Opinion: Is Nigeria still practising democracy? By AZUKA ONWUKA
Over the weekend, news broke that Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, representing Abia South Senatorial District, was arrested by the Department of State Services in Abuja and taken to his residence for a search before being detained. Since then, no statement has emanated from the DSS on the reason for the arrest and under what powers he has been detained without being charged to court.
Nigerian legislators have no immunity in their own country. They can be arrested and prosecuted. They are treated like any other citizen, in spite of their political status. So, if they are found to have breached the law in any way, they should be given what is prescribed by the law.
However, why should the DSS arrest and detain a Senator of the Federal Republic since Friday, June 22, 2018, without issuing a statement to explain the reason for the action or charging him to court? Repeated actions like this have made many wonder if we are still in a democracy or drifted into a democratic dictatorship. The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy all actions are dictated by the Constitution, while in a dictatorship, actions are dictated by the ruler.
Because there was no official statement from the DSS, Nigerians have come up with different reasons for Abaribe’s arrest and detention. One reason given was that he was arrested because he was the surety for Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, who has been missing since the attack on his residence in Afara-ukwu, Abia State, last September. But this reason sounds pedestrian because it was the law court that granted Kanu bail and no court has ordered for the arrest of Abaribe as Kanu’s surety.
In addition, Abaribe gave a bond of N100m in April 2017 while standing as surety for Kanu. The essence of the bond is that he stands to lose it if the accused absconds. But the court has not yet ordered the arrest of Abaribe for the disappearance of Kanu. So there is no justification for arresting Abaribe on that score.
The second reason is that Abaribe was arrested because of his opposition to President Muhammadu Buhari. Just before his arrest, Abaribe, as Chairman Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, had claimed that N30bn was smuggled into the budget signed by the President last week. He had stated that the money was listed for the expansion and re-enforcement of infrastructure in the distribution companies to reduce stranded firms.
On April 12, 2018, while speaking on the floor of the Senate in reaction to Buhari’s comment that the killings across Nigeria were being perpetrated by militias trained by late Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya, Abaribe said that President Buhari was “totally incompetent.” That comment caused some uproar in the Senate, with Buhari’s staunch supporters charging at Abaribe. As a member of the opposition, Abaribe has repeatedly criticised the President and his policies.
There is also a third reason, which came from Abaribe’s lawyer. The Punch published a story on Sunday, which read that a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume, briefed journalists on Saturday and disclosed that the DSS presented a search warrant alleging that Abaribe was involved in gun-running and aiding the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra. The lawyer stated that the search warrant directed the DSS operatives to “focus and search for arms and ammunition and any other incriminating document.” He said that the search lasted six hours and mobile phones, laptops and other items were taken away by the DSS.
Abaribe as surety for Nnamdi Kanu is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow, June 26, concerning the case.
The way the police, the DSS, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and the Nigerian Army carry out their duties, while dealing with civilians under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, does not indicate that they realise that the nation has returned to democratic rule. Under the military, there were ouster clauses that ensured that the military dictatorship could take some actions that ran against the provisions of the constitution. People could be detained for as long as the dictator wanted without any public reason given. For the sake of ‘national security’, a person could be kept in detention in spite of the directive of the court. Only the dictator could determine what constituted national security or not.
This habit of placing security operatives and the head of state above the constitution has once again reared its head under the present government. Even after a law court has given an order, this administration decides whether to obey it or not. Between 1999 and 2007, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as President, defied the judgements of the courts when he wanted to. He made himself the interpreter of the judgements, including that of the Supreme Court.
When Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua became President in 2007, he began to obey the decisions of the courts. That gave the Nigerian democracy a new fillip. With the death of Yar’Adua in 2010, his successor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, continued in that path of respect for the rule of law.
However, since Buhari took over in 2015, there has been a drop in the respect for the rule of law. Any prominent person who criticises the administration of Buhari soon gets a case to answer with the police, DSS, EFFC, or the military. Senator Bukola Saraki, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Senator Dino Melaye, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, Senator Shehu Sani, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe are some examples. Interestingly, people like Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who was shown on national TV going into the Senate chambers in the company of thugs that stole the mace, has not been disturbed by the security operatives. Nobody has explained how thugs easily walked into such a well-guarded place like the Senate, took the mace and left without being arrested by any security operative. There are other people in the good books of the President whose cases were not paid any serious attention.
Last week members of the Shiite sect known as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria demonstrated in Kaduna for the umpteenth time. A video showed a mob destroying a police vehicle with the blood-soaked body of a man in police uniform lying beside the police vehicle. The Shiites were alleged to have killed the police officer but they denied it. The group has been protesting the continued detention of their leader Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky in spite of a number of court decisions ordering his unconditional release. But Buhari has decided (over the decision of the courts) that the man should be held in detention ad infinitum. Hundreds of members of the Shiites were massacred by the military in 2015 because they blocked the way of the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Burutai. Their leader El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested and detained since then.
No government should allow any group to become lawless in the land. But whatever should be done to any group must be done through the instrumentality of the law. If any group constitutes public nuisance, that group should be dealt with according to the laws. Nobody has any right to order the massacre of unarmed civilians because they have constituted themselves into a nuisance. And nobody – not even the President – has the right to detain a Nigerian citizen contrary to the ruling of the law court.
When a leader places himself above the law by acting in ways that run against the Constitution and rule of law, he empowers his citizens to imitate him by taking the laws into their hands. The result is anarchy. Given all the challenges facing Nigeria, Buhari and the security operatives should spare us that. Punch