Let us start by paraphrasing one of Shakespeare’s seminal works, Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 1). To impeach or not to impeach Nigeria’s President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd), that is the question: to defenestrate Nigeria’s most prestigious office of the one man through whom our differences have become more pronounced, and our shot at peace and prosperity more off the mark – or to remain fatalistic in character and docile in disposition and, in consequence, be subjected to more dehumanizing existential experiences? To those whose critical lenses are not faulty and to whom objective reality is not elusive, the answer to this question is a cinch.
Nigeria has seen enough demystification of the man who, only six years ago, was touted as a fount of endless solutions to Nigeria’s hydra-headed sociological problems – a “reformed democrat” for whom heaps of paeans would have been written and recited – except he has now proved himself unworthy of accolades, and we (the majority of Nigerians at least) now know better. Even Femi Adeshina, the infamous defender of the indefensible, is fast becoming a “wailer” (in his own sense of the word), caterwauling about an imminent vote of no confidence in his master by the political class, many of whom have only arrived late to the lamentation, considering the people gave their verdict before 2019.
Leadership can either be benediction or anathema, both for the leader and the led. For Buhari, he has had enough opportunities to prove himself and do right by Nigerians. Thrice, despite the millstone of legitimacy which has always dogged his love for power, Buhari has had the chance to correct the ills of Nigeria at the highest level, and each time, he has stamped himself in the annals of history as a generational failure. Not only did he fail those who witnessed his regime in 1984, but he has also failed the under-35 age group who, as a result of their domination of the country’s population and voters’ register, enthusiastically campaigned and voted for him in 2015. The same group witnessed his willful subversion of Nigeria’s electoral process through the militarization and rigging of the elections in 2019, effectively making his dictatorial constitution a concrete reality for those who were either not born or too young in 1984.
Rather than being a unifying figure in a fragile state like Nigeria, he has consistently embraced his inherent tribesman identity, furthering disunity in the country. As Military Head of State between 1984 to 1985, nearly all the senior positions in his Supreme Military Council (SMC) were served à la carte to Northern Muslims; today, his political appointments continue to foment social discontent across Southern Nigeria. His paternalistic and dirigisme economic policies are more sterile today than they were in the 1980s, leaving several million unemployed and nearly seventy per cent of the population impoverished. The country’s fiscal umpire is merely a cash cow today, and debt profile is at a record high.
But the country’s dismal economic condition is one thing, the right to life is another. Available statistics on Nigerian Security Tracker shows that; roughly 500 violent deaths of Nigerians are recorded every three weeks since the beginning of 2021, which is cumulatively just a notch higher than the number of civilians killed in the first quarter of 2020. More than 800 Nigerians have been kidnapped so far in 2021, some of them killed, raped, sodomized, dehumanized, and the others still in captivity because they cannot afford the demanded ransom. The fear to move around Nigeria freely no longer derives from the constant harassment and extortion by security forces only, but also the brutality of armed bandits, terror groups, and other non-state actors. Speak of double jeopardy!
In spite of all this, one would not get as far as seven if determined to number how many times the President of Nigeria has addressed the country directly, empathizing with those who have suffered losses and identifying with the country’s state of despair; offering hope to the hopeless and speaking with the courage of a compassionate and clear-headed leader. Even in the most peaceful and well-run countries, it is customary for leaders to appear before their people and address them directly on issues of national concern. Buhari lacks the capacity for empathy. His failure as a leader is symptomatic of both the lack of capacity for humanization and the capacity for problem-solving.
On the one hand, Buhari’s lack of capacity for humanization explains his insouciant disposition to the avertable upsurge in the dehumanization of Nigerians by state and non-state actors. One might expect that a military dictator who jailed political opponents for 200 years in 1984 would be the exact elixir an endangered state like Nigeria needs, but nothing else seems furthest from the truth. Buhari is just another oppressor who considers Nigerians as “inanimate” objects or “things” who are less than his fat cows in Daura. People like Buhari are mere Lilliputians who thrive only against the weak and shrink just as fast against the strong. Just as strong steels are forged in furnaces, true leaders emerge in times of crisis. Buhari is neither made of steel nor capable to lead.
As the chief military superintendent of the puritanical War Against Indiscipline (WAI) campaign in 1984, there ought to be no scruples about Buhari’s capacity to humanize the concrete social conditions of Nigerians; that capacity is simply nonexistent. By importing a tribalist dictator from our best-buried past into the twenty-first century, we cemented the dehumanization of human life in Nigeria, which is now so entrenched that the valuation of each life lost is no different from the statistical import of a missing commodity in a trader’s store.
Today, it doesn’t matter how mighty or small; all Nigerians are not safe. With about 100 kilometres (or less) between its current encampment and the metropolis, Boko Haram is closing in on the Federal Capital Territory. Even those who assumed they were safer than the others are now awakening to a new concrete consciousness. If the last six years are indicative of anything, it is the fact that Buhari is simply not the answer – his capacity for humanization is weak, his interest in humanization is absent, and as long his cheeks continue to grow bigger in his Aso Rock haven, he could not be bothered whether it is one or one thousand lives lost to banditry, ethnoreligious violence or terrorism in a month.
Since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, no president has been as bellicose as Buhari in “defending” the indissolubility of Nigeria’s fragile unity. Conversely, no other president in the same period has assailed that unity more than Buhari himself, in that nothing divides more than a symbol of division. It, therefore, follows that Nigeria’s unity, though born of occidental interests, can only be reasonably and peacefully “defended” with Buhari out of the picture. The last six years have already proven to Nigeria and the world who Buhari is not. For Nigeria to heal, Buhari must go. But we must also establish that Buhari’s defenestration must not come by way of a coup; Nigeria has seen enough of that. We must also emphasize that coups do not engender transformative governance; they only ossify the bane called dictators and entrench dehumanization.
The Nigerian constitution, flawed as it is, provides reasonable grounds for Buhari’s impeachment. Chapter II Section 14 (2)(a) establishes the fundamental, objective reality that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria”, and Buhari derives his legitimacy, through the constitution, from that sovereignty. In the same Chapter, however, Section 14 (2)(b) delineates the precondition upon which the government is deserving of being considered legitimate: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”; in these two things, Buhari has failed woefully; hence, he is on the one hand, undeserving of the people’s legitimacy as a result of his failure, and on the other hand, his continued stay in power will prove too costly for Nigeria.
The National Assembly has the primary responsibility of implementing the impeachment provisions established in section 143 of the constitution. Buhari has committed many crimes, but if the National Assembly is unsure where to start, let’s mention some cursorily: one is the crime of corruption which has eaten very deep into the structures of his administration — his regime is so corrupt that no type of corruption — be it bribery, looting or extortion is lacking; two is the crime of gross misconduct which, more precisely would be crimes against humanity — whether it is the express and tacit approval of, or insouciance towards human rights violations, killing of peaceful protesters (from Shiites in Kaduna and Abuja to EndSARS protesters in different parts of the country, so much so that several activists are now in exile); three is the crime of tyranny in a democratic country — Nigeria’s democracy, today, subjected to numerous strains of dictatorship, which is the hallmark of Buhari’s regime, with adverse effects on civil liberties, the civic space, press freedom, etc.
The fourth is the crime of dereliction of duty which characterizes his general response to the widespread insecurity ravaging the Nigerian state. Anyone who is not blinded by sycophancy or entrapped in the bubble of dereliction will agree that Buhari’s handling of Nigeria’s insecurity crisis since day one has been suspicious. The soldiers who lament publicly after several unsuccessful internal complaints about lack of better welfare, intel or weapons are either court-martialed, demoted or sent down a rabbit hole to vanish without a trace.
The fifth imbricates into the last because it is simply the crime of abetting terrorism. Buhari has openly donned himself in the grimy thobe robe of terrorism by choosing to shield a gradualist terrorist, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Ali Isa Pantami, under his immunity-adorned presidential wings. Nothing could be more implicatory than the commander-in-chief supposedly leading a country in the fight against terrorism, shielding a person who publicly, repeatedly declared his affinity for terrorism and religious extremism. The duty of the National Assembly here is simple and straightforward: impeach Buhari. And if they fail to begin an impeachment proceeding, Nigerians must, as a civic duty, harry their representatives in both houses until they commence the impeaching of the president.
In the absence of this much-needed action by the National Assembly, the burden of defending Nigerians will rest squarely on the shoulders of Nigerians, and one way to do this is through civil disobedience. The Nigerian State, for instance, has no right to receive taxes or levies from Nigerians if Buhari clenches to power desperately, especially to the detriment of human lives and properties, as is currently the case. Nigerian workers have every right to down tools in protest against the Buhari regime. The labour union and other workers’ union will need to emerge from their necrophilic state, too. Religious leaders will also have to do more than straddle their rostrums and lament; they will have to prod their congregation in the direction of collective action.
Impeaching Buhari will not be an easy task, but there is no other way to save Nigerians and save the country from imminent ruin.
Adebayo Raphael is a Writer and Human Rights Activist. He can be reached on [email protected]