With the glitter of fool’s gold, Nigeria’s recently elected President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in the United States in July uttering time-worn democracy vows to President Barack Obama and his administration.
Among other things, he pledged at the United States Institute for Peace to combat graft with procedures that would be “fair, just, and scrupulously follow due process and the rule of law, as enshrined in our constitution.”
Skepticism is in order—a conclusion reinforced by the ongoing persecution of of former National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki for alleged money laundering and illegal possession of firearms.
But first some background.
Mr. Buhari initially tasted power as a military dictator following a coup de tat in 1983. His dictatorship was earmarked by chilling human rights abuses. Take the word of Nigerian Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka.
Among other things, Mr. Soyinka highlights Mr. Buhari’s draconian edicts, exemplified by Decree 20 under which the judicial murders of Nigerian citizens Lawal Ojuolape, Bernard Ogedengbe, and Bartholomew Owoh were authorized. Mr. Obedengbe was executed for a crime that did not carry the death penalty at the time it was committed in violation of the universal revulsion of ex post facto laws.
Soyinka adds that these crimes were executed in defiance of pleas from virtually every sector of Nigeria and the international community—a grisly precedent for subsequent dictator Sani Abasha’s hanging of Ogoni activist Ken Sara-Wiwi in contempt of international opinion.
Mr. Buhari turned the nation into a slave plantation, and forbade the slaves from any discussion of their enslavement—especially a return to democracy. He favored the north over the south, dividing rather than unifying Nigeria after the convulsions of the 1967-70 Biafran War. He lent support to the introduction of Sharia law in the North—a major source of strife and disharmony.
Mr. Buhari’s brutal military dictatorship was overthrown in 1985. Mr. Dasuki played a key role. Dictators do not forget. Fast forward to today.
After celebrating fairness, due process, and the rule of law last July to win the good will of the United States, Mr. Buhari returned to Nigeria to mock all three in a vendetta against the Dasuki, the immediate past National Security Adviser.
He placed Mr. Dasuki under house arrest. He confiscated his passport. He charged him with firearms and money laundering violations. He sought a secret trial to prevent independent scrutiny.
He opposed Mr. Dasuki’s pretrial application to the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja for permission to receive urgent medical treatment for cancer in London, but it was nonetheless granted.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola explained that an accused is presumed innocent before trial, and that a citizen’s health is paramount before the law. Mr. Buhari was ordered to release Mr. Dasuki’s international passport.
Mr. Buhari defied the order. He put Mr. Dasuki’s house under siege, a microcosm of the Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo. Mr. Dasuki returned to court. Justice Ademola reaffirmed his order, asserting “My own orders will not be flouted.”
Mr. Buhari has not yet budged. As a military dictator in 1985, he similarly seized the international passport of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to thwart his travel for medical treatment, which caused his death in 1987. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Much is riding on Mr. Dasuki’s case. If Mr. Buhari flouts Justice Ademola’s order with impunity, judicial independence will be fatally compromised and Nigeria’s embryonic democratic dispensation will be stillborn. The judiciary is the only branch capable of checking limitless executive power—the bane of Africa.
Members of Nigeria’s National Assembly and Senate have been reduced to playing the roles of extras in cinematic extravaganzas.
Further, President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration accepted a peaceful transfer of power to President Buhari, a laudable landmark in African politics. If Mr. Buhari is permitted with impunity to destroy his political opponents like Mr. Dasuki with tyrannical methods, peaceful transfers of power everywhere on the Continent will become problematic. The incumbents’ risk of political and personal impalement at the hands of their would-be successors will be too high.
The United States should be insisting on independent human rights observers to monitor Mr. Dasuki’s prosecution and trial, and demanding that Mr. Buhari honor his vow to follow due process and the rule of law. The stakes are too high to remain silent.