By Jen Jibrin
Looking at the ongoing EndSARS protests nationwide and the large turnout among Nigerian youths, There’s no illusions about what the deterioration of democratic practice in Nigeria could mean for citizens demanding justice and accountability to prevail in the country.
The impetus for the EndSARS protest against police brutality, unlawful arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings in Nigeria may be a tipping point as well as flashing lights about the erosion of democratic principles in Nigeria.
A look into section 14 (2b) of the 1999 constitution states that “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary responsibility of government.” This constitutional duty has further informed a basic responsibility for government to ensure the safety of life and property of all its citizens.
Nigeria is a party to many human rights treaties, which includes; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights among others. These international and regional treaties were well negotiated, executed and rectified towards safeguarding the freedom and rights of every citizen in member states.
However, Nigerian constitution embodies the fundamental human rights of every Nigerian citizen and these rights enforceable under section 6 of the 1999 constitution. It is imperative for authorities in Nigeria to safeguard and ensure that human rights are preserved and that people are governed within the ideas and values of true democratic principles in Nigeria.
The sad irony of Nigerian democracy is prevalent to diverse issues and law enforcement bottlenecks, the issue of rule of law and human rights continue to be a critical challenge to the Nigerian Government in many decades. Thus, the police in Nigeria has been severally accused of serious human rights violations, such extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and enforced disappearances, restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly among others.
Successive governments in Nigeria have failed to implement reforms to protect Nigerians. It is believed that the defunct SARS unit of the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian military are responsible for the widespread violation of human rights in Nigeria. Recalled that more than 45 members of Shi’a Muslim group were killed and their leader El-Zakzaky still in detention with the Nigerian secret police despite multiple court orders issued for his release by ECOWAS court as well Federal High court in Nigeria. And no fewer than 150 members and supporters of Pro-Biafra were injured and brutally arrested during a non-violent protest in Nigeria.
Additionally, A Hausa musician in Kano, Yahya Aminu Sharif was recently sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad. The judgement was delivered by the Shari’a Court in Kano according to Islamic jurisdictions.
Kano is one of the states in Nigeria to have implemented Shari’a law, and with Hisbah as Shari’a Monitoring Guard. Several Civil society organizations in Nigeria, as well as Amnesty International, have condemned the death sentence and call on the Nigerian to respect international treaties to which Nigeria is members.
In a related phenomenon, Nigerian media continue to operate under a climax of fear. Nigerian Security Agencies had in the past carried out a raid on Daily Trust office in Maiduguri, Saharareporters in Lagos, while journalists from Silverbird TV, Independent African Television (AIT), Vanguard Newspapers, Channel TV were detained and harassed by security apparatus in Nigeria.
Taking closer the picture of Anti-corruption fight in Nigeria. The EFCC in Nigeria under its suspended Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, has secured 1,900 convictions and recovered N794 billion as looted funds. But the table turned on the anti-corruption czar when Shehu Malami (SAN), the Nigerian Attorney General of Federation accused Ibrahim Magu of looting the recovered loot.
Magu is still standing trial before Justice Ayo Salami Panel which was set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to probe the EFCC Boss. Several Critics lamented the credibility of the allegations by the Nigerian justice minister and believed that the Anti-Corruption crusade has been hijacked by cabals in the presidency. Many international organizations have written to President Muhammadu Buhari to review the damage being done to the integrity of EFCC.
In 2016 when Nigeria went into recession, President Buhari launched Economic Growth Recovery Plan (EGRP) and the merging of anticipated annual budget from 2017 through 2020. Buhari relied on the problems of socio-economic indices in the area of welfare of Nigerians.
The EGRP was also designed to the economically downtrodden, creating employment, providing quality and affordable healthcare as well as Education. The EGRP focus on oil from negative growth of -1.5% in 2016 to accelerated growth of 7.6% in 2020. While the EGRP also focus on Agriculture with accelerated growth of 8% in 2020 and the manufacturing sector accelerated growth to 10.8% by 2020 from -5.8% in 2017 as presented to the World Bank.
Ultimately, despite the EGRP launch in 2016, many Nigerians do not perceive change in their current economic conditions or likely there is little impact being felt on the ground. Many experts lamented worrying signs of persistent precarity, as many people are vulnerable and struggling to adjust to expectations of economic prosperity.
Like many oil economies, Nigeria relies heavily on state spending and subsidies in recent years. Not until when President Buhari removed oil subsidy in 2020, the action that trailed criticism and condemnation by corrupt oil cartel in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s economy continue to hit hard by plummeting oil and gas prices. Also, 95% of the country’s revenue is generated from oil export earnings and now faced with dwindling revenues and reserves. In the wake of Coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Government was tasked with cutting down the country’s 2020 budget to between 40-45% by 1.5 trillion naira. The oil benchmark was reduced from $57 per barrel to $30 per barrel in 2020.
Managing Covid-19, President Buhari and other well-meaning elites across business communities have successfully delivered of the health aspect of Coronavirus pandemic. The NCDC in Nigeria had confirmed 61,630 cases, discharged 56.798 cases and 1,125 death cases. There is also daily significant rise in coronavirus cases in Nigeria and the Federal Government is gradually opening the economy as well as full reopening of academic institutions by next.
Succinctly, the biggest lesson Nigeria’s President should learn from the EndSARS protest is that Nigerians across the country are crying out for leadership that respect fundamental principles of democracy, a leadership that shows care for the protection of life and property, show concern but also actions in implementing critical reforms capable of bringing the desired change to the citizenry.
Buhari must swiftly respond to human rights violations by the security agencies as well as laying out solid economic intervention package to alleviate poverty, and rally round every Nigerian to participate in the country’s struggle for development by 2050.
EndSARS protest must have given President Muhammadu Buhari a spotlight but leading Nigerians to a critical solution amid allegations of nepotism is not going to be easy especially prevailing on his refusal to sack service chiefs believed to be dominated by his northern kinsmen.
It is now glaring that the EndSARS protest by Nigerian youths particularly are justified in feeling frustrated and in a real sense justified in feeling that justice and accountability does not have practical inputs in their lives.
Since President Buhari is perceived to combine three qualities in him. One; his incorruptible nature, second; his clear instinct for transparency and third; his experience in the military. These are critical qualities combined together in the personality of President Muhammadu Buhari. Therefore, the president must be a student of history to read the flashing light on the dashboard as warning signs of Nigeria’s democracy.
Nigeria as Africa’s model of democracy must not allow democratic principles to stumble, the need to preserve the norms and ideal of democracy is imperative, reforms is critical at the moment to reinvigorate democracy in Nigeria to avoid a dangerous age of populism which may likely harbour an opportunity for the righting the ship of Nigeria and Africa as a continent.
Jen Jibrin, a public affairs analyst, writes from Asokoro District Abuja, Nigeria