Buhari: The gen­eral and the democ­racy

The Punch - - EDITORIAL - Azuka On­wuka

LAST week, PUNCH took a stand to start us­ing the mil­i­tary rank of the Pres­i­dent, Ma­jor Gen­eral Muham­madu Buhari (retd.) in all its ti­tles, as its re­ac­tion to Buhari’s dic­ta­to­rial ten­den­cies. In ad­di­tion, the news­pa­per said it would use “regime” rather than ad­min­is­tra­tion or the like to de­scribe the gov­ern­ment of Buhari.

The punch­line in that scathing ed­i­to­rial en­ti­tled, “Buhari’s law­less­ness: Our stand,” was this: “As a sym­bolic demon­stra­tion of our protest against au­toc­racy and mil­i­tary-style re­pres­sion, PUNCH (all our print news­pa­pers, The PUNCH, Satur­day PUNCH, Sun­day PUNCH, PUNCH Sports Ex­tra, and dig­i­tal plat­forms, most es­pe­cially Punchng.com) will hence­forth pre­fix Buhari’s name with his rank as a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor in the 80s, Ma­jor Gen­eral, and re­fer to his ad­min­is­tra­tion as a regime, un­til they purge them­selves of their in­suf­fer­able con­tempt for the rule of law.”

In the penul­ti­mate para­graph, the ed­i­to­rial urged Nige­ri­ans to stop be­ing docile: “The regime’s re­pres­sion can­not suc­ceed but will fur­ther po­larise the so­ci­ety and weaken na­tional co­he­sion. The Nige­rian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion has vowed to de­fend the sanc­tity of ju­di­cial au­thor­ity, while Soyinka has warned that dis­re­gard for court or­ders could beget des­per­a­tion and civil dis­obe­di­ence. Nige­ri­ans need to stop their supine ac­qui­es­cence to op­pres­sion and learn to stand up for their rights as many are do­ing around the world, us­ing all peace­ful and le­gal means, in­clud­ing the right to protest and of peace­ful assem­bly.


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It is Da­suki, el-za­kza­kky, Sowore and oth­ers today, who knows who is next if re­pres­sion is not re­sisted?”

The two me­dia aides to Buhari

re­acted to the ed­i­to­rial dif­fer­ently. While Femi Adesina tried to play down on the im­port of that de­ci­sion, Garba Shehu was more ag­gres­sive in his re­sponse.

Adesina said there was noth­ing strange in the stand of Punch, not­ing that Buhari had al­ways taken pride in his mil­i­tary rank, “Ma­jor Gen­eral,” which was not gifted to him. He added that it did not mat­ter whether Buhari’s era was de­scribed as “regime”, ad­min­is­tra­tion, or ten­ure, since they all con­veyed the same mean­ing.

Shehu stated in­ter alia: “It is not within the power or rights of a news­pa­per to uni­lat­er­ally and whim­si­cally change the for­mal of­fi­cial ti­tle or the des­ig­na­tion of the coun­try’s Pres­i­dent as it pleases.

“It is un­prece­dented and ab­surd in our re­cent po­lit­i­cal his­tory. The PUNCH never changed Pres­i­dent Obasanjo’s ti­tle from the Pres­i­dent to Gen­eral, de­spite the lat­ter’s re­fusal to com­ply with Supreme Court judg­ment, or­der­ing him to re­lease N30bn of Lagos State lo­cal coun­cils funds.

“When Gen­eral Ibrahim Ba­bangida who wasn’t demo­crat­i­cally elected as­sumed the ti­tle of Pres­i­dent, why didn’t The PUNCH chal­lenge him or ad­dress him by any ti­tle it so de­sired?

“In fact, IBB closed me­dia houses for sev­eral months and years, in­clud­ing Punch.

“But the pa­per didn’t stop ad­dress­ing him as Pres­i­dent, de­spite the fact that he wasn’t elected.”

Even though some peo­ple have ar­gued

am elated that dis­cus­sions around cancer seem to be gain­ing ground and grad­u­ally com­ing to the fore. Cancer has been with us for decades, from the days of in­for­ma­tion dark­ness, through the days of al­most non-ex­is­tent trans­port sys­tem to the pre­sent day global home, driven by in­for­ma­tion and tech­nol­ogy where ev­ery­thing comes with seam­less ease. Tech­nol­ogy and human drive to in­no­va­tion have come to stay. This per­me­ates our ev­ery­day strug­gle for sur­vival and a de­cent liv­ing. One ger­mane fac­tor to sur­vival is good health and like they say, ‘health is wealth’. How­ever, a ma­jor chal­lenge that has be­dev­illed us in Nige­ria for some time now is cancer, cou­pled with in­for­ma­tion and aware­ness about it, threats to sur­vival that it comes with, cost of man­age­ment and treat­ment es­pe­cially to the mid­dle class or low in­come earn­ers amongst our pop­u­lace.

Cancer is a lead­ing cause of death glob­ally. Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, more than 70% of all cancer deaths oc­cur in low and mid­dle in­come coun­tries, where re­sources avail­able for pre­ven­tion, di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of cancer are limited or non-ex­is­tent. Nige­ria falls into this cat­e­gory. As a coun­try of over 200 mil­lion peo­ple with one of the world’s high­est cancer death rates, ap­prox­i­mately four out of five cancer cases re­sult in death. In 2018, about 115, 950 Nige­ri­ans were di­ag­nosed with cancer and 70, 327 died from the disease, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from Global Cancer Ob­ser­va­tory – up from 102,079 new cancer cases and 72,000 cancer deaths in 2012. To paint a more graphic pic­ture, Nige­ria has only nine cancer treat­ment cen­tres with only four ra­dio­ther­apy ma­chines. That is like

Wor­thy of note, breast cancer is one of the lead­ing causes of death amongst Nige­rian women and the most preva­lent form of all can­cers in Nige­ria, com­pris­ing 22.7 per cent of all new cancer cases in 2018 and 37 per cent amongst women. Many fac­tors con­trib­ute to the in­crease in cancer rates in Nige­ria and the poor out­comes: cancer pre­dis­pos­ing fac­tors such as un­healthy life­styles (smok­ing and high rate of al­co­hol con­sump­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion), late di­ag­no­sis, poor ac­cess to health­care and ille­quipped hos­pi­tals. A ma­jor is­sue is that most peo­ple can­not af­ford cancer treat­ment, be it ra­dio­ther­apy, chemo­ther­apy that the stand of Punch to ad­dress Buhari as ma­jor gen­eral and call his ad­min­is­tra­tion a regime is not an ef­fec­tive ac­tion against his dic­ta­to­rial ten­den­cies, it is in­deed a strong mes­sage to the world about Buhari’s regime. For ex­am­ple, the CNN pub­lished an ar­ti­cle with the head­line: “Nige­rian news­pa­per says it will now call Pres­i­dent Buhari a ‘mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor.’” Note that Punch did not say di­rectly that it would start ad­dress­ing Buhari as “mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor,” but that is the way the CNN in­ter­preted it.

No dic­ta­tor wants to be ad­dressed di­rectly or in­di­rectly as a dic­ta­tor. Ev­ery dic­ta­tor wants to be seen as a pa­tri­otic leader who is try­ing to pro­tect the nation from “in­ter­nal ene­mies and sabo­teurs.”

The hith­erto si­lence of the me­dia, civil so­ci­ety and other sec­tions of the Nige­rian pop­u­la­tion has been en­cour­ag­ing Buhari to in­fringe on the rights of the cit­i­zens in the name of de­fend­ing the nation. Even though it is ob­vi­ous that Buhari does not like to lis­ten to con­trary opin­ions, there has not been a con­certed ef­fort to let him know that he has no right to do as he pleases, even as the leader of Nige­ria.

When the homes of judges were in­vaded, there should have been a ro­bust re­ac­tion from the ju­di­ciary. When Buhari sus­pended the Chief Jus­tice of Nige­ria, Jus­tice Wal­ter Onnoghen, the ju­di­ciary should have re­acted firmly. But even the call to boy­cott the law courts was not heeded by many lawyers. The judges also did not see it as an at­tack on one of the three arms of the gov­ern­ment. They saw it as an at­tack on “cor­rupt judges.”

Other brazen abuse of per­sonal rights has also been seen in that light: a fight against cor­rupt or sedi­tious peo­ple. There is al­ways a ready-made jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by the de­fend­ers of Buhari against any il­le­gal ac­tion taken against a cit­i­zen. At­ten­tion is paid to the po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion, eth­nic­ity, or re­li­gion of the per­son in­volved rather than on the is­sue at hand.

Even when the ac­tion is crit­i­cised, there is al­ways a di­rect or sub­tle at­tempt to ex­on­er­ate Buhari and blame the ac­tion on one agency or head of an agency. Buhari is por­trayed as never aware of the neg­a­tive ac­tions of his sub­or­di­nates. But he is praised for any pos­i­tive ac­tion taken by his sub­or­di­nates.

It is dan­ger­ous for a democ­racy to have ac­qui­es­cent Leg­is­la­ture and Ju­di­ciary. It is dan­ger­ous for a democ­racy to have a weak op­po­si­tion. It is dan­ger­ous for democ­racy to have a pli­ant me­dia. It is dan­ger­ous be­cause it breeds dic­ta­tor­ship. The per­son oc­cu­py­ing the of­fice of the leader of a coun­try is dif­fer­ent from the coun­try. That per­son should never have ab­so­lute pow­ers. It is said that power cor­rupts and ab­so­lute power cor­rupts ab­so­lutely.

The cit­i­zens should also learn to place their love on the state and not on the in­di­vid­ual oc­cu­py­ing the of­fice of the leader of the state. The leader is an in­di­vid­ual with per­sonal feel­ings and love for self-preser­va­tion. Some­times, the leader as­sumes that what­ever they love is good for the coun­try. But it is not al­ways so. That is why there are laws to let the leader know what their lim­its are. That is why in a democ­racy, the Leg­is­la­ture, Ex­ec­u­tive and Ju­di­ciary are sep­a­rated from one an­other and made in­de­pen­dent. When­ever one of the arms over­steps its bounds, the other arm acts as a check, to avoid any de­scent into dic­ta­tor­ship and an­ar­chy.

Punch should be com­mended for this bold move. How­ever, given the an­tecedents of Buhari as a leader that brooks no op­po­si­tion, the news­pa­per should pre­pare for the on­slaught that may be un­leashed against it in the days ahead.

azon­[email protected]­hoo.com

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