The public sphere in Nigeria is becoming more and more contested a space, with differing entry points and points of departure. Here, a lawyer from Koyen-Hi Kebonkwu Chambers in Wuse 5, Abuja in Nigeria dances into that sphere with his own take. Pointless pointing out that contrary views are most welcome as such enriches the conversation!
By Mike Kebonkwu Esq
The Nigerian State has penchant for glorification of people with nuisance value and area boys. And dominating the public space with unfounded fears, causing distress to members of the public and the general citizenry. The state prefers to deploy so much resource out of panic on problems that it unwittingly created or brought through poor governance and socio-political inequality. On the 21st Day of October 2021, a day after the #EndSars anniversary which was marked by pockets of protests under the subdued control of the state, I had some matter at the Federal High Court, Abuja the Federal Capital Territory. I arrived at the early hours hoping to gain entrance into the premises of the court because of previous experience where members of the public, including lawyers, had running battles with men of the State Services because it was Mazi Kanu’s day with the law.
I got the hint that the secessionist petrel was coming to have a warm embrace with Lady Justice, the damsel with balanced scale to answer to the charges against him since being captured by the government in Kenya and brought back to Nigeria to face trial. Since the All Progressive Congress government came to power, the judiciary has come under relentless siege, including the plot and removal of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr Walter Onnoghen. Judiciary under a democracy is supposed to be a place of liberty and freedom, and lawyers are ministers in the temple of justice. Today, the Judiciary in Nigeria is standing like a giant on clay foot and very frightened and without courage as in the past to declare, “fiat justitia ruat caelum” (Let justice be done though the heavens fall). Men of straw have taken over the judiciary and the rule of law is trampled upon with impunity.
Coming through the Federal Secretariat at the Central Business District, the whole area within the vicinity of the Federal High Court was highly militarized up to the Unity Fountain, the epitome of our liberty and freedom where citizens used to hold protests in carnival processions like the days of #BringBackOurGirls. Security people with combat gears took over the entire place, creating gridlocks along the route and to the entrance of the court.
More security vehicles arrived and took positions like a siege on a criminal hide-out of a drug lord. Lawyers were turned back by the security men but not with violence. I pulled up and was made to wind down my window glass. Of course, I was donned in lawyer’s regalia. A man in Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps approached and asked if I was a lawyer, a question I considered otiose, seeing me properly robed as a lawyer less the wig and gown which is only meant for the court room. Out of courtesy, and to avoid ugly altercation, I answered with tart in the affirmative.
They further wanted to know which court I was and I brought my file which they clearly saw I had a business at the court. I was denied entry. I called the counsel on the side and told him I was taking my leave but he pleaded that I should wait a little bit if we could be given opportunity since he came all the way from Kaduna, which I obliged him. We made several efforts and it was becoming rowdy as battery of pressmen and lawyers sauntered around the place murmuring and complaining bitterly about how Nigeria has been turned into a police state with the worst form of dictatorship in a seemingly democratic dispensation.
Frustrated, I left the vicinity because I had better things to do with my time than to stay in the outer corridor of security cordon to be screened into the Temple of Justice and place of sanctuary in my own country. Nigeria has lost the little gain it has achieved since the return to civil rule in 1999 in democratic ethos and respect for the rule of law. The democratic space has been contracted and the people have lost their basic freedom to protest and right to freedom of expression. The Unity Fountain which became a vibrant boulevard for democratic expression of freedom has been fenced with wire guts and manned by fierce looking security police denying citizens the freedom to use the arena.
Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is the secessionist leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who has been accused of responsibility for vicious campaign in the Southeast that targets security forces and infrastructure of the state. Their campaign took a more violent temper when the military introduced the operational code name, Python Dance, in order to contain the group. The merit or otherwise of the IPOB campaign is not the thrust of this discourse. I would, therefore, leave that for another day. The point is that the government has succeeded in elevating Mazi Nnamdi Kanu into the pantheon of deities with an image that he does not possess.
Mazi Kanu is a rabble-rouser who though charismatic, is very uncouth and incapable of unifying even his not too large ethnic nationality of Ndigbo into one force behind a common goal and agenda. It is a false move for the state to continue to be giving him the platform and publicity which the deployment of such a huge state resources that are needed in other areas for the general good. Why would the judiciary be paralysed because of the trial of one outlaw who has been such a reputation and image problem for the country? Why is the judiciary so badly run as to make itself a laughing stock when there could have been a simple coordination by not putting any matter on the same day that the infant petrel is to embrace the lady justice?
Since the arrest and incarceration of Mazi Kanu, there has been increased campaign of violence in the Southeast, and the Eastern Security Network (ESN) which appears to be the armed wing of IPOB has increased its activities. There are unknown gunmen on the other hand and the whole of the Southeast has become an ungoverned area where non-state actors are more active declaring public holidays at will and instilling fears on the people. The violence and killings in the Southeast have all the appearance of a fifth columnist and agent provocateur in the apparition of state agents.
The government appears overwhelmed by myriad of problems from security to the economy. Rather than focus on and deal with the existential problems, it is fixated on Kanu in a distraction, deploying resources as if the only thing that matters to it is self preservation of a regime that has become increasingly unpopular due to very poor composition and unrepresentative nature of appointment.
We are having a Kanu today because we have a government that has traded off our unity in diversity for ethnic and religious supremacy. We are having a Sunday Igboho because we have a government that prefers to offer sanctuary to marauding herdsmen from neighbouring countries because of shared cultural values in ethnicity and religion. The huge mistake the state is making is that it continues to revel in the words of the constitution about the inviolability and indivisibility of Nigeria which unknown to them is not immutable. As the saying goes, those who make peace change impossible make violent change inevitable.
People are crying out all over the place over insecurity, displacement as a result of herdsmen attack, unemployment, loss of jobs and other vices and the government is busying itself on pursuing one insignificant person that it has succeeded in breeding due to its intolerance and highhandedness. This government is increasingly tormenting and adding to the burden of the citizens. On Independence Day, the entire FCT was under lock and people from the satellite towns were prevented from entering the city centre to do their businesses. Why is the government afraid of its people, the same people that brought it to power? Why? Rather than shut down businesses and the seat of government because of the fear of one person, would it not have been be better to transfer the trial venue to the premises of the State Services where there would be no members of the public if they want to make it a secret trial?
The Department of State Services is gradually taking the colour of a Gestapo instead of providing intelligence for the protection of the state. With all the showmanship and razzmatazz, the same security establishment cannot rein in kidnappers and bandits. With all the bravado, the same government is unable to secure the citizens at home and places of work. We are living like savages, trading in human parts and rituals. It is time to talk to ourselves as Nigeria is increasingly putting up appearance of a false union which we should stop making pretentions about.