This article, written by Baba Aye, one of the members of the People's Sovereignty Network, shows and explains from a close point of view the current situation of democracy in Nigeria. The article was published on December 9th, 2019, as a follow up to another one published in June to discuss the February/March elections.
Authoritarian Democracy and Radical Resistance in Nigeria
In our article for Issue 64 of Amandla
in June, which analyzed the February/March elections and related developments, we pointed out “the hollowness of liberal democracy in Nigeria”. In the months since then, the regime represented primarily by the ruling All Progressive Congress has become more authoritarian, whilst clinging to the shell of liberal democracy in form. The Coalition for Revolution (CORE) in Nigeria, further exposed the repressive essence of the regime. The state has violently tried to suppress the #RevolutionNow campaign launched by CORE in August without much success. This marks renewal of radical politics
Attacks on press freedom, disregard for court orders and the crushing of peaceful demonstrations have become the order of the day. The likelihood of this slide towards a quasi-fascist order is likely to go further except curbed by struggle from below. This is in the light of the declaration of the president in the wake of his re-election that working-class people should brace themselves for tougher times ahead.
Turns to authoritarianism are often taken by the ruling class to push through unpopular policies and programmes at the behest of capital accumulation (or to maintain the stability of the capitalist system as some form of Bonapartism or the other). The Argentine political scientist, Guillermo O’Donell for example theorized on how military regimes that emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s in Latin America created Bureaucratic Authoritarian States to push through modernization of countries in the region.
In the 1960s to the 1990s when military dictatorship was somewhat in fashion, this took the shape of a series of military juntas in Nigeria. Buhari himself first appeared as a head of state at the twilight of 1983 as General Muhammadu Buhari, with a coup which ousted the short-lived second republic.
Of the half a dozen juntas that wielded power for all but four years from 1966 to 1999, his regime was the most autocratic, despite not being as murderous as that of General Sani Abacha. He whipped Nigerians in line with a national “War Against Indiscipline (WAI)”, retroactively effected laws which carried the death sentence, instituted Decree No 2 for detention without trial and Decree No 4, the most repressive press gag law in the country’s history, purged the civil service and selectively prosecuted civilian politicians, apparently targeting those from the southern parts of the country with great vehemence.
When running for his first term in office, four years ago, Buhari claimed to have become a “converted democrat”. But obviously, “dictatorial habits have proved hard to give up”
. The habits of those who wield state power is however hardly ever the essential element of the ensemble that determines the nature of the regime they establish, continue or reconstitute. The dynamics of the world they meet on one hand as well as the nature and balance of class forces in struggle on the other, are usually of much more importance.
Increasing impunity and repression
Autocratic regimes have a propensity for constricting freedom of expression. The mass media and increasingly social media as well, face their ire. Since the 29 May inauguration of its second term, the APC regime has taken its tyrannical attacks on the mass media a notch or two higher.
It unleashed an avalanche of repressive measures in the very first week of June. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) a supposedly neutral regulator of the broadcast industry, headed by Mr Modibbo Kawu a stalwart of the ruling party, suspended the license of Daar Communications.
The government’s reign of impunity has not been limited to suppression of press freedom. 11 members of the Shi’ite minority Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), were killed on 28 July. A senior police officer and young journalist were also felled by stray bullets of security personnel. The members of IMN were protesting the continued incarceration of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzakky, in contempt of a 2016 court ruling.
An often under problematized aspect of the emerging post-fascist regime is its political consolidation of powers across the arms of government into one warhead of the executive. Friction between the leaderships of the two national legislative houses and the executive was the norm under earlier administrations, even when all sides were from the same party, including Mr. Buhari during his first term. But he now has allies as the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Just weeks before the elections, Buhari removed Mr Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice for corrupt practices in what was a deft political masterstroke, especially as it appeared that Mr Onnoghen had surreptitious affiliation with the PDP. The role of the Chief Justice in constituting election tribunals, as well as the interpretation of laws, cannot be overemphasized. Mr Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed was sworn-in as Chief Justice in April. Despite verbal commitments to respect for the rule of law, his (in)actions presents the picture of a chief judge who is not keen to rock the boat.
It is probably within this context that the government believes no criticism can stop
the enactment of a social media gag bill
, presently before the Senate, which has been described by a former radical Senator, Mr Shehu Sani as a move towards totalitarianism
. An earlier attempt to pass such a law in 2016 failed under the then embattled Senate President, Mr Bukola Saraki, due to mass mobilization against it.