Dear President Buhari, the Year is 2016 not 1984.

Newspaper from 1984

Nigerian newspaper, Nigerian Statesman from 1984 showing then Head of State, Major General Buhari

Up until Monday, I only thought of 1984 as a book by George Orwell. Unfortunately, the arrest of Abubakar Sidiq Usman, publisher of Abusidiqu.com, and the second coming of the War Against Indiscipline has jolted me into a painful awareness of the year 1984 and Nigeria’s dark history.

In 1984, Major General Buhari was the Nigerian Head of State. The way I understand it, his single-minded policy was to cure the country of corruption, indiscipline and freedom. As the Supreme Leader that he was, he launched the infamous War Against Indiscipline. He must have woken on the wrong side of the bed that day.

On March 21 1984, Brigadier General Tunde Idiagbon, deputy to General Buhariannounced:
“It is my pleasure to declare today a launching day for the War Against Indiscipline…such as rushing into buses, constituting ourselves into public nuisances and walking without commitment…”

And so, soldiers brutalised citizens for offences such as not staying in a queue. Nigerians were literally whipped into line. The War Against Indiscipline became infamous for its repressive consequences. The general consensus considers WAI as one of the most despotic programs in Nigerian history.

A few days later, on March 29, 1984, General Buhari also enacted Decree No. 4, which though a good name for a hot club in Lagos, was bad news to the Nigerians under his rule. Decree No. 4, in summary, prohibited members of the press from publishing stories that resulted in the ’embarrassment’ of the government or face imprisonment. In fact, if the Supreme Leader Buhari remotely suspected your antagonism, you would be summarily misplaced.

That was 1984. And, as my favourite saying goes, everything that once was, is and will be.

In 2015, Nigerians opted to give General Buhari a second chance at the helm. He had traded his military fatigues for agbadas, packaged in a message of Change. In February 2015, Buhari described himself as a ‘converted democrat’. He assured the world that his days as a dictator were over.

In 2016, it seems we have gone back in time. The events of 1984 (economic  and political) have resurfaced. Some days ago, the government announced the rebirth of the War Against Indiscipline programme.

According to Ayo Sogunro, the writer and human rights lawyer, “Its depressing that President Buhari keeps reaching for outdated ideas to deal with current issues. A modern war against indiscipline should focus on eradicating or mitigating the social problemsparticularly illiteracy, poverty, and inequalitythat cause civil disorder. This requires creative thinking around people-oriented policies. It will not be solved by authoritarian squads empowered to bully ordinary citizens.”

This statement remarkably echoes a quote from a New York Times article in 1984 where another lawyer was quoted to refer to the War Against Indiscipline as “a misallocation of resources and of efforts. A society is not disciplined through slogans and threats. A society, more so an African society, is impressed by example”.

Those words, spoken in 1984, have come back to haunt us today.

Meanwhile, despite the fear of renewed repression, the EFCC has invoked the spirit of Decree No. 4. On Monday, the EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, announced the arrest of Abubakar Sidiq Usman, a blogger, for “offences bordering on cyber stalking”. In essence, the EFCC detained Usman for an August 2, 2016 article that had insinuated professional misconduct by the Acting Chair of the Commission, Ibrahim Magu.

Again, this 2016 event mirrors the 1984 arrest of Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor who were sent to jail in 1984 under Decree No. 4.

Shortly after his release on Tuesday, Abubakar Sidiq said in a statement,
‘This is a government that I fought for. But occurrences like these are not the experiences that myself and millions of Nigerians have fought for.’

Arrested blogger Abubakar Sidiq shaking hands with President Buhari

Arrested blogger Abubakar Sidiq shaking hands with President Buhari

It is important to note that, despite Buhari’s affirmation as a ‘converted democrat’, the current Buhari-administration has not lived up to this ideal. Extrajudicial arrests and blatant disregard for the rule of law have become normal under this regime. Innocent people have died without justice. The so-called war against corruption has been notoriously partisan. The president sees only what he wants to see.

The Nigerian government and its accompanying agencies need a dictionary definition of democracy. What we have now is a dictatorship disguised with democratic labels. How we respond to the tyranny of this administration will determine if we will progress or spiral downwards.

We do not and will not condone oppression. Nigerians must remember that in 2015 our voices counted. We were unhappy with the previous administration and we voted in a new one. Unfortunately, in just over a year, this one has let us down as well.

Winter is comingor maybe not. But 2019 is not far away. If the Buhari led administration doesn’t get its act together we will assist them. We will be civil and non-violent, but effective. We will be watchful, vocal and fearless. We will speak about our truth until that truth becomes favourable. We will refuse to live in a dystopian novel. Big Brother is not watching.

Dear Mr President, this is August 13, in the year 2016. This is not 1984 and you, sir, cannot be a dictator.

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