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Thursday, 18 February 2016




The historical phenomenon of a dictatorial rule such as tyranny, despotism, autocracy, fuhrerstaat, authoritarianism and totalitarianism marked the military regime of the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari after in his insatiable quest to seize political power, masterminded and led a military coup d' etat that ousted the democratically elected government of President and Vice President Shehu Shagari and Alex Ekwueme respectively on New Year's Eve in 1983 and ruled until 27 August 1985.
The inability to function and the internal weakness of democracy were undoubtedly among the main causes of the establishment of the dictatorial rule of Buhari as the then Head Of State. It is still fresh in memory of how Buhari undermined and suspended Nigeria's constitutional order which had brought about the development of undemocratic rule through his passage and enforcement of aggressive and impulsive decrees, domestic and foreign policies.
Starting with the Decree Number 4 passed by Buhari in 1984 termed, "The Protection Against False Accusations Decree" considered by scholars as the most repressive press law ever enacted in Nigeria targeted at restricting press freedom. With this decree which is unappealable in any court, he was able to convict, prosecute and put to jail two journalists; Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of The Guardian newspaper.
Decree 20 on illegal ship bunkering and drug trafficking was another example of Buhari's tough approach to crime. It provided that "any person who, without lawful authority deals in, sells, smokes or inhales drugs known as cocaine or other similar drugs, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to suffer death sentence by firing squad". This decree was retroactively applied in the case of Bernard Ogedengebe who was executed even at the time of his arrest, the crime did not mandate the capital punishment, but had carried a sentence of six months imprisonment. In another prominent case in April !985, which led to an international outcry and public uproar, was the unlawful execution of six young Nigerians namely: Sidikatu Tairi, Sola Oguntayo, Oladele Omosebi, Lasunkanmi Awolola, Timi Adebayo and Gladys Iyamah of whom were retrospectively convicted of drug trafficking and were subsequently condemned to death under the same decree.


However, what people found interesting, was that Buhari's anti-criminal and corruption war was not able to convict and prosecute the Emir of Gwandu whose son at that time was Buhari's aide-de-camp that transported 53 suit cases with unknown contents, rather he was cleared through the Customs on 10th June 1984, without inspection during his return flight from Saudi Arabia. Buhari's Administration at this time was embroiled in a scandal over the 53 suitcases saga.
20th March 1984 saw the introduction and launching of War Against Indiscipline(WAI). Buhari enforced traffic regulations and ensured that commuters formed neat and orderly queues at bus stops, under the eyes of whip-wielding soldiers. Civil servants arriving late to work were humiliated and forced to perform "frog squats or jumps".
Tens of thousands of immigrants from other West African States were expelled. The war against indiscipline was carried to sadistic levels, glorying in the humiliation of human rights of citizens. Buhari passed laws allowing indefinite detention without trial, misdemeanour's and/or minor offences carried long sentences. Any student above the age of 17 caught cheating in the exam hall would get 21 years in prison. Counterfeiting and arson could lead to death penalty.


Around 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were imprisoned. Critics of his regime including the popular Afro-beat musician and a one time presidential contender, Fela Kuti, were thrown behind bars. Amnesty International had described the charges against him for illegally exporting foreign currency as "spurious". Using the wide powers bestowed upon it by Decree Number 2, the government sentenced Fela to Five years in prison and was released after 18 months when the Buhari's government was toppled in another coup d' etat.
It is also note worthy that during his military dictatorial rule, state security and the Chief of staff were given the power to detain without charges, individuals deemed to be of security risk to the state for up to three months. Strikes and popular demonstrations were banned and Nigeria's security agency, the defunct National Security Organization(NSO) was entrusted with unprecedented powers. The NSO played a wide role in the cracking down of public dissent by intimidating, harassing and jailing individuals who broke the interdiction on strikes and protests.
As part of anti-grant measures, Buhari also ordered that the currency be replaced, forcing all holders of old notes to exchange them at banks within a limited stipulated time period. Prices rose while living standards sank, leading to a palace coup by General Ibrahim Babangida.
During the 2015 Presidential Campaigns, the former Army General, now adorned with traditional robes and thick framed spectacles, worked hard to bury his past ugly reputation that has impinged on him. He said: "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. He has clearly stated that he cannot change the past, who he was a professional, being a soldier, then a dictator, but he could change the present and better manage the future. However, Sceptics warned that he could return to his autocratic ways and human rights abuses. Sonnie Ekwowusi; an editorial board member and a columnist at This Day newspaper, said: "I voted for Jonathan because of the fear of going to the unknown. Nobody seems to know what Buhari has up his sleeve. he can spring a surprise like taking Nigeria under Sharia law, I think once a dictator, always a dictator. He has tried to be a born-again democrat but we have not seen that in his utterances. Many people are afraid that if he wins, they will go to prison".
Buhari who put hundreds of people behind bars after taking up power in 1980s coup, persuaded voters he is a changed man and a born-again democrat. He claimed that he is a reformed character who respects civil liberties and on his election into office, he proclaimed that: "Democracy and rule of law will be put in place. I pledge myself and the government to the rule of law, in which none shall be so above the law that they are not subject to its dictates, and none shall be so below it that they are not availed of its protection. But under his government, democracy and rule of law which is one of the cardinal points of democracy has come under serious jeopardy by the constant violation and trampling upon in his defiance in respecting two separate court orders that granted Nnamdi Kanu and orders unconditional release, thereby undermining and violating the customary standards of the Nigerian institutions and authorities.
We have also witnessed the total elimination and substantial restriction of civil liberties of citizens, just like he forcefully suppressed public dissent and protesters during his days as a military dictator by the way and manner he ordered the arrests and killings of Pro-Biafra agitators in the country and so brazenly abusing their rights to seek self-determination under the law in the bid to obliterate them from the surface of the earth.
He has also witch-hunted his perceived competitors and political enemies in the guise of the "one-sided and partial" fight against corruption used as a political tool to autocratically guide and manipulate ruling apparatus to develop a monopoly of power.
Buhari as a despotic ruler without moral scruples has displayed exclusivity and arbitrariness in the exercise of power when he had hinted in one of his earlier official tours abroad that: "Those that gave me 97% votes cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with those that gave me 5%.
Just like his days as the Nigerian Military Head Of State, he had also tried unsuccessfully to gag the media in the desperate bid to disconnect and/or jam the signals of Radio Biafra from preaching and disseminating the gospel of truth, leading to the sacking of some officials of the National Broadcasting Commission for their inability in stopping the Radio from broadcast.
All these and more have summed up to confirm Ekwowusi's assertion that 'once a dictator, always a dictator'.

Written  By  Ucheagu Chukwuemeka Chimerue.
Edited  Ikechukwu  Nwaorisa

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