by Samuel Ogundipe
President Muhammadu Buhari has once again longed for the absolute prosecutorial powers he wielded when he led a military junta in Nigeria in the 1980s.
As the president clocks 77 on Tuesday, he granted a brief interview to state-run television, NTA, telling the station that he was unhappy about democracy’s ‘slow’ method of justice.
“When I came in uniform, I collected those who were leading, took them to Kirikiri (Maximum Security Prison) and told them they were guilty until they could prove themselves innocent,” Mr Buhari said, lamenting that he had “learned the hard way” that he could not do that in a democracy.
“I put based on almost all the geopolitical zones committees to investigate them. Those that were found to have lived beyond their means, the balance was taken and were given to the states.
“But I myself was arrested, detained and they were given back what they have stolen.
“So under this system which is supposed to be more accountable, but it is too slow for my liking, but I have to follow it,” Mr Buhari said.
Several Nigerians were jailed under Mr Buhari’s draconian decrees two and four during his military regime. Many journalists were jailed under a decree that prohibited journalists from writing articles that were factual but “insulting” to public officials.
Some politicians who were targeted and summarily detained spent years in jail despite failure of military tribunals to find them guilty of corruption; while some laws were applied retroactively to execute drugs smuggling suspects.
Mr Buhari had previously decried democratic checks and balances as unnecessarily cumbersome, but which he had no choice but to respect in order not to jeopardise the country’s nascent democracy.
Mr Buhari took part in a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected presidency of Shehu Shagari in December 1983, remaining in office until 1985 when he was himself overthrown in yet another coup led by one of his military allies, Ibrahim Babangida.
Mr Buhari was initially confined to a house arrest following his ouster, but he was later released with full military retirement benefits. He took an appointment in the brutal military regime of Sani Abacha between mid and late 1990s.
When Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, Mr Buhari began seeking a return to office as a democrat, running unsuccessfully for president in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
In 2015, however, after entering into multiple alliances with other political structures outside his core northern base, Mr Buhari won the presidential election, becoming the first to upset an incumbent president through the ballot in Nigeria’s history.
Mr Buhari won the election on the back of a campaign that promised a liberal and democratic governance to all Nigerians. He described himself as a democratic convert and promised to eschew all authoritarian inclinations that had defined his career.
But upon assuming office, Mr Buhari began taking anti-democratic actions that drew widespread criticism. During a televised media chat in late December 2015, the president openly justified disobedience to court order that granted bail to Sambo Dasuki, a former national security adviser accused of corruption, saying Mr Dasuki’s offences were too grave for him to be entitled to bail.
Mr Dasuki’s perpetual detention in defiance of court orders has been a key highlight of a raft of controversies which Mr Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign has generated. .
In recent weeks, the president has faced criticism for allowing the State Security Service to run amok under him. The SSS, a secret police charged with gathering domestic intelligence for national security, has refused to release Omoyele Sowore and other activists despite multiple court orders granting them bail.