Who Will Bring Down This Tension?

Eze Onyekpere

Is there anyone out there in a position of authority in Nigeria in the executive, legislature and judiciary thinking of Nigeria’s peace as a foundation for progress and development? Who shall we run to in this season where reason and common sense seems to have taken flight? Who is really in charge? Does the use of constitutional titles and appellations make anyone to be charge in a season of lawlessness? Can anyone be in charge without adherence to the rule of law? There are more questions than answers.  This discourse presents a central thesis that the country is drifting and the leaders are fiddling, neglecting their constitutional duties while the storm gathers speed. It is the position that leadership steps need to be taken urgently, before we fall over. This is necessary to pull Nigeria back from the edge of the cliff.  And the steps needed are steps for peace.

Where do we begin? Two recent issues demonstrate our race to anarchy and our refusal of peace. A notable activist and politician, Omoyele Sowore, in expression of the popular anger and helplessness with the state of our politics, economy and social relationships called for demonstrations, the expression of the right to associate, peaceful assembly and freedom of movement, while using a common word “revolution” and it earned him a court-approved detention for 45 days after he had been detained for a couple of days by the Department of State Services. Words are skeins of living thought and there is no static or fixed meaning of words beyond their context. The authorities likened the word ‘revolution’ to the overthrow of government and treason. At the level of an expressed intention, without any manifestation of actions, the executive detained, and later sought a detention order and the judiciary obliged. With the detention order, has the Nigerian problem been solved? Will all the issues raised by Sowore be swept under the carpet? No, they are still with us. But the detention adds another unnecessary challenge which we can ill-afford to add to already existing challenges. We should be seen to be solving existing problems rather than adding to existing ones.

The authorities by getting this detention order may think they will have peace. Their definition of peace is not one associated with justice. It is essentially one tied to the idea of might is right, the peace that comes after a stronger person overcomes their victim, crushes them and there is the silence of the graveyard. It is not a new fact to the authorities that the country is economically, socially and politically depressed. Citizens are suffering untold hardship while the suicide rate has dramatically increased. The unemployment rate is high while the standard of living has plummeted with so many more millions of Nigerians falling into acute poverty. Insecurity that was to a large extent, limited to the insurgency in the North-East before 2015, had spread to virtually every nook and cranny of Nigeria. No part of the country is safe from the menace of terrorists, bandits, killer herdsmen and other criminals. What should be the response of a reasonable and responsive government in the circumstances to the scenarios painted above?

Nigeria has been agog with demonstrations, deaths and injuries arising from the protests of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria protesting the crude disobedience of court orders for the release of their leader, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, by President Muhammadu Buhari and the immediate past Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. How did the government respond? The executive went before the court and got their usual ex parte order to declare the movement a terrorist group and thereafter banned them from operating anywhere in Nigeria as they have become an illegal and unlawful organisation. An ex parte order is one given at the deposition and averment of one party. The adverse party, the Shiites group, was not heard nor given an opportunity to defend the allegations against it. And the court also asked the executive to gazette the order and that was all that was required to outlaw a group. What manner of jurisprudence is this that fails the basic tenets of hearing from both parties to a dispute before arriving at a decision? Elementary constitutional law teaches every intending lawyer that the right to fair hearing is not a right to be trifled with. It is so fundamental that even the person charged with murder, treason or any of the offences punishable with death must enjoy the right otherwise their trial will be declared a nullity. Is this the path of reason, the path of sustainable peace or the peace of the graveyard?

Still on the Shi’ites, a wonderful opportunity presented itself for the government to save face and release their leader whose unlawful detention has led to the crisis in the first place. The Kaduna State High Court granted him leave to travel out of the country for medical treatment under the supervision of the Kaduna State Government. Thereafter, all we are hearing is that the Kaduna State Government is setting impossible conditions for a man whom the court had determined is entitled to go abroad and treat himself before coming back to stand trial. How can the terms of the travel be one not determined by the court, but at the whims and caprices of the executive who in the first place verily believes he is guilty and as such should face the gallows? This cannot be the quest for peace and justice but a deliberate provocation for anarchy. No one should be allowed to be an accuser and a judge at the same time.

The IMN faithful have publicly stated they are not afraid of death. Shall we knowingly or unknowingly create a new set of men and women ready to die for a cause that will involve them take as many persons as possible with them to their graves? Boko Haram started with state mismanagement of a manageable crisis. Now, it has got out of hand and every reasonable Nigerian wished that government managed the initial challenges much better.  Why are we not learning from very recent history?

There can be no development without peace, without the rule of law. No investor will invest in a season of anomie and lawlessness. Development cannot proceed in an environment where the executive, legislative and judicial powers are virtually rolled into one. There is just one man who is in charge and who can either through directives or his body language bring down the tension in the land. He is Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari. The tension is reaching a crescendo. And no one is sure whether it will simply disappear or blow up in our face.

I hereby appeal to the President to diffuse the tension in the land; make overtures for peace, reduce the language of defiance to public opinion; take less militant and divisive actions; and be more tolerant and restore our democracy.