We are living in times of change and people feel insecure and anxious. They don’t believe existing institutions, elites and established ideologies are serving them well.
When President Muhammadu Buhari visited the Chatham House, London in February 2015 in the build-up of his presidential election campaign, he apologized to the learned audience for the human right abuses that took place under his watch as a military ruler within 1983-1985 with seeming utmost sincerity.
Regretting the shortcomings during the military era under his watch and his readiness to transform the country through a democratic government, Buhari said; “Permit me to close this discussion on a personal note. I have heard and read references to me as a former dictator in many respected British newspapers including the well regarded Economist. Let me say without sounding defensive that dictatorship goes with military rule, though some might be less dictatorial than others. I take responsibility for whatever happened under my watch.”
”I cannot change the past. But I can change the present and the future. So before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time. ”
Buhari was only playing politics and his audience must have known this. They are used to hearing flowery speeches read by politicians who mostly have no knowledge of the paper in front of them. A speechwriter collaborates with the politician’s media team to produce it and he reads it as his heartfelt thoughts. A leopard never changes its spots. Buhari is an atypical politician with an inexplicable support base just like the U.S President Donald Trump; both parties get away with anything they do no matter how noisome. As a result of Buhari’s military background, he knows that playing by the rules in politics might slow him down. He has always complained about the rule of law and following due process on multiple occasions. He believes in ruling by decrees, mob action, and jungle justice mentality.
In Political Science, there is a concept we call the ‘Game Theory’ which entails two players trying to beat each other with diverse strategies like Chess. Buhari keeps bringing the old tactics to the table and the majority of Nigerians don’t mind. In retrospect, those anti-democratic moves have proven to be the most effective ways of dealing with dissenting voices and the perceived enemies of the state. These ‘victimized’ political actors don’t also play by the rules of the game; come to think of it, a public office holder guilty of corruption has broken the rules but he doesn’t mind. He will further break more by exploiting the various lacunas in the judiciary to escape justice. He walks into the court and offers the judge his share of the loot after hiring the best lawyer in town and the case dies. He pays some protesters to parade the streets on his behalf with placards labelling him a victim, and then he gives the media practitioners their share to report the development favourably like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly did in Israel. By the time you know it, the accused is clean again. Buhari has seen it all in his 76 years in this world and he has devised measures to play his game in an unorthodox style.
Omoyele Sowore – the founder of Sahara Reporters who must have lost touch with reality underrated Buhari and that was a costly mistake. Buhari knows the courts can’t jail Sowore for calling for a revolution but he will play his odd cards to break and slow him down.
Nigerians have been screaming the term ‘democracy’ into the unhealthy ears of Buhari to make him realize that he might be turning into a dictator. I believe those advocates of democracy haven’t been following the global trends of politics. Buhari is not alone in the business of ruling with dirty iron hands; in fact, its the new norm among world leaders. Democracy is dying gradually and the electorate across the world wish for better forms of governance to create better lives for them. Trust in government has continued to be a big issue even in developed countries. Let’s start from Africa, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has been ticking the right boxes in terms of the economy and infrastructural development considering where the country is coming from, a brutal genocide. Rwanda is fast becoming the Singapore of Africa and Kagame has been likened to Lee Kuan Yew for his cerebral nature but there are several buts about Kagame. His human rights records are very low. He harasses dissenters, under him, a controversial law jailing anyone who insults the president for five and seven years was made and also another banning publication of political cartoons although later repealed.
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has been in power for over thirty years. He has a long history of treating dissenting voices like terrorists. His victims have been the media, protesters and popularly Kizza Besigye ( political opponent) and recently Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine. Eritrea has become the North Korea of Africa, nothing goes in or comes out of the country. Only God sees what happens there. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt has arrested and detained an Al Jazeera journalist for over 1,000 days without trial. Protesters and other opposing voices have either gone into hiding or locked up under him. In fact, in the last election in the North African country, he technically contested against himself and won by a landslide.
Additionally, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prorogued the parliament to support his plan for a no-deal Brexit in the European Union. President Donald Trump allegedly dug dirt on Hillary Clinton by colluding with Russia in 2016. He is giving his challenger Joe Bidden the same treatment by mounting pressure on Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son over his business dealings in the country. According to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump worked actively to derail judicial processes. President Vladimir Putin of Russia owns the press and has zero tolerance of opposition. His critic Alexei Navalny has been in and out of prison cells for speaking against the former KGB member. President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines shockingly supports extrajudicial killings. India’s Narendra Modi has spoken in ungoverned ways that have terrified his country’s minority groups and eroded its secular culture. Leaders like Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary have managed to change the constitution to assist in one party or one-man rule. This is a never- ending-list of world leaders bending the rules of the game of politics.
According to Fareed Zakaria of CNN, the world appears to be experiencing a ‘democratic recession’. Data gathered by scholars have shown that the enthusiasm for autocrats has grown. Between 1995 and 2014, there were large increases in the share of people who would like to see a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament and elections. That sentiment has grown by nearly 10 points in the US, almost 20 points in Spain and South Korea and about 25 points in Russia and South Africa.
We are living in times of change and people feel insecure and anxious. They don’t believe existing institutions, elites and established ideologies are serving them well. Of 27 democratic countries survey by the Pew Research Centre, a majority in 21 countries believe they see little of change regardless of who wins an election. So people are open to supporting populist leaders who play on their fears, seizes on scapegoats and promise to take decisive actions on their behalf. Tribal politics have also added to the problem. Tribalism is the enemy of institutions, norms and the rule of law, Fareed Zakaria opined.
Buhari has flouted about seven court orders so far and I see him doing more with no consequences. The main opposition party, PDP can cry foul till tomorrow in futility. The party paved way for Buhari when it’s members viciously raped the national treasury at regular intervals and depleted public trust. Sowore’s recent act of showmanship at the courtroom will not help matters; Buhari hates to feel he is in danger, it makes him act irrationally. When Nnamdi Kanu refused to hearken to the voice of reason, the Nigerian military invaded his father’s house. Sowore will soon regain his freedom with a better experience of how Buhari operates. This will serve as an eye-opener in boosting his political maturity and future.
There is no ideal model of democracy in the world today, democracy is a mere journey and not a destination. With the level of hardship in Nigeria presently, the poor masses will not mind sacrificing their fundamental human rights for better economic opportunities like we have in China.
Osayimwen Osahon George is a journalist and a PhD student at the University of Ibadan. He can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org