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
“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
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.