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BY YUSUF MAITAMA TUGGAR
I have to begin this by coming clean and declaring my conviction in democracy. I fully subscribe to the notion that democracy is better than dictatorship–military or otherwise–starting with the simple reason that it is more legitimate. In a democratic system, people choose leaders to represent them in government through agreed upon procedure- an election. In a dictatorship, however, such leaders are forced upon them through a process that lacks general consent and with little or no input from the citizens of a country. When military coups occur, only a handful of uniformed men sit in a room to decide who becomes the Head of State. But even in the worst democracy, there is the need to show the participation of the citizenry in choosing their leaders.
This provides an avenue for self corrective mechanisms that often do not exist in dictatorships; a constitution, periodic elections, a legislature, independent judiciary, political parties, freedom of speech and civil society organisations. The need for public support to survive elections ultimately forces civilian regimes to allow these corrective mechanisms to function freely, which in turn brings an end to rigged elections, abuse of the rule of law and bad governance.
There are no such long-run opportunities in a dictatorship, as those ruling continue to try and perpetuate themselves in power, through a suspended constitution, no question of elections, absence of representative legislatures as a separate arms of government, constant meddling in court rulings and verdicts, non-existence of competing political parties and crackdowns on independent media and proscription of civil society organisations.
Nigeria’s independence in 1960 came at a time when the world was going through a revolutionary fever. Young men in the military had little patience for the slow workings of representative democracies and wherever they looked, there were examples of how army officers had overthrown civilians through military coups in an attempt to fast track their countries to development in defiance of what they considered neo-colonial contraptions to run African states on behalf of former racist masters. In the bipolar world of that era, some subscribed to communist ideologies as the panacea.
Without holding brief for many who came of age and whose world view was shaped during that era, they believed it was their duty to serve as catalysts in dismantling the shackles of colonial bondage, liberating Africa by picking up arms if need be and using state control of the economy to industrialise their countries. This idealist trend continued until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and in Nigeria up to the death of General Sani Abacha when it became obvious to all and sundry that “corrective” military regimes had a tendency to derail and turn into sit-tight dictatorships that were worse than civilian administrations.
International pressure was equally brought to bear on such regimes after the cold war, in the absence of an eastern bloc alternative or a western bloc prepared to look the other way while they committed atrocities upon their citizenry, in order to gain an edge over ideological and military rivals.
Born in 1942 and only 18 years of age at Nigeria’s independence, Muhammadu Buhari was no different from the other idealistic young men and women influenced by the post Second World War political currents.
To expect him not to be would be to expect adolescents today not to be influenced by Twitter, Hashtags and Facebook. But in my opinion, some of them came out of that era wiser, more tolerant and even more patriotic. They truly made the transition from romantic military revolutionaries to democrats. I became fully convinced of this when I invited General Buhari to help us campaign in a bye-election for the Gamawa State House of Assembly seat in Bauchi State in 2009. Buhari had campaigned for Isa Yuguda to become the ANPP Governor of Bauchi State, visiting all 20 local government areas–including some significant towns in districts.
But two years on, Yuguda decided to cross over to the PDP and had his deputy Garba Gadi impeached and removed from office. He replaced him with the Speaker of the state House of Assembly who was the member from Gamawa, seemingly as a reward for a job well done. The vacancy meant that there was going to be a bye-election in which the PDP with a sitting governor and deputy from the constituency was sure of winning. In such a mid-term election for an obscure position representing a rural constituency, General Buhari who had lost a presidential election for a second time need not have obliged my invitation, but he did, for the simple reason that he believed in the basic tenets of fair play and the possibility of transforming Nigeria into a just society.
Before Buhari’s arrival, the DPO had informed me that the podium we had erected in Gamawa where he would address a mammoth crowd was illegal and we had to pull it down. I decided to go above him and discuss the matter with the Bauchi State Commissioner of Police but met with an even more hostile response. After Buhari’s arrival, we forged ahead unconvinced of the illegality of the activity, bearing in mind Isa Yuguda had held a similar campaign rally in Gamawa three days earlier.
With the festivities concluded and before setting out for another town Gololo, we took the General to the local government guest house for refreshments and brief use of its facilities. To my surprise, the local government chairman (who had been campaigning with Buhari and I two years earlier for the ANPP) had given specific instructions we were not to be given access to the guest house, before skipping town. However, the workers could not bring themselves to deny General Buhari, a former Head of State (and to a lesser extent myself, a serving federal legislator) access. What was more embarrassing, when General Buhari asked to use the toilet, we found that it had been deliberately locked and were informed that the LGA chairman had left with the keys.
Some of those in our company insisted on breaking the toilet door but were prevailed upon by a stern-faced Buhari who said it was not necessary. The thought that raced through my mind in those moments was that this man, as a former leader of our country, had the choice of not subjecting himself to any of this humiliation and indignation. He left the comfort of his Kaduna abode to be denied the use of a fetid toilet with no running water in backwater Gamawa, simply because he believed in the right for us to vote for our representatives in government no matter how lowly.