Emmanuel Onwubiko: Is Buhari a modern day Augustus?

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There is no doubt that the relationship that has existed since the advent of the current dispensation between the executive and the legislative arms of government has been anything but cordial, Convivial or constructive.

At best, the Modus Operandi of the aforementioned segments of the governmental tiers can be summed up as that of dogs and cats. The Nigerian Constitution spells out clearly that there are three equal arms of government namely the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. All of these arms are like the various organs of the human body which are complimentary and therefore ought to exercise their functions and statutory mandates as independent but interdependent organs of a united government all of which are there to serve the public interests of the people of Nigeria who are the real owners of the Sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The needless supremacy battles between the executive and legislative arms of government has badly affected the standard of governance and by so doing has affected the living conditions of the citizenry.

Beginning with the discord that came up which originated by the way Senator Bukola Saraki and Representative Yakubu Dogara emerged as leaders of the national legislature, the presidency which heads the executive arm of government is known to have nursed deep seated animosity and angst against the hierarchy of the National Assembly. The executive arm of government mooted the idea of zoning the respective slots to the choices of the President. But the elected representatives of the were bent on defending the legislative autonomy and their right to elect their leaders without external interferences and influences.

It even got to a point that president Muhammadu Buhari was said to have opened up to the media to remonstrate with the leadership of the National Assembly for openly revolting against the so called established party’s (APC) pattern of selecting the leaders for the two chambers of the National Assembly dominated by the All Progressives Congress up until about few months back when both leaders and several other members of the national legislature decamped to the leading opposition platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).


The ill-feelings also resulted into the open use of the justice ministry to frame up charges against basically the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and his other Colleague the Senate president Mr. Bukola Saraki. The Federal Attorney General and minister of justice Abubakar Malami was the personal lawyer to General Muhammadu Buhari as he then was before he won election to the office of Presidency.


It would be recalled that the emergence of the Peoples Democratic Party’s Senator from Enugu state Ike Ekweremadu as deputy head of the red chamber in a forum dominated by the All Progressives Congress was interpreted as a direct affront to president Muhammadu Buhari by his ardent supporters who felt that the executive arm of government may find it tough to secure legislative approvals for presidential decisions.

So in a bid to pay the duo of Ekweremadu and Saraki in their own coin, the All Progressives Congress – led presidency went into a frenzy and an over- drive of anger by roping them into some kind of phantom charges.


Whilst the presidency accused deputy senate president of forging senate rules which led to their emergence as leaders in the first place the senate president was dragged to the code of conduct Tribunal which is an office under the direct purview of the secretary to the government of the federation usually seen as the Man-Friday of the president.


Both cases collapsed spectacularly like a pack of cards but the presidency has not given up. Also, many appointees of the president flouted with reckless abandon the legislative orders of the national assembly.


The immediate past Inspector General of Police Alhaji Ibrahim Idriss Kpodum who was summoned to appear before the senate thrice failed to respect the invitations and president Buhari did nothing and pretended like he wasn’t aware.


The acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Ibrahim Magu was rejected during three confirmation hearings but he kept his job because presidency has no regard for the legislative powers of the Senate.


The erstwhile Inspector General of Police who was even accused of alleged N10 billion scam by a serving senator from Bauchi state and a former senior police officer, had the effrontery of failing to appear before the senate panel but quickly hired a retinue of senior Advocates of Nigeria to head to court to scuttle his legislative probe over these extensive criminal allegations.


On his own part, Ibrahim Magu was like a gentleman who kept cool but other overzealous presidency officials spoke for him to spite the National Assembly and paint the Senators as some rogues who are afraid of their shadows.


Persons like Mr. Itse Sagay and the Vice president Mr. Yemi Osinbanjo also tried to cite some nebulous legal excuses as for why Ibrahim Magu can stay on in office without legislative approval. Mind you the aforementioned are professors of law but are now playing political game to appease their political master.


There is a general feeling that because president Buhari is not happy the way Bukola Saraki did not just emerged as president of the senate as against party directive, but went as far as allowing an opposition Senator to become his deputy as stated earlier both men have faced legal persecution to an extent that the senate president was docked like a common criminal.

Bukola Saraki just like the proverbial cat with nine lives managed to beat Buhari to his game by defeating the presidency thoroughly in both the code of conduct Tribunal and the Supreme Court.


In the final matter, the Chief Justice of Nigeria headed the panel that freed Saraki and it seems that the hawks in the presidency are out for revenge against Walter Onnoghen.


Again, there is now the bad record that the president has turned back dozens of legislations passed by the National Assembly including the relevant strategic amendments made to the electoral Act which would have delivered free and fair 2019 poll.


Also the 2019 budget presentation by the president was turned in to a battle field between the presidency and the largely PDP National Assembly. President Muhammadu Buhari himself turned the otherwise solemn into a campaign ground.


In all of these altercations, what truly came to mind is the historical record of one of the World’s most notorious tyrants who was antagonistic to the senate of his own era.


But in the case of this tyrant of the Roman Empire of those days, he took some primitive steps of killing off his opponents. This is fundamentally different with the Nigerian scenario but similar in the sense that whereas Emperor Augustus killed his opponents physically Buhari encouraged his appointees to disrespect the National Assembly thus ‘killing off’ the constitutional pride of place of the legislative arm. Torrents of propaganda against the current national assembly are being sponsored by the Presidency.


As I reflected on how the institution of law making in Nigeria has suffered executive bruises, I encountered a brief piece written by Professor Frederik Vervaet, of the University of Melbourne in Australia as published in its scholarly websites @www.pursuit.unimelb.edu.eu.


Incidentally, this piece started by narrating how the founder of Facebook admires Emperor Augustus when the Australian University scholar affirmed as follows: “On his 2012 honeymoon to Rome, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took so many photos of the Roman Emperor Augustus’s sculptures that his wife joked it was like there were three people on the honeymoon. The couple even named their second daughter August.”

“Explaining his fascination for Rome’s first emperor, Zuckerberg recently told The New Yorker that “basically, through a really harsh approach, he established 200 years of world peace (…) What are the trade-offs in that? On the one hand, world peace is a long-term goal that people talk about today (but) that didn’t come for free, and he had to do certain things.”


Ironically, one of the earliest foreign visitors to the then newly inaugurated Nigerian current president in 2015 was the owner of Facebook who also showered encomiums on Buhari and had swell time snapping selfies with the Nigerian ruler. I’m sure even though he hadn’t been born, Mr. Mark Zukkerberg is aware of the military background of President Muhammadu Buhari who even staged a coup that unseated an elected administration in 1983.


But it has turned out that the Roman Emperor Augustus held up by the owner of Facebook as a statesman was indeed a brutal dictator. Critics also say President Muhammadu Buhari has shown traces of a dictator.


In that piece titled: “Rome’s Augustus and the allure of the strongman,” Professor Vervaet, of the University of Melborne, amongst other sordid facts, narrates how this brutal ruler killed off legislators in his bid to run a totalitarianism.


“Augustus, or Octavius as he was then known, was already poised to be second-in-command in Caesar’s New Order. Styling himself as the Young Caesar, he made a brazen bid to reclaim rank and stature by ruthlessly rekindling the flames of civil war, shattering the compromise peace made between Mark Antony, Caesar’s foremost lieutenant, and Caesar’s leading assassins Brutus and Cassius.


The University Don recalled that Augustus’s claims that he took control by universal consent and subsequently restored the traditional republican polity after his military victory over Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BCE are both equally mendacious.


Augustus he said, repeatedly conducted murderous as well as bloodless purges of the aristocracy from November 43 through to 29 BCE, repressing all political opposition.


“Late in 43, he and his then allies, Mark Antony and Lepidus, ruthlessly proscribed (condemned) over 300 senators and 2,000 equestrians (the lower aristocracy and business elite). Many were hunted down and butchered in plain view, including the great orator and republican Marcus Cicero.”


“In 28 BCE, after his final civil war victories and shortly before his much vaunted ‘restoration’ of the Republic, he removed another 40 per cent of the Senate, reducing their numbers to 600.”


He also wrote that: “In 27 BCE when he finally laid down his official emergency powers – powers he had alleged were needed to confront real or imaginary crises he and his henchmen had engineered – a compliant Senate promptly reinvested him with a vast, ten year military command.”

“This command was the cornerstone of his autocracy, and was suitably renewed every ten years, complete with rituals of his own phoney reluctance and invariably justified on the grounds of ongoing military exigencies in the provinces.”


One major consequence of this specious charade of Augustus the professor asserts, was unprecedented imperialist expansion and warfare.


At enormous human and material cost, Augustus he vividly narrated, would more than double the size of the Empire and add more territory to Rome’s provincial dominion than any Roman before or after him – so much for his much-vaunted peace, the Pax Augusta.


Muhammadu Buhari seems to be showing early signs of a President who does not care about playing the game by the rules. Is he evolving into a modern day Emperor Augustus of Nigeria? It is during his time as President that the armed operatives from Department of state services invaded the national Assembly in what looked like an attempt to overthrow the leadership of the legislature.


Will Nigerians let Muhammadu Buhari transmute into Emperor Augustus of Nigeria, only times shall tell.


*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @ @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwa.blogspot.com; www.huriwanigeria.com; www.thenigerianinsidernews.com.

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