Extraordinary rendition: Buhari must not turn Nigeria into an authoritarian state

The recent kidnap and extradition of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, from Kenya and the brutal and fatal raid on the residence of Sunday Igboho, the Yoruba rights activist, bring back memories of President Buhari’s first incarnation as a military dictator. With Buhari’s dictatorial recidivism, Nigeria is, yet again, becoming an authoritarian state. It’s déjà vu all over again!

Despite declaring himself a “converted democrat” and despite being a civilian president, Buhari’s hasn’t changed his authoritarian mindset. As someone who, in his own words, cut his political teeth as a student of the old Soviet Union, he is enamoured of Joseph Stalin’s authoritarian and brutal treatment of “enemies of the people.”

Hence, today, Buhari is using the same instruments of state violence that he used as a military dictator against those he regarded as “enemies of the state”. Think of the attempted kidnap of Umaru Dikko in London in 1984, and the abduction of Kanu from Kenya in 2021. Think of the jailing of Fela Kuti for alleged currency offences in 1984 and the execution of three Nigerians for possession of illegal drugs in 1985; and the brutal and fatal overnight raid on Igboho’s house in 2021.

Truth is, once Buhari brands someone an “enemy of the state”, nothing is off the table. Extra-judicial measures, breaches of international law, state kidnap, state torture – name it – are all “legitimate” instruments. There is no difference between Buhari, the military dictator, and Buhari, the civilian president!

 Today, Buhari is using the same instruments of state violence that he used as a military dictator against those he regarded as “enemies of the state”

In 2018, President Buhari told the national conference of the Nigerian Bar Association: “Rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and the national interest.” With that kind of mindset, it wasn’t surprising that he praised the “professional way” that the security agencies kidnapped Kanu and brutally raided the residence of Igboho. For Buhari, “the successes of our Security Agencies must be commended” and “this level of professionalism must be sustained.” It’s 1984 and 1985 all over again!

Some readers would recall that, in 1984, at the behest of the Buhari regime, Umaru Dikko, a politician wanted for alleged corruption, was kidnapped in London, drugged and locked in a large crate labelled “diplomatic baggage”, waiting to be abducted to Nigeria. The plot was foiled by a British customs officer.

That incident led to huge diplomatic uproar, and the severance of relations between Britain and Nigeria. The jailing of Fela for alleged currency offences and the execution of three Nigeria for possessing drugs were also part of the state brutality of that era. Well, the treatments meted to Kanu and Igboho are elements of state violence today!

Let me be clear: I have no truck with Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho. I do not believe in their cause: I’m not a secessionist. What I stand for is a radically restructured Nigeria, with strong, autonomous regional governments within a federal union. I believe Nigerians must push for restructuring and devolution of power rather than secession. But President Buhari is fanning the embers of separatism by rejecting restructuring and by cracking down brutally on separatist agitators, with utter disregard for the rule of law.

Let’s start with Igboho. He is certainly not a terrorist. At worst, he is a rabble rouser. But all his “Yoruba Nation” rallies, all his self-determination agitations, were peaceful. So, why would security forces invade his house at night, killing two people and arresting 13 others, including cats – yes, cats? Every multi-ethnic country has separatist agitators, some are real gadflies. Yet, civilised governments don’t treat them with the utter brutality that Buhari’s government meted out to Igboho.

But agitation for self-determination is a fundamental right recognised under international law, and several UN charters impose a duty on states to refrain from any forcible action calculated to deprive a people of this right. Thus, Igboho has a right to call for self-determination for his people, provided his approach is non-violent, which it is!

Sadly, as many commentators have noted, and this newspaper pointed in an editorial last week, President Buhari treats terrorists in the North with kid gloves while brutally suppressing self-determination agitators in the South. To him, Igboho is more dangerous than leaders of Boko Haram, bandits, kidnappers and Fulani herdsmen, whose members have destroyed countless communities, killed thousands of Nigerians and caused the dispossession of hundreds of thousands.

Last week, the respected research group, SBM Intelligence, published a report showing that a total of 2,371 persons were kidnapped and N10billion demanded in ransom in the first half of this year. Recently, Colonel Abubakar Umar (retd), former military governor of Kaduna State, issued a statement, saying that Boko Haram, bandits and killer-herdsmen are more deadly than separatist groups. Of course, they are. But, for President Buhari, who Colonel Umar rightly accused of “mismanaging Nigeria’s diversity”, self-determination agitators are Nigeria’s greatest security threats. Well, he’s wrong!

Which brings us to Nnamdi Kanu’s kidnap. The Federal Government said Kanu is a fugitive who jumped bail and should face trial for terrorism and treasonable felony charges in Nigeria. They said he was responsible for the deaths of 60 people – compare that with the thousands that Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen have killed!

But if he had a case to answer, there are extradition rules under international law. Extradition rules are based on the principle that serious crimes should not go unpunished. But extradition is based on due process and must not result in inhuman and degrading treatment.

In his intervention, Kelechi Madu, Minister of Justice and Solicitor-General of the Albertan Government in Canada, described Kanu’s abduction as “arbitrary violations of international law”. But Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, fired back, saying that Kanu was extradited through “internationally recognised manner.” The onus is on Malami to show how Kanu’s arrest followed “internationally recognised manner” instead of simply referring to the gravity of his alleged crime.

Extradition is not just about the gravity of an alleged offence. For instance, the US wanted the UK to extradite Julian Assange for allegedly undermining American national security, but the UK courts refused to extradite him because of concerns about how he would be treated in the US. So, extradition is also about due process and human rights.

The International Human Rights Commission, IHRC, reportedly said that the Kenyan Government played no official role in Kanu’s extradition. If so, that suggests Kanu was not extradited through a formal route. No formal extradition request was made, and Kanu was given no opportunity to challenge his extradition in the Kenyan courts.

Put simply, what happened was a kidnap or, in international law language: extraordinary rendition. An international lawyer told the British Guardian newspaper: “The abduction of a person from a foreign country with the aim of rendition to justice is illegal under international law.” Another lawyer told the Sunday Times: “Extraordinary rendition is recognised as a form of torture”.

Yet, despite its illegality, authoritarian leaders, such as the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, the Turkish leader, Recep Erdogan, and the Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, have recently used extraordinary rendition to snatch opponents or dissidents from overseas.

With the kidnap of Kanu and the brutal and fatal raid on Igboho’s residence, President Buhari certainly belongs to that ignoble club of authoritarian leaders. He’s wrong to turn Nigeria into an authoritarian state!


In a recent column titled “Onochie, the ultra-partisan Buharist, cannot be an impartial election umpire” (BusinessDay, June 28, 2021), I urged the Senate to reject President Buhari’s nomination of Lauretta Onochie as INEC Commissioner. I’m delighted the Senate did exactly that last week. I doff my hat to the Senators. They listened to the people and acted in the national interest. Well done, Senators!

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