Notes on Tyranny
-By Abdul Mahmud
As the last bugle sounded on that May day in 1999, there was hope that chains and jackboots would forever pass into oblivion. As expected many cried and danced as the sound of the bugle receded into the hills beyond the Promised Road ahead. The nation was alive with the cry, “the soldiers you see today, you will never see again;” a cry with the familiar refrain taken from Moses.
Indeed, the hope our people had wasn’t misplaced, at least, to the extent that the bugle and jackboots have disappeared. Not the chains though. Beyond hope, there was the promise which the silencing of the bugle – a symbolic reference to the end of tyranny and the beginning of the march of freedom – heralded. So, our people, having lived through the hellhole of tyranny, were expectant that life would be good, freedoms would flourish, the rule of law would become the “be-all and end-all”, the nation would return to its grand narrative; a narrative grand in its telling that recognises the nation’s collective narratives. Much as our people were expectant, they were also convinced that fidelity to democracy would mark the rebirth of our nation.
Drawn to the mirror, the image of the reality our people glimpsed was mistaken for the promise. The soldier who stood in front of the mirror and the agbada-wearing politician that stared back should have warned our people of the confidence trick: the anti-democrat presented as a democrat in the mirror and the sad spectacle that would emerge with the return to civil rule. The hard truth, here, is that our people persisted with their expectations, wrongly balancing their expectations with reality, and becoming victims of their undoing. Even if they were not discerning enough as they looked at the mirror, the inverted image of the man in the mirror should have warned them of what was to come. Maybe, it didn’t. Maybe, it did. They didn’t heed the warning. Maybe. They didn’t hark back to memory to recall how the man standing in front of the mirror morphs from stationary bandit into a roving bandit, while christening himself “Executive Chairman this, Executive Governor that, Distinguished Senator that and Honourable this”. Mancur Olson is right: “These violent entrepreneurs do not call themselves bandits but, on the contrary, give themselves and their descendants exalted titles”.
The past is with us. The flourish of rights, liberties and freedoms, respect for the rule of law and the return to the nation as grand narrative has not happened. What has happened, instead, is the constant narrowing of the public space and the destruction of constitutional safeguards that naturally force a tyrant to submit himself to citizens’ enquiries and scrutiny. Democratisation has not happened too. The man in the mirror has long inverted himself; that is, he now reflects as a tyrant, who believes he is not accountable to the people and the constitution. He is more than what the mirror reflects. He is an ogre, who makes a stab at the heart of freedom, who lays great store in his capacity to inflict cruelty to feel good. He is a roving bandit who deploys the repressive power of the state to assert and reassert himself, corner state resources, and alter his appearance from ogreness to machismo, like the character, Rafael Trujillo, “the Goat”, in Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel, ‘The Feast of the Goat’. As it often happens, anybody who stands in the way of the tyrant either finds himself in prison or disappears from the face of the earth.
Let’s stay with the choicest weapon of the tyrant: enforced disappearance. ‘The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance’ is of scant concern to the tyrant, nor is the demand of the Convention that “no one shall be subject to enforced disappearance” of any interest to him. Here are two depressing cases of enforced disappearance. Last May, Stephen Kefas, a critic of Governor El-Rufai, disappeared from his workplace in Port Harcourt. Unbeknownst to friends and relatives, he was allegedly abducted by policemen placed on his trail by the governor. Today, he is being held at Kaduna Prison on the spurious charge of criminal defamation of the Governor. The disappearance of Abubakar Idris is even more depressing. Dadiyata, as he is fondly called, is a virulent critic of Governor Ganduje and a defender of the rights of the Shiites. Nobody knows his whereabouts, sixty days and counting, since he was snatched by two armed men at the gate of his Kaduna home. Article 12(2) of the Convention mandates a State Party to “undertake investigation, even if there has been no formal complaint”. Last week, in an interview the Attorney General of the Federation granted to the BBC, he ducked the question his interviewer asked him: “where is Dadiyata?”
I ask: where is Dadiyata?