GUEST POST: Tinubu’s Regime and Democratic Terrorism by Raphael Adebayo
An opinion column by Adebayo Raphael
It should by no means be surprising that the 2023 general elections have unravelled in the most controversial, heart-rending, and unprecedentedly flawed manner that they have. At the decisive juncture that ushered in the elections, Nigeria had a choice between dangerously seeing through a sham or courageously confronting the intractable conundrum of its existence. As I had observed in the past, the former, which became the decided course of action, promised nothing but the usual gratification for the ever-remorseless perpetuators of this tragic enterprise.
Now that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the President of Nigeria, however contested his position may be, Nigerians must decide how they want to outlast this rogue wave. It is clear that, on the one hand, we have at the helm a steersman whose corporeal existence is shrouded in nauseating opaqueness. The gracelessly falsified biography of Tinubu imbues us with zero confidence as to the uprightness of his character and intentions. On the other hand, we have a besieged man desperate enough to deploy all sadistic countervailing forces against the just forces of history and democracy. As a result, we are unavoidably burdened with the irony of history, which stridently compels us to review the meaning of democracy in Africa’s most populous country.
In any real democratic environment, the ultimate outcome of a democratic process ought to be the most pristine version of that process. But in this case, all unbiased local and international witnesses to the process that foisted Tinubu on Nigerians agree on the scandalous perversion of both the process and the outcome by the illegitimate president and his posse of democracy saboteurs. Certainly, there is nothing to be desired about this symbol of perverted democracy and his spurious agenda of nation-building, which brings me to the point: When does the question arise about the delta, if any, between the process that brought Tinubu into power and the one which propels putschists into power? In what sense, to be exact, is Tinubu’s declaration as Nigeria’s president different from the emergence of Goïta in Mali, Doumbouya in Guinea, Traore in Burkina Faso or even the recent Tchiani in Niger?
Interestingly, the perverted democratic process that brought Tinubu into power led to the deaths of more innocent citizens than these coups d’état combined. Hence, we must note that in the absence of credibility, fairness and openness, a democratic process is no different from, and may sometimes be worse than, coups d’état. Although a very necessary point, this comparison should be considered without the presumption of any hidden or stated preference for nondemocratic regimes. Rather, an understanding should be given to the scourge of “decadent power” evident in Tinubu’s emergence and government.
In one of his seminal works, the Cameroonian intellectual, Célestin Monga, declared: ‘All decadent power has spells to which it clings to give itself confidence, to lie to itself.’ The concretization of this spell, in the form of democratic terrorism, has been the primary preoccupation of Tinubu since the beginning of his decadent reign, indeed before the regime officially began, and it invites our utmost circumspection. Unlike military regimes that are neither emblematic of active democratic structures nor motivated by democratic ideals, any appearance of fatigues can only be inimical to Tinubu’s agenda until his spell is concretized. In other words, a gradual mainstreaming of terror is crystallizing in Tinubu’s power consolidation process, and his artificial parroting of commitment to democratic resilience appears to be all it takes to pursue this agenda undisturbed.
The more this process unfolds, the more we are reminded that any power seized by terror can only be consolidated by terror. No critical analysis of Tinubu’s celebrated assault on the democratic process will miss this point, whether the plank of such analysis is the Muslim-Muslim ticket that got rammed through every stanchion of religio-political responsibility and accountability or the targeted intimidation, coercion and disenfranchisement of ethnic groups and specific voter demographics, or the downright manipulation of the ballot across the country, down to the current enlistment of terrorist structures and actors in various parts of the country.
Between the Drug Lord and Democratic Terrorism
One of the primary dangers of having a drug lord as a country’s president is that all pretensions to morality and humanity are effectively redundant. Whereas morality and humanity inspire restraint and reasonableness in the morally conscious democratic leader, the inverted moral compass of a drug lord compels unrestrained amoral and sadistic indulgences verging on terrorism. Previous analyses of the relationship between terrorism and democracy have mostly explored the inherent characteristics and vulnerabilities of democracy, as well as the modes of democratic installation and democratization as the dominant enabler of acts of terrorism in democratic countries. A growing correlation has also been identified between weak or failed states and terrorism, with Nigeria being one of the countries in Africa where acts of terrorism are most frequently witnessed. To a large extent, these analyses only focus on acts of terrorism by non-state actors and very seldom mention or consider state terrorism, which is perhaps more closely related to the concept of democratic terrorism.
Specifically, state terrorism is state-sponsored ‘politically or ideologically or religiously inspired acts of violence against individuals or groups outside of an armed conflict.’ Examples of this abound in Nigeria’s history, and many will remember the letter bomb assassination of Dele Giwa under Babangida’s military regime, the unprovoked mass murder of peaceful pro-Biafra protesters by the Nigerian army in 2016 before the formation of ESN, and the massacre of peaceful #EndSARS protesters by the Nigerian military in October 2020. What distinguishes state terrorism from democratic terrorism is that the former requires the active participation of the state and its institutions in perpetrating acts of terrorism. Inversely, democratic terrorism only requires the express or implicit recruitment of non-state actors by the state (or any of its conceivable apparatus) to intimidate and perpetrate acts of violence against innocent and unharmed members of the populace in a democracy. This form of terrorism covertly and overtly employs the symbols, structures and institutions of democracy to promote terrorist groups and terroristic objects. It is at once the democratic legitimization of state-sponsored terrorism and the democratization of terrorism. In a very real sense, this is what the illegitimate government of Tinubu has come to represent.
In the days before the February 25 general elections and on the day itself, the lionized doyen of political thuggery in Lagos State, MC Oluomo, and his pack of violent midges openly became the state-backed agents of terror and intimidation on the streets of Lagos. Their role in the elections as the terroristic concomitant of Tinubu’s brand of politicking, even in his captured territory, otherwise known as Lagos, cannot be underemphasized. In consequence, the scope of Tinubu’s recruitment of terrorism has expanded from the smallest state by area in Nigeria to the national centre stage where, naturally, the replication of governance and control by democratic terrorism is advancing frighteningly.
While still awaiting the verdict of the presidential elections petition tribunal (PEPT), the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party in 2023, Atiku Abubakar, has reported the foiled simultaneous attempts on his life and establishments in Yola, Adamawa State, by suspected Boko Haram terrorists. This development followed Tinubu’s threat of “chaos and anarchy” should the verdict of the PEPT invalidate his illegitimate regime.
Perhaps more worrisome is the questionable alliance between Tinubu and the gun-toting tergiversator and Niger Delta ex-militant, Asari Dokubo. The curious and seemingly arbitrary event in which Dokubo, who holds no officially known elected or appointed position, was able to address the media using a platform backdropped by the national coat of arms in the presidential villa makes this unqualified alliance even more questionable. Since that interview, Dokubo has gained mysterious wings, threatening state governors and citizens with assault rifles and parading his middling militiamen as undefeatable agents of terror. The sudden relevance of terror merchants such as Dokubo, notwithstanding the uncontested presence of the likes of Oluomo, implicates the incentivization of democratic terrorism.
At the same time, it serves to contextualize the pre-election utterances of Tinubu suggesting the conscription of 50 Million youths into the Nigerian army; and his subsequent remark emphasising “the mass recruitment of individuals in a volunteer army” as his most enlightened plan to resolve Nigeria’s insecurity crisis. Those familiar with the Eritrean situation should not take Tinubu’s obsession with conscription lightly. Between Tinubu’s hankering for conscription and Dokubo’s hotchpotch of terroristic dinguses, there is a dreadful middle point where the re-emergence of Charles Taylor and the foredoomed child soldiers is a very real possibility in Nigeria.
Nigeria currently has the second-highest number of unemployed youths in the world, effectively rendering more than half of its youth population vulnerable to the excesses of an illegitimate and morally defective leader. Still, the desperate conditions of the citizens could only be worse with the pump price of petrol at an all-time high, prices of goods and services spiralling beyond the pale, and the Naira projected to fall further steeply to N1,000 to the US dollar, all due to the tightening of austerity policies by Tinubu and his kludge of antiquated brains trust. Without a timely and decisive interposition, the Tinubu regime will bask with impunity in the slime of democratic terrorism. And considering how the haemophilic state of Nigeria implicates extreme susceptibility to implosive stressors, the natural consequence of this democratic terrorism will be physical and psychological deterrence.
Raphael Adebayo is an Author and Human Rights Activist from Nigeria. His work has appeared in SaharaReporters, The Punch, and Business Day.