By Tochukwu Ezukanma
Power, not tenoned and mortised – dictatorial and tyrannical powers – is hypnotic, and sometimes, deranging. Not surprisingly, history is strewn with lamentable and regrettable bombasts and blunders of despots and tyrants deranged by power. Democratic power is legitimate, benign power. It derives from the ultimate repository, and the most genuine source, of power: the people; it is a selfless servant of the people. It appreciates that the people are not pawns in an elite power game, but the focus of the interests, concerns, policies and actions of elected and appointed government officials and every institution of government. Consequently, democratic power is neither hypnotic nor deranging.
The Nigerian aberration is that democratically elected governments routinely degenerate to bumbling, blundering dictatorships. Therefore, instead of being selfless public servants, the Nigerian ruling elite are a band of over-paid, profligate, hedonistic and money-stealing panjandrums. President Buhari is a dictator. He is not known for his oratorical flourishes, and has, consequently, not displayed the usual arrogant and megalomaniac bombasts of dictators. But he has dramatized the other characteristics of despots, like intolerance for political opposition and repression of free speech.
Therefore, he is susceptible to the hypnotic and deranging effects of power. It was in the deranging effect of power that he refused to heed the message of the #EndDARS protesters. It was in the deranging effect of power that he ordered the shooting and killing of peaceful protesters waving the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem. The #EndSARS protest was a dirge, laden with a message from the generality of Nigerians for the government. The message is cogent, lucid and loud: Nigerians are sick and tired of the status quo. It is an unconscionable status quo buoyed by an evil oligarchy that has, for so long, retained a monopoly grip of power, and deployed power as a ruthless enemy of the people.
It is a status quo that subverts a principled distribution of the national wealth by reinforcing the inordinate wealth of an elite few – politicians, government officials, businessmen, super-star pastors, etc – at the economic strangulation of the masses. It encourages the stealing, sharing, and salting away into personal bank accounts a frightening proportion of the national commonwealth by the political and business elite, and consequently, consigned a preponderant number of Nigerians to poverty, ignorance, homelessness, disease and insecurity.
It is a status quo that superintended over the destruction of the Nigerian educational system, and reduced our universities, once intellectual powerhouses and bastions of academic distinction, to festering quarters of intellectual lassitude and academic mediocrity, and cesspools of “sorting out”, and bribe and sex for grades. Battered by neglect and corruption, our health care delivery system is in a disgraceful state. In their condescending indifference for the country they supposedly serve, the political elite educate their own children overseas, in Western universities, and get their medical treatments, even, routine medical check-ups in America, Britain, etc.
That most notoriously corrupt, trigger-happy and murderous police force in the world, the Nigerian Police Force, is an indispensable tool of the ruling elite. Its brutality and extra-judicial killings are only reflective of the attitude of the ruling elite towards the people. If the corruption and brutality of the Nigerian police are not in conformity with the wishes of the ruling elite, why did the government repeatedly renege on all its earlier promises to ban SARS and reform the police? In their ineffable avarice, every state governor appropriates at least five hundred million naira monthly as security vote. The use of the security vote is at the discretion of the governor and is not accounted for. Still, in their outrageous wickedness, many state governors refuse to pay the salaries of state employees. In some states, civil servants are owed up to 18 months salary. The list of the iniquities of this evil oligarchy is inexhaustible.
In addition, Nigerians are disenchanted with a government that has failed to fulfill the most fundamental of its constitutional obligations: the protection of lives and property and advancement of the peoples’ welfare. Skillfully packaged and presented, Nigerians were captivated by Buhari: his lickerish electoral promises and, what we thought was, his personification of the desiderata for dealing with Nigeria’s myriad of problems: incorruptible uprightness of a moral crusader, indomitable will of a military commander and unbridled candor of a devout Moslem. Unfortunately, the Buhari presidency has been a disaster.
The economy is in doldrums, as the naira continues to depreciate, unemployment soars to perilous heights; hunger intensifies and pervades the country; and Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world. The war on corruption has collapsed into mere trumpery; and the country became even more corrupt. Despite the billions of dollars budgeted and “spent” on the war on terror, Boko Haram remains a potent and effective fighting force. It strikes at military and civilian targets with terrifying facility. Bandits operate with impunity, killing and kidnapping, almost at will. The Buhari administration has demonstrated bewildering contempt for human lives. For example, over the years, it encouraged, at least, tacitly, Fulani herdsmen mass-murder of the innocent and hapless across central and southern Nigeria.
It was in disenchantment for this disgustingly unjust status quo, the evil oligarchy that props it up, and the downright failure of the Buhari administration, that Nigerians spoke out through the #EndSARS protest. The protesters’ demands are pertinent and legitimate: disbandment of the SARS, overall police reform, and responsibility and accountability in governance. Lamentably, the Buhari administration refused to heed these demands, and, in addition, attacked and killed the protesters.
Nigerians are angry and bitter. If this smoldering anger and bitterness are not assuaged by resolute, far-reaching political and economic reforms, they will burst into flame. To pretend that the Nigerian situation is not edging towards a precipice, and therefore, does not require immediate, determined and wide-ranging reforms is a flight into fantasy, which is a symptom of the hypnotic and deranging effects of power.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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