America Has Trump; We have Buhari–Lasisi Olagunju

By Lasisi Olagunju PHD

“Whatever made Olubadan to have Adedibu/ We also have Omisore…(Oun t’ó m’Ólúbàdàn t’ó fi l’Ádédibú/ Àwa náa l’Ómísore)” This song was popular at Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rallies in Osun State some years ago. The rhythm there is in the strong, no-nonsense characters of Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu and Otunba Iyiola Omisore, two former chieftains of the PDP. Bold, brave, popular and go-getting, they were never afraid to pursue whatever they wanted. There was no fire those two could not quench with the strong breeze of their nostrils. You would understand my drift when you recollect that the late Ilorin songster, Odolaye Aremu, celebrated Adedibu as “son of a witch” who is also “half of Ibadan that is mistaken for a single human being.” And can we count the millions of humans inhabiting the high and low lands of Ibadan and divide the number by two? Whatever energy oozes from the answer we get approximates what Adedibu was at the height of his reign. Just across the eastern gates of Adedibu’s Oyo State was Omisore whose Emperor Shaka-like persona was enough to soak foes in their own urine. A lot has, however, changed since that song reigned at political carnivals. Adedibu died 11 June, 2008, twelve years ago.  Senator Omisore moved over to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) exactly two years ago and was a decisive factor in Osun State’s governorship election of that year. Today, there is quiet in Adedibu’s Molete palace in Ibadan; the lair of the lion in Ile-Ife is on silent retreat too.

The Adedibu/Omisore drumbeats exude eerie sarcasm. The tune came rushing back home when I read Nigerians last week fighting over Trump, some praising him, some attacking him, as he tweeted away peace and his enemies –including Twitter itself. If you’re a PDP Jonathanian, and you abuse Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria and praise Donald Trump of America, you are a hypocrite. Same with you if you are against Trump but praise Buhari for all he does with Nigeria. Those two are soulmates in thoughts and conduct,  and you know it. The Trump critics in Nigeria have a president who is from the same heaven as the American strongman. They find excuses for Buhari at home and abuse Trump abroad. Whereas, these are two men who are ever right, and who push forward moral boundaries and seek to set the rules even for spaces that are not theirs. The Yoruba say big, strong men without a leash are potential destroyers of the community. Never think moderation of men who appear in the eastern skies as messiahs. They always go beyond the very limits of decency in rhetoric and actions; they make their people to scramble for straws of sanity.

When you have leaders who are never afraid of law and blood and the consequences of crossing red lines, start packing your bags for a life in exile. You remember Buhari’s promise of baboon and dog getting soaked in blood because of elections? Trump as presidential candidate in January 2016 told Americans in Sioux Centre, Iowa that: “I can stand in the middle of (New York’s) Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Reasonable people around the world heard him and gasped; his supporters clapped. What he said should be enough evidence of a front-loaded trouble for law and order in the world’s biggest democracy, but he went on to win the presidency.

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Trump thought he should shred our ebullient, hardworking Akinwumi Adesina; he sent his Treasury Secretary to rupture the peace of our bank. Buhari thought he should not be caught keeping quiet, he ‘giraffed’ Trump’s script, copied his answers and sent his own finance minister to attempt a defence of our man. Trump is not talking personally on the AfDB issue; Buhari is quiet too waiting for the American foe to lead the way. He is still waiting.

America has a healthy president; Nigeria has too. You know Trump does not use face masks –he is too strong for the coronavirus pandemic. His brother in Nigeria, whose visitors must wear masks, himself does not wear one. The old one serves local brews of social and political poisons while the US president offers his people the American brand. The rhetoric of shooting and killings which has dominated discourses in America lately were (are) here too. Where were you when the presidential candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) in 2011 told his supporters to defend their votes and revolt, as was done in Egypt, if that year’s polls were not free and fair? At the end of that election, have you forgotten that Human Rights Watch said 800 people, including 10 youth corps members, died – murdered by revulsive fans of bloodied baboons and dogs? Again, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress in 2019 announced that he had given “the military and police order to be ruthless” and make disturbers of “the voting system do so at the expense of their lives…” At the end of that election season, those who died were not just ballot snatchers; decent people fell too – the exact reason why leaders must be moderate in anger and rhetoric.

The American president this past week reached for more than two extremes in his politics of reelection. He saw voter fraud in mail-in ballots for the coming November polls. Trump tweeted (without evidence) that: “There is no way that mail-in ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged and even illegally printed and fraudulently signed…This will be a rigged election…” Twitter fact-checked him and said he was a liar. He moved briskly to fight Twitter the way the bully has been fighting CNN and the major newspapers. He vowed to “regulate or close down” not just Twitter, but also Facebook and YouTube and any other unruly moderator seeking to blunt his vitriol. The American president promptly wrote and signed an Executive Order aiming at the freedom of Twitter and its other irreverent mates. As he did that, America started seeing days of murder, riots and disturbances across its cities. There are riots because a black citizen of Trump’s country was murdered by white policemen right before rolling cameras and there was no immediate move to take justice to the murderers. Trump spoke, but the strongest words the American president had were not for those who killed the innocent but for the ‘unruly’ hordes protesting the murder: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts…” he tweeted, garnering a harvest of global outrage. And there were, indeed, shootings. One person, a 21-year old, was killed in Detroit Friday night, seven others were shot in Louisville, Kentucky; many more were injured in other places of rage. Still, the man of war doubled up with threats of more “ominous weapons,” and “vicious dogs” and more hurt for protesters. If this Trump were from the Yoruba country, the elders would have propitiated his rage with waters of patience. But he is from America, the land of awful paradoxes of discriminatory equality, fat slavey and lean freedom. For him, everything, death and disease, is about the coming election; and when the leader is fixated on such a goal, all mountains must bow before him – because he is the president.

It didn’t start last week. Two weeks ago, Trump was home with his campaigns of indecent populism. He suspected that the virus called COVID-19 was likely in an illicit relationship with his opponents who are obeying the rules set by the disease. Trump, therefore, attacked governors for opening “abortion houses” alias hospitals, while “places of worship” remained shut. For the first time, Trump remembered to fight for Muslims; he listed mosques among worship houses being cheated by governors. The wily fox needs pentecostal votes in November, so, he decreed that churches and other places of worship must be free “now” from the jailhouse of COVID-19. His solution  was an order to governors to open these “essential places now” or he would “overrule them” and do the right thing. Now, which law gives him that power to overrule governors and take over state matters under the American constitution?

Presidents Trump and Buhari of Nigeria are soulmates from an alien planet ruled by popular arbitrariness. When Trump started minting one Executive Order after the other to shame his stubborn Congress, the Nigerian president also got the gist and employed his own blacksmiths to forge similar weapons for his own war too. It appears that the inscrutable fate that gave Americans Trump also blessed Nigerians with Buhari – two strongmen with iron fists and lion jaws. The two big cats have their peculiar ways of presenting right and wrong in zealotry wrappers. Described as “a bundle of authoritarian and illiberal impulses and desires” by Jeffrey Herf, professor of history at the University of Maryland, Trump presents as one yearning “for executive power unhindered by the checks and balances of a representative body.” I see this in Buhari too with his sizzling romance with a past of autocracy and his loud dissatisfaction with the ‘slow’ democratic present. Our president is lately courting State Houses of Assembly and state courts for something he has not disclosed. The populist dissembler wants to rescue the hurting necks of these prostrate state organs from the jackboot of almighty governors. His solution: An Executive Order conjuring autonomy for the two miserable arms of government. Where did he derive that power to order that which the constitution already gives?

Remember, on June 8, 2018, Buhari signed the 4th constitutional amendment bill into law which effectively granted that which he now says he is giving with military fiat. “This grants full autonomy now to the judiciary at the state level and the Houses of Assembly at the state level,” his aide, Ita Enang said after he signed that bill in 2018. Buhari signed that law and went to the other room to sleep, and stayed under the duvet there for two years. No noise could wake up the sleeping president to implement that which he signed. No one. The joy of autonomy soon went stale and rancid – ineffective or, simply, unimplemented. Now, 24 months after that salutary act, Buhari issued another statement two weeks ago saying: “based on the power vested in me under Section 5 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), I, today, signed into law Executive Order 10 of 2020 for the implementation of financial autonomy of state legislature and judiciary.”

I have read respected lawyers hailing Buhari because he made an ‘order’ to give teeth to a provision of the constitution. And I beg to ask: What kind of constitution needs a needless law to function? If the constitution has provided for a thing to be done but some powerful governors are ignoring that law, shouldn’t it be the duty of the courts to weigh in and whip the lawbreakers back to line? Let the president go to court and not create an arbitrary bypass. Montesquieu said something about “useless laws” weakening “necessary laws.”  He also predicted “an end of everything” where “the same man or the same body” exercises the powers “of enacting laws,…of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.” Since the beginning of this republic, Buhari is the first president to be so bold in bypassing the legislature and promulgating military decrees (alias Executive Orders). There is a problem where an elected president is strong enough to function as lawmaker, law applier and law interpreter. In five months, President Buhari has minted 10 executive orders. And our lawyers are hailing him. How many laws have our “I-can’t-breathe” lawmakers made same period?

Our lawyers say Buhari’s latest ‘Order’ is good-intentioned to tame imperial governors. They say he is even free to use his executive order to deduct monies from the monthly allocations of stubborn governors. Was Buhari not that someone who signed the not-too-young-to-rule bill into law but, promptly, right there, told the young to wait for their time? When a scant democrat suddenly offers freedom free of charge, sit up and ask probing questions. Classical wisdom says we should always be on the alert whenever Greeks bear gifts. Our president now loves state lawmakers and judges more than he did in the past five years – and towards his descent from legal power. Do these state officials have any role to play in the politics of the future, particularly with the constitution? I feel like saying I will start shining my eyes more vigorously from now on about what will happen between 2022 and 2023. America’s fourth president and ‘father of the Bill of Rights,’ James Madison, warned that “an elective despotism was not the government we fought for.” That warning rings very true today of his America and my Nigeria where executive orders have become the palm oil with which autocracy seeks to eat the yam of democracy.

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