The partial demolition of the magnificent Music House of the wheelchair-bound singer, Yinka Ayefele by the administration of Governor Abiola Ajimobi confirms my fears about the health of democracy in Nigeria. It’s becoming apparent that Nigeria is only a democratic state on paper with public office holders implementing policies generated from the playbook of totalitarian leaders.
Democracy is gradually being plagued by Fascism across the world and Nigeria seems to have caught the flu. In a Fascist dictatorship, citizens have no guaranteed rights; you can be arrested, jailed or killed without trial for being in the opposition.
According to political scientist, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Fascist regimes have 14 elements in common namely; powerful and continuing nationalism, disdain for the recognition of human rights, identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause, supremacy of the military, rampant sexism, controlled mass media, obsession with national security, religion and government are intertwined, corporate power is protected, labour power is suppressed, disdain for intellectuals and arts, obsession with crime and punishment, rampant cronyism and corruption and fraudulent elections.
The United States of America is thought to stand as the model of democracy for the rest of the world but its president, Donald Trump appears to be the face of Fascism today.
Trump has been waging war against the media for playing its role as the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm’. According to the Fact Checker’s database, in Trump’s 466 days of taking the oath of office, he had made about 3,001 false or misleading claims which is an average of 6.5 claims a day. His grouse with the media is hinged on its failure to recognize his claims as the sole truth in America. This is a feature of prominent dictators across the world.
Trump recently called on the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions to investigate corruption among those looking into his alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election and his prominent critics. He also revoked the security clearance of a former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan who has been a harsh critic of Trump’s rhetoric and policies. The world was shocked when he called a former White House aide, Amarosa Manigault Newman ‘a dog and a crying lowlife’ in a wild Twitter attack over the contents of her new book which centered on him. Trump hasn’t also hidden his admiration of strong and undemocratic men in world politics like the Russian President Vladimir Putin, President of China Xi Jinping, Supreme leader of North Korea - Kim Jong -un, President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Rodrigo Durtete, the President of the Philippines.
It’s about to get worse in Nigeria due to the general weakness of our governmental institutions which are supposed to check the excesses of leaders. Most State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria are rubber stamp in nature. They are peopled by the loyalists of the state governors. The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice as well as Chief Judge of the state are appointed by the governors and we know where their loyalties will lie in the event of abuse of power, so where is the possibility of checks and balances?
The alarming level of illiteracy in Nigeria which ranges from 65 to 75 million people intensifying the problem of 'uninformed voting' is also a setback to our democracy. This coupled with the widespread poverty in Nigeria are used as loopholes by unpopular leaders to subvert the democratic system and emerge as leaders.
Back to the crux of the matter, Ajimobi through his Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Oyo State, Oluseun Abimbola on the 3rd of July, 2018 accused Fresh FM 105.9 which is situated at the Music House as owned by the gospel singer, Ayefele of defamation following critical statements about the governor made on a radio programme – ‘Political Circuit’ on the 30th of June, 2018. One of the panelists, Mr Dare Adekanmbi of the Nigerian Tribune reportedly insinuated that Governor Ajimobi had interest and shares in the private company involved in the building and operation on the new central abattoir in Ibadan.
The Attorney General demanded an apology letter from the radio station, immediate retraction of the statement via the medium it was made with the presenter and panelists present and that the recantation should be broadcast as “intermittent news flash for at least seven days”. Failure to comply with the demands within the stipulated timeframe according to his letter would attract a legal suit against the radio station, its presenter, Isaac Brown and panelists (Mr Dare Adekanmbi and Chief Olayiwola Olakojo). Additionally, the government would seek damages in the tune of N500 million from them for allegedly assassinating the character of the governor.
In October, 2016, Ajimobi had earlier spoken about how he resisted pressure from his political associates to demolish the Music House worth N800 million for not offering him political support.
The publicist of Ayefele named David Ajiboye even went as far as shedding light on how Ajimobi maliciously attempted to make the media platform his Public Relations arm for the purpose of laundering his image. Ayefele ran to the court which is supposed to be the last hope of the common man for redress as he was served the demolition notice but Ajimobi appears bigger than the court. He undermined the judiciary and disregarded the rule of law by partially demolishing the edifice despite a court order mandating the government to maintain status quo. He couldn't wait for the court to ascertain the illegality of the building.
As a political scientist, I have looked at the connection between a seeming educated and well-travelled Ajimobi and the odious action reminiscent of the days of Amala Politics of gross impunity in Oyo State under the Indirect Rule of the late Lamidi Adedibu. I have tentatively traced Ajimobi's uncouth behaviour, underhand method on press freedom and intolerance of opposition to his party, APC.
Ajimobi's dictatorial tendencies have been exhibited by other members of the ruling APC with the general public folding its arms and the Southwest governor might just be taking after his colleagues to satisfy his selfish interests.
Peer pressure plays a huge role in influencing political behaviour in a polity. In sociology, a peer group is both a social group and a primary group of people who have similar interests, age, background, or social status, occupation, education and interact on a level of equality. Research has shown that members of this group are likely to influence a person’s beliefs and behaviour.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a national leader of the APC has undermined the judiciary countless times. A former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki as well as the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheikh El Zakzaky have remained incarcerated since 2015 despite being granted bail by the court. Buhari sanctioned the invasion of the homes of Supreme Court justices by operatives of the local spy agency, DSS. Separatist, Nnamdi Kanu's bail wasn't honoured by the government until a reported political agreement was reached through mediation by a former Abia State governor Orji Uzor Kalu and others.
Under Buhari, accused people granted bail by the court were immediately rearrested by security operatives within and outside the court premises. Former DG of NIMASA Patrick Akpobolokemi, Former scribe of the PDP Olisa Metuh and a former Minister of Aviation Femi Fani Kayode got their bitter shares of this treatment.
As regards demolition, the Kaduna State government through the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency, KASUPDA destroyed the house of Sheikh El Zakzaky in Kaduna without following due process. According to reports circulated by the leadership of the Shiites, over 60 graves in the cemetery belonging to the Shiite sect were exhumed, including that of Zakzaky’s son, Ayatullah who died in 2014. His mother’s grave was reportedly desecrated by the Nigerian Army.
Still on Kaduna, Governor Nasir Ahmad El Rufai also pulled down a building at the heart of Kaduna City belonging to one of his political antagonists, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi. This happened in February, 2018 after Senator Hunkuyi’s faction suspended El Rufai from the party. The one-storey building was put to use by the APC faction of Hunkuyi where the suspension order was given.
In May, 2017, Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura-led administration also demolished a building that housed Breeze 99.9 FM in Nasarawa State. It’s been over a year and the state government has failed to fulfill its agreement on the relocation of the radio station.
On the 26th of August, 2017, Governor Rochas Okorocha demolished the Eke-Ukwu Owerri market place in Imo state despite court orders restraining such action which led to the destruction of wares worth millions of naira and the death of a 10-year old boy named Somtochukwu Ibeanusi who was reportedly trying to assist his parents in evacuating their goods trapped in a shop.
With the tone of Buhari's statement on jailing more looters on his return from London where he recently holidayed for 10 working days, one might be forced to think the 75 year old is not only the president of Nigeria but also the Chief Justice of the country who could singlehandedly put an erring person behind bars without the input of the judicial arm of government.
In conclusion, considering the influence of peer pressure on political behaviour, one might be forced to admit that Ajimobi is following the antics of his party mates.
Ajimobi has also taught us a few lessons, one of which is that our leaders will never sacrifice their empty egos for the betterment of the lives of the people. He didn't mind taking food off the mouths of about 200 people working at the Music House. This is a man who has struggled to create executive jobs for his people in almost 8 years of being the governor. We still remember his sham employment initiative in Oyo State called the Youth Employment Scheme of Oyo State - ‘YES O’ which almost turned the city of brown roofs upside down forcing the government to sack the 20,000 youths it initially employed for a paltry stipends of N10,000 per month. Poverty reigns supreme in Oyo State and the people seem to have turned the economic hardship into some sort of culture and tradition.
Media watchers would have observed that major news platforms in Oyo State were very reluctant to cover the events surrounding the demolition of the Music House out of fear of not being Ajimobi’s next target. This journalist repeatedly called up his colleagues in Ibadan on phone and was told the environment was too hostile to cover the news. Several journalists were scared to drop comments on the issue even under the condition of anonymity giving indications that Oyo State might be under siege.
Furthermore, those clamouring for State Police might be forced to have a rethink considering the despotic tendencies displayed by our state governors. If they ever succeed in paying the salaries of state police officers as at when due, they might eventually turn them into soldiers to occupy the territories of neighbouring states. The prisons will be filled with dissenters considering the temperament of some state governors who are like emperors.
Osayimwen Osahon George is a journalist and a doctoral candidate of the University of Ibadan. He writes from Lagos State.