By Adebayo Raphael
A failure to choose the Constitution and the people over the sentimental, self-driven and obsequious loyalty to the president has, with time, emboldened the Buhari-led government to mount a pedestal of callous arrogance and impunity. This has proved costly for Nigeria’s democracy, which is increasingly disappearing in the face of a mighty and ferocious tundra of tyranny.
Perhaps a most pungent issue at the heart of Nigerian politics today is the issue of loyalty. A single factor with which a leader can become a god and a nation a superpower among peers; the absence of which, however, a politician or a nation may fail terribly.
Following the ruinous thirty years of military dictatorship and the hope, perhaps misplaced or mismanaged, of better days that accompanied the beginning of our over twenty-year-old democratic dispensation, Nigeria is facing a second-to-none period of catastrophic governance under the so-called democratic regime of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.). And, contrary to the hope of the fifteen million people who elected him in 2015, he has performed woefully and done mighty damage to every fabric of the Nigerian polity.
In the last five years, Nigeria has become a melting pot for all sorts of crises: From insecurity, which is now vastly multifarious, to a recession-ridden economy, then a phantom war on corruption – quickly followed by bogus infrastructural projects, and often accompanied by an untamed penchant for foreign loans, which have now reached a ludicrous amount and which, as a matter of fact, is nearly three times the figure at the beginning of 2015. Not to mention the wretchedly disturbing, yet trivialised, fact that 105 million Nigerians, of the 200 million population, now live in extreme poverty. Even so, more Nigerians are falling into the ditch of deep deprivation every six seconds.
Hardly would anyone see a country where these issues are as stark as they are in Nigeria and expect for there not to be uneasiness, disenchantment and a profound loathing of the government in power. Every aspect of the highly promising social contract which Nigerians had with the incumbent government in 2015 has now been violated, and dare I say, with towering recklessness and impunity. But that is not the worst of all.
As a federal republic, Nigeria has in place a system of checks and balances that ought to make our democracy representative and resistant to tyranny or abuse by the minority. Within this system is where the executive, legislature and judiciary find an essential place of pride. Each of these arms of government ought to play the role of gatekeeper, especially if any of them becomes callously and irrationally deviant. Sadly, none of these arms of government has been able to live up to its responsibilities, or show as much grit for its fulfilment.
Perhaps, however, none is more indicative of untamed viciousness, dereliction, confusion and stark hopelessness as the Buhari-led executive. And unfortunately for Nigeria, the other arms of government that should check the excesses of the executive appear to be obsequiously loyal to General Buhari, in a way that is arguably unprecedented in Nigeria’s history in the last twenty years.
For example, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure as the president met a strong bulwark when he sought a constitutional amendment to become Nigeria’s president for the third consecutive time. The Senate unanimously rejected this move after a long and hard battle that witnessed several death threats, intimidation, blackmail and an astonishing campaign of bribery. About $500 million was allegedly budgeted for this grimy agenda and yet it failed because there were gatekeepers who refused to let their guards down.
If the Ninth National Assembly is unclear on where to find the premise for this all-too-necessary display of loyalty, they only need to look to Chapter II, section 14 (2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 as amended, which declares that the “security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” This act of loyalty is what the Nigerian people need and deserve.
At the centre of this ‘gatekeeping’ is the question of loyalty: To whom should a public servant’s unflinching loyalty go? The 2006 rejection of Obasanjo’s third term bid by the Senate provides an exemplary answer to this question – the Constitution and the citizenry. Such was the valiant role of the late Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili, who, as a lone voice against an awfully powerful lot of obsequious cabinet members, stood to defend Nigeria’s Constitution during the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration. Again, this buttresses the clarity about loyalty for public servants.
Another good example that I must mention is the compelling speech of Sir Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons in the late 1990s, which incidentally delivered the coup-de-grâce to the era of Thatcherism. Described by the Library Journal as Margaret Thatcher’s “true-blue political servant for ten long years,” Howe’s resignation from Thatcher’s cabinet, despite being the deputy prime minister at the time, came at a time when Thatcher’s economic policies had become sickeningly unpopular with the British people, and as Howe wrote in his memoir, Conflict of Loyalty, the “…recklessness with which she (Margaret Thatcher) later sought to impose her own increasingly uncompromising views,” – as always, if I may add, did not help her standing.
During his speech, Sir Howe explained how he needed to decide between his loyalty to the then prime minister – as a friend and cabinet member, and his loyalty to the nation. He chose the latter. No doubt, at the centre of Howe’s resignation was the same question of loyalty posed above, which, presently, is elusive to especially Nigeria’s legislature during General Buhari’s regime. A failure to choose the Constitution and the people over the sentimental, self-driven and obsequious loyalty to the president has, with time, emboldened the Buhari-led government to mount a pedestal of callous arrogance and impunity. This has proved costly for Nigeria’s democracy, which is increasingly disappearing in the face of a mighty and ferocious tundra of tyranny.
There may be no better way to answer this most-important question of loyalty in contemporary politics than through the words of the United States chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, who said: “We are unique among militaries. We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or religion. We take an oath to the Constitution.” While this may have been an exhortation to the U.S. military, it is also a fitting message to Nigeria’s elected representatives in the legislature, particularly the Ninth National Assembly.
The ongoing assault on Nigeria’s democracy, economy and the Nigerian people by the Buhari-led regime, incites a compelling and urgent need for the type of loyalty that we saw with the Fifth Senate, Professor Dora Akunyili, Sir Geoffrey Howe and General Mark Milley.
If the Ninth National Assembly is unclear on where to find the premise for this all-too-necessary display of loyalty, they only need to look to Chapter II, section 14 (2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 as amended, which declares that the “security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” This act of loyalty is what the Nigerian people need and deserve. For it is indeed an act of loyalty for the legislature to impeach a president who fails woefully like Buhari has done, in living up to the purpose of his office. Anything short of this is simply treachery and the Nigerian people must respond accordingly.
Adebayo Raphael is a Human Rights Activist and Writer. He can be reached on Twitter @Adebayo_Ralph.