For many Nigerians in 2015, Muhammadu Buhari was a 73 year-old former military dictator and a self- proclaimed agent of change; we saw him as a foe of anything corruption; a symbol of a new kind of hope and optimism.
We forgot so soon some of the laws and policies he came up with in 1983 and how they affected country then; we forgot so soon how he passed Decree No 2, which allowed him to detain people without trial; we forgot so soon how he passed Decree No 4, which limited freedom of speech which have him the opportunity and leeway to jail influential personalities like the late Afro Beats legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. And of course, we forgot the famous War Against Indiscipline and Corruption — an initiative aimed at making Nigerians being disciplined and doing “un – Nigerian things like forming orderly queues and not showing up late for work by threatening to publicly flog you or make you do frog jump.
Funnily enough, victims and witnesses of his rigid and repressive regime were the first set of persons to rally for his support and endorse him as the ideal candidate while demonizing the then Nigerian president – Goodluck Jonathan. Today, we are all dumb-strucked by the administration’s clamp down on human rights especially freedom of speech; we are more flabbergasted by the suspension of Twitter which of course has been a long time agenda of the Buhari administration in a bid to regulate social media activities in Nigeria. The truth is – we shouldn’t be surprise. There have been tell-tale signs to show Buhari’s true personality all the while; we just chose to ignore it or succumb to the fiction that he had turned a new leaf. Buhari has always nurtured the dream of creating an Orwellian state.
What is an Orwellian state?
“Orwellian” is a term that originates from the name of British novelist, George Orwell, who is renowned for his two globally recognised novels — Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four. An Orwellian state symbolises an extremely brutal attitude by a state that employs stiff control over its citizen through propaganda, surveillance of information and repressive control of human rights especially freedom of expression. These features were clearly seen in George Orwell’ s dystopian novel, nineteen eighty four. Orwellian state simply means a state that tries to control every part of people’s lives.
The most popular ways of creating an Orwellian state is through human rights violation especially freedom of speech which can be achieved through violence, unlawful detentions and killings.
All these, have been a major hallmark and achievement of the Buhari administration over the years. Let’s take a look at the administration’s attempts at creating an Orwellian state.
We can’t forget how security forces opened up fire on unarmed members of the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB who were holding a meeting at a school in Emene, Enugu state killing at least four people. We can’t forget in October 2020 how security forces used excessive force and violence to trample on the rights of peaceful ENDSARS protesters — resulting in the death of over 56 protesters and bystanders. Perhaps, one that would forever remain green in the memory of many Nigerians, are the killings that took place at the Lekki Toll gate — an incident infamously known as the Lekki Massacre.
In its vision to create an Orwellian state, the regime has maintained a no-smiling face to critics, activists and cynics who have acted as watchdogs over the administration. For instance, Sahara reporters’ publisher and crusader of the “Revolution Now“, Omoyele Sowore who has carried out a number of protests against Buhari has been arrested and detained unlawfully a number of times that it has attracted international intervention. Most recently, on May 31, 2021, the activist was purportedly shot while trying to lead another protest in Abuja.
The press and journalists have not been left untouched in Buhari’s reckless vision of creating an Orwellian state. In April 2020, the police arrested the SUN newspaper journalist, Chijioke Agwu after he published an article on lassa fever outbreak. Peter Okutu of the Vanguard newspaper was also arrested for his report about a military attack on Umuogodoakpu – Ngbo community in the Ohuakwu local government area.
To further limit the activities of the press, the federal government amended the federal government amended the Nigerian broadcasting code, increasing the fine for hate speech from #500,000 to #5,000,000. The National Broadcasting Commission has forced media outfits like Channels TV, Arise TV, and AIT to cough out huge sum of money as fines for reporting the ENDSARS protests in October, citing alleged violation of the broadcasting code including the use of “unverified online video footage“.
To further crown its vision of an Orwellian state, the administration has been very enthusiastic about the Hate speech bill. The Hate speech bill remains one of the most controversial Bills to be passed by the Legislative arm of government in Nigeria.Many perceive the Bill as an attempt by the government to impose limitations on the freedom of expression of its citizens, a fundamental human right well entrenched in the constitution of Nigeria. The bill is yet to be passed into law but the government have been steadfast in its attempts to making sure it becomes a law.
With the suspension of Twitter on Friday, Nigeria has joined the league of countries like China, North Korea and Iran who have banned Twitter. Looking closely at these states, they are authoritarian regimes which share Buhari’s Orwellian state philosophy.
Are you thinking what I am thinking?
If so, where do we go from here?
Desmond Oghoghome writes for NG Times from Ogun State