated and only leads to general discontent and trouble. Therefore, the so-called rights to life, dignity, personal liberty, fair hearing, expression, assembly and association, and movement are nullified. Instead every citizen shall be given these “rewards” according to behavior in the society. As your elected President, your welfare is my paramount concern, but I shall brook no breach of the peace and security of this great country. To put it in the words of Botha, any uprising will bring out the beast in me.”
His stare penetrated the screen, and bit down into me. This was no mere mortal, this was a force that should not be pushed against. I wondered what effect he was having on the millions of other Nigerians listening and watching. Hard-headed newspaper columnist as I was, I felt fear. And I knew I would be one of the first set of people to go.
“I now declare a nationwide state of emergency. As I speak, army and security personnel have been deployed to strategic locations around the country. Potential troublemakers have been identified and will be pulled in for questioning. As Commander-in-Chief, I have ordered the armed forces to act on a ‘shoot first’ basis. I advise every Nigerian to co-operate. You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. As time goes on, I shall give you further broadcasts. Good night and God bless”.
A loud rapping on my door startled me just as the anthem came on again. Still dazed from the shock of the President’s speech I staggered to the door and opened it. Four armed personnel stared hard at me. Panicked, I pushed back the door but a sudden blow fell across my chest and another one cut off my scream…
…then I woke up in fright. My mobile phone reassured me that Election Day was still far off. The current president was still droning on with his speech, as usual, punctuated with promises of economic growth and development. All was in order. I had merely been given a taste of the future.