Watching the second United States presidential debate last Sunday, you would not be blamed for thinking you might have tuned into a presidential debate parody on a Jerry Springer show! Much has been made of the election rhetoric that has descended to an all-time low, it is virtually crawling on the ground right now. Never in the history of the U.S. have they been “forced” to choose between candidates who are more interested in talking down the opponent rather than political road maps and policies. It is a far cry of the usually intellectually arousing debates the world has come to know. But it is hard to argue it does make good entertainment, the only tragedy is that the joke is on the U.S. citizens. In Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the U.S. is faced between an option of the devil and the deep blue sea, yet are not even sure who the devil is of the two! The polls show that these are the two most unpopular candidates in the history of the U.S. presidential elections, with some expected to “give their votes away” to underdogs Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, who have not realistic chances of winning, while many more registered voters are ready to stay at home on election day. That is the cause for concern for both the GOP and the Democrats, because this election is a lot more than just voting for Clinton or Trump…
Meanwhile in Nigeria, our democratic autocrat of a president continues to abuse and meddle with the judicial process, and use law enforcement in Gestapo style in what a majority of Nigerians would now agree are personal vendettas, witch-hunts and partisan persecutions that characterizes a typical authoritarian regime, only in this case punctuated by a farce of “democratic process”. Trump sparked outrage when he hinted at jailing Clinton, saying if he were elected, “I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation…” in regards to the over 33,000 emails, some of which were classified, that Clinton had accessed and exchanged over a private server and then deleted, subjected to being investigated by the FBI and subpoenaed by congress. Later joking that she would “be in jail”, when Clinton said she’s glad he wasn’t at the helm of affairs. Trump’s threat of imprisoning his political opponent, apparently has never been heard in the history of the U.S. (I mean, why threaten when you can assassinate after all?). This was classified as something you see in developing countries! Well, queue in President Muhammadu Buhari to prove that point.
When the propaganda that Buhari had this sinister agenda to ‘Islamize’ Nigeria was pushed around by the PDP in an effort to tarnish his campaign during the election period, I was one of those who brushed it aside as preposterous and idiotic to say the least. It just didn’t seem reasonably possible within the whims of the law, or even a rational thing to do. Really, why do you need a public office to ‘Islamize’ the country? Boko Haram was already trying to fulfill that mission. That was my stance then, I stood in support of the man. Right now, I am not sure of that stance. In the over 16 months Buhari has been in office, what we have witnessed is a systematic and subtle overhaul of the federal government—already heavily skewed in favor of Northern Nigeria—to a further skewing not only for the North but also for the Muslim North. This has been evident in his cabinet selection, appointments, persecutions, capital projects awarded, and general insensitivity to the issues plaguing the South-southern, and South-eastern parts of the country.
His latest fracas with the sanctity and independence of the law is witnessed as the Department of Secret Service (DSS), arrest two Supreme Court justices and five High Court judges, with news of more to be arrested. Allegations have been laid up against them, most of which are cases of sheer greed and perversion of justice. If found guilty, it only raises the concern of how truly corruption has integrated into our system, even in the legal system that is supposed to vindicate the cheated. In a different situation where we have a government that has been transparent and truly empathetic to the needs and will of the people, this would have been widely commended as a valiant act by an honest president, to root out corruption from the judiciary and enforce the rule of law. However, in a swift move, Buhari has moved for the replacement of the Supreme Court justices by nominating two noble men for the senate to approve. Where are they from? You guessed it—the North.
Back up again to the U.S. election, as I have mentioned, many observers, including U.S. citizens have a very myopic view of the election. This U.S. presidential election is one like non other, with far reaching consequences that will outlast the tenures of either candidate. The reason? The U.S. Supreme Court. The death of Antonin Scalia early in the year left the court finely balanced with four justices each for those of Democratic and Republican affiliation. Four of the associate Justices are in around their 80s, two of which are Democrats, the other two Republicans. Also two of which, Ruth Bader, and Anthony Kennedy have strongly hinted retirement. We can say all four may likely retire within the next four years or more tragically (as morbid as it may sound) pass on. Bringing a likely total of five vacancies in the U.S. Supreme court. Usually justices are nominated by the president and confirmed by the senate. With the Republicans having majority in the senate, they are yet to confirm Merrick Garland who was nominated by Obama, as assistant justice to replace the deceased Scalia. Why? There will be a democratic majority of 5 justices in the Supreme Court. Instead, they chose to delay the confirmation till after the elections in hopes that a Republican president may be elected, who would nominate a Republican affiliated judge, and possibly four more judges. Being a Supreme Court justice is a life tenure, so considering that there is one vacancy and two aged justices per party (who would willingly retire to allow for younger judges to be appointed in favour of their party), there is potential for a complete swing of seven judges in favor of either parties. That’s seven pro-party justices at the helm of affairs in the Supreme Court for at least the next 30 years! The implications are enormous and the stakes are higher than ever before. That means a possibility of either pro-liberal laws or pro-conservative laws shaping the lives of U.S. citizens for a long, long time.
The function of the Supreme Court in Nigeria is similar to those of the U.S. It is interesting that since independence, 6 of the 14 Chief Justices have been from the north, all amongst the last seven, Katsina-Alu being the only exception. Also, the percentage of the court justices has also been heavily in favour of the North. Now, conspiracy theory or not, but a “federal” government system that refuses, out of bigotry, to respect the federal character and diversity of its people, seeking rather to steadily overhaul the government, whether intentionally or ignorantly is tantamount to the said Islamization or in a more accurate sense “Northernization”! It is political jihad in its most covert form. No arguments can be made for his pro-northern selection. Are there no qualified candidates from the southern part of the country who can fulfil the same duties effectively? Of the current 15 sitting justices, 8 of them are Muslims, out of which 6 are Northerners, leaving 9 to be split between the South-south, South-east and South-west. This is all exhausting really! Should the Judicial arm of government be riddled with partisanship and ethnocentrism? Certainly not. I mean just like in the U.S., appointing court justices that align with your political ideal in a move to consolidate on political policies going forward for your party, is fair game in democracy. Whether it is healthy or not is a whole different discussion. But the realities of Buhari’s continuous bias towards his kinsmen, knowing fully well that the North already have the upper hand in the National Assembly, by virtue of having more states, and constituencies (a questionable topic for another day), only smells ominously like a confirmation of the conspiracy theorists’ postulation of Islamization.
Many dismiss Buhari’s bias appointment with flimsy reasons. But the realities are glaring, whether premeditated or not, the Buhari regime continues to consistently neglect the federal character of Nigeria. Perhaps it is a personal character flaw on his part for lacking sensitivity; but this is democracy, and sensitivity and fairness to all stakeholders in society must be considered at all times and in all situations; otherwise you create an ambience for animosity and ethnic tensions to breed. Let common sense prevail!